''I do like to think Zardonic is DJ music and not Metal music''
One of the inevitabilities of modern life is the proliferation of hybrids: People experiment with technology and cultures that previously would not be accessible. They fuse their disparate influences, and make it their own. There is no better embodiment of a cultural gene-splice, than ZARDONIC. A pan-cultural collision of dance and heavy metal ( distinct from industrial, EBM or electro-goth ), DJ Federico Agreda brings a hard-edged apocalyptic form of dance music to the world's arenas.
This is Zardonic's time. We talk to him before - and then after - a ground-breaking Sri Lankan gig, where he was the first dance DJ in the world to headline a metal festival, and on the eve of the release of his CD, Antihero.
First of all, explain how Zardonic came about. Being from Venezuela, how has your background shaped your music?
I think living in a country where bullying is the rule makes you inevitably angry and vindictive. That paired with the terrible economical and political crisis the country is facing. I left the country in July 2014 shortly after the latest riots began. Kids playing the hero / freedom fighter / terrorist role with anything and everything from burning tires to mortars, against a relentless military police. Thankfully for some, it wasn't happening all over the country. But it sure was happening three blocks from where I lived. So I couldn't even go to the yard to look at the twilight - my hometown, Barquisimeto, is known also as Twilight City because of the incredible sunsets we have - without seeing clouds of smoke, hearing all sorts of explosions, gunfire and screams. Not to mention there's been a recent electricity regulation where they have to cut the power three days a week for 2-3 hours at random times. It was the perfect scenario for all sorts of raiders to do as they pleased. And they did. And they still do.
What’s the music scene like in Venezuela?
Despite what I just told you, the scene is surprisingly REALLY good. We have all sorts of internationally acclaimed artists. Look em up whenever you want: Guaco, Los Amigos Invisibles, La Vida Boheme, Desorden Publico, Gustavo Dudamel, all of them incredibly talented and successful. When it comes to Metal, I guess I could mention Paul Gillman and Krueger in terms of popularity, but the underground has a lot more to offer in terms of composition quality. Verminous is a great death metal band to check out.
You obviously are influenced by metal, but I notice from the tracks you’ve remixed - such as Arkhon Infaustus and Anaal Nathrakh – that you have a singular taste for the more 'progressed' Black Metal that came after the millennium ( Black Metal was/is a hyper-fast form of heavy metal, originating in Scandinavia in the 90s ). Is it fair to say that this is an era that interests you specifically?
Nailed it. Post-2000 Black Metal is right up my alley. Older classics like Bathory, old Mayhem and old Sepultura are also among my favorites, but that technical touch you hear in Mayhem's "Grand Declaration Of War ( 2000 )" as opposed to their "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas ( 1994 )" is something I personally prefer.
I agree. When Mayhem went back to a more primitive sound to please the die-hards, they were in danger of making themselves obsolete.
I don't even know what they were trying to do by forcing their old sound back. That's involution. They should have kept the path they were taking if you ask me. A lot of people keep complaining about bands changing their sound. That's like you complaining about a fifty-year-old not being able to think the same way he did when he was ten. Evolution is natural, and so should be music. You can always go back and play the old albums and enjoy them for what they are, but trying to replicate it in new music will never be the same.
Of course!! I'm still waiting for Thorns to release another f**king album! And "With No Human Intervention" by Aborym is probably one of my favorite albums of all time! Loved the work of Attila Csihar ( Mayhem's vocalist ) particularly on that one.
''I am not a guy trying to bring electronic music into metal - that has been done to death''
Genre-busting music is always difficult to label. For example, I’ve noticed Celldweller is often listed on dance charts, whereas it would be more accurate to call it Metal, Progressive Metal, or perhaps even Electro-Metal ( – and very distinct from Industrial, which is how his music is labelled on my iPod ). Without wanting to reduce what you do with a simplistic label...what do you call the music of Zardonic?
Zardonic is Zardonic and I do what I feel, but I do like to think Zardonic is DJ music and not Metal music. I am not a guy trying to bring electronic music into metal. That has been done to death, and Celldweller is an excellent example of it. What I'm trying to do is the opposite: bring metal to the dance arenas. I like the energy you find in dance events. People are moving, they give you so much power, and everybody is all gathered and happy. Add a bit of extra heaviness and power to that and you've got an unmatched formula. That's why my live shows are still DJ sets. It's dance music with a lot of rock metal, not metal with electronic samples. In other words, I'm a DJ that sounds like a band, and not the other way around.
What inspired you to wear the mask? Kiss, Daft Punk, or Predator?
None of them. The mask was originally conceived and it's based on my logo which is based on my own face. People keep comparing it to Predator because it has "dreads" - RCA cables, to be precise - which were a later addition. But it wasn't inspired in anything that wasn't my own. Although I do like the idea that the final result resembles all of those things you mentioned, and other characters such as Deathstroke, Fulgore, Cyrax... a guy once said it looked like the cross of a Cylon and the mask from Scream, so I guess everybody will see what they will. I see nothing but the real me. Quoting Oscar Wilde, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
Give us your Top 5 list of classic albums, any genres.
