Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2009
From spinning at hip clubs like The Knitting Factory to entertaining the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Zack Hellman is the classic hardworking DJ. Known on the streets for his old school hip-hop mixtapes, the 26-year-old New Yorker (a.k.a. DJ Vibe) also boasts a masters in music technology from NYU. Metropolis caught up with him at the launch of an extended Tokyo residency.
How did you come to be resident at Feria? My friend DJ Sal Morale had been bringing DJs like Sinatra, Vitale and Giancarlo to Tokyo for several years. In 2008, while I was at the Winter Music Conference in Miami, Sal asked me if I could come to Tokyo for two months. The thought of playing in Japan was so exciting—the next morning, I was on the plane to Tokyo. This is now my third trip here.
Tell us about what Japan has meant to you during your career. I love Japan. The people and the culture are so interesting to me. I had been selling mixtapes in Japan for many years, but I had never been. Coming here has definitely advanced my career, getting me more work in Europe and other parts of Asia. It also has changed me as a person. I now look at the world as a much smaller and connected place.
How are your sets shaping up so far? I like to play a lot of high-energy music here. The crowds are so much fun to play for and seem interested in my remix style, which combines elements of hip-hop and rock with house and electro music. I get to play music that many people haven’t heard but still respond to. As a DJ, it’s a great thrill to share new music with an open-minded audience.
How does DJing in Tokyo compare with New York? In Tokyo, I find the crowds paying close attention to my technique, whereas in New York people are searching to hear the current hits. This is refreshing to me and allows me to showcase my talents, which can be largely ignored in New York. However, it does keep me on my toes. I don’t want to slip up in front of a crowd evaluating mix to mix. In the end, playing in both places has helped me to become a better DJ.
How does the Tokyo mixtape scene rate? Japanese people have such a diverse and eclectic taste in music, and this makes shopping for records and mixtapes in Tokyo so much fun. I spend hours going from shop to shop in Shibuya looking at the various releases. While many of them are the popular ones we find back in New York and other big cities, Japan has such a vast group of talented DJs that the selection is immense.
Your masters thesis was titled “A Look into the Philosophy and Technology that Enable the Disc Jockey.” What kinds of things did you learn from your research? I began to look at technology at the human level. DJ technology is only useful if the DJ can use it to make better music. Many of the fancy new “DJ toys” bring a new demographic of users into the DJ fold, but neglect to further enable current professional DJs. New DJ technology will be judged based upon its ability to further progress the DJ performance as opposed to simplifying it.
What are your plans for New Year’s Eve? I will be spinning at Feria. A big room with an energetic and interested crowd is the best way to spend your New Year’s, and I am looking forward to it greatly.
DJ Vibe spins Thu-Sat at Feria and after-hours at Lugano on Fridays until Jan 8. See www.djvibeinc.com for more info.