“Break the Rules,” Says Zardonic, the Drum & Bass Showman You Should Know
“I want things to sound raw, wide, thick, and intense, just like an electric guitar,” says Federico Augusto Ágreda Álvarez, better known as Zardonic. The Venezuelan who now lives in Germany is known for bringing elements of Metal to the mix. This unorthodox combination was arguably first presented to the general public in the soundtrack for the movie "Spawn". Rings a bell? If you remember the movie, you might even see where the inspiration for Zardonic’s image came from.
If we mention just his latest successes, we have to point out the three nominations for the Drum & Bass Arena Awards 2019, and the success of his latest album “Become” (#1 on the iTunes Russia Electronic Charts, #3 on iTunes Japan, #9 on iTunes USA, and #9 on the Deutsche Alternative Charts). Zardonic, one of the first artists who's claimed his profile on Viberate.com, doesn’t shy from telling his story. He even gets a bit political, spills his thoughts on the industry, and shares lessons for other artists.
You’ve said in one of your previous interviews that your mask represents a sort of duality, a balance between good and evil, and in a sense, so does your music. You use elements that seem almost contradictory – mixing Drum & Bass with Rock and Metal. Is that also symbolic, or did it just happen organically?
First of all, thank you so much for the opportunity. Having the backing of people like you means a lot to me, my team, my label, and my fans. The more awareness is spread about this project, the greater the possibilities, so thank you for taking part in it!
The music does match the mask in a way. However, I don't necessarily think Drum & Bass and Metal are contradictory. Actually, I don't understand how it hasn't become a massive trend. If you think about it, Pendulum had a lot of success mixing Rock and Metal elements with Drum & Bass. Then you also had producers like Counterstrike doing it as well, and Dieselboy was pushing the sound in America back in the day. Concord Dawn did some legendary tunes like "Broken Eyes" and "Raining Blood", and even DJ Fresh had that tune with Apollo 440, which was pretty rockin'! Now you also have Dirtyphonics, and the list keeps going.
The fact that Drum & Bass is fast-paced and percussive makes it a perfect match for Rock and Metal. The beauty of Drum & Bass, however, is that it can be matched with any other genre that you like. It's a very open genre in that regard. You don't see Techno fitting with Ska, Rock, Reggae, Jazz, or even epic orchestral stuff. It's always just Techno. And I personally love Techno as well, but it does seem to be a thing of its own. The rules of the genre don't allow for much experimentation, since it's very strict in its sound design. Drum & Bass has spanned so many subgenres (even Technoid Drum & Bass back in the day!), and that's why I love it. It gives me room to expand!
“I don't necessarily think Drum & Bass and Metal are contradictory. Actually, I don't understand how it hasn't become a massive trend.”
You started your music career under the name Gorepriest in the Black Metal genre. Can you tell us more about those beginnings and how you switched to Electronic music?
Wow, you really did your homework! Well, what can I say, Gorepriest never really made that much of an impact, to be honest, it was just me doing what I did, considering my limitations. I had zero knowledge of audio engineering, no capacity to record properly. It was just me in my room with computer speakers, and I would record mostly when my parents were not home, because they were vehemently opposed to the possibility of me doing any sort of music that included an electric guitar. So, I did Metal with what I had: a keyboard. Some people still see the project as some sort of legendary Black Metal mysterious whatnot, but to me, it was just something like my first "essay", so to say. It did have some interesting moments and absolutely set the pace for what would come later. I tried several project names with different styles. Zardonic is somehow the result of all that. Making Metal using a computer because of not being able to play the guitar at home, or having a band for that matter. In the end, it all turned out really well!
Metal fans can be pretty resentful towards people who go from Metal to Electronic. Did you have any such experience yourself?
I guess so! I remember playing a show once in Venezuela where a bunch of dudes were like "NO TECHNO SHIT" bwahahhah! Funny, that's how people called all Electronic Music back in the day. Then a lot of people called it Dubstep, even if it was Electro, just because of the sound design in the synths. I still remember when Drum & Bass DJs were whining about new kids calling it Fast Dubstep. I thought it was hilarious and even did a mix for shits and giggles. Not sure how far that really got, but it wasn't anything I was really thrilled by.
