DJ, producer, party-organizer, businessman and an all-around great guy, Hans Zen recently took some time to chat with us after he dropped his latest EP titled Qmulus on SA’s leading techno label, Triplefire Music. The KONA co-founder and rising artist spills all, from his favorite local acts to early beginnings and even offers a sneak peek inside his new personal studio. We kicked off, suitably, on the origin of his relationship with music.
MCBN: Tell us more about your musical background, what inspired you at a young age to pick up instruments, specifically the violin?
HANS: Growing up around jazz, blues, rock n roll, 80’s pop and classical music, I’ve always had a musical inclination. But I would say my true love for music was discovered at the age of 9. The school music teacher was doing recruitment one day, walking from class to class. I remember it as if it was yesterday: he walked into our classroom and simply said, “who wants to learn to play the violin?”, and for reasons unbeknown to me, my hand just shot up like a rocket – needless to say my rugby teammates were just as puzzled as I. To be honest, the only regret I have in life is not having pursued my honors in violin.
MCBN: Describe your first electronic music experience that propelled the leap from instrumental to electronic production was it an artists track you heard or a ‘live’ experience?
HANS: At the age of 12 I discovered Drum and Bass and so I discovered the electronic realm of music through that genre, which has ultimately shaped my musical journey through the years. A good friend, Craig Mcleod, showed me Reason and taught me how to mix on turntables when we were 16 – Craig had already been spinning hard house alongside the likes of Lisa Lashes and Anne Savage at the age of 15. This was when I knew there is absolutely no turning back. I WAS FUCKING HOOKED! After D&B, I fell in love with the Psy Trance scene ( around age 16) which is when I first started learning to produce on my shitty laptop with cracked Cubase and VST plugins. This lasted until my first Killer Robot experience at Fiction when I was 20 or so years old. (And still, all the while rocking my face off to other huge musical inspirations in my life such as the band Tool)
MCBN: You’ve just released your latest EP Qmulus on one of SA’s leading techno and house labels, Triplefire Music. Tell us more about the progression of the tracks featured on the EP, were there any external factors that influenced the feel and atmosphere of the EP?
HANS: The name Qmulus is derived from the cumulus cloud formation. When I started with the track there were massive cumulus formations in the window of my “studio” that day. I marveled at the force of nature and how powerful the storms are that these cloud formations create. So it inspired me to create a soundscape that resembled the behavior of a storm and the vast space of nature. The ominous beginning and then the thunderous peak, the dark growling lead (which is aptly created by the “Tone 2 Gladiator” VST) that represents the peak of the storm – thunder, lighting, etc! The Qmulus (Equinox Mix) was actually mixed in a hurry for the Equinox Festival producers competition. I thought this soundscape would be more appropriate for listeners. Needles was just a very housey groove I felt one day. I literally put it together in a day. I like it because I made little fuss. The most frustrating thing I think most producers experience is being too critical and nit-picky with their own productions.
MCBN: A man of many trades, you’re not only a DJ and producer but also the co-founder of both Techtris and KONA – how did you become involved in both and what’s it been like watching KONA grow into one of Cape Towns most sought after techno club nights at Modular?
HANS: Techtris was mustered up by Craig McLeod, Craig Schouw and I at a time when techno and minimal were still being discovered in Cape Town. So naturally, there was space for us to create our own brand/sound in the scene. Of all the Techno parties and clubs we were attending, weren’t playing the music we were spinning in our bedrooms and our private parties – so it inspired us to do our own thing. We formed a small crew of musicians/DJ’s and audio-visual pro’s, namely Craig Shackleton and Matthew Meyer. With our combined skills in event technical production, we were able to create unique audio-visual experiences. That was our mission: Push high-end stage production and quality music.
