Native from Ireland, Zero T is one of those artists who carries the legacy of drum & bass through an impressive discography. From Metalheadz to Grid Recordings, from V Recordings to Sofa Sound, from CIA to The North Quarter, Zero T goes beyond the ages, the genres, and the countries.

One may say that the artist we used to call Zero Tolerance no longer needs to prove anything, yet each of his new releases still remains a masterpiece. Calibre, Alix Perez, Villem, Need For Mirrors or Phase are some of the guys he made tracks with. And it’s just a few of the collaborations he’s made during his more-than-two decade career.

More recently, you might probably notice him alongside all the big names selected to remix the famous « The Journey Man » of Goldie. His version of “Truth” left no one indifferent. A talented artist, a music lover, and a hard worker. This is how we can define Zero T.

Today, after leaving 2020 with 2 EPs and a dozen of salty releases, Zero T returns to Dispatch recordings with “Hurt Inside” and “Sonic Bionic”.

For the occasion, we manage to catch Cian, the man behind the Zero T project, to talk about his new single.

– First of all, how are you doing? What’s your state of mind in February 2021?

Like everyone stuck in the UK, I’m entirely fed up with the current state of things, but I’m lucky to have a job and my family, so I can’t complain too much.

– Let’s do a quick throwback. Despite the difficult circumstances, 2020 was a great year for your music. For example, Mako tweeted that you were his «favorite producer from the year of COVID». So, how did the human and the artist behind Zero T spend 2020?

My day job in video production was uninterrupted by Covid, so other than not going into an office, my day-to-day routine has been much the same as before. I’ve tried to spend this lost year being as productive as possible on all fronts. The aim is to be well-armed for when the world can reopen again fully.

– You’re a versatile producer. Hence the fact that your tracks are played in clubs, during chill afternoons, or through headphones on a morning subway journey. So how would you define the “Zero T” style?

Mostly just staying true to my interpretation of the original ethos of jungle/drum & bass, which, to me, is to draw on any inspiration or vibe and turn it into ‘our’ music. I try to blend all my influences, which are wide-ranging. This is what leads to all the varying types of DnB I make.

– The first impression when we listen to the single is the two distinct atmospheres each track has. Like your previous EP on The North Quarter, showcasing the duality of your work. Where did the inspiration for these two tunes come from? And usually, where does your inspiration come from?

My approach to making music has always been a sample-based, hip-hop-type method. I spend a lot of time hunting for source material, so when I want to write a tune I have a huge pot to dip into. When I find something that triggers an idea, I just follow the sample and do what it tells me.

– I heard that the second track, Sonic Bionic, reminded you of a “dark Wu-Tang type of vibe”, are you a Hip-Hop enthusiast?

Very much so. It’s the music genre I listen to more than any other. My initial attraction to jungle when I first discovered it as a teenager in the 90s was that it was like a UK version of hip-hop – the same ‘rules’ applied but it was fast and made you want to dance like a nutter.

– We can hear vocals on both tracks of the single, what’s your process behind working with a vocalist, or picking vocal samples?

With samples, it’s very much throwing sh*t at the wall and seeing what sticks. Working with vocalists is a different thing altogether. To begin with I am very particular about vocalists I choose to work with. I already trust their ability and approach to song creation completely, so I just let them do whatever comes naturally to them. Once they have done that, we will go back and forth refining the idea into a proper song.

– Speaking of vocals, we know you work a lot with Steo, could you tell us more about your relationship with him?

I’ve known Steo for nearly twenty years now. We met in the early 2000s in Dublin (where we are both from) through a mutual friend (Bassbin resident DJ Psyence) and found we had a very similar taste in music. He is a sick producer in his own right, and in 2006, I asked him for some demos.

He makes all sorts of downtempo goodness and one of the loops was a deep house idea with an amazing vocal hook. I presumed it was a sample, so I called him to ask where he got it from. In his trademark humble style, he told me it was him singing into his mum’s PC! I knew he was a rapper and a producer but had no idea he could sing. I demanded he come to the studio immediately.

In our first session worked up the beat and did some vocal takes on what became “Refusal”. He then featured heavily on my debut album “Cheap Shots”, most notably on “Walk Away”, and we’ve been making our own brand of Irish DnB Neo-Soul ever since.

– You’ve chosen to release this single on Dispatch Recording, how did this come about? And is this linked to your previous work on the imprint, like your legendary “Golden Section” album?

Obviously, I have a long history with Dispatch, including two LPs, Golden Section and Little Pieces, and it’s been a while since I released something with them. Ant is a good mate and we work together regularly in other areas. We were chatting last year and he asked for something. These were two the tunes that I happened to be working on at the time and we both agreed that they fitted well together.

– Diving into a more general topic, we’ve recently published an article about creativity, especially in drum & bass. Speaking of your creation process, do you have particular habits when you work (like a special t-shirt you wear or your favorite drink)? Tell us more about what’s « Zero T in the lab »!

I’ve been doing research into whether anyone has ever died from drinking too much tea (Yorkshire, to be brand-specific)… if there hasn’t, then I think I might become the first.

I have another dirty habit of smoking, so my production ritual revolves around hour-long sessions broken up by a tea/smoke on the balcony. No matter how small the changes made in the previous hour, I’ll export what I’ve done and put it on my phone. I then spend the duration of the tea/smoke analyzing the work in my headphones, so when I sit back down I am just executing all the changes or ideas, rather than sitting there for ages wondering what to do next.

– Lastly, if you had to choose your favorite track of the single, which one would it be and why?

They are so different in mood, it’s hard to pick, but I think it’s “Sonic Bionic”. It’s a very simple track, but I think it captures some of the vibes of mid-late 90’s Dope Dragon/Full Cycle. That’s what I was going for anyway…

Thanks again to Cian for giving us some of his time. The premiere of “Sonic Bionic” is now available to listen to on Studio Drum & Bass’ platforms.

A mighty double-track project, which confirms that the most famous Irish drum and bass producer still has some beautiful days ahead. You can buy “Sonic Bionic / Hurt Inside” here.

You can also check our previous interview with the promising youngster Kit Jones here.

Zero T