Four Color Zack’s Advice to DJs

Four Color Zack
Four Color Zack performing at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene, Oregon. (Aaron Rogosin/Red Bull)
After winning the Red Bull Thre3style World Championship in 2012, Four Color Zack has established himself as one of the world’s most respected DJs in terms of technical and party rocking abilities. Indeed, the Seattle native is now a Thre3style judge himself, along with another former world champion, DJ Hedspin.
With this year’s competition in full swing, DJ TechTools spoke with Zack about crafting and performing sets, tips on using tone play and more. Below are some of our favorite nuggets from the conversation, which can be read in its entirety here.
He maps out his sets on paper.

“I’ll try to draw the sections out with the same kind of energy they sound like so when I’m working on connecting the dots, I can see what the overall flow looks like. No set should be 100% highest energy the whole time and drawing sections out helps you see the contrasting highs and lows.”

He injects his own personality into his sets.

“I do my best to have my sets represent how my thought process works. That’s pretty much the main goal and hopefully what helps them stand out. There might be times where I go from something super serious to something really off the wall, but I think thats how music should be, there should be these moments of contrast that make each end of the spectrum seem more extreme.”

He thinks DJs should use tone play wisely.

“If it doesn’t sound right, don’t force it. Nothing worse than out of key tone play, especially in a competition where you’re being judged. I can’t tell you how many eye rolls I’ve witnessed judging competitions … I look at tone play like its a very intense seasoning. It might be great, but not all the time, and if its not accompanying the right meal its the worst. But used properly can be pretty cool.”

He prefers a simple setup.

“[For my winning 2012 Thre3style World Finals set] I was on 2 Technics turntables, a Rane 62 mixer, and yes the AKAI MPD 26 which was controlling the Serato cue points. I also had put a high and low pass filter control on the faders of the 26, in case I’m ever on a mixer that doesn’t have that kind of filter control … I try to keep everything pretty bare bones so I was just using the 2 decks. I have friends who know the ins and outs of all the software and hardware and they always do the craziest stuff, but I try to work with what I know.”

He ranks personality and originality above technical skill.

“I like to see the personality of the DJ. My favorite sets are always the ones that are not just replications of past DJs winning sets. I like to see a fresh perspective on the selection, an honest stage presence (meaning they are being themselves and having that be special no matter what it is), and good understanding on where the boundary lines are and when to cross them … Something I’m always pleasantly surprised by is seeing a DJ with less technical skill but more smarts and originality come out on top. Most of my favorite DJs would not get perfect scores in the technical category.”

Here’s a video of Zack showing off his tone play skills for DJcityTV:

Related: Four Color Zack’s MikiDz Show Performance and Interview