But back to the Metal fans hating me for being Electronic Music, there will always be haters. I sometimes take my time to call them out, so they know better next time, but of course, there's only so much control I can have over public opinion. I don't care what someone thinks of me. I am happy with where I am, and I will continue to grow because I don't know any other way. But anyone who doesn't like what I do for whatever stupid reasons, such as me not making the genre they like instead, well, they can go exercise their right to freedom of speech the fuck away from my shows and my social media. I have zero tolerance for negative comments. Instantly banned. They can go create a page to Hate Zardonic if they want. My social media is for people who love what I do. Those who don't like it, can leave. Simple as.
“I need a story, and my life story did have enough interesting moments for me to want to put it into music.”
Can you tell us a bit about your background, where do you and your inspiration come from? Did leaving Venezuela have a big impact on your life and work?
My music has always been fueled by strong emotions. Actually, one of the things I don't like about a lot of modern Drum & Bass is the lack of impact and emotion. The epic element is gone. Now all you hear is an obsession with clean sound design and ridiculous levels on the master channel. None of that helps. I need a story, and my life story did have enough interesting moments for me to want to put it into music. Venezuela is and will always be my homeland, and I love her with all my heart. Where I come from, patriotism is a positive thing. We don't let only one radical political party be patriotic. The PEOPLE are patriotic. We love our land, with all its good and bad things. Whether the government is left or right or center or whatever bullshit you want to call them, they have zero impact in our love for our country, our flag, our food, our landscapes and our irreverent, joyful, loving, helping politically incorrect culture.
You can joke about absolutely anything in Venezuela and get away with it. If you're fat, be prepared for all your friends to remind you of it with a rub on your belly. It helps you grow a thick skin. Being sensitive is a terrible trait to have because expecting the entire world to respect you just because you're human and all this crap of "everyone deserves respect", sure. You go ahead and think that's how the world works. I can choose to respect someone. You can. Our friends can. It's a much better way to be. But you need to be prepared for those who choose to disrespect you and make sure nobody ever gets comfortable with it.
What is your creative process like – how do your songs get made?
I used to wait for the muse a lot. I would spend weeks without being able to do anything because of this "writer's block" thing. Then I realized that the only way to create a song is to invert the process. Most people think it's Motivation > Inspiration > Action, when it should be Action > Inspiration > Motivation. You have to hit those keys. You have to turn those knobs. Just play with the whole thing until something cool happens. A lot of people seem to be afraid of electronic instruments because they think they're too complicated, and rightfully so. All you find online are tutorials of kids trying to do all sorts of crazy automation, and they'll spend days miserably failing at copying the exact same bass sound they heard on a Skrillex tune.
Don't get me wrong. I respect good sound design when I hear it, but it is not my approach to making music. I want things to sound raw, wide, thick, and intense, just like an electric guitar. Does it take much to make an electric guitar sound good? Not really. You don't even need to play that well to make a legendary tune *cough* Sex Pistols *cough*. And sure, you can think about different microphones, amps, and cabinets, as well as mic position and EQ, but in principle, it is a very simple instrument. It's just meant to be LOUD. That is my approach to sound design as well. Instead of using many automations, I actually hit the record button and start moving the knobs on my own. It limits what I can do. And limitation is a good thing.
“People see this as a game. I see it as my universe, and in my universe, I am God.”
You have a massive discography. You’ve released 45 EPs and albums, if I counted right, just under the name Zardonic. When do you find time to eat, sleep, and drink?
Haha, well, I live in my studio. So, I sleep, wake up, shower, get a coffee, sit in front of the computer. Then all I have to do is go to the next room to eat and drink and come back after a while.
