Zen Freeman and the Art of DJing

Zen Freeman

Zen Freeman

Zen Freeman is a British producer, remixer and DJ that has played high-profile Hollywood parties  for celebrities such as Elton John and Harvey Weinstein, in addition to clients such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Prada, GAP, ESPN and Apple.

Freeman has DJed worldwide and is a resident DJ at both Ghostbar Dayclub and Rain Nightclub at The Palms, and of course, he will be ringing in the New Year with partiers at these two clubs.

We had the chance to talk with Freeman about his music, DJing experience, The Palms and more.

VEGAS.com: You play a lot of different kinds of parties, and supervise music for a lot of big brands and companies. What variations do you see in your style?

Zen Freeman: I play a lot of new disco sets in Hollywood, for old-Hollywood sophisitque types and do little edits and bootlegs of pop songs, give them that bassline. And there’s some ’80s stuff and some disco. Seems to be my music for talking kind of set. The music at [Ghostbar Dayclub] is very different.

VEGAS.com: There’s always talk of live work affecting DJs’ studio output, but for you, does doing so much studio work affect your live mixing in any way?

ZF: There’s not a lot of crossover, really. I DJ a lot of parties live on vinyl, in Hollywood, but I also DJ on CDs with a Pioneer mixer in the club. If you’re a DJ [first] and then a producer it’s weird, if you’re a producer [first] then a DJ, then you can see how you can control a room at the touch of a button [with current mixing software]. I DJed a set with [Paul] Oakenfold two years ago and it just sounded so robotic – it was too perfect. I mapped out and warped the kick and the snare, and put 50 songs I loved there, and I could just punch one out any time. It can take you to the next level, but I got bored and felt like if the mixing was better but the energy level wasn’t as high.

So, I still DJ exactly the same as I always have, just by working out the BPM and working out the key of the song and then mapping out what songs work, tracks, bombs and then hand it over to the next guy. The only thing that’s changed is that instead of lugging eight crates of records, a lot of it is either on CD or on a hard drive. A Pioneer CDJ2000 has a USB/CD/Firewire plugin option. [Whatever format] it is, it’ll play it.

VEGAS.com: Going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to other cities, what variations do you see in audiences and their preferences?

ZF: It all depends, really. A lot of it has to do with the demographic of the event. I’ll do a yacht party in St. Bart with a bunch of A-list actors and 50-year-old musicians and it’s an interesting thing to see what works. Touring as a house DJ, you’ll find that most of the songs that work, work.

I’ve always been an observant person, but you just see the crowd and see what takes. You constantly move your eyes across the floor and see what happens organically. Let’s say, if you play in Europe, they prefer a longer build, more like a tech-house with a bit more groove in the beat and less vocals. In Vegas, they want a big bangy beat with a vocal behind it all the time.

And it’s about knowing your audience and knowing what they want. Vegas is interesting. I was a DJ in London when I was 15, with a fake ID, playing 18+ clubs and, but I saw how one minute, everyone was listening to Happy Monday and Stone Roses and all this indie rock, and then it went electronic. Hacienda Club blew up and it went, all of a sudden, to this big banging house music that got popular. It went to Ibiza, [Spain], and then one genre  splinters into techno, trance, house, progressive house, minimal, etc.

In Vegas, at this moment, you know how all these very different DJs play the same hits  but with their own little touch? Other than after hours clubs like the Artisan and Drai’s, EDM hasn’t splintered [in Vegas] yet. I think that’s going to happen soon in a year or two, then they’re going to do big events and they’ll bring in all these other genres.

VEGAS.com: With EDM (electronic dance music) growing so much in Las Vegas, what do you think of the Electric Daisy Carnival EDM festival, which is happening again in 2012?

ZF: I think it will be successful. I think they did an absolutely amazing job. We were next door to Swedish House Mafia and we got golf carted around just to check it all out. Just to be on such a big, kinetic stage and looking out there, it was unbelievable. Tiesto did this smart thing by saying “like my [Facebook] page, tag yourself in the photo.” With 125,000 people in the photo in front of the stage, it was quite the smart thing to do.

EDC brought so much revenue to the city, everywhere sold out. Even the hotels on the outskirts. I remember I went to The Cosmopolitan to pick up credentials to get in and there was just a line going all the way out. Never seen the place looking so busy, but it was still so easy to get that and then just get to EDC.

