[Interview] Exit 9 Talks Experimental Bass, Zen Awakening Festival and more

exit 9

Exit 9 stopped by our interview booth at Imagine Festival 2017 and dropped a brief on-the-fly set before chatting with us about his upcoming events. Exit 9 is co-producer of Zen Awakening Festival along with his father who owns Cirque USA, a company providing cirque acts for events such as Imagine Festival.

Over the last several years we have noticed Exit 9’s involvement with numerous dub, bass and EDM related shows in the southeast, both as a performer and promoter. During the conversation, we learned he has played a large role in the expansion of experimental bass in the region. Read the interview below to learn more about this growing genre of music, and what must-see events should be added to your fall calendar:

So you just came in and killed this impromptu DJ set for us at Imagine Festival. We appreciate you coming by and giving us a selection of your music on such short notice. Would you say you work well under pressure?

Yeah. I love working under pressure. My dad has an entertainment company and I’m used to things happening on-the-fly. I’m used to doing things the best I can with little information, making things sound good and legit. It makes me perform better I think.

What area of entertainment does your dad’s company focus on?

Everything. He runs Cirque USA It’s a cirque and dance company. All the performers you see at Imagine Festival – the aerialists, the dancers – he organized all that for the most part.

How would you describe the genre of music you play?

It’s depends on the show. I’ve been pushing a lot of weird bass – or experimental bass is what they call it. It’s really no genre. I’ve been pushing that music in the southeast for about three or four years. Artists like Bleep Bloop, Yheti, Esseks, Space Jesus are blowing up, especially in the southeast.

A lot of events like Zen Awakening Festival, Pass the Good Festival, Fractal Beach are home for that kind of music. A couple of years ago they maybe didn’t have home here yet. All that music was coming from the west coast and no one out here knew what the hell that was yet. I remember playing shows at Iris or other festivals, and dropping Yheti and G Jones and no one got it. I played main stage at Iris and even the dancers wouldn’t get it. Now three years later it’s the norm.

I think that’s how a lot of big music trends start – by being so different no one knows how to react at first.

Yeah, like when trap first came out it was the same thing. Everyone was so used to dubstep, house or trance, and then when trap came out everyone was like, ‘what the hell is this awesomeness?!’ When you fuse multiple genres together it’s better than both [separately]. It’s like when you mix a werewolf with a vampire – you get that thing that’s off the movie Underworld. I don’t know what that thing is called but I like that movie a lot.

I love that movie too. So give us the history on Exit 9. Have you always been Exit 9 or did you start out doing something else?

It’s funny – I started out as a rapper. I was more of a lyricist. The name Exit 9 comes from where I’m from in New Jersey. Exit 9 is the exit where I’m from off the turnpike in my hometown, New Brunswick. I started DJing a lot of shows in the Midwest and didn’t have a name yet. I couldn’t think of a name and my ex-girlfriend goes, ‘well you’re from exit 9 so you should call yourself Exit 9.’ It was actually a good idea. Now people recognize the name from me doing Okeechobee or Imagine Festival. I get to represent where I’m from wherever I’m at in the country, which is pretty cool.

If someone has never heard heard you play before, what can they expect from an Exit 9 listening experience?

If they like deep dubstep, half-time drum and bass, anything not normal, anything weird or if you find yourself in a crowd and feel out of place, just look for me and I’ll fill a void. I’ll give you the most weird experience ever. I might even do some standup comedy while I play. I’m a comedian at heart and I like to make people smile whether it’s through my music or my jokes or my weird sense of humor. If I put a smile on one person’s face then it makes my day.

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Tell us about your involvement with Zen Awakening. Is it your festival?

Zen Awakening is a festival my father, Niekko, and I came up with many years ago. We always wanted to do our own festival. My dad is a lot more spiritual and conscious than I am, and I love the music. Music and being a people person are my things. My dad hit me up about four years ago and said, ‘hey, let’s do this finally. We’re gonna call it Zen Awakening. I have this vision and this is what I want. I want you to do the music and marketing and I’ll do everything else.’

The first Zen Awakening was in 2014 but a lot of people don’t know about that year because it was so small. My involvement in that festival was slim. I was in the army at the same time when my dad was putting that festival together. He basically did it on his own that year. We only had maybe 400-500 people that year. I basically quit the army so I could throw this festival with my dad. I feel like I could do more by helping others express themselves through music, art and dance than I could in the army. I feel like leaving the army and helping my dad with this festival was my purpose in life. It’s a father son thing.

That’s a great story. We’ve been wanting to attend Zen Awakening for awhile and we’re making sure it’s on the agenda this year. This year’s lineup looks impressive. Who all can we look forward to seeing?

Ott is one of the top billed headliners. We also have Yheti. Yheti is like a resident DJ for Zen Awakening. He will never not play Zen Awakening. Late Night Radio is another artist playing. Bluetech is also playing. Chee from South Africa is coming out to play. Jade Cicada. There’s so much eclectic music playing this event in Central Florida. It’s crazy.

What other activities will be going on outside of the music?

Every year we have about 200 workshops – yoga, meditation, out-of-body experience workshops, couples and children workshops, anything you can think of. There’s an enchanted walk-about where a guide takes you through the woods and explains a lot of things about nature. We have a big-ass 20-foot tall water slide. We have a labyrinth. There’s so much going on. There’s 20 or more yoga workshops. We have yoga and meditation instructors coming from all over the country to teach and lead.

Well now I’m really excited to be attending. Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we go?

Myself and Ployd do a monthly event called Slow & Low. The October event is coming up on the 30th in Atlanta featuring Thelem and Rez. Zen Awakening is happening in central Florida on November 17th through 19th. Pass the Good is happening in the Gulf of Florida. There’s going to be an unofficial Bassnectar pre and after party featuring a lot of collaborators such as Pass the Good, Zen Awakening, C4 Entertainment and Sweet Science Radio. There are so many collectives coming together and doing amazing things to build the community in the southeast.

pass the good

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Exit 9 and Ployd

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