Procrastination is important, however. I don't force myself too much to do something. After I'm feeling an idea, I'll take breaks every now and then, and if it gets too late, I call it a night and play videogames for a bit before going to sleep. If you can arrange your schedule like you were going to school, it's actually extremely useful. Let's say you're like me, and you need 8 hours of sleep to function properly, so you have 16 hours left. You can spend 8 or 10 of those hours just focusing on work and still have 6 hours left to hang with your girlfriend, eat, sleep, drink, take a shit, jerk off, take the bike into the forest, maybe take some pictures, and still do all your social media in the middle of all that. It really isn't that hard. We don't need more time. We just need organization and discipline. People see this as a game. I see it as my universe, and in my own universe, I am God. So, whatever happens, depends on me. I have to keep moving forward, or the universe collapses.
“Procrastination is important, however. I don't force myself too much to do something.”
Your last album, “Become” is a bit different from previous works. Does it mean the beginning of a new era for Zardonic?
In some ways it is, but at the same time, “Become” is a conglomeration of all the styles that Zardonic has done in the past. It has aggressive amens like the Zardonic of 2006–2007, then you have tracks like "Raise Hell" or "Black And White", which are reminiscent of the 2015 release "Antihero", then you have tracks like "Takeover", "Revelation", and "Libertadores", which are reminiscent of the 2012 release "Vulgar Display Of Bass".
That said, I guess you could say I want to reinvent the Zardonic sound, but eventually, it will still sound like Zardonic. Obviously, I can't do exactly the same things I've done before, because every day I am a different person. I collect new experiences, learn new lessons, and some of these experiences can have a very strong impact on you. The strongest ones have slowly torn down a lot of my prejudices about people and have helped me see the world the way it is, or at least the way I believe it to be right now. And that is life, in the end. We're on a constant learning process. And I love it. It means I can only be better every day if I am open to learn, because I always know that I could be wrong.
Can we expect a new album, EP, in 2020? Other plans for the future?
Ow yeah, baby. First quarter of 2020, I'll start writing the next album, and in the meantime, we’re preparing a very special Remix album for all the tracks on "Become". It has anyone and everyone, from Pythius to Hocico, from Code Pandorum to Merikan, from Shadow Sect to Sinister Souls. It will be MASSIVE. I can't wait to show it to you guys, so stay tuned for it! I'm also currently working on the soundtrack to the new expansion pack of the VR hit "Superhot". It's the biggest job I've landed in my entire career, and I couldn't be happier about it. I would love to do more of that. Videogame soundtracks. It's so liberating!
Are there any bands/musicians you’d love to work with in the future?
Maybe, maybe not. You see, I'm very picky with who I'm going to work with. There are way too many individuals out there that I just can't connect with, so I decided that I don't care if someone's big or not, great or not. Too many rockstar assholes out there, and I've had enough of it. To me, what's important is actually being able to connect with someone. Everything else usually happens on its own. If two people are having a good time, inspiration comes naturally. Obviously, I would love them to be amazing musicians, but the popularity factor is optional. It can help for sure, but I've also had people making me wait for months for collaborations of remixes just because they're riding their own high horse and want to play too cool to talk to me. I've even met people who have talked to me at shows, asked for my number, texted me, then went silent. And I see them tweeting all the fucking time. If someone doesn't have 5 minutes to reply to a text on WhatsApp or can't even get on the phone, why should I waste my time with them?
Thankfully, however, I have made some amazing friends who happen to be very good musicians as well, starting with Voicians and Pythius, who are some of my favorite people on the planet. They're guys I hang out with, we talk about life, we have a couple of beers, talk about our relationships, you know what I mean? That has a much bigger impact on me. Maybe I should do an entire album with Voicians like everyone has suggested!
Drum & Bass is still sort of underground, why do you think that is?
No. Fucking. Idea. Honestly. For instance, it is an absolute mystery of life to me that Dubstep became such a Mainstream thing, and Drum & Bass never did. To me, Dubstep is the weirdest, least likely music genre you would expect to become mainstream. The beat is slow, the synths are atonal, the constant LFO wub wub crap drives me insane. How did THAT become mainstream and not funky drums and big bass? It's crazy.