In L.A., we’ve got Coachella, and compared to that, EDC is so easy. It was fun. The lineup was amazing, the kids look like they were having a ball. The production was good as well, it was just as good as anything I’ve seen in Europe. The 18-21 crowd, were going for it. They’re literally raving: Glow sticks, bikinis on, It was just crazy.

VEGAS.com: With so many clubs so close to each other, what are your thoughts on The Palms as an overall party spot?

ZF: GBDC has its own thing going on. They had some smart outreach and those top N9ne Group guys did a good job of hooking into the local scene. Rain on Saturday is great, because it’s Perfecto Records and because of what Paul [Oakenfold] did for that room, it’s got this built-in electronic crowd to listen to whatever’s going on. Back in the day, it’d be Paul one week, Armin van Buuren the next, but even now there’s always a really good Perfecto guy playing, someone from Amsterdam or Berlin, and they have a good, loyal crowd.

Rain is one of my favorite rooms, big stage, big LED screen, great sound. It’s fun and you’re up high enough to see everything that’s going on, but it’s close enough to the front row where you can connect, get people jumping up and down and doing crazy stuff.

There’s a spot for everyone, some people want to gamble, go to Playboy Club,  then do shots and dance to hip-hop at Moon depending on the night. Same with ghostbar. Palms has got really nice flow to it.

VEGAS.com: And what about Ghostbar Dayclub, the latest addition to The Palms?

ZF: Love it, it’s great. Where else can you get, in the daytime, some cryo guns, that kind of energy in music, and people just drinking and partying? I love people when they’re just drinking beers, spraying champagne, getting bottle service, dancing on tables and having a good time. It’s fun.

I normally play from 3-6, and [GBDC] is meant to close at 6, but when the crowd are coming in and they’re doing shots and getting the glowsticks out, the sun dips around 5:30 and you get this energy burst. It’s a second wind, and the people want to rock on, so they end up getting kicked out!

So, it’s good, it’s definitely something. It’s not the norm and nobody else has really pulled it off. It’s awesome and it’s so much fun. You’ve got the marketing manager and VP of the hotel jumping up and down like complete wallies in neon tuxedos, it’s amazing. It’s so funny.

VEGAS.com: What can we expect from the New Year’s Eve performance at Rain? What’s New Year’s like from your end?

ZF: The lineup is Liquid Todd, myself, and then Paul Oakenfold headlining. They’re also doing a live feed on Sirius Radio, on BPM. It’s epic, it’ll be so much fun. It’s a great place to be for NYE.

Last year, I played the 30th at a yacht at St. Bart and the party went on until 6 a.m. in the morning. Demi Moore and Ashton [Kutcher] had just hopped onto the Russian yacht next door. Fergie and her hubby had just gone, and then I literally had to jump on a speedboat to take a 45 minute journey to get back to St. Maarten, to get on a little puddle jumper, to then get back to Miami, then fly to Vegas direct, clear customs, and get to the Palms. My set was at 11 and I got to the hotel at quarter to 11. All the planets had to be aligned to get through this on time, This  year’s not as exotic, it’s from Burbank to Las Vegas, [laughs].

GBDC is also on the Saturday on Near Year’s Eve, so I’ve got back to back gigs. Who knows what could happen? There’s so many people staying at the hotel, Paul’s staying at the Palms. We’ll probably have some kind of special guest that day as well.

VEGAS.com: Any big plans for 2012? For the long-term future?

ZF: 2012 is a big year. I’m signed with Perfecto Records, so there’s the Planet Perfecto Tour going on. It’s interesting now that I’ve been getting time in the studio, making music, getting acknowledged by promoters, label guys and other DJs that I can produce and then being associated with Paul has helped recently, but it’s going to be a crazy year for me, touring, San Francisco, San Diego, Orange County and all these new places. People are renovating theaters and turning them into soundstages and there’s all these electronic dance parties [going on], it’s going to be great.

Once you dive into this field, there’s never a day off again. Making music is an endless infinity that you can never be out of. In your head, it’s never quite finished anyway, but then you send it out for mastering and then it kind of locks it out for you. I also love it, though, so there you go.