Interview with DJ Zyron

0x51d aka Zyron aka Johan Åstrand is a DJ, producer, crate digger and record collector living in the small Swedish village Karlsborg.

Words by Mark Limb • May 15, 2011

If you spend any time at all digging for music online then you will almost certainly at some point stumbled across the '0x51d' YouTube channel and the amazing archive of spaced out, cosmic, balearic, kraut rock, electronic... and countless other genres, that have been carefully and lovingly uploaded from a vast and highly eclectic record collection over the years.


I was visiting the channel so often that I thought I should get in touch and find out a little bit more about the mysterious 0x51d character that was responsible for introducing me to a massive back catalogue of incredible music and some of the most interesting DJ mixes that I’d heard in some time.


0x51d aka Zyron aka Johan Åstrand kindly agreed to take a bit of time out from moving house to answer a few questions for The Electric Disco and also kindly put together a mix especially for us which we're sure you'll love too!

Hi Johan, firstly thanks for taking the time out to chat to us whilst moving house...

How’s it going, and most importantly is all the vinyl shifted safely and soundly?


All the records survived the move just fine, but I still haven't managed to put them all back in some sort of order so many of them are stacked away in the wardrobes which, luckily, this apartment have lots of.


I decided I should try to see the move as an opportunity to re-organize the records to make it somehow possible to find a certain record when I want to play it, still without success though so at the moment it's more of a mess than it was before. 

But by doing this as thoroughly as possible I stumble upon good records that I had forgotten all about, as well as some really bad ones that I'll try to sell if possible.


Yeah, I’ve been there. After my last house move and the months it took to re organise my records I swore that I’d never move again!


The decision as to whether store it all alphabetically, chronologically, by genre, by era ... nah, not going back there for a while! 


I've tried to do this several times before but never found a working system.

At the moment I'm trying a system based on what feeling the records give me (genre/style in a way but not exactly), BPM and/or alphabetically depending on the context in which I usually play them. It's highly advanced and still not fully tested.)


One problem with getting the records too organised is that I hardly dare to play them for fear that system will break once I start moving them around, so flexibility is the key word or else the collection will turn into some static archive that I won't touch.


Good luck.... I reckon if you did figure out a decent system you could probably patent it and make some cash (I’d buy it!)


So going back to the beginning, where did your musical journey first start?


Probably around when I was born. I've always liked music and as a child me and my dad used to listen to his records with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues and other stuff from the 60's and 70's.


Around 1983, when I was 9-10, I started buying records frequently. Beginning with 7” singles and LPs, cause that's what the local store had to offer, and later moving on to 12”s to get the longer versions which I always prefered. I remember that I early started making edits of my 7”s using the pause button on the cassette-deck to make them longer.


Sometime in the 7th grade I got introduced to Max Mix 3 on a tape and I got extremely fascinated with the idea of mixing tracks together. To my surprise the local TV/audio store had it on LP, so I bought it and used to play it a lot. I still enjoy listening to it, maybe it's just nostalgia but José Maria Castells & Toni Peret surely had a huge impact on me back then.


So, I wanted to make my own mixes. But since I didn't have the needed equipment I had to experiment with what I had, which was a compact stereo with a built-in turntable and an external belt driven turntable which had pitch-adjustment, and no mixer.


I can't recall exactly how I connected this but I believe I made some odd mono wiring involving the rec input of the compact stereo to use the balance slider as volume control and the loudspeaker outputs connected to a cassette deck to record it all, but my memory could be failing here.


This meant that after every transition I had to adjust the pitch to zero, pause the recording, move the record to the turntable without pitch and then unpause the recording at the right place of the track since I needed the turntable with pitch to adjust the speed of the next record. It also involved lots of trial and error to get the levels right since what I heard wasn't exactly what got recorded.


This must have been around 1986 cause I remember I had recently bought New Order's Sub-Culture which I played in one of those mixes.


I don't have any of the old recordings left, probably just as well, but those days of experimenting with beat mixing was good practice and around 1987 or 1988 I did my first school dance gigs with some borrowed equipment like a mixer but still only one turntable with pitch, so the sets had to be carefully prepared to be possible to beatmix.


