Taking a break from reporting on the Cornell athletics scene, former Sun Sports Editor Alex Kuczynski-Brown ’12 sat down on the roof of Olin Library with Ithaca native Zach Alexander ’13 — A.K.A. DJ Z@ of Go Buck Music fame. They discussed how he got his start spinning at boarding school functions, combining an English major with an interest in music production, and how this Delta Upsilon brother has the whole Cornell campus and surrounding Collegetown “going buck.”
The Sun: Let’s start with the most pertinent question: DJ Z@ — best artist at Cornell, or best artist of all time?
Zach Alexander: I definitely would say best artist of all time. [laughing] No, I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t even call myself an artist, per se. I’ve never had any sort of art training, but I think I have a good ear for music, and I know what sounds good and that’s sort of how I got my start — playing music was sharing my ear with my friends.
Sun: Can you talk more about your musical background — namely how and when you got your start?
Z.A.: I started playing music when I was very young. I tried a lot of different instruments, and I was not good at any of them. The last instrument I settled on was guitar, and I played jazz band in high school … I started DJing right at the end of high school and I was just doing little parties and dances and stuff for the high school. When I came to Cornell, my sister actually suggested that it was something I could take more seriously, and I could make money with it. After I started DJing, about two years in I sort of realized that to become a very successful DJ, you need to make your own music rather than just play other people’s, and so that’s when I started to actually produce music, which was about six months ago.
Sun: I’ve been told that boarding school kids can get pretty rowdy. Do you have any good DJing stories from your Loomis days?
Z.A.: I actually don’t [laughing]. The first party I ever DJed was called “Taylor Techno,” and it was a dance for a dorm called Taylor Dorm in my high school. It was really fun, but much different than the parties here at Cornell. Everyone was completely sober, and so nothing got too out of hand ever really in high school.
Sun: So no ragers? Just good, clean, non-alcoholic fun?
Z.A.: Just good clean fun. Back then electronic music still really hadn’t taken off and everything was techno. People didn’t know the difference between techno and house and dubstep and everything that there is nowadays. So it was sort of like a little novelty, but it was something I was really passionate about, so I decided to continue with it.
Sun: Cornell seems to have a lot of DJs. At least, I’m always getting Facebook event invitations from them, so I’m assuming there are a lot. How do you go about differentiating yourself from the competition?
Z.A.: My main point of differentiation is that I make my own music. … I’m really into a new genre called moombahton, which is a combination of reggaeton and electronic music. Basically my focus is to make people dance, and right now I think that’s the best kind of music for that. As far as image, or anything like that, I used to do a lot to sort of convey an image, but the more I’ve done this the more I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter; you can just be yourself, and if your music’s good then it will speak for you.
Sun: Now if you could explain the origin of “Go Buck” and what that expression (or philosophy) means to you.
Z.A.: So “Go Buck” started in DU. Whenever we would have a party, we would go buck wild, and when I started making music I decided that I wanted my name to reflect that attitude … I thought what better name than “Go Buck” for the type of music that I’m making, which is music that makes you go buck.
Sun: So what in your mind constitutes “going buck”?
Z.A.: I think when you are on the dance floor and you’re so lost in the music, or even … if you’re in Olin basement, if you’re in class, if you’re in your car and the music is just so powerful that it takes over everything you’re thinking about, takes over your mind. That’s going buck.
Sun: Was there ever a particular moment or night or party where you’re doing a set, and you just looked at what was going on around you and thought to yourself “Now this epitomizes ‘going buck’”?
Z.A.: Actually last week I played a show at Level B with Greg Monte ’12. I had a 30-minute set, and by the end of it people were running around — I actually left the DJ booth, I was dancing, going pretty crazy. It’s times like that when I feel connected with the people I’m playing music for. That’s when the parties really blow up.
Sun: You’re a local guy, so how has being a townie enabled you to build a brand not just on Cornell’s campus, but in the greater Ithaca community?
Z.A.: I’ve definitely used connections that I have from my time going to school here in Ithaca to my advantage. I know a lot of people at Ithaca College and TC3 and other colleges — just people from the area — and that’s allowed me to get bookings not only at Cornell, but in New York City, at Ithaca College, and places like that.
Sun: Take me through the process of preparing a set and determining what kind of music to include, and how much that changes depending on the audience or venue.
