Brooklyn based Zs have always been one of my favorites bands to shoot since I moved to New York City. They are an inspiration to use cameras in a way one would have never thought about before. Below is a variety of Zs shows (((unartig))) managed to document on tape, as well as an introduction by the great Hank Shteamer of STATS, Stay Fucked and Aa (BIG A little a) fame. Zs recordings are available via The Social Registry.
[Hank Shteamer | STATS]
“We’re an extremely limited group. Basically what it is orchestrationally is this fleshing out of the sound of a percussive attack. It’s like the way we tongue [our saxophones], and the way a drumstick hits a drum and the pick on the Strat—that pointed ‘bam’ sound.“
Sam Hillmer, from a 2005 interview
Anyone who has followed Zs over the years knows exactly what Hillmer means by “that pointed ‘bam’ sound.” Their music has mutated considerably since I first heard them about four years ago, but one factor has always remained constant: a perfect balance between savage aggression and mechanistic control. What it amounts to is a physical and intellectual bludgeoning. Hence: “bam.”
Every phase of Zs has exhibited its own uniquely mindblowing energy. The now-legendary mirror-image lineup—two saxists, two guitarists, two drum kits—was so tight and intense that it seemed almost satanic. I’ll never forget the sight of that sextet seated in a circle on the floor at Tonic, each member focused on his sheet music and tapping into some infernal hive mind. (This version of the band officially made music school seem cool again.)
Then came the Hard EP quartet, which balanced ear-splitting stabs of noise with sleek, post-Genesis future-funk. The new four-piece lineup finds Zs at its most stripped-down and thrillingly insular. As with the sextet, this current incarnation seems much more like a cult than a band.
Chamber ensemble? Noise unit? Avant-rock group? Neotribal percussion troupe? Zs remains all and none of those things. Best to just peg them one of the most innovative American musical entities of the aughts—and to keep an ear out for that unmistakable “bam.”
Hank Shteamer, 7/7/09
Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches
P.P.S. Zs has spawned a ton of spin-offs, side projects and satellites, and they all partake of the core group’s staunchly innovative vibe. Don’t sleep on Extra Life, Regattas, Hunter/Gatherer, Moth, Period, Pygmy Shrews, Archaeopteryx, Barr/Walter/Hillmer, Little Women or any of the others I’m forgetting.