While Tim Zha has worked under the Organ Tapes nom de guerre for some time now, his vocal explorations and lo-fi take on digital pop only recently entered our ear space, the result being near-immediate obsession. Growing up listening to everything from ambient and noise to 50 Cent and Eminem, musical sources drawn from friends and television, Zha split his childhood between China and the UK and now lives in London, taking his place in the sprawling, yet intimately creative cultural metropolis. Recently, the Organ Tapes project has been lapped up by Pitcheno and his machine-minded Tobago Tracks label, Zha’s best track to date “K1. Bu Ming Bai” appearing on a TT single several months ago.
Working with and taking inspiration from the sounds of dancehall, afrobeat, bop and Future, Organ Tapes sings in a low slung, sultry manner, both swimming in the pool created by his influences and taking them beyond the cloud cover into another, moon-drenched environment. Like fellow newcomers Malibu and Blaze Kidd, Zha is re-instituting the role of voice in club-not-club music, utilizing motifs from a place-less club world in his beatific covers and originals. And with a special, vocal-focused mixtape on the way, it’s easy to see that Zha is becoming increasingly confident in his voice in song writing, not to mention his acumen with roughneck club tracks that are also on the way. Throw on Organ Tapes’ Astral Plane mix and scroll below for our Skype talk with the artist, touching on the topics above as well as his thoughts on the club, ascension and his roll as a live performer. This is one of our most non-dancefloor-oriented mixes in a while so get cozy and delve in.
What were your first experiences listening to hip hop and R&B?
Pretty much as far back as I can remember I’ve been excited about hip-hop music. I remember 50 Cent and Eminem videos on MTV Asia / Channel V really exciting me as a child, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I really got into rap & RnB. At the same time I was probably equally if not more into guitar music and ambient and noise music. I don’t think my environment growing up made any one musical form or set of aesthetic references feel naturally dominant or the norm. Or maybe I’ve just always been resistant to the idea that any one form or style can be function as dominant or the norm for me. There’s a lot of freedom in moving between and drawing upon a wide variety of forms and styles, but that also brings with it certain anxieties over whether I’m meaningfully or appropriately interacting with them…
How did you hook up with Pitcheno and Tobago Tracks? -What is your creative relationship with Pitcheno look like?
I met Robert (Pitcheno) and the rest of the TT squad through a friend who does the label’s graphic design work. I think not long after we met TT started gravitating away from being a more club-focused label and what I was doing kind of fit the bill for the sounds they were wanting to start expanding into. I’m super grateful for their support because before linking with TT no one really knew or gave a shit about any of the music I made – Organ Tapes is an old, old project.
As for our creative relationship, I think it’s developed quite organically. I think Robert knows that I can be quite private and controlling about the way I work but “K1. Bu Ming Bai” was made really smoothly and organically despite me being unused to much collaboration. It was definitely a different process to how I work on my own but I’m hyped on it.
There’s an interesting cohort of London artists pushing Caribbean sounds and reinterpreting R&B in interesting ways. Endgame, Kamixlo, Blaze Kidd, Malibu, etc. Do you guys get together to talk and share ideas or is it more spontaneous? -Are you excited by what’s going on around you?
Yeah, there are definitely a lot of people that are doing a lot of exciting things in London right now. I don’t really know a lot of people personally to be honest, but I’ve spoken to Endgame a bit and I have huge respect and love for everything him and the rest of the artists you just referenced are doing.
Although London is definitely a hub for this kind of cultural activity (London is a hub for cultural activity in general, tbh), it’s definitely not a geographical movement. So many people all over the place are making music that is reflective of and responsive to our present historical moment. A lot of this music is quite political (consciously, in addition to the inherently political aspect to all music) and I don’t think that’s a coincidence… Hand in hand with the establishment of a “post-club”, “post-generic” sound and redefinition of the club as a space that so many of the artists you just mentioned are engaged in is a broader will to redefining oppressive dominant narratives and reclaiming the idea of “neutrality” from them, attempting to replace it with something broader and more inclusive.
With that being said, although I think it’s interesting and exciting to see the Internet generating these quite Utopian artistic impulses, I’m also wary of overstating its potential for instigating real positive social or political change on any broad scale…
Hit the jump to read the rest of the Organ Tapes interview and check out the track list…