Atlanta’s own ZeXter swung by to chat about everything from studio set-up, travels abroad, release history, and more!
Atlanta is quickly becoming the place to be if you’re a fan of the underground, and local DJ and producer ZeXter plays an important part in its ever-growing legacy. Besides being classically trained, he also boasts a degree in sound design and audio engineering, setting him up for success in the music industry. Originally, he was drawn to the trance and progressive scene, but it was techno that would ultimately flow out of his studio. And with one gander at his discography, it’s clear that this was always his true calling.
ZeXter’s music has the ability to make the world around you fade away with monstrous dance floor fire starters and atmospheric mood setters like “Dietary Relapse,” “High Stone,” and the recently released “Fanta.” He’s equally great when it comes to his remix touches. Some of his best work can be found within his interpretations of Ana Lilia’s “Fantasmo,” Purson’s “Hypnosis,” and Coutts’ “Bloodhound.” And, when it comes to his inclusion on some really cool compilations, he’s got that covered too. A great example being White Line Music’s 100th release celebration album, Centennial, with “All I Have.”
On the live front, ZeXter could be found regularly serving up his banging beats at favorite hangs like Odyssey After and events like the Subtle Warehouse/Block Party and Sets at Sunset Festival. He’s also spreading his sound around the world, and just last year he popped over to London to work with White Line Music. In addition, ZeXter has turned his dreams into reality, playing at one of the most iconic weeks for electronic music on the planet, Amsterdam Dance Event, as well.
With his talent in tow and the community lifting him up, there’s nothing stopping this rising star! For his exclusive guest mix, ZeXter has put together a full producer set with body rocking IDs and stand-out remixes like Pablo Artigas’ “As She Gently Weeps.” Of course, his originals are accounted for so prepare for him to knock your socks off and while you listen, read on for our conversation!
Stream EDMID Guest Mix 268 || ZeXter on SoundCloud:
Hello ZeXter! Thank you so much for chatting with us today! Let’s get started with a little backstory. What made you choose a path in DJing and dance music production? Can you fill us in with a bit of your early history in the scene?
I’ve been listening to electronic dance music since I was a preteen in 2004. But it wasn’t until my freshman year of college after taking one of my MIDI Technologies classes in 2013 that I knew I wanted to make music too. It was after watching videos on how these artists performed these tracks that I wanted to learn to DJ and sample as well. My first performance was at a friend’s house party where I connected my phone to their speaker system and used a DJ app on my phone. People really enjoyed it and I started playing more parties while learning to produce and mix during my free time.
Your most recent EP, Devil’s Breath, just hit #1 on Beatport’s Top 100 Raw Techno Releases Chart! Congratulations on the achievement! Can you talk about how you first got linked up with 18 East and Arkatekt and walk us through your collaboration on “Fanta”?
I met 18 East two years ago when I was offered to remix a track of his. From that point on he had me sign to his label White Line Music based in Mumbai, India. Arkatekt was already a friend of his so I met him through the label as well. I’ve released a good bit on White Line Music as most of my releases are on it.
“Fanta” is a track I started a few years back. It was initially for a producer contest which I did not win (oof). I figured I’d send it somewhere else and send the stems to 18 East to have him add some of his own sounds and flare to it. Luckily the final product sounded great to both of us and we sent it to Gene Karz’s Black Square Recordings which he gladly accepted. “Fanta” has gotten plenty of plays and support from many artists and made it to #23 in Beatport’s Top 100 Raw Techno Tracks.
When you dive into a new production, do you like to form a game plan first or do you let the process happen organically? What does your process look like if you were to break it down for us?
Usually, every track I make begins with the beat so I’m always quick to create the drumset out of all the hit samples that fit the sound I envision in my head. I’ll quickly program the beat to my liking and strip it down to several clips and make a progression for the arrangement. I then arrange the many clips of the beat accordingly and decide the length of the track. I begin to think of the sonic real estate and empty space and what to fill it with. Do I want to go melodic or do I want to go sound design based? That determines which plugins or devices I’ll use to make the main melody or main hook.
Now I have a Behringer Pro-1 hardware synth that has entered my studio setup and has already been used for some tracks. I add multiple layers like basslines, sub-bass, kick rumble, sidechaining ghost sends, textures, stabs, and impacts. The final step is automation and making the executive decisions on whether something needs small changes or a massive overhaul. I do the final mixdown, bounce out a pre-master with the correct headroom, and then send it over to one of my mastering engineers or I will master it myself. Upon the completion of the master, I finally send out the track to the respective party and keep my fingers crossed.