KONA came about when we were approached before Modular had even opened to be involved. I knew there was only one person I would want to work with and who shared a similar vision of uplifting the underground – Ryan Sullivan! He was just as keen and we both agreed to take on the project so long as it remained fun and organic and true to the underground culture. I have to give my girlfriend credit for the name KONA. We wanted KONA to represent a unified friendly environment where all races and creeds could congregate and share good times and dance. An all-inclusive experience through music and culture. I think there is a lot of clicky shit going on in the scene and I absolutely despise it! At KONA, we are equals – my girlfriend, Lea discovered that KONA means “South” in Hawaiian and ironically is also part of a Xhosa word.
Needless to say, it’s been an absolute pleasure and honor to work with someone like Ryan, and the Modular crew that has given us the perfect platform to push our progressive sound and vision for the scene. I’m really very proud and beyond stoked.
MCBN: There have been many amazing artists both local and international who you’ve played alongside at KONA. This month in celebration of your latest Triplefire EP – Qmulus, you will be the headlining act, who has been your favorite headliner in the past and what can KONA fans expect from your set at Modular this month?
HANS: I’d have to say Toby2Shoes, Dave Irish and Emmzet have definitely left a mark for me! Ryan and I both missed it, but apparently, Richard Marshall also did heads in. I can totally believe it because Marshy has had me dancing on a couch in a club before! This month I’ll be headlining KONA and playing my favorite slot – closing – expect faces to melt!
MCBN: Booking acts monthly for KONA parties must mean you constantly keep your eyes on the local scene. Who is your top 3 local techno/house acts at the moment?
HANS: Great way to put a man on the spot hey? There are so many, but off the top of my head in no particular order: Ryan Sullivan, Matt Loots, Toby2Shoes, Khubu, DeadbeatFM, Richard Marshall, Ryan Murgatroyd, Rob Toca, Dave Irish, Jono J, MKLY & Sides, Audio Jerk, Siphe Tebeka ,Dark Light ,SecondNature , Dylan Munro.
MCBN: Very recently we got the news that you had completed your home studio – Bragging rights permitted, tell us what you’re packing in there?
HANS: Is a studio ever complete? HAHA! No, I think I’m good for the next while: KRK Rokit 6’s, Focusrite Scarlett, 2i4, Ableton Live 9 Suite, Push 2, Korg Minilogue, Novation Bass Station 2, Traktor Kontrol X1 and an Electric Violin.
MCBN: Beyond being on the frontline of the music industry you also operate behind the scenes with your own company called Zehn Productions which delivers premium festival and event solutions. Tell us more about the events you have worked on in the past and how you got into this end of the business?
HANS: Bazique Festival is definitely a highlight of the year for us, as well as our collaborative efforts with Bold Agency to brand the Boiler Room events in SA. Working with Full Cream Entertainment on the F1rst Sunday event at Rands, Khayelitsha was also tops! F***Me I’m Famous NYE at Shimmy. On the corporate side of things, we were also privileged to work with Dell USA for their DWEN Conference & Gala Function, as well as the Sunglass Hut Annual Summit and G-Star Raw Sneaker Launch.
I get to work with my best friends every day and we get to build stages for some of the top electronic music festivals in the country. As an aspiring DJ/Producer, this was pretty much the best job you could ask for. After 4 years of working for the man, I started my own production company. The journey has been real!
MCBN: We’ve heard via the grapevine you’ve been working on a duo with another local well-known producer? Is that true and would you care to share?
HANS: Yes, Craig Schouw and I have started a new project called Original Odyssey. That’s all I’m saying for now.
MCBN: Describe yourself in three words
HANS: Leo (haha) kind, loving and fun however armed with a tank of “Don’t fuck with me!”
MCBN: Describe your latest Triplefire EP – Qmulus in three words
HANS: Buy. It. Now
MCBN: Last but not least, if you could have one artist dead or alive remix a track of yours, who would it be?
HANS: Wow that’s impossible to nail it down to one, so here are a few: Sasha, Digweed, Max Cooper, Stephan Bodzin, Extrawelt, Andreas Henneberg, Robert Babicz, Hunter/ Game, Alex Niggeman.
For more information on this incredible artist and his work, then check out his facebook fan page and the Triplefire website. To purchase his latest EP Qmulus, head on over to Beatport and be sure to catch him headling this months edition of KONA at Modular.