The mysterious, enigmatic figure that is ZHU burst onto the scene in 2014. Despite his first single “Faded” gaining international acclaim and a Grammy nomination, he chose to remain anonymous for a period of time to keep the focus on his music. This earned my undying respect, for
That he sees music in black and white, or good and bad, makes complete sense to me. He’s been quite vocal in his critique of the pop-influenced EDM garbage that has been hitting the scene of late. Ignoring the naysayers, ZHU made excellent use of sax and guitar in his first full-length album “Generationwhy” released in 2016, which hit #1 on the US Dance charts. His use of live instruments feels like a return to the roots of everything good in music and an improvement on the formulaic dumbing down of much of what I see on mainstages worldwide.
ZHU prefers to create his dark and dream-like tracks in the midnight hours for night owls like myself. For those of us who experience some of our
Following ZHU’s guitar player’s devastating divorce, he moved his crew into the Galisteo Basin outside of Santa Fe. Believing the desert to be a place of healing, he set up a recording studio to allow his guitar player to musically express the emotions he couldn’t quite put into words. The album opens with“Stormy Love, NM.”, a track that reminds me of the deadly nature of the desert and features guitar picking, the cawing of crows, and shrieks of buzzards flying overhead. Now that I know the origins of the album, I can’t help thinking of birds of prey picking over the bones of a dead relationship as JOY. sings “You don’t need to come here to tell me that you’re sorry … I see clouds in the distance, is this a stormy love?”
Having done musical theater in the past, I recognize ZHU’s desire to create an immersive experience with his albums. Not only does he strive to evoke a distinct feeling that resonates with the listeners, he then goes a step further by attempting to create a visual backdrop. I know of few albums that create as distinct mental imagery as “Ringos Desert”. The mystical beauty of the desert and the soft undulations of dunes of sand are brought to mind in “Desert Woman”. But it’s the whistling in the opening of “Ghost In My Bed” that makes me recall old Spaghetti Westerns that use the silence of the desert interspersed with the whistling of violent gunslingers to evoke tension. In much the same way, this track leaves an eerie, off-kilter feeling within.
ZHU has called “Ringos Desert” a “redemption record” as it began as a way for his friend to express his pain and trauma through music. The album is a journey that begins with the terrible grief of the death of an expected future and ends with the ability to say to all of those agonies, go away and let me live “My Life“. In the span of only two albums over five years, ZHU has made a fan of me, someone who’s admittedly, difficult to please.
I haven’t had the opportunity to catch ZHU live yet, so I was thrilled when he was announced as the second headliner for Shambhala Music Festival 2019. I have no idea what awaits me at this festival, held on a working farm in the British Columbian forest next to the beautiful Salmo River. It’s the longest-running electronic music festival in Canada taking place August 9-12th. From what I’ve seen on their website and descriptions from friends, it’s going to be a unique experience. A family-run festival with no corporate sponsors and 6 different stages to discover, I already know it will be unlike anything I’ve done before.
Joining GRiZ on the lineup, ZHU is making his Shambhala debut at the Pagoda stage. I can’t help thinking that their music, which uses real instruments and breaks away from mainstream EDM, will merge organically with the atmosphere and vibrations of Shambhala. I can’t wait for ZHU to blow my mind in the evergreen forest on the Salmo River Ranch! Click below for tickets and info.
*Featured Image Via rukes.com*