Of your discography thus far, which track was the most challenging to produce and why? In addition, which track would you say is the most unique or in contrast to your style, and what are the elements that make it unique?
I think the most difficult track to produce was the very first one I did which was a track called “Anyways,” released last year on Mikronaut’s iq140 Records. That was the first proper “techno” track I’d made in 2016. Back then I was still learning how to use Ableton and my ears were still not as finely tuned as they are now.
I think the most unique track of mine is one that many have heard but still hasn’t been released yet. It’s a track called “Paragon City”. On a rainy Tuesday in October 2018, I was playing my guitar through my interface and started playing this catchy lick that I managed to create an entire track around. It began with the guitar lick, followed by a really nice synth melody with some delay and oscillator automation. It was also a deep melodic track which is different from my usual heavier and faster style.
You have a degree in sound design and audio engineering. So, for the tech heads out there, what software and equipment would we find in the studio of ZeXter? In regards to studio must-haves, are there any tips you can offer your fellow up and comer?
You’ll find me using Ableton Live Suite for my track production, Pro Tools for my mastering, and Post Production Audio for Motion Picture and Video Games. I have two Yamaha HS8 monitors, Apollo Twin Quad Audio Interface by Universal Audio, the Behringer Pro 1, and a Novation Launchkey 37 MK3.
As for must-haves, the first thing I say is to get some music software. Doesn’t matter which one as long as it is competent. Spend some time with it till you become comfortable with it. The basic studio gear should be monitors, a midi controller, audio interface, studio headphones, and if you’re recording vocals or instruments, get a condenser microphone.
We’ve just experienced one of the toughest years the world has ever experienced and the music industry has been hit extra hard. What’s been the most challenging thing for you during the pandemic and how have you kept yourself mentally fit through it all?
One of the hardest things this year as it has been for nearly everyone is the lack of shows and festivals. Without the inspiration of hearing the music in the environment, it was meant to be played in, it’s been tough remaining consistent with production this past year. To maintain my artist relevance and to explore the new medium, I, like many other DJs, live-streamed sets on Twitch and other platforms. I knew that with lockdown likely going on for a considerable amount of time, that these streams would have to look and sound great.
You have family over in Jordan and you recently had the opportunity to go and visit. Can you talk about the electronic dance music scene over there and how it differs from the states?
Yes, I visited my parents in Amman this past December. It was a family visit so I didn’t at all get a chance to see if there is an electronic music scene or not. I know of Jordanian producers, such as trance producer Ahmed Romel, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of the scene there.
I met someone there who lives in Dubai but was visiting back home in Jordan. We exchanged information and he told me if I’m ever in Dubai to reach out to him and he’d help organize an event. So we’ll see if that pans out in the near future. Other than that, until I go back and there’s no pandemic, I don’t know for sure what the scene in Jordan is like or if there even is one.
In addition, you transferred to London for a stint last year. Musically, can you talk about what you took out of that experience? In relation, what has been your most musically fulfilling place to visit and why?
Well, my “stint” could not have been more poorly timed. I left right as things were starting to get bad and the UK closed their borders only hours after I landed. The main thing I took out of my three months there were a few more production skills and tips but also how to properly stream my DJ sets even better than I used to before. I organized many stream events for White Line Music managing time slots, stream keys, and keeping track of all the artists and their respective time zones. It was a real test of my leadership and project management skills. Luckily they all went great without a hitch.
I’d say the most musically fulfilling place I’ve been to is Amsterdam. I’ve been to other music hub cities like Miami, Brooklyn, and London but Amsterdam is the most in line with the tastes I have. Especially when I went to play Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) and got to meet other like-minded up-and-coming producers as well as some of my favorite well-known artists. Many of whom I’m still in contact with today.
Finally, what do you have gearing up for us in the coming months? Any major productions you’re currently working on?
I have another EP coming out soon featuring another collab with 18 East. I have some good material as well that has been sitting in my computer for a while. So I’m going to find some homes for these tracks as well as fine-tune some of the older ones that don’t meet my current standard. I’m also slowly starting to accept live gigs as well because I’ve been fully vaccinated.
Speaking of which, I’m currently working at Covid Care GA and am trying to help get as many people vaccinated as possible. My personal goal is to try and get as much of the Atlanta music scene vaccinated so we can get back to throwing proper events even quicker.