Nightlife

Revolution soundtrack: Z-Trip helps change Vegas club music

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Giving them a taste: Z-Trip uses a bit of the familiar to introduce audiences to his unique style.
Photo: Bill Hughes

For a one-of-a-kind city, Las Vegas isn’t always original. There are replicated landmarks on the Strip, impersonators in the showrooms and cover bands in the lounges. So it’s no surprise that last year, when it came to nightclubs, the standard-issue playlist of remixed Top 40 floor-fillers was the norm—and the tourists loved it.

But a shift occurred around Labor Day weekend 2008, following the launch of Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto. Production values one-upped the competition with performers and characters aplenty. The Saturday-night residency of one of the most recognizable electronic dance music (EDM) DJ/producers in the world—plus equally influential guest headliners—pushed music programming as well.

Before Perfecto, clubbers usually only got a taste of unreleased tracks and rare classics during the mid-week Godskitchen at Body English, at afterhours clubs or underground parties … or by leaving town. Fast-forward to a year later, when the importance of keeping locals interested and returning to venues has increased. You now have access to electronic music seven nights a week, not to mention mini-music festivals with top EDM talent throughout the year.

Party for the People

Joining the boundary-pushing is this year’s winner of the America’s Best DJ title and Rain’s new resident, Z-Trip. He can—and will—play anything. And like Oakenfold and other noted DJs taking control of the ones and twos in Sin City, Z-Trip doesn’t expect the crowd to automatically accept whatever he gives them.

However, the Arizona native, who now lives in LA, is hoping his Revolution Fridays will help crowds try new things after teasing them with something they know. “It’s like fried food; it’s like the appetizer,” says Z-Trip, born Zach Sciacca. “You eat the comfort food, and then you get the main course. And the main course has got a lot of what you need, but then there’s a couple of different spices or things that you’re like, ‘I’ve never tasted this! I have to come back.’”

Z-Trip knows it isn’t going to be easy to woo a crowd used to being told to put their hands up and then get low. “Vegas is such a tough cookie to crack because it’s not like it’s all locals every time; it’s a revolving door.” He says he has to walk a fine line and rock back and forth just enough to turn people on to the unknown and not scare them off.

Shortly after midnight on October 16, Z-Trip rose to the challenge. Though Rain became packed, the crowd was only slightly moving during opener DJ R.O.B.’s set. As the music intentionally wound down, warning sirens and lights woke the crowd up and directed its attention to the screens playing propaganda-esque retro film footage only moments before. “Stand up for our right to party,” a sassy chick in gold attire with a perfectly coiffed afro commanded from the video screen. “Where is the soundtrack to our revolution?” Shepard Fairey artwork banners displaying a raised fist clutching headphones and reading “Party for the People” dropped from the ceiling to frame the stage. Additional banners carried by girls in red hoodie sweatshirts and knee-high athletic socks descended the stairs from Rain’s upper level, and confetti showered the crowd.

Z-Trip presents Revolution @ Rain

However, if one were to judge the night solely on the commercial selections played during the beginning of his set, it may have seemed like Z-Trip’s plan to start a musical revolution was scrapped. In actuality, the noted turntablist was doing what was necessary to grab the attention of the masses who may not have been familiar with his genre-blurring style. “You always have to front-load the set,” Z-Trip says.

“In my mind, the best night would be where I didn’t have to play any of that stuff, but those are also songs that trigger emotions for people and allow them to relax musically.” So at first, he gave the crowd some of that aforementioned fried food they’re accustomed to. While the visuals behind the booth scrolled through names of every music genre imaginable, he tossed in bits of the unexpected and successfully primed the crowd for a new musical meal. “I like flirting with it,” he says. “For me, it’s going to be in the middle where I get to delve deeper.”

After familiar auditory “appetizers,” he was able to throw on everything from Pink Floyd, AC/DC and R. Kelly to Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow and some old-school hip-hop. Then legendary group De La Soul joined Z-Trip onstage for a few songs. The crowd loved it, including when Z-Trip took the risky route of dropping in some drum n’ bass and dubstep. Just when the vibe reached its climax, it was over … or so we thought when R.O.B. resumed control of the tables. But after a few minutes of R.O.B.’s solo spinning, Z-Trip joined him in the booth, and thanks to a set-up of four turntables, they freestyled for another hour.

Z-Trip’s definitely not the first to face the challenge of holding a crowd’s attention while trying to interject originality. “You have such a wide demographic to satisfy in Las Vegas,” says The Get Back’s DJ John Doe. Doe’s funky soul dance party, despite being in its seventh year and quite popular with the Downtown set, is still off the major Vegas radar. “It’s difficult to be progressive.”

“It’s about trying to find something somebody knows mixed with something they don’t know,” says DJ Michael Toast, who’s been spinning regularly in Vegas since 1997. Toast cites Z-Trip as one of his heroes and believes that if anyone can open the doors for other DJs to feel more comfortable branching out musically, it could be Z-Trip. “I’m a big believer in that a rising tide lifts all ships,” says Toast. “The more and more music gets out there, the more and more acceptable it’ll be from a freak like me.”

“I think music itself is changing so much that it’s crossing over and allowing people to have more freedom with what they’re playing,” says Pure resident DJ Joey Mazzola. Even Pure’s music director DJ Hollywood has booked Sasha (of Sasha & Digweed) to play on November 3—something one would have never thought possible at that venue a few years ago. “Pure’s never had that big of an electronic act come through the doors,” says Mazzola. “Now more people are trying new things and opening Vegas up.”

Z-Trip coming to Vegas is just one of many factors in the revolution of Vegas nightlife, but the significance of what he wants to accomplish is undeniable. “Hopefully his brand will carry him, and people will come to hear him play,” says Toast. Adds Doe, “If anyone can help change the music landscape for the better, Zach would be a prime choice.”

Even Z-Trip admits no one—not even himself—can come out swinging right away in Vegas. “I feel like everything went well,” says Z-Trip of the opening night. “There were moments where it may have been a bit too progressive and I had to reel it back, but by the time two or three months rolls around, this thing is going to be really up and running.

“The kick-off was a journey, and now the ship is sailing,” Z-Trip concludes.

“We smashed a bottle of champagne, and I can’t wait to see what was on the horizon.”

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