There are few DJs out there who command as much respect and adulation as DJ EZ. The consummate London spinner, the veteran has been in the game since virtually its inception; if you needed an embodiment of the spirit and vitality of UK dance music then you need look no further. An important ambassador for the past as well as the present, EZ’s ties with pirate radio and his beloved UK garage have held him as an integral part of dance music’s lasting legacy, and as his recent Boiler Room and Mixmag sets have shown, he certainly hasn’t lost the knack of slaying a dance floor with his fast mixing and crowd-pleasing song selection.
You’re known primarily as a garage DJ. Do you see that kind of pigeon-holing restrictive or a positive thing?
It’s fortunate to be part of a genre which has many elements from other genres. I’ve always embraced other styles within my sets and if they fit within the garage envelope, then you’ll certainly hear me include them in the mix! Garage music has played an important part of my musical heritage and I’ve been name checked as one of the pioneers of the scene which has definitely worked as a positive. But it’s certainly not restrictive either, as those who have seen me play will be aware that other styles are merged into the mix and the bookings that I’m getting through nowadays are for clubs and festivals that support all styles of dance music.
Are you mindful of the fact that people expect to hear a certain thing when they come to see you?
If I’m playing at an event where it is based around old skool or a garage classics night, then the crowd will certainly expect – and rightly so – a full on back in time nostalgic set. However, of late, my sets are split 50/50 with the new and old. It’s also very satisfying that the clubbers today are into both and quite knowledgeable with the older stuff too. I’ve been supporting garage music for the longest duration, but my sets are far from just garage beats. Like my Thursday night Kiss FM UK radio show for example, I’ll mix up the best in UKG, House and Garage, Bass music and more new and old. So with that, I am really enjoying playing the old skool classics, alongside some great new music being produced by today’s highlight producers and newcomers too.
How often do you decide to surprise people by playing a completely unexpected set?
With recent bookings taking me all over the world, I have the opportunity to include tracks which I would not normally play at a normal UK event for example. Also, with my own event, Z Uncut where I play the entire night for a minimum of 8 hours, this really gives me the platform to give the crowd a bit more than the norm. There is always the new CDJ trick, music from a hot new artist and of course there are those iconic tracks that stand the test of time. My DJ bookings this year will take me as far a field as the USA – and garage music is just breaking through there thanks to the likes of Disclosure – therefore my set will certainly be slightly adjusted to meet the crowds expectations. I think that’s what’s most important at the end of the day, keeping your audience happy.
What is it about garage in particular that’s kept you in love with the genre for so long?
I’ve been championing the sound of garage for the past two decades and I’m still not tiring of it! The dominant sound of the UK underground features a distinctive syncopated 4/4 percussive rhythm, it’s descended from house music into many different styles such as 2-step and bassline. This tempo alone gets a fantastic reaction in the clubs and has infiltrated many sub genres of this sound. For me, garage music is most enjoyable to mix and it’s given birth to some amazing artists such as Todd Edwards and MJ Cole. With the rebirth of the 4/4 beats through today’s hottest young artists, garage music is going strong and I’ll be sticking with it for many more years yet!
You’ve been in the game for a long time – how have you seen crowds change since you first started out?
The garage scene has always lent itself to excitable crowds, most are there to party and dance and this hasn’t changed since I started DJing. The only thing that’s probably changed is the fashion. When Katy B guested on my recent Kiss FM UK radio show for her birthday, she wore an original Moschino skirt before her garage-themed private birthday event which certainly took me back! This year I’ll be playing at festivals such as Glastonbury and Bestival where the crowds are much bigger and will consist of those garage music veterans who’ve followed the sound from the first time it broke through to the younger crowd who’ve more recently joined the scene. I still see people in the crowd who I first spotted dancing to garage 10 years ago.
And attitudes towards DJs and DJing in general?
My attitude has never changed, when I first started out DJing I got into it for the love of music and my passion for playing to a crowd and this is still the same. My focus is ensuring the best possible experience for the fans of the music and bringing them a unique set and the best music from the house and garage scene.
People always mention that Boiler Room set when they talk about you – where does that particular set rank in the hundreds that you’ve played around the world?
The Boiler Room sets – because of their global appeal – have opened more doors than I ever could have imagined. These sets have been viewed across the world and allowed me to have a presence in territories I’ve not yet played. Because of these reasons, it ranks very high. It’s been an honour to be part of the Boiler Room and it’s definitely been part of one of the most exciting times of my DJ career.
Dance music is hugely popular in the UK at the moment – over the course of your career have there been any moments over that period where you thought it had suffered?
Dance music is dominating not just the UK, but also the rest of the world. EDM in the States has taken the sound to a whole new level and there’s so many different styles breaking through. The fact that old skool nights have always had a strong following demonstrates that there’s always been a demand to hear dance music. I can safely say though, that garage music is stronger than ever.
You’re famed for your quick mixing style – were there any DJs that you were looking up to and trying to imitate when you were first learning your trade?
During the early days of my DJ career, I was fortunate to join one of London’s biggest pirate station’s back then called Dance FM. I learned a lot from many of the DJ’s on there but I must say that Kenny Ken (who was also one of the DJ’s on Dance FM) was one of the DJ’s I took a lot of inspiration from due to the way that he mixed which was more technical then the others. However, the CDJ and turntable trickery you’ll see me perform at events is self-taught, I mix quickly as this works with the style of music I’m playing and allows for me to fit as many great tracks into the set as possible and creates more of an impact.
Which places, aside from the UK, are most responsive to UK styles like garage and funky?
The UK has been the first to embrace the garage scene that I’ve been championing from the early days, but places such as The Netherlands, Ibiza, Majorca and Ayia Napa have also been playing garage music for many years. The clubs in these places have been quick to respond to the demand and Croatia with festivals such as Hideout and Outlook and UK festivals such as Glastonbury, Global Gathering have both booked me again for their events this year. I’ll also be playing the US for the first time this year so America is next on the list for UK garage!
You can catch DJ EZ at W.A.R! at Ibiza Ricks Hotel on the 13th June. For more information please visit the website
Words: Lev Harris