"We want to make dance music that is interesting enough to survive the trip home"
2019 was the year Zillas On Acid (Thomas Roland and James Weissinger) transitioned from DJ to emerging producers. Having honed their DJ skills at Philadelphia's revered Making Time clubhouse, the pair have released "Acid Straps" on Optimo Music, a collaborative EP with the great Brussels-based artist Strapontin, which has been released on labels such as I ' m A Cliché, Hard Fist, La Belle or Nein Records. In this album they work with a pure and uninhibited rave sound, the opposite of subtlety and the sonic equivalent of a VCR biting your hand, with a musical style located somewhere in an unknown land between post punk, tribal downtempo and the dark disco.
It's a pleasure talking to Zillas On Acid and Strapontin about their latest release "Acid Straps".
Can you tell us a little about your experience? Where are you from / how did you get into music? ZA: We’re both from in or around Philadelphia. We were originally part of a four-person crew that threw lovely sloppy parties for art kids starting around 2006. The resident DJ at the bar where we would hang out was sick, and we were asked to fill in. We made all of our friends show up and it took off from there. Then we joined up with Dave P and his Making Time party, actually learned how to mix, started buying up old keyboards, etc. etc.
S: I'm a visual artist and music producer based in Brussels, I studied art in France but music was in my mind when I graduated: I actually showed scale-down models of Berlin clubs for my art diploma, this should have rang a bell to me at that time... I studied piano and learned the basic classical "hits" but had a lot of fun playing contemporary music too. Music always was a beautiful and fantasised thing I could not imagine doing "as a job". This is stupid because I weirdly felt myself confortable thinking that making sculptures was alright/ acceptable as a regular job ahah ! of course IT IS NOT.
I feel like the underground scene will continue to persist. Do you think we can go back to "normal" events and festivals? ZA: We’re optimistic! The glass is always simultaneously half-empty and half-full. Hoping that the good parts of “normal” return, and the bad parts of “normal” stay where they are.
S: "Normal" was problematic in many ways. I hope it's not going back to normal. I think it is the right time to start something new: smaller clubs with better vibes, different genres in a party, different crowd, add more politics in our club scene, be aware of social justice, sexism, racism, ecology, thinking about music before money: I know these are very basic thoughts to tell but it is actually still very rare to see people making something of it...
How is your sound evolving? What artists and genres do you enjoy mixing right now? ZA: We got really into SLOW stuff--listening to slow stuff, making slow stuff, djing slow stuff. But now maybe things are getting faster? Otherwise: dub, simple basslines, acid of course. In Flagranti as an ever-present influence (at least for Jameszilla). How can each song sound like its own little special weird world? This is the Zilla zone. Current faves: Fantastic Twins, Pleasure Pool, Iro Aka, Tamburi Neri. Any and all sets by SALLAD EGG. And, really into this song by Ian Fink at the moment:
S: As I'm also composing music for contemporary dance shows I'm exploring a lot of different genre. That's why I created side-projects with different names -which I keep secret for now. Then I can explore new territories like intimate pop-songs, sound design, heavy techno, super gay house, experimental drone, classical piano...
In my project Strapontin I am now exploring new ways to make people dance, sounds are more intimate and dramatic. I also like ambivalent feelings in music, when anger goes with pleasure, or melancholia with positivity. But of course I still love producing slow and groovy bangers ;) How do you feel that your music influences or impacts your listeners? ZA: We want to make dance music that is interesting enough to survive the trip home. We maybe don’t always succeed at that... but that’s kind of the goal?
S: Hm I don't really know. When I play my tracks in clubs people are reacting very differently but very clearly: some of them just dance regularly, some leave but other get very feverous and kinky. Like they are high on hormones. I guess my music got something about sexuality. I like that.
What projects are you working on right now? ZA: We’re having fun right now working on a remix for Russian Chandeliers (Julian Grefe + Niko Raptis). Julian has been one of our biggest inspirations since the start so… we want to get it right. :)
S: A vinyl release on french label Abstrack record with remixes from Feon, A Strange Wedding, Anatolian Weapons and Vidock. I'm also composing music for 3 contemporary dance shows and I'm working on a duo project with David Shaw called "It's Complicated".
How was Acid Straps born? What do you want to convey? ZA: Strapontin (whom we are BIG fans of) serendipitously reached out to us about collaborating on a project. We passed a couple of unfinished tracks to each other that we had laying around. Everything clicked from there. Our sounds truly complimented each other and we are really happy with ACID STRAPS.
S: I heard Zillas On Acid release on Les Disques de La Mort and really liked their rough and ravy sound. I found something punk and arty at the same time and liked it. I simply reached them and asked if they would be up for a collaboration. Everything worked very naturally and that's why I'm proud of this EP: we had fun and took pleasure producing it and I'm sure it's visible. How do you feel about publishing on Optimo? ZA: Best label, best dudes! In so many ways they have inspired what we do. One of our last Making Time parties before the shutdown was with them in February 2020 here in Philly--it was of course totally bonkers.
S: Pride ! I won't deny it. I love this label and was already very honoured to have my EP "Fondofunk" released on it in 2018, and now I feel more connected to it which is more than I expected. It's very pleasant to see people I like reacting very positively to my music, gives me strength.
What piss you off? ZA: Intolerance, Mitch McConnell, papercuts.
S: Stupid people getting famous.
Shitty music being imperialistically spread all around the world.
How social media affects me.
What makes you happy? ZA: David Isaacs’ cover of “A Place in the Sun”, cold brew, furry friends.
S: My very funny friends, good video games, incredible artists I'm working with Do you have any final words of wisdom? ZA: Stay hydrated!
S: Boredom is my favourite creative path !
Zillas on Acid photos by UV Lucas