There are a lot of hardworking people behind any given dance project, and record labels can often serve as ideological families, tied together by taste and style within which interesting ideas and fearless experimentation can thrive. You might be surprised how many of your favorite artists are all in the same crew, or who’s made a one-off appearance on a cool boutique. Reading up on labels is a great way to discover more incredible music; that’s why Billboard Dance is spotlighting the labels we love.
Today, we look at Zeds Dead‘s Deadbeats. Dylan Mamid and Zachary Rapp-Rovan got their start in the hip-hop world, made their name in dubstep and never stopped expanding their pallet. The pair pride themselves on a tireless appetite for evolution and a high standard for technique, and they’ve been rewarded with a dedicated fan base. Deadbeats is the means to communicate with that fan base, while shedding light on producers they admire.
The label kicked off 2020 with the 14-track compilation We Are Deadbeats Vol. 4. With tunes from Jauz, Droeloe, Slushii, Delta Heavy, GG Magree, Deathpact and more, it encompasses a wide range of styles and moods, from ambient trip-hop to funky deep house, emotional melodies, shocking dubstep textures, reggae dub, hardcore bass and everything in between. “That one moreso represents a lot of the sounds we’re trying to put forward and the world we’re trying to create,” Rapp-Rovan says. “It’s a lot of the genres you’ll hear at a Deadbeats show.”
Here, Rapp-Rovan breaks down the vision behind Deadbeats.
Who founded Deadbeats, and what inspired them to do so?
Dylan and I started off just putting stuff out for free online, sending to YouTube channels and blogs, MySpace and all that. We did releases on a lot of different labels, like Mad Decent, but never really signed to one. A lot of people we looked up to had their own labels, and we felt it was time when we put out our first album. We were trying to think of a name for a while. I was laying in bed, and they say you get some good ideas when you’re in a hypnogogic state, when you’re basically falling asleep. It was a eureka moment.
We put out our album [in 2016], then we put together a team. It switched up a bit at the beginning, but it’s always been the same basic core people; our management, agent and some other people. It’s a learning process, for sure, on how to do this stuff, but I think it was the right time. We grew a fan base, and we wanted to show them other artists and create a world of music that was separate from us.
Where is Deadbeats based? Does that place influence the musical output at all?
It’s mostly based in Toronto. We do have a good amount of Canadian talent that we work with, but I do think, in this day and age, it’s very worldwide. We’re open to people from anywhere.
Are you guys an indie or are you a subsidiary of any larger label?
We’re an independent label. We do our distribution through Universal’s Caroline, but that’s just distribution to get things in the stores. We do what we want. It’s our thing. It’s Zeds Dead’s label, but it’s beyond us now in scope.
How many employees do you have at the label?
I’d say there’s 10 people at Deadbeats specifically, myself included. We’ve got Harrison [Bennett] who runs it now, though we’re very involved. We have George Hess who helps with playlisting. Getting stuff on playlists is something that everybody does, not just one particular person, but there’s people that specialize in that.
There’s people who are day-to-day handling social media, photo-shopping images and making little videos. We do a lot of our art with this guy, Chris Yee. He’s amazingly talented, from Australia. We also work with him on Zeds Dead stuff. There’s a lot of back-end contractual stuff that people work on. There’s A&R, sifting through mountains of demos. Putting together the Deadbeat shows, creating a lineup. There’s also people that work on merch. I’d say there’s some crossover into our management, people that might do tasks for both.
Do you keep regular office hours, or is the schedule pretty unorthodox?
There’s the people that work in the office building every day. I’m in the studio every day. There is a printer/scanner in there, so it’s also an office. I could be listening to stuff, asking people if they want to do release or creating the radio show, doing features, premiering songs, social media. My studio is in production right now. I just moved into a new place and I’m building it, so it’s very simple. Just a desk with some speakers, a table I use for drawing, the printer/scanner I mentioned, and a microphone for the radio show.
