Meet Zora Jones, The Producer Who Lives Life At 160 BPM
Barcelona’s audiovisual auteur takes footwork and R&B to intergalactic heights.
Zora Jones was up late last night. “I don’t really have a typical day,” she explains over the phone from her studio in Barcelona—sometimes she’ll be up until 5am if she has to be, not just because she’s a club DJ, but more often because she’s a perfectionist about putting the last touches on her swooping, anthemic footwork-leaning productions and hyperreal visuals. “My brain just works better when I keep working instead of having breaks,” she says. “[Last night] I just wanted to have this detail finished before I went to sleep; I just kept on working for 12 hours until it was done.”
It’s that careful patience that means that the producer, DJ, and animator is only just about to release her debut solo EP, after two or three years of making music. There have been some seriously sensational bootlegs of hip-hop bangers, Soundcloud loosies, and one-off collaborations along the way. But for the most part Jones has kept her creative process firmly under lock and key until now: with the release of her 100 Ladies EP via Fractal Fantasy—which she runs with partner and collaborator Sinjin Hawke—she’s ready to reveal the world she’s painstakingly designed. Since 2013, she’s been on a mission to create 100 tracks (which she lovingly calls her Ladies), and has narrowed them down to seven pristine compositions that fuse alien R&B melodies and laser-sharp SFX with a frenetic dash of footwork. She’s also debuting the EP with a self-contained visual world: like the tracks themselves, the video shows 100 hypnotic, fluidly dancing women who are all somehow alike, and somehow unique.
Jones grew up in her native Austria, where she dabbled in drums, guitar, and her “favorite instrument” violin, but says she “never really felt comfortable there,” and describes the culture as "close-minded." After visiting some friends in Barcelona at the age of 19, she made the decision to move there to study, and began DJing as a hobby soon after.
In 2010, Jones find her life heading in a new direction after meeting Hawke and fellow like-minded DJs Azamat B and M. Bootyspoon when they played a party in Barcelona. At the time, the three ran a club night called Boomclap in Montreal, and they invited Jones to come check it out. She found a €300 ticket and flew out for their party with DJ Rashad, the Teklife footwork pioneer who was then just on the rise—an experience she credits with giving her the urge to make her own tracks. Not long afterwards, she began “messing around with Ableton,” making tunes to DJ out alongside Hawke (he moved to Barcelona in 2011), and eventually decided to embark on her quest to create 100 compositions. Through it all, that visceral first brush with footwork hasn’t left her. “160 BPM is definitely the BPM I feel most comfortable in when I produce or DJ. It just grabs me.”
What was it like spending time with Rashad?
ZORA JONES: Really awesome! It was his first show in Montreal, and we were kinda curious about what was gonna happen, 'cause I don't think anybody had really heard juke and footwork there before. It was one of the best parties I ever went to; Rashad did his thing and everybody freaked out. It was really motivational.
I got to spend a week with him because he stayed with Sinjin for a week, we just hung out with him and partied a lot, it was really fun. He told us a lot of stories about his life in Chicago, and he played us music. It was really dope. He gave us this huge folder of tracks that he was doing with his crew. Back then they were called the Ghetto Technicians, I don't think they were called Teklife yet. That folder is still one of the main folders I go to for inspiration. Those tracks are so crisp to me and so influential. 2010 was the year for me.
You started producing yourself not long afterwards; what was that like in the beginning?
Well, I have a cracked copy of Ableton and I got started the way I think most producers start—I had some songs and there was a part I didn't like, so I edited it out. It's like a cone, it starts really wide and starts to get more narrow and narrow, that's how I see it.
Why did you decide to make 100 tracks before you released anything?
That was actually Sinjin's idea. I really agreed with the thought, because many people release their music way too early; they'll release one of their first 10 tracks because it's really easy to put them up on Soundcloud. But I think that it really takes about a 100 songs to have the technical expertise to create without thinking about what you're doing, and have your influences completely internalized. It takes a lot of time, a lot of hours. Over the past few years, people release way too quick, so it sounds a lot like other music out there instead of sounding like them. Maybe somebody will read this and get inspired and make 100 songs too, and try to really define their own sound—because I think there are so many people with potential out there, but I don't know if they're using it to 100 percent.
What did you learn about yourself and your creative process in the two years of making 100 tracks?
I think my brain works quite differently from a lot of people. I've noticed that Sinjin likes envisioning his songs in a certain space, and I don't do that. I can't envision anything. I just sit down and do. And the less I think, the better it turns out. I get on a sort of roll where I can't stop working on the song when it goes well. The moment I try to do something, it usually doesn't work. I just lose it. I usually just do something and see where that element takes me, and then I have another idea and I put that on top and I see where that takes me. It’s a journey every time.
Why did you decide to call each of the tracks a lady—what's the significance of 100 Ladies?
Actually, I don't really know! I just thought—because I knew I wanted to do 100—that just giving them numbers or dates would be a bit impersonal, because they are close to me. But giving each of them a name and having them be my ladies is kind of endearing. I just like the idea of having 100 ladies around.
Me too. Sinjin described the EP in the press release as a "balance between polyrhythm and dissonance"—and you mentioned your experience drumming and love of footwork. Have you always been drawn to experimenting with rhythm?
I guess; I didn't try, but from what most people tell me about the EP, I'm quite influenced by flight footwork, which is sort of a more leftfield version of footwork that centers around DJ Roc or DJ Diamond, Young Smoke, DJ Nate. Also a little bit of Jlin. So I think I subconsciously incorporated a lot of those drums in my music, because I listen to it a lot. It all stems from that one folder that Rashad gave me. There were definitely a few DJ Roc tracks in there that I heard where I was like, 'Wow!'
How was Fractal Fantasy born?
At this point I should mention Sinjin's dad [Duncan Brinsmead], who is sort of a computer graphics legend, and his team also got an Oscar [for Technical Achievement, 2008]. In 1987, he made a video calledFractal Fantasy, which was an animation of a camera flying through really complex fractal structures, and he also made the music for this video. [Sinjin and I] saw it a few years ago and we kinda ran with this idea, and started making our own videos, which ended up beingVisceral Minds [the debut collaborative album released on Fractal fantasy earlier this year]. And that's kind of where the whole story of Fractal Fantasy comes from.
And what's the ethos behind the label?
Me and Sinjin don't really want to define what Fractal Fantasy is just yet, maybe later, maybe never. It's nice right now because by not defining what it is, it's a space to create and evolve freely and not being tied to a mission. For us, it's a platform for us to create whatever we want, whenever we want, with whoever we want, without any restrictions.