Voted #65 of TOP 100 DJs in America – National Sun Times 2015 &
Chicago Nightlife Awards – “BEST DJ” 2014
“I play good music.”
What are you most grateful for, today?
To be able to share good music with the people and support myself while doing so. Being a DJ holds serious responsibility, whether the DJ wants to admit it or not. Music has the power to unite, the power to change, and the power to reach people on a personal level. At a club or party, you will find people from all walks of life getting down together. The same people that may not speak to each other in everyday life. I thank the universe for helping me find myself through DJing and using it to connect with others.
How has DJing and electronic music changed in recent years?
For the past decade, it has been the same with the rise and fall of “EDM” and the culture associated with it. When I first started DJing in 98′, I came from the underground rave scene in Chicago and the midwest. Then it was all about the DJ and not so much about the producer. Many producers did DJ also, but there was more opportunity for DJs as you had to have a record collection to play out. CD players weren’t great at the time, so vinyl was the primary format. A DJ spent time, and money to build their collection, and that was a big part of their name and draw.
With the rise of EDM culture in the US, it made events more like concerts as opposed to “rave” style parties. The visual became a significant part of it with better technology in lasers, lights, and now LED walls. With the rise of EDM, it seemed dance music became all about the “build-up & drop.” I’m not knocking it as I do like a good drop, but every style of dance music became all about it, and I feel that took a bit of soul out of dance music. People danced differently as they would get hyped during the build-up, “go ham” when the drop hit and then waited for the next one, whereas electronic music of the 90s and early 2000s had more of a groove and soul to connect with and converse with through dance. I feel like the dancing in the 90s, and early 2000s was something everyone did, whereas, with the EDM culture, it was more like a fist pump, some headbanging and even moshing.
I’m not saying there is NO dancing now as I see a lot of good shuffling, but people do not dance as much. I think the fact that everyone has a recording device and social media can be used to make fun of people for letting go and dancing, may play a small part of it as well. Keep in mind this is all from my experience, my observation.
As a DJ, are you concerned with patrons safety at events?
Yes, and every DJ should be. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, OD, or something terrible like that. A party is about togetherness and connection.
One piece of advice for aspiring DJ’s?
Practice, practice, practice! There is a lot of technology taking the skill out of DJing and relies on algorithms to take on the work that should be part of the “skill” of DJing. Be yourself and be nice to people. Never burn bridges. Use DJing as a way to express yourself honestly. DJs should be different and should play different styles and genres. Make your style about what you like. That personal touch allows patrons to connect with your DJ style.
How has mentorship challenged you, and what’s your most rewarding experience to speak of?
I am able to help students progress farther and faster by teaching them from the mistakes I made and lessons learned. I hope to see my students push DJing farther than me and take the art to a whole new level.
I recently had an Autistic student who found himself through DJing. At the end of the semester, I received a letter from the student’s father thanking me as the student found something that he is good at and can connect with other people through. He had never felt that before, and now he practices every day and uses his craft to make new friends and communicate in ways he cannot do with just words. I’m also able to use my connections to help these students get their foot in the door. The scene here is massive, and there are more and more DJs coming out every day, so it can be tough for people to break into the scene and get gigs.
What’s something not many people know about you, not even your family or friends?
My middle name is actually “Zebo.” Most people don’t know where I got my DJ name from, or they don’t believe me. When I was younger, I was called J Z, as my first name is Jonathon. I tell people now my name is J Z and they think I’m trying to bite off the Rapper, Sean Carter aka Jay-Z. I’m taking my name back from him. I had it first!
Where can people see you next?
FLASK LOUNGE in Portland, Maine on Friday, July 26th.
Any of my various residencies here in Chicago at Sound-Bar, HQ, The Darling, Gold Room, or Underground. The next festival I’m at in Chicago is North Coast in August.
What’s the best way to connect with you?
Social media… My URLs all end with /djzebo
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SoundCloud.