Z-Trip is lost. We're standing in the middle of Rockaway Records in Silver Lake, in the rock section's “G-H” area, and the DJ — born Zach Sciacca — is in his own world. We were discussing the golden age of DJ culture when he got sidetracked, his fingers flipping madly through vinyl.
When something catches his attention — in this case a Top of the Pops U.K. Import from 1966 — his brow furrows as he runs a mental rolodex scan. “It's a match game. My file system always has to be on point. Let's say there's a great horn bit on this collection. I'll take it home and put it in my 'horn' section. The next time I need horns I'll say, 'Oh, there's that record with the really great horn bit that I bought a couple months ago.' But, this is where everything [begins]. Digging through crates in a record store and getting lost.”
A child of divorce, Sciacca spent his childhood bouncing between New York and Arizona. “I'd go see my Dad in New York and absorb all this great music, and then go back to Arizona where nothing was going on,” he recalls. Raised on a steady diet of East Coast rap — Public Enemy, Run-DMC, and Eric B. and Rakim were touchstones — Sciacca's unique approach to DJing began to take shape. “I brought a different potluck style to the scene,” he says. “Everyone was bringing ham and cheese to the party and I was bringing Indian food. A lot of people thought it was way too weird at the time. But now, everybody's doing it.”
Before Danger Mouse fused The Beatles and Jay-Z, there was Uneasy Listening, Sciacca's now-legendary 2001 mixtape that blended seemingly disparate classic rock cuts over hip-hop. There was Pharcyde crossed with The Eagles, layered over Midnight Oil, for example, and it introduced Z-Trip's ADD aesthetic to the world while kickstarting an entirely new musical genre, the mash-up.
“It's about versatility,” says Sciacca. “I'll DJ a million parties, whether it's a Vegas, dubstep, reggae or underground thing. That helps separate me within the DJ community. But I also produce music, and working with other artists in the studio helps me to be well-versed in rock, funk and a lot of other genres. When I play live, I don't just play records. I put on a show. The more you explore and attempt within this career choice, that's when you become an artist. If you're just up there playing records, it doesn't mean you're not an artist, but your longevity is limited. If you're not trying to do as much as you can, while exploring and breaking down boundaries, then you're just a guy spinning records and making people dance.
“Not that there's anything wrong with that.”
Though this year has seen him collaborating with LL Cool J and sharing the stage with De La Soul on the Rock Boxx Tour, Sciacca pauses when asked if 2011 has been a rebirth. “I'm flattered, humbled and honored, to be honest. I never thought my career would get half this far, let alone sharing a stage with these guys. I fell into a lull there for awhile, because it felt like everybody was just regurgitating everything. I lost that spark. But then something comes along and knocks you on your ass. Sometimes it's a record you didn't know you were looking for. There's still plenty of inspiration out there, but you just gotta find it.”
It's closing time at Rockaway, but Z-Trip and I are allowed to continue browsing after the doors are locked. Sciacca cruises bin-to-bin, scouring previously unissued Chicago Blues collections and Metal Blade Records compilations, his expression alternating between rigid concentration and joyful grin. “Whatever fame or notoriety I've achieved, it's all a bonus. The shit that is really core for me is this, crate digging. If I worked at Kinko's you'd still find me here after work. This is what it's all about for me. Getting lost.”
Z-Trip will be performing with De La Soul, Noxaj Thing and Daddy Kev on the Rock Boxx Tour 8/19 at the Hollywood Palladium.
Lots more photos below.