After saving money and with some help from parents etc I finally got my own setup of two 1200's and a Phonic MRT-70 mixer around 1989.


It’s great looking back at the gear people used to use when they first got into mixing. I remember using my sisters twin tape deck and my parents dual turntable and thinking nothing of having to manually ride the pitch throughout the duration of every ‘mix’! Great fun though...


It was all very exciting and the strict limitations forced me to use my imagination and come up with interesting solutions. In the work against the restraints the soul (in the mix) lies.

Today you could more or less simply download some cracked software and a bunch of MP3s and get started, but I think that takes the fun out of it.


So what can you tell us about the scene going on in Sweden back then?


I honestly don't know. I was 15-16 and lived far away from any scene.


Did you get much exposure to what was going on musically in the rest of the world? 


I listened a lot to the radio, I remember tuning in to Radio Luxembourg late at night listening to what they played through lots of static noise caused by interference.


Do you think the fact that you had to work a bit harder back then to discover quality music that it’s perhaps made you appreciate it more than if it had been as readily available to everyone as it is today?


I didn't think about it like that, but looking back at it now; absolutely.

I used to make lists of records I had heard on the radio or TV and then try to find those records in the stores. It was a very joyful experience each time I found something I had been looking for for a long time.


As a matter of fact I still do this, but those hand written notes have been replaced by my wantslist on Discogs and the stores have more or less been replaced with Discogs marketplace, online stores and auction sites.


So in the days before the internet did you have the specialist record stores to access the music you liked or were you limited by what was available to you?


I've always been extremely limited to what I can find around where I live.

Karlsborg never had any real record store, only a store selling TVs and stereos which had a very small selection of records which mainly consisted of the latest charts pop/rock 7”s and LPs.


The closest genuine record stores were located in a town called Skövde, about 50 kilometers away, but those too had a quite limited selection regarding non-commercial music.


Every now and then I'd go down to Gothenburg to visit my father and visit the record stores there which had a much broader selection.


So what were you actually listening to at home and what would you have played back then given the opportunity?


I was mainly into electronic music, synth and Italo-disco back then so when I DJ'ed the first times I basically played the same stuff my mixes consisted of; Moskwa TV, Front 242, Microchipleague, New Order, Kraftwerk and Human League, which was music most people at our age then (I was 15 in 1988) had never heard of. I'd mix it up with more known stuff like Depeche Mode, Howard Jones, Miko Mision, Koto and Pet Shop Boys.


But the people going to the school dances would rather hear things like Belinda Carlisle or Big Fun; contemporary charts music they had heard on the radio the other day, and I can't really blame them since we were just kids.

To be able to handle requests like that I started buying new mainstream 12”s instead for quite some time, but never really enjoyed playing them - I started to feel more like a jukebox.


Somewhere around that time we got cable TV and one channel I especially remember is MusicBox. Late one night they were playing MARRS - Pump Up the Volume or possibly Krush - House Arrest and that was probably the first time I heard that "new" music style called house, or at least the first time it got to me; I remember thinking it sounded so futuristic and fresh, I really wanted to play that kind of music instead.

So do you think the advent of house music helped make it possible for you to bridge the more experimental music that you wanted to play with the more mainstream stuff that people were more familiar with?


Not back then. I did the bigger gigs in the early 90's together with a friend. We had four 1200s and two mixers and we surely did our best trying to establish the house and acid sound in Karlsborg, but people were not ready for it.


If we'd play stuff like We Call It Acieeed or Stakker Humanoid people would look at us as if we were insane. Things like 49'ers or Blackbox generally worked much better which again meant I had to spend money on new records I didn't really like.

When the hip- and euro-house flood peaked I stopped buying “DJ records” and stopped playing altogether.

Your taste is obviously hugely eclectic, do you think the more music you’ve heard over the years and the deeper you’ve had to dig, the wider your taste has become?


I've always been interested in many different genres but my taste has definitely grown wider as I've discovered new styles and artists and also as I've grown older. 

