Few Montreal-based DJs may boast a performative resume as varied as that of Marie Pied’s, a twenty-three-year-old DJ, producer, and musician known more commonly as Zepha. From the wooded clearings of the North and Central American outdoor festival circuit, to the metallic grit of her adopted city’s warehouses and clubs, Zepha’s carefully curated DJ sets have made fans of both purist techno hipsters and dreadlocked bohemians alike.
Initiated at a young age in Quebec City’s modest underground rave scene, Zepha’s rapid rise in the world of electronic music has been as unconventional as it has been impressive. Eschewing a more reliably marketable, genre-constrained style for a more colorfully eclectic sonic palette, her DJ sets regularly involves complex basslines, bleepy micro-sampling, and an overall sense of immersive psychedelia.
What most fundamentally sets Zepha apart from many of her fellow techno artists, however, is the feeling of organic warmth she brings to the often-austere world of techno, both musically and personally. From her alluring on-stage dancing to her ultra-groovy, quirky, and often hypnotic track selection, she transmits an irresistible energy to the crowd, regardless of setting. Having seen Zepha perform as both an opener for international acts such as Amelie Lens and as a highly-anticipated headliner in her own right, I’ve come to understand that this natural, almost spiritual energy offers an appreciated breath of fresh air to her loyal fans and followers.
On an uncharacteristically warm and tranquil day in Montreal’s downtown core, I caught up with the artist (and her stoic canine companion, Boris) to find out more about her thoughts, inspirations, and plans for the future.
Recommended Listening: Zepha @ Piknic Electronik Montreal, 2016
Hi Zepha, thanks so much for speaking with me today. First thing’s first, how did you get into DJing?
I’ve been raving since I was 13 years old – that’s the only thing that is really accessible for underage people! By the time I was 16 I started DJing, and for the last four years I’ve been playing gigs and discovering the scene.
Did you know right away that you wanted to be a DJ when you started mixing?
I felt like I had a strong connection with music, I always wanted to be the one playing the music and was always interested in sharing different sounds with the people around me. I couldn’t keep it as just a party thing, I wanted to turn it into something more real.
You’ve played at a lot of festivals recently – you were Eclipse, you were at Illusion – has playing and experiencing these gigs had an influence on you?
Festivals had a very big effect on me. They’ve helped me find myself, and find my tribe. I feel that people who go to these alternative festivals are really connected and open. At Saint Jean le Basstiste, I had an experience that was the turning point of my life. I realized all my patterns, and all of society’s patterns that I was in, and kind of discovered the real me.
It was there that I I kind of started to awaken a bit. It’s a slow evolution, but it really started to rise at this point.
Would you say that your ideal crowd to play to is this kind of very open-minded, very connected crowd?
Mmm, yeah. This is the crowd that I have the most fun playing for, but I really want to play for all different kinds of crowds, and want to get into the more urban scene also.
It’s been really cool to have all these different kinds of [rural and urban] bookings. I know the people I play for at festivals pretty well already, and it’s interesting to get to the heart of people I feel different from.
How would you describe your sound right now?
I would say I’m moving around a lot between different types of techno. I’d say that my style is more minimal, but I’m moving towards funkier stuff, dark and trippy stuff, and some more European styles. It’s an evolution – as I’ve gotten older, it’s the finer, more delicate sounds that have made me vibrate. Less party music, more brain music. Still very dancefloor, but more of an intelligent and complex sound.
You’ve mentioned a focus on more minimal sounds. Why do you prefer that, and what does this minimalism represent for you?
I like space. I’m a very creative dancer, and the only way I can really express my creativity and my movement is when the music is slower and has more space between the sounds. Short samples, more static. Before being a DJ, I was a dancer – I really love to dance, to be the sound.
Are you the type of DJ who will go down and join the crowd on the dancefloor after your set?
For sure, and even during my set! I will sometimes go down onto the dancefloor for a track, first of all to see if the music is at the right volume, but also to connect with the people there and see if we are on the same level, because that’s really what it is all about.
What would you say your favorite type of venue is to play?
Outside, nature, water. [laughs] The sound is so fucking awesome outside, when the sound is free, there’s no reverberation – it’s so pure! But also small places…well, I like everything – warehouses are also very cool!
Big things are happening right now in the Montreal scene. What are some things you love about it, and what are some things that you wish there was a bit more of, or what you wish were a bit different?
I think I would like to create more unity between all electronic scenes, because right now, there’s a big disparity. Even in the urban scene, you can see that there are different crowds associated with different styles that don’t mix together. I would like to mix with different types of DJs, even if we are not playing the same type of stuff.
What I like the most about Montreal is the cultural diversity. There’s people from all over who bring their own sound, their own vibe. We are really lucky to have this abundance free outdoor events, it creates an amazing vibrance!
You play a lot of styles, but I think it’s safe to say they mostly fall under the umbrella of techno. What does techno personally mean to you? Is it just a music style, or is there something more that you get from it?
For me, techno is also an attitude, and a style. It’s a creative enough way to express all the quirks of my personality.
It’s an genre that’s open enough for you to project every aspect of your personality, and all your idiosyncrasies?
Yeah, for sure. Techno is a genre of music that is not just party music, it’s a genre that you can use to channel your identity. You can go more soulful, more trippy, more dark, more heavy…that helps me represent each of my moods.
That, and the four-by-four beat is the best for dancing!
What are your goals and plans for the future?
I have no goals and plans! I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m pretty happy about that.
You’re okay with the unknown.
Featured photo credits: OCTOV
This interview has been edited by the author for clarity.