We’ve been thinking of making a Deadbeats specific headquarters. I would like to have a studio that artists who come through can work out of when they’re in town, one of those cool offices where there’s beanbag chairs and a pool table.
Who’s currently on the roster?
DNMO is an amazing up-and-coming talent. Kid Froopyf. This group Shades is one of the things I’m most excited about on the label, a really cool mix of hip-hop and experimental bass music. This new one Halogenix, I’m really feeling. More bass music, dubstep stuff like Blunts and Blondes. Dion Timmer who is actually very versatile. His albums are really cool all over the place. For We Are Deadbeats Vol. 4, we did stuff with a lot of different people. A lot of people pass through the label and do one release, like Moody Good. We did a release with Rezz at one point. On the album, there’s Delta Heavy and Jauz, Holly, a lot of people. We have some key people, like GG Magree, Lick.
Is there a common sound or ideology that ties your releases together?
It started out as the sort of stuff we would play in our sets, but there was also this thought that it was more trip-hop. it’s really grown to encompass so much. When I hear something that’s dope, I want to put it out, even though it doesn’t necessarily line up with the original plan.
We’re an underground label. We have tracks that randomly tip into the mainstream. The “Griztronics” stuff randomly blew up on TikTok and started charting. I wouldn’t put it past us to put out a song that did get on the radio. There’s some sounds I think our fans would be more alienated by, but I’m not opposed to just testing the waters to see what happens.I want to do more hip-hop stuff with the label. It’s a little tricky ’cause we have this EDM kind of fan base, and I don’t know if it would be the best place for a hip hop artist, but I think we could do a cool project for EDM producers making more old-school type hip-hop beats and then collaborate with certain types of rappers.
On the massive spectrum that is electronic dance music, where does Deadbeats land?
Clearly we’re rooted in bass music, but we’re not a dubstep label. I want to say more like hip-hop in it’s attitude. Mad Decent is a little more party-ish, Fool’s Gold is more like rap, and Ninja Tune is obviously more straight up hip-hop, trip-hop stuff. I like to think we’re somewhere in between these things, but our own thing.
What are some essential tracks?
The stuff by Shades is really amazing. And Halogenix. Those embody a lot of the sound at its core. There’s a lot of other tracks that are just really good in different ways that I’m proud of. “Griztronics” is just a dope banger. We’ve done releases with Rusko, and he’s in a legend. It’s crazy having him on the label. The stuff Moody Good has put out is some of my favorite — it’s as good as dubstep gets as far as production and style. Everything off of We Are Deadbeats Vol. 4.
How does the label come to life for fans?
I think Deadbeats Radio is at the core of it all. Everything we play creates this mosaic of what Deadbeats is. Individually, it’s hard to pin down, but if you listen to the radio show frequently, you’ll understand what we’re trying to do. We put guest mixes of everybody we put out on there, premiere new songs. A lot goes into that every week.
The show lineups are also really important, much like the Mad Decent Block Parties were. It’s our version, putting on styles we think our fans will like and a mix of what we want to put them on to. We had Ghostface Killah on one of our shows. We came from the hip-hop background, and some our fans didn’t, but we want to influence the musical landscape as best we can while keeping them entertained. We had Redman at Dead Rocks. It’s a cool place to be in to curate a lineup.
What’s one piece of advice for aspiring producers who would like to get on your radar?
Standing out is good, doing something different. Of course, that’s not super easy. There’s nothing wrong with just a banger, but that’s not going to catch my ear. I will say that remixing is an interesting way to show your style. I know it’s harder than ever to remix things without permission, because SoundCloud will take you down, but when you remix something well, and people know the source material, it’s very easy to see what you did and the ingenuity you put into it.
If you want to get on an artist’s radar, remixing them isn’t bad. They’re pretty likely to hear it, and they might even play in in their set. I’ve seen a lot of people do it that way.