After years of waiting, Zeds Dead have finally released their debut album, Northern Lights. Of course, to complement such a momentous occasion, the Canadian duo has embarked on a relentless tour that’s their most inspired to date.
Over a year of planning has gone into the new live show in hopes of capturing the scale and grandeur of Northern Lights. In partnership with Strangeloop Studios and Global Production Management, Zeds Dead chose to depart from the typical run of abstract visuals, opting instead to immerse audiences in traversing landscapes and across different worlds as the set journeys along. Additionally, specific pixel-mapped content was created for the production’s DreamPanels, these articulated light/video units that allow for dynamic floating patterns to run across the front of the stage and down into the audience.
To complete the project, Strangeloop enlisted their team of animators who’ve worked with everyone from Skrillex to The Weeknd, and even on HBO’s Silicon Valley. And to provide an air of continuity for each set, the entire visual story employs recurring characters and scenes throughout the night for fans to interpret as they will.
“The northern lights were a guiding aesthetic principle – we wanted to evoke the fluidity, intangibility and awe that comes with seeing them.” – Ian Simon, Strangeloop
Have a look at their Northern Lights setup in the clip below, and read on to hear what Hooks and DC of Zeds Dead have to say about reaching this incredible milestone.
Right off the bat, how does it feel to finally release your debut album, Northern Lights?
DC: Feels like a weight has been lifted off of me. I feel significantly lighter. Like I’ve literally given birth.
Hooks: It’s like being a mother bird and shoving your chick out of the nest and it falls but then it starts flying away and you’re just watching it soar into the sunset.
You have some of the most iconic remixes of all time in EDM. What was the thought process coming into this album: was there a vision to make it iconic, or was it just a reflection of where you’re currently at as artists?
DC: We wanted Northern Lights to embody at least a significant portion of what Zeds Dead represents sonically. It’s almost impossible for us to put every style and influence we have into one project but I feel like if you’re new to Zeds Dead, this would give you a pretty good idea of what were all about.
Hooks: We wanted to make something that could be listened to years from now and not seem very dated. I don’t know if that means iconic but we were weary of how certain types of songs (especially ones with drops) can be a quick fad and gravitated towards our songs that we felt would have more longevity. It’s definitely a reflection of where we are as artists but also we tried to represent some of the places we’ve been before as well.
Your sound has changed so much since you first started, beginning with Eyes On Fire remix and White Satin, moving through the Adrenaline and Hot Sauce EPs, and your incredible 2014 work Somewhere Else. Yet through it all, everything has had a distinct Zeds Dead sound. Where does that come from?
Hooks: I always felt that our sound comes from how we developed over a longer period of time than some people are aware. We were producing for about 5 years prior to even starting Zeds Dead and I think when you do that and get in all those hours of practice and experimenting, you build a style.
DC: Ya like Hooks said, I think our style started developing a long time before Zeds Dead came about. It’s really just constantly evolving and changing based on what inspires us and how we wanna challenge ourselves. That’s the great thing about being a producer, there’s really no reason you have to stay in one place musically.
You didn’t always produce EDM though, did you? I actually have your album Fresh Beets when you were still going as MP. Has your time producing during that era influenced your productions through the years at all?
Hooks: Yes we produced mainly hip-hop before Zeds Dead and I think that’s one of the main things that defines our style, the mix of those influences as well as the electronic.
Northern Lights has a lot of songs that are pretty close to being ballads, especially with such powerful vocalists like Twin Shadow, Elliphant, Lips, and Jenna Pemkowski. Did you see the songs going in that direction, or did you let them develop over time?
Hooks: I think that’s just part of the vibe we were going for here.
DC: Wasn’t so much of a conscious decision outside of the fact that we like working with strong, talented vocalists and making emotional music with them.
As far as collaborating with other producers on the album, you’ve kept the list relatively short, just Diplo & NGHTMRE. How did those particular collaborations come about?
DC: I think we wanted to showcase as much of our own original production on this project as possible. Its the first Zeds Dead album and so it felt right to keep most of the production in house.
That being said, Diplo is someone we have worked with closely in a number of ways since we started out. He’s someone we admire musically, and like us he’s someone who is willing to explore all types of different sounds and styles.
NGHTMRE is someone who popped up on our radar more recently, but similar to Diplo, has a good range of sounds and vibes. He brought his own bag of tricks to the table on this song which ended up complementing our ideas pretty well.
Hooks: We actually have collaborations with many producers in the works but those two were the ones that panned out in the right way for this project.
How has having the album out changed your live sets? Do you feel more pressure to play out the newer material at the expense of some of the older stuff? Or do you still find a way to fit it in?
Hooks: On this tour we’re playing almost 100% our own music and almost all of the songs on the new album. It feels really great to take people on this journey with the new music and the visuals we have accompanying it.
DC: Ya it’s actually been fun to bring back some old tracks for this new show. We have even been revamping some of them just for playing out. Its also been really cool and exciting to play out all the new stuff, you can see people start to become more and more familiar with the music as the tour goes on and they have had a chance to listen to the album. And of course on top all this we have a bunch of unreleased music some of which we have been teasing as well.
If you had to pick three tracks to show someone who’d never listened to your music, to get the best idea of who you are, which would they be?
Hooks: That’s a tough question. Maybe Rudeboy, Collapse, Me No Care? I don’t know, that would still leave you not knowing quite a bit about us.
DC: Impossible to pick but 3 of my favs which cover a small range: Lost You, Dead Price, Collapse.