I have so many people tell me they're not able to dance to Drum & Bass because it's so fast, and I'm like, huh? So maybe our brains are just not wired the same way. The world is the world and people are people, and things will be the way they will be. The best I can do is just do what I love and then worry about how to make money with it. Maybe some of the people on the scene are also to blame. A lot of kids who listen to Drum & Bass want it to be THEIR music, you know? It's kind of like Metal. Nobody complains if a house DJ is suddenly making a lot of money. But the second you have Pendulum, then those who think they are the "owners" of the scene start complaining about it. Drum & Bass is very diverse, and not everyone has to like every single subgenre of it, but if the scenesters would allow the more leftfield acts to take it to the next level and work together, then maybe we would have a different story.
New technologies, like music streaming services, and social media, are helping a lot of musicians to reach people all over the world.
It is helping, but it's not without its drawbacks. I'd say it's a necessary evil. There's a lot of beautiful things that come with it for sure, and using them has helped me a lot in my career. I do post whenever I can, but at the same time, I am very, very wary of it. Anything you say online can be used against you. And that puts all public figures, regardless of how big or small they are, under constant siege. I've seen too many false accusations destroying the lives of so many people that all I can think to myself sometimes is "I'm next".
Have you seen "Follow This" on Netflix? Watch the episode "The Future of Fakes," and you'll see what I'm talking about. Information is out of control. Social media has given EVERYONE the capacity to write whatever comes out of their minds and post it online without anyone else curating it. It is very empowering, but potentially very dangerous, because it also allows for the spread of very extremist ideas. That's why you now have this catastrophic rise of Neonazis, toxic feminists, terrorist groups, and "fake news". I don't even know what's real or what's fake anymore. And that is extremely terrifying. So, I try to share mostly positive experiences, just me in the studio, at a show, pictures with fans, pictures of fan art, I keep it very safe these days.
How do you use social media?
I just recently did a mass unfollow on Twitter, because even if you don't follow anyone who talks about politics, now Twitter is forcing on you all the content from people who are followed by people you follow. So, I can't even follow a label or brand I like because there's probably some tweet of a guy calling someone else names because he's not in the same political party. I probably shouldn't worry about this, but I do, and it is inevitable. This is why I choose to ignore it, because I know it's all the result of manipulation. If you wanna know why someone votes Republican, or Democrat, or Conservative, or Liberal, or Right or Left or Libertarian or any of this nonsense, well, do this experiment for a while: follow exclusively people who follow a certain train of thought. Choose any one. Go for the most extremist one. Read what they say, and what the people they follow will say. Every single political religion (because that's all it is in the end) has one thing in common: their candidates are the heroes, and the rest are the devil. And they will fabricate all sorts of news to prove their point. Don't believe me? Go ahead and follow exclusively Boris Johnson or Donald Trump and the people who support them. You will see how they show themselves as great people, and everyone else is evil, clowns or not worthy of attention. You'd think people would be smart enough not to fall for certain things, but there's even a Flat Earth Society now. You tell me if anything has any credibility.
And make no mistake if you're a lefty instead. The left-wing media does the exact same thing. I despise it just as much because I experienced it in Venezuela. I saw the National Guard shooting unarmed people in the face because they were protesting. I've seen what happens when you force people against each other. A great read about it, which explains some of the most extremist things that have happened in history, is "The Lucifer Effect". I've seen enough of the topic to know what to do for myself. Now my problem is to give up trying to convince other people of what I've seen, because I still need to remind myself that everyone has their own path, and they make their own decisions. Thankfully the world is still big enough for all of us to live in and think differently, but as the great J. F. Kennedy said, "Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to Mankind."
"Do whatever the hell you want and don't listen to anyone. Break the rules. Work on your craft until it's great, wrap it in a shiny package and market the fuck out of it."
Advice for all the aspiring D & B musicians?
Do whatever the hell you want and don't listen to anyone. Break the rules. Work on your craft until it's great, wrap it in a shiny package and market the fuck out of it. Many will help you; many will work with you, many will oppose you, many will say that you don't matter. Don't ever let any of those old school bastards dictate what YOU want to do. We need fresh blood, fresh sound, fresh energy. Bring YOURSELF into the sound. It is the best thing you can do for the music scene. I look forward to hearing your music, and thank you for reading this far!
Good advice for any musician, actually.
Cover photo: Mike The Axe
Read this next: