Playing around the Valley is meaningful to Z-Trip, a New River-raised DJ born Zach Sciacca.
Shows like The Cocktail Jam on Saturday, February 16, at The Van Buren in Phoenix recall lugging gear in and out of his vehicle to entertain clubgoers around town.
“Arizona shows are super fun,” he says. “It’s cool to see a lot of the people who were there from my very, very start, helping me load record crates into my pickup truck after bar gigs.
“It’s great to be able to still play music and do what I do.”
Z-Trip, who has performed at the Grammys with LL Cool J, will headline The Cocktail Jam, a “music-meets-mixology” party that kicks off Arizona Cocktail Weekend. In the business for more than two decades, Z-Trip has loved watching his audience evolve.
“A really interesting way to sum it up for me is it’s interesting to see a second generation coming out to my shows, which is really wild,” he says. “It’s fun when my fans bring their son or daughter out to a show to experience what I do for the first time. It’s that stuff that I really dig.
“I see so many people I’ve known over the years. It’s not like I’m doing a show in some random state. I’m extremely connected.”
The 46-year-old was born in New York but spent his teenage years in Arizona attending Barry Goldwater and Deer Valley high schools. He lived in New River before part of it became Anthem, and moved around the Valley, residing in North Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and Mesa. He is now based in San Diego.
His career has been fruitful. Besides releasing his own albums, Z-Trip has remixed songs by Bob Marley, Daft Punk, Missy Elliott, Beastie Boys, Jackson 5 and Rush, and served as producer for tracks by LL Cool J, Beck and Meat Beat Manifesto.
He’s been dubbed the “pioneer of the mash-up movement,” a moniker Z-Trip is iffy about. The mash-up scene, as it were, goes back to Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, who chopped songs and put them through their filters.
“I’m happy to wear the badge, but I actually drew inspiration from the people who were dabbling in that stuff before me,” he says.
“I think I was the guy who made it palatable and got branded as the ‘pioneer.’ My whole thing is it’s about how hip-hop is in general. I’m a cog in a much bigger wheel or machine.
“If you really boil it down, mashing up is really mixing things. Isn’t that what DJs are supposed to be doing anyway? Mixing? If you say you’re a mash-up DJ, it’s a bit of a redundancy. I think I identify with extreme remixing. That’s a better term for it.”
Z-Trip says he draws from each genre — rock, funk, electronic bands like Kraftwerk, spoken word, anything.
“The idea of having an infinite palette of colors to use to paint with was amazing,” he says. “Over time, it got boiled down to these primary colors and that’s all you can paint with. It goes through the prism of hip-hop and what comes out is amazing.”
He respects his peers and what they are doing, however. Z-Trip is just hoping for creativity.
“It’s crazy,” Z-Trip says. “There’s so much more music out there now. I feel like the people who are curating could really do everybody a service by trying to push boundaries a little bit more.
“You go over to Europe or Australia or even Canada and musically it’s completely different — the underlying themes. So many other people are taking chances, and the music is more diverse. Thank God for all the DJs out there who are breaking down boundaries and outlets for people to experience more.”
Even though Canada is just across the States’ northern border, its music can be vastly different. Z-Trip respects the rule that Canadian radio must play a certain percentage of homegrown music per year.
“I go somewhere and hear a regional hit, bring it home and people will say, ‘What is that?’” he says. “It’s something we should be listening to and we’re not for whatever reason.”
He loves exploring record stores like Tracks in Wax in Phoenix — especially when songs are suggested to him by those in the know. Z-Trip prefers this over the algorithms that curate music for people.
“All of a sudden I’m getting exposed to new stuff surrounded by people listening to what I was listening to,” he says.
“My mom came over and wanted to hear Linda Ronstadt records. Now I’m told, ‘You’re going to like Bette Midler.’ I’m like, ‘No man, you don’t know that because my mom was over for a couple weeks.’
“We’re in this day and age when these things are picked for you. The real curation and the real tastemakers — not the ‘Instagram tastemakers’ — are the people who I jam with. I swap music with them. We’re hunting and digging. I definitely take their word over a computer.”
After finding success, Z-Trip says his future is uncharted territory. He is planning to release new music now that he is settled in his new San Diego home.
An avid java fan, Z-Trip is thinking of dabbling in coffee.
“It took a couple years to get settled,” he says about his move. “I stuck to shows with LL Cool J and Rock the Bells Radio (on SiriusXM), and keeping the load, which was pretty heavy, at a manageable level.
“There’s nothing worse than putting out a record or a clothing line or tour merchandise or whatever and not having time to work on it. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of releasing something and sabotaging myself and inundating myself with extra work.”
Now that his infrastructure is set up, it’s time to “bang the drum again.”
“I’ve got all these things I really wanted to do, but couldn’t release them because I was rebuilding a studio or moving all the records from Los Angeles to San Diego. I didn’t want to be sitting in a house with piles and piles of boxes, trying to find that one record.”
While he awaits release dates for his music, he’s looking forward to The Cocktail Jam.
“I’m super stoked to do this,” he says. “I’m a big whisky guy. This is right up my alley. I’m super into scotch. Scotch is my thing. I’ve gotten into it pretty heavy. All the squares on the boxes were checked — Whisky, love it. Arizona, great. Music, even better. I’m super stoked to be at this thing and looking forward to seeing everybody.”
The Cocktail Jam, The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, thevanburenphx.com, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, February 16, tickets start at $40 in advance or $50 at the door.