Zenbi talks house music inspiration, SoupNYC, crowd connection, and so much more in this week’s Artist Spotlight!
As the founder of Zenbi Recordings and an acting partner with SoupNYC, one of the most respected house music brands in the country, Christopher D. Porter aka Zenbi is fast on his way to superstardom as he plays a pivotal and vital role in the underground house music boom. But there is no isolating this dynamic artist as he cuts the scene all over the northeast and beyond, taking his love for house music and developing quite the high-octane career as he wows crowds with his pristine connection to the music that drives his soul.
Known for his soulful, gritty, tribal-infused sound Zenbi strives to connect with all who take an interest to his beats. Translate that to the live front and when Zenbi gets behind the booth, you can feel the connection as he allows the crowd to direct his musical vision, matching the vibes with each track he chooses. From the studio, Zenbi is a force to be reckoned with as well, with several releases gracing the Beatport Top 10. He has also received massive support from the likes of the industry elite including Moby, Fatboy Slim, Mark Knight, Marco Carola, UMEK, and more.
As his career continues to blossom and flourish we just had to jump at the chance to have a chat with this house music extraordinaire. Without further ado, turn up your speakers and enjoy an exclusive Zenbi EDMID guest mix as you get to know the man behind the music!
Stream EDM ID Guest Mix 122 || Zenbi on Mixcloud:
Hello Zenbi! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! To kick things off, we are curious to know, what is it about underground house and techno that speaks to you the most?
Thanks for having me! The most important thing about underground house and techno for me is the ability it has to allow you to paint your own picture, in a myriad of styles. Be that with a vocal or an instrumental, you can paint a mood, a feeling, a hypnotic groove and when combined with interpreting those tracks and songs in a club set, as a DJ – with the two-way feedback you get from a great crowd – it’s just an incredibly compelling thing. I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me. I hope not!
For those just getting to know the Zenbi sound, what makes your own unique version of the genres stand out from the broad array of house and techno producers in the industry?
Thanks for the compliment! I think my musical background as a drummer and bassist means I’ve always focused on the groove and the rhythm. I hear too many tracks just using the hot sample pack of the moment and using obvious tricks and techniques. It takes a little more effort to infuse some originality into a track but it really stands out when you do.
If you look back on your come up in the industry, who were some of the artists that you drew your inspiration from and are there any specific artists that you would love to collaborate with in the future, and why?
On a local level growing up around Philly, King Britt and Josh Wink were big DJ influences on me, particularly the way they would mix up sounds back then. Musically a lot of early east coast hip hop still speaks to me, from Double D and Steinski and their cut-up collage approach to sampling, Schooly D (big reverbs!) through to guys like Nas.
On the electronic side anyone with a groovy approach to percussion; Locodice, Luciano for example. Chus & Ceballos also fit into that category and I admire their approach to their career and the longevity they are able to sustain. Mark Farina was a huge influence on me too and his Mushroom Jazz sets back in the day, which included many of the hip-hop jazz and R&B tracks I grew up with.
Raised in Philadelphia, based in Washington DC, and finding yourself at home in the concrete jungle of NYC, can you describe the differences and similarities of the house music scene in each respective city?
Having grown up, made music in, thrown parties in, lived in and gravitated between both cities for as long as I can remember, I see more similarities than differences. Both cities have intense and deep-seated musical heritages, which obviously extends to house music too.
New York is more cosmopolitan obviously, and a true global city; the most outward-looking American city which tends to result in a few more influences from around the world. The urban soul and funk of Philly by contrast, always shines through. #phillyasfuck. I love both cities and scenes equally.
Can you speak to your partnership with the SoupNYC crew and how your experience with them has grown you as a true leader among the underground house movement in NYC?
I love working with Chris and Andy. It’s been a real focus and pleasure of mine to work with these two talented guys and help grow SoupNYC into the leading Brooklyn underground party promoter and continue growing our label as a premiere outlet for quality underground house and techno.
I was just playing the Harry Romero remix of Rebuke’s “Far Out” at the weekend (keep an eye on Rebūke. He’s one of our tips for the top this year) and watched the track turn the place upside down. The fact that we are attracting artists of this caliber producing work of this standard, to the label now, is a source of great pride for us all.
You have stated that “From behind the booth, my job is to work the crowd, to take them on a journey that matches the vibe and mood of the room”. When allowing the crowd to inspire your musical choices what kinds of challenges arise in the moment and how do you use this innate connection to your fans as inspiration inside the production studio?
Playing regularly as a DJ undoubtedly helps the production process. I often say playing a track to people in a club is the final stage in making a track. You hear things about the mix, but most importantly the arrangement that may not be apparent in the controlled environment of the studio. The people always let you know if you’ve nailed it. It’s a hugely important ‘back and forth’ connection for me.
Back in April Rich Wakley delivered his Underdog EP that featured your remix of “Wake And Bake”. When taking on remix duties, what is the toughest part when it comes to staying true to the original but morphing the vibe to make it all your own?
Well, first of all, I’m glad you mention that remix as I feel Rich did an amazing job and it’s been a staple of my sets ever since he sent it to me. As far as remixing goes I don’t see it as a challenge. The remix is a representation of your sound, and typically that is what the artist or the label are trying to buy into, or get a flavor of.
So while I feel it’s important to represent the original song, I feel it’s even more important to provide your own take on it, and if something feels right, just do it. If a label or artist is less interested in hearing your interpretation, it’s probably not a remix I’d want to take on.
What is one interesting thing about you that your fans might not know about you? Any cool hobbies or activities you like to get in to on your leisurely downtime?
There are probably lots of ‘interesting things’ about me that my fans might not know, haha. I like to fly planes, I’m a licensed pilot and certified adrenaline junkie. True story.
On the flip side, as we take a look at the tragic loss of Avicii and Anthony Bourdain, how do you personally deal with the rigors of intense schedules to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically fit as you take on the world through music production, label co-ownership, and event performance?
I’d like to pay tribute to both the artists you mention – leaders in their fields, albeit in different areas and different stages of life. I had the opportunity to play with Tim a few years back, such a tragic loss of an amazing person and a huge talent.
I think the focus should be much more on awareness, understanding, and support for mental health issues in general, not just in artistic circles. With the rise of social media and the 24/7 ‘always on’ approach to celebrity and news reporting, the pressures have just multiplied for people to always project a certain image, and be a certain way. And this is wrong – a balance, as with all things in life is essential.
Finally, as the 2018 season continues to trudge forward, I know that fans are just dying to get their hands on a full-length Zenbi Album! Is this something that you are considering to deliver in the near future and if so, would you be more keen to design a mix-comp or would you choose to focus on originals only, and why?
It’s certainly possible for 2019. It’s not in my immediate short-term future. My immediate goals for this year are to continue focusing on a new phase of my own artistic development with some key singles, some on the label and some on other, high profile labels to build on the success we have established with the night and the label. I may also be looking at some promotions outside of New York in the second half of this year. Watch this space!