I hate Top 5s. I always end up turning that into a Top 10, 20 or 50. So I will just throw the first five albums I can think of:
Behemoth - The Satanist
Arcturus - Aspera Hiems Sinfonia
Mayhem - Grand Declaration Of War
Dodheimsgard - 666 International
Ulver - Themes From William Blake's 'The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell'
- And I guarantee you that I could keep going, and I'm leaving a ton out of that list that I listen on a daily basis. Sixth one and I'll stop: Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects - Sol Niger Within
I definitely agree with you regarding Arcturus and Mayhem, although Ulver was a bit too soft and proggy for me. What are you listening to at the moment?
Behemoth's "The Satanist" has been on repeat for a long while. It inspires me. Gives me an energy I can't explain. That's why I mentioned it as a classic, as I do believe it is the absolute best they've released. Contemporary artists, to be fair, I have a hard time finding new music that I like. I have to dig a lot, and sometimes the stuff I find that I like is probably music that was released a long time ago but I failed to discover then. God Is An Astronaut has an amazing sound. Some of the new DevinTownsend is good. Ne Obliviscaris, Xerath. That kinda stuff. But there are very few bands that understand how to make music that sounds interesting and at the same time hypnotic enough to be enjoyable. A lot of bands are on this quest to be the most technical, the most bizarre, or the most hard hitting, and you end up with a pig-squeal-fest with a lot of noise behind it. I can hardly mention any guitar riff composers I like these days. That's what "Bring Back The Glory" ( from Zardonic's Vulgar Display of Bass album ) was about. Bringing back the flavor of the 90s and early 2000s. That, for me, was the era. But maybe I'm just getting old because that's exactly what my old man would say about the 60s and 70s. He loved Pink Floyd big time!
What famous artists would you like to produce?
None. I have no time to produce anyone else that is not me. Unless they pay big money.
So I guess whoever brings a balance of excellent music, open-mindedness and a fat wallet.
You’ve just announced that you’re headlining a Sri Lankan metal festival – that surely must be a first – both for 21st Century music culture and the Sri Lankans!
Tell me about it! It's going to be very interesting I think. I did it already when playing alongside Dimmu Borgir in Caracas. At first I thought the metalheads were gonna throw shit at me, but it was an excellent show and everybody was cheering and heard nothing but great comments about the set. There's always the occasional ignorant person that still thinks that being a DJ is only pushing buttons. I'd like to see Steve Vai trying to do a DJ set the same way Andy C does. It's another instrument man. Whoever fails to understand that is simply being square-headed.
Who’s idea was it, and what can the fans expect?
The Sri Lankans put it together. The fans can expect a set obviously a little more brutal and metal than usual, so I will be able to give free rein to all my black metal remixes. It's been a while since I played any!
Zardonic seems to embody one of the possible futures of heavy metal. Talking of futurist speculation, are you a fan of science fiction?
Big time. I see Zardonic as an antihero in a post apocalyptic future. But I think that topic has been overdone too much, so I want to be able to portray it in a different way. Still sorting out the ideas and don't want to give much away yet.
What books do you like to read and what movies do you like?
Never been much of a reader. They call it ADD in the United States. I need a movie. Most of the time I watch thought-provoking movies whatever the genre, but I have a sweet spot for great dramas. Movies like Dallas Buyers Club or Get Low. Robert Duvall's performance was outstanding there. I feel every time I watch those movies I grow as a human being. They give me perspective, inspiration. That's what I need from a movie.
Would you ever appear in a sci-fi movie, like the guys in Die Antwoord?
Maybe. But if I do appear in a movie it has to be done right. There's a difference between doing what Die Antwoord did with Chappie and what Bjork did with Dancer In The Dark.
Any plans to release a CD for those of us that like to keep music libraries and study liner notes and artwork in the booklet?!
Yes indeed. September 18th. You will be pleased!
Update - ZARDONIC'S SRI LANKAN GIG REPORT:
What was the Sri Lanka gig like? How responsive was the crowd?
I can't complain about this experience man! We had a fully packed Viharamahadevi Theatre - I dare you to pronounce that! The crowd was tough at first, but that's natural. No matter how metal people think Zardonic is, Zardonic is an electronic music act. It's obviously going to work better at EDC than Wacken metal festival. But I did some special tricks by the end of the set and some live vocals on top of it, and when I least expected it I had a moshpit in front of me! I think I was yet to play such an aggressive set.
Sri Lanka seems a long way from the busy music scenes of Europe and the Americas. What's their local scene like?
The local bands were great, a few of them need to improve a bit perhaps, but nothing that good advice and practice can't fix. I heard some mad potential. My favorite was Coat Of Arms from Dubai, and Seven Thorns did a pretty interesting job. There was also Demonic Resurrection from India, as made famous by the Global Metal documentary. Excellent stage presence as well.
Great interview - thanks for your time, and good luck with Antihero!