Z.A.: Well it all starts with listening. I listen to music all the time. And I’m always listening for new songs. I download probably 20 songs a day, listen to them all and categorize them. I get an idea of their effectiveness on the dance floor, and then sort them based on that. And then once I’m playing, I actually never prepare whole sets or know what songs I’m playing in advance. … Recently I’ve been getting into doing edits of songs, so if there’s a like a buildup that I want to extend, or if I want to add my own drums, I can do that with my production expertise.
Sun: Who do you consider your musical influences?
Z.A.: I’d say the people that inspire my music today are artists like Afrojack, Dillon Francis, Diplo, but I usually like when I’m making my own songs to just sort of dig a little deeper. A lot have very tribal sounds, but they actually come from a wide variety of sounds. For instance, my track “Jungle Fever” — the drums are actually Chinese, the bassline is a didgeridoo from Australia, and the birds, which sound like tropical birds, are cardinals from Ithaca … I like to try and bring together a wide variety of sounds to create a certain image, and so my influences are varied but all sort of in the same rhythmic style.
Sun: My sources tell me you’re an English major. How do your academic pursuits relate to your interest in music, or do they even?
Z.A.: They definitely do. Right now I have a blog that I’m starting up with Meghan Gaudet ’12 … I’ll be writing for that. I also have a Twitter account — @gobuckmusic — and I update that pretty much every three minutes … Being an English major has definitely made me aware of different ways people promote their music and different ways people write about their music, and it’s sort of let me know the scene enough to hone in on what I want to do.
Sun: So do you think that DJing is something that you would like to continue post-graduation?
Z.A.: Definitely. I would love to have a career that I’m as passionate about as music. Ideally I’d love to pursue a career in music production. I love all kinds of music and music production is a skill that can be very easily transferred to new genres as they come up and new styles of music that become popular. So I think it has longevity.
Sun: Can you talk about your collaborations with other artists or DJs at Cornell, and what that’s been like?
Z.A.: I’ve found that a lot of DJs are very secretive — they like to hold their cards close, and while there are some benefits to doing that, I think that collaboration is way better, especially in the age of social media and social connection awareness. Collaborating with other people is definitely a way for me to hone my skills and to meet other people that share similar interests. At Cornell I’ve DJed alongside Greg Monte, I’ve discussed music with Carlos Cancela ’13, and those are two guys that I’m pretty close with.
Sun: Was there ever any intra-house competition between you and [Erik] Munck ’11 when he was trying to make his dubstep magic happen?
Z.A.: [laughing] I can never live up to DJ Squid Beats, ever. He was the ultimate college DJ.
Sun: Did you two ever collaborate?
Z.A.: To be honest, I was a little nervous even being in his presence. Collaboration never even crossed my mind. It was more of — I felt like I was in the presence of God.
Sun: [laughing] Well the next time he comes back, you two — I’m making it happen — so get ready.
Z.A.: Please publish that.
Sun: I understand you’ve done sets in NYC, you’re at Level B quite often, obviously you’re very big in the Greek scene. Is there a particular venue you consider your favorite?
Z.A.: To be honest, I think Level B is the best bar in Ithaca, music-wise. I think that their set-up is very great for dancing. That being said, there’s no party like a 2010 frat party, and who knows how long those will be around. My favorite shows that I’ve played are ones with my friends, and with people that appreciate good music and aren’t afraid to dance to something new.
Sun: Do you have any upcoming collaborations or events that your followers should be aware of? Anything in the works?
Z.A.: I’m DJing a charity event called Rave 4 Life on Oct. 21. I’m doing that and I’m collaborating with a lot of different artists everywhere. I’ve got a new remix EP coming out. The track I mentioned earlier — “Jungle Fever” — is being remixed by Tigorilla from Chicago, Dance Kill Move from Sweden, Zerø from the UK, and Special Features, who are also from the UK. So I’ve had a lot of international collaboration, and that’s all through the Internet.
Sun: I’ve been hearing mixed reviews about White Panda. From a DJ’s standpoint, how’d they do?
Z.A.: It’s hard for me to rate them, because obviously they did something right in their rise to fame. Understanding the techniques they use to create their music has definitely changed my perspective on it, but I think that’s true with any art form. The more you know about it … the easier it looks. I definitely have a lot of respect for what they do, and I had a good time at the concert.
Sun: A very diplomatic answer. Last question: word on the street is that Pixel is the new Dino’s. What are your thoughts on this?
Z.A.: No way. Pixel is the new Johnny O’s.
Follow Zach Alexander on Twitter @gobuckmusic, and Alex Kuczynski-Brown @CollegeAKB.
Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown