Zak aka DVS1 (devious one), has been a favorite since the nineties and continues to shake rooms with a mix of extensive musical knowledge, a superlative ardor for what he does and a vinyl collection of more than 10,000 records. We were fortunate to have Zak answers some questions for us, giving some insight into the music scene of his home town, Minneapolis, while also being candid about his own personal experience of being a DJ and just being a down to earth human being with an acute awareness for the world around him.
Questions & Answers with DVS1:
– How did you first connect with techno music, what was your first memorable experience that brought you closer to this style of music?
I had already been going to a few parties not really understanding what this music was all about, and then I was brought to a party with a proper wall of sound. Speakers stacks taller than me and from one side of the venue to the other. This type of experience, being completely engulfed in the sound changed me forever. You can’t escape the beat, the pressure and the rhythm just move right through you and you have no choice but to move your body. It’s such an amazing experience to truly be a slave to the sounds coming from the speaker.
– I’m curious to know what it’s like to grow up in Minneapolis and more importantly how the techno scene is in those parts?
I’ve always explained to people that because of the restrictions on our music, and our culture in the US, but more specifically Minneapolis and our early bar closing times, our underground culture has always thrived. When clubs close at 2am, you are left with a need for more. People stay in the underground scene, because the clubs have nothing to offer us. It’s not easy, but our promoters and DJ’s have to be serious, have to be dedicated and have to be willing to risk things in order to present this music. For these reasons the fake and only interested in being cool people usually end up moving on quickly and don’t succeed. You can’t just do this because you have money, or because it’s the “cool” thing to do. You have to make this music and culture your life to survive in our city.
– You’re still living out in Minneapolis these days?
Yes, I’m still calling Minneapolis home and consider it my base. It’s where my life is, my record collection, my family, my friends etc. I do split my time between there and berlin. I’m usually on the road between Minneapolis and berlin every 2-3 weeks.
– What’s one thing about the city you live in that people who don’t know exists, that they should know about?
In general, people just don’t understand or expect my city to be anything at all. What they don’t know is that we have one of the best music, art, culture scenes outside of the major cities in the US. They don’t realize that most of the people living in NYC or the bigger “culture hubs” in the US are usually from places like Minneapolis. The art and music is cultivated in cities like mine and then because of being stifled and not accepted in our popular society they move to cities like NYC, Chicago or LA and abandon “home”etc… its another reason why I choose to stay here, this city has shaped me and given me this vibe and attitude and I want to give back to it.
– How big an influence was NY in your interest of Techno? Or if you want to mention any other specific inspirations that have influenced your taste over the years.
NYC has always been a huge inspiration. My parents divorced when I was around 5 years old and my father moved to NYC. I was living about 4 months of the year with him since I was very young. I got a chance to learn to drive, learn to explore and learn about music while traveling to NYC. I was lucky enough to experience my first house/techno events in both NYC and Minneapolis. Specifically, in the early/mid 90’s NYC was still very chaotic, Mayor Giuliani hadn’t cleaned it up yet, so although it was a bit crazy, it had soul, it had vibrancy, it was dirty and that’s what made New York so amazing. NYC is still like a 2nd home.
– You must have an entrepreneurial sense about you with having thrown parties at the club you owned, Foundation, distributing sound systems- that takes a certain kind of fearleasness.-Did you always DJ? When was the moment that you decided to taking it seriously and how was the transition?
I’ve always been a hustler. I’ve been self employed and taken risks since I was 16 years old. I don’t know any other way to be! I’m comfortable with who I am and I’m comfortable with the risks I’ve taken in life. Money comes and goes, but happiness is something you have to have in order to be fulfilled. I’m willing to risk things in search of that happiness.
I’ve always taken DJ’ing seriously, it was always my passion, I just decided early on I wasn’t going to play the game of trying to sell myself to others for gigs or popularity. I was happy to be doing what I did at home, to my friends and fellow music enthusiasts. I never thought I would be doing what I am now. The transition was a bit difficult in some ways, because I had always had “jobs”, not in the normal 9-5 sense, but I had always had other things in my life outside of DJ’ing that I supported myself with such as running a club, operating a studio rental/rehearsal building(currently), running a sound company etc. In the last 3 years, I’ve become so busy that I couldn’t do anything but Dj’ing. Most people would think that’s a great thing, but take into consideration that I NEVER relied on my music to pay my bills. I never had to even consider taking a gig just for the money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way in that position now, and I’m blessed to have the opportunities I have with my Dj’ing and living situation. But I would like to believe that if it ever came to that point where money was the motivation, I would stop. I know how to survive in real life outside of this life I’m currently living, so it doesn’t scare me to go back to it. I would absolutely be heartbroken to lose what I’ve now got a taste of, but if it’s not fulfilling, then it’s not worth the money.
In retrospect I’m so happy this success didn’t happen to me 10 years ago. I would have never been ready for this. Now I’m confident in my ability, I’m confident in my vision and I’m in a position where I know how to take this seriously and do something with the opportunities I have!
– How did your choice to DJ compare to previous working ventures from the past? Not just on a physical level but also an emotional one. Anything we invest time and energy into that doesn’t bring us forward at the pace we expect or how we expect it can affect our spirit… can you tell us a little about this experience for you?
Expectations in music are a dangerous road to take. You can’t expect anything from this and just do it because you truly love it and get something from playing. I’ve dedicated my entire life to this. I can’t even begin to count the hours, days, years etc…that I’ve spent in search of the beat and rhythm I speak about. I’ve missed holidays, missed birthdays, missed social interaction with people in the normal setting of life all for music. I’m not complaining, on the other hand, I’m just stating the truth, that this takes real dedication. If you give this much to something, it’s bound to give back to you.
Before my international success, I never would have understood what it actually took out of me to play music every weekend, flying place to place. I would have never understood how amazing but at the same time draining this is on your spirit. I live in a life of extremes now. As much as I always thought I was an extreme person, I could never have imagined this life I live now. You go from being alone, traveling alone, eating alone to being immersed in a club/venue for a few hours giving all of your energy, all of your spirit to others. Of course I thrive on what they give back, but in the end it’s extremely draining emotionally. When you’re done performing you go right back to the isolation of self. When most people are sharing the experience they just had with their friends or with their partners, we are already on our way back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep to catch the next early flight to get to the next place to do it all over again. It’s a tough topic, because on one hand I am doing what I love, what I was meant to do, but on the other hand I am sacrificing everything I know to be normal for this.
– How has your life changed since the worlds of you and Ben Klock collided?
It’s all been told before in my interviews, but to say it simply, Ben opened the door for me to get noticed. He saw me performing a live set(one of the 3 I’ve ever done) and he was impressed with the music I was presenting. He asked for a release and the rest is history. The reality is that these days, unlike the 90’s, its extremely difficult to get noticed as just a DJ, to break through without production credits to your name is nearly impossible. By putting out my records he gave me that opportunity, to show what I’ve been doing for years already as a DJ.
– How has the transition from djing to also producing and playing live been?
I’m a DJ first and foremost. I’ve always loved to DJ and only stepped out of that a few times for a live set. As far as production, I can explain it as I have before. As a DJ I feel that I’m fluent. I can speak and describe my emotion and my vibe. As a producer I’m still learning to speak. It’s like being in school, I’ve only just begun my education as a producer, as compared to my abilities as a DJ where I believe I’m well educated.
– Are you traveling a lot playing different gigs? What kind of releases are you working on?
Yes, I’ve been living my life on the road for the last 3. 5 years. I’m playing everything from small intimate venues, to huge clubs, to festivals. I would say that in the end I still prefer small, intimate and powerful over large and disconnected.
It’s taken a few years with this traveling to find my balance for producing music. The last year was especially tough but I finally feel like I’ve found a way to make it all work. I’ve finally acquired a studio in berlin as well as my studio in Minneapolis and now I can work in either city. Being limited for so long by my schedule and my location at any given moment was not making producing very possible. The last year I did a handful of remix’s and that was it. I’ve been stock piling more originals over the last 6 months and I’m about ready to start releasing them.
– Is there a track that you’ve produced in particular that has been a personal favorite?
I would say that the simplicity of my first 2 releases is still my favorite. Running for Klockworks and Polyphonic love for Transmat are my 2 favorite productions. They just work and I feel they will and can be played for years to come!
– How do you go about preparing to play a set, choosing music, vinyl or digital, etc?
First, to clarify, I still play vinyl and for my digital I use USB for the CDJ’s. Usually about half my bag/drive is full of tracks that I don’t take out for a while. These are the staples of my sound and my vibe. But each week I try and pull a few things out, put a few things in and try and find ways to explore not only all the new music that is coming out, but dig into my personal collection for inspiration or music that I may have overlooked years ago when I purchased it. (b-sides!)
One thing that is worth mentioning.. Recently, one of minneapolis’ older DJ’s/producers named MANx unfortunately passed away. He was someone who was playing in Minneapolis since the 80’s and was pushing DJ culture and sound system’s at a time when it was really new, really unknown and truly against the grain. I was extremely lucky and fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to purchase his entire collection and I’m now sitting on 25,000 records that are truly a history lesson in vintage dance music. Everything from disko, soul, funk, house, techno, hip hop etc.. I could never imagine seeing or even owning most of these titles. This collection is beyond the internet, it’s beyond the scope of most digital history. I’m just now starting to unpack the boxes and beginning the process of looking deeper. This collection will definitely affect my musical taste, approach and thought process moving forward and will probably take me most of adult life to go through.
– What cities that you’ve been touring recently have given you the most fun parties and why?
I hate to sound cliché, but berghain for me is still the top of my personal experiences in dj’ing. Everytime I play, I think it couldn’t be better than the last time…But then it is. Each time is a new adventure.
– Besides djing, what are some of the things you like to do with your spare time?
Because music is so much a part of my life and Dj’ing now takes up most of my time. When I’m not Dj’ing, I like to be with friends, true friends who know me and don’t care about what I do today. They have seen me go through all my phases in life and are supportive of my journey. They are just great people to be around and I value the time I get away from the “Dj” world to spend with them.
– If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been fortunate to travel and see mostly the good parts of everywhere I go. I get to be immersed in travel, music, good food, etc. The thing is that sometimes you travel to places where you know the rest of the society is struggling, where the normal person truly fights for their existence and that is a very real thing. We are all extremely lucky to be able to breath, eat, sleep, play, love etc… And many people don’t have the freedom to even experience the basic security we all deserve as human beings. As much as I wish everyone would have those basic freedoms, I think it’s even more important that everyone who has them would realize and sympathize with those who don’t…at least for a bit, so that they truly appreciated what they have. If we all could understand the level of comfort we have, the security we have living and doing what we want, we might not take it for granted as much as we do..