Hailing from the capital Bucharest, Nu Zau is the latest Romanian talent to offer his take on minimal-minded house and techno. Citing influences as varied as Rhadoo and Nas, he eventually decided to focus his efforts on the glitchier, more drawn-out side of electronic music, culminating in the release of his debut album through pioneering minimal imprint Archipel in 2012. MEOKO caught up with the DJ and producer to discuss his musical upbringing, and to try and gauge exactly what’s behind Romania and its minimalist obsession.
Yes Nu Zau. For those of us that don’t know the city, describe what it was like growing up in Bucharest, from both a musical and day-to-day perspective?
Well, from a musical point of view, there isn’t much to be said. Growing up in Bucharest didn’t have that much of an influence on me, musically at least. I mean sure, there’s a lot of musical variety in the city, lots of genres to be heard on every street corner, but I can’t say that it had that much of an influence on my musical approach, other than early on, when I started producing, I was very much influenced by local hip-hop. I wasn’t really aware of electronic music when I was growing up. Now it’s a well developed scene and I guess lots of people draw inspiration from that situation. From a personal perspective it was nice, and it still is. I grew up in a really tight group of people, my older brother being a big part of my upbringing. We’re still kids, in many ways, the both of us, and we still act like we’re part of that group. The city is nice too, I haven’t grown bored of it yet. All the places I’ve grown up with still have a very special place in my heart.
Hip-hop played a big party part in your musical evolution. Were these mainly US artists or are we talking about a more local scene?
Well, locally I’d have to say CTC and La Familia. Both groups were very important to me and I still listen to their tracks even now. Regarding US artists I’d have to say Mos Def, Guru and Nas.
The sparse, stripped-back nature of your productions draws instant comparisons to the a:rpia:r crew. How much of an influence would you say they were on your music, and in what ways?
They’ve been a huge influence for me, sure. I mean they pretty much kickstarted this whole thing, the whole ‘romanian sound’ phenomenon. I’d have to say that the percussion work and the general vibe of their tracks have inspired me greatly. Also the textures and micro-sampling, creating small rhythms that keep the track flowing and even throw up a couple of surprises for the listener.
As you said, it’s a sound that feels very Romanian. What is it about the scene there that has people pursuing this percussive, minimal aesthetic?
To be honest, I couldn’t really say. I couldn’t put my finger on it even if I tried. The micro-minimalistic approach to electronic music isn’t by any means new, you’ve got loads of other artists who made this kind of music earlier on – Ricardo Villalobos, a whole bunch of other guys over at Perlon, Zip of course. I don’t know why the people here are so into this sound, I guess we just like it.
And what do you personally engage with and find so powerful about it?
The fact that you can pretty much do anything within the boundaries that have been set. There isn’t really anything that can stop you from doing what you want with sounds, percussion, basslines. Endless alternations and rhythms, you know, that kind of thing.
It’s a style that lends itself to producing long tracks. When you’re in the studio producing, what is it in the music and the process that makes for such extended compositions?
I try to make them as mixable as possible, so that I can play them out and maybe layer another track or even two over them. Also it gives other DJs the option to do that as well. Apart from that I can also experiment with the sounds and rhythms, maybe break it up at some point, try a different arrangement, that kind of thing. Even stretch it out a bit to the point of hypnosis.
The majority of your releases this year have been collaborations. How do you find the process of making music with someone else compares to making it on your own?
It’s very different, you never know what to expect. The final product might sound more or less like none of the people who contributed to the track and that’s the beauty of it. But then again it might take the shape of one of the artists intended, you never know. I haven’t worked with that many people and it’s still really exciting, they’re all very good friends and producers – Dubsons, Pake, Sepp, Sublee. I really dig their stuff so I’m excited to keep on working with them.
Signing your debut album to a label as respected as Archipel must have felt like a serious achievement. Will you continue to work with Pheek and co. in the future?
Of course it was huge milestone for me. I’ve loved Archipel for a really long time now and they’ve always pursued this minimal/micro soundscape that I’m very fond of. I also released a track on a VA for them and I’m looking forward to working with them again.
Finally, what does the rest of 2013, and even 2014, hold for Nu Zau?
Well I’ve got more releases coming up, but I don’t want to get into that right now, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I’m looking forward to playing as often as I can and in as many places I can. I might take a bit of a break during the winter, just to be with my family and friends. After that it’s back on the train, wherever it takes me.
By Carlos Hawthorn