Should the 15 year old me walk in here today I'm sure he'd think most of my records were pretty dull and freak out. 🙂


Where there any DJs that you listened to early on that were perhaps doing something similar and may have inspired the direction that you have went in?


As mentioned before, the creators of Max Mix 3; José Maria Castells & Toni Peret definitely gave me the first push, and so did the Swedish DJ Clabbe and his show Rakt över disc on Swedish radio which everyone used to listen to on Friday nights.

Those people got me interested in the whole DJ and beatmixing thing, but didn't really influence my direction that much.


Later on, those inspiring me the most have been:


Joakim Cosmo - Enormous source of inspiration. If it weren't for his mixtapes I probably wouldn't have started playing again after my break.


Beppe Loda - Another big source of inspiration for me to dare to go my own way and play records at the “wrong” speed if I want to.


Crinan/Parlour - Who proved that also rock music works in a DJ-set.


DJ Harvey - Who made me dare to follow my heart and simply play what I like, any way I like, for as long as I like + all the above things


.I guess what’s cool, and I don’t know if it’s something that you think about yourself, but with your shows and certainly your Youtube channel, you are now in a position where you are inspiring and educating a new generation of DJs and music lovers!


I've more and more understood this from the video comments and emails I've received but I try not to think about it like that, even if it's exciting, cause I would put too much pressure on myself and it would all become some kind of mission or duty instead which would take all the fun out of it.

I guess what’s cool, and I don’t know if it’s something that you think about yourself, but with your shows and certainly your Youtube channel, you are now in a position where you are inspiring and educating a new generation of DJs and music lovers!


I've more and more understood this from the video comments and emails I've received but I try not to think about it like that, even if it's exciting, cause I would put too much pressure on myself and it would all become some kind of mission or duty instead which would take all the fun out of it.


So as well as your online shows do you get to DJ live much as well?

Not by far as much as I'd want to.

We should sort something out and get you over to the UK...

That would surely be nice. There seems to be quite a lot going on in the UK.

The last Interstate show I listened to would have been an amazing club / live set. It felt like quite a journey and I guess I understand why other DJs I’ve heard playing an equally diverse selection, choose to play for much longer giving people a chance to really get into it.


I like to give my listeners a ride; a musical journey without boundaries.

Yeah, a musical journey without boundaries ... I like that!

...and a fair share of chaos as well. At least in the streams since they are hardly ever prepared.

It seems to be quite in vogue at the moment to be eclectic, or balearic, or cosmic or whatever... which on the one hand is a great thing as people are all the more receptive to hearing a wider range of music than they had perhaps previously been, but do you think there’s a danger of it becoming mainstream and losing the charm of something that was perhaps previously more underground?


It all depends on what the DJs calling themselves eclectic or cosmic are playing.

To me it's all about what was never mainstream in the first place finally getting a bigger audience. Anything that can make people reject the mass-produced commercial made-for-profit music of today is a step in the right direction and once people have done that they find an ocean of undiscovered treasures to dwell in which could keep them busy for the rest of their lifetime, if they want.


What do you think about the music scene generally nowadays?


I'm not really following it any longer.


The re-edit thing was fun for a while but now it feels like you no longer know if what's on this new record was actually made by the artist or not.


I mean I'm totally fine with the secrecy of edit records where they alter the song titles, don't mention the original artist etc, cause I like the detective work of finding out what the source for the edit was and I believe it's a copyright thing as well, but releasing a record with edits and take full credit for writing and producing is actually fucking lame.


Yeah I agree. I’ve got mixed views on the edit scene. On the one hand it has made some ridiculously rare tracks more readily available again which is great, but as you said, I question some of the minor tweaks that are being made which then deem a record to be an edit and subsequently the work of someone else...  


As with everything there are still some people doing it phenomenally well and producing some remarkable re-edits!


Yes, absolutely! I've bought a fair share of re-edits/reworks which are extremely good. Releases from f ex Soft Rocks, Prince Language, Amplified Orchestra, Västkustska Ryggdunkarsällskapet, Greg Wilson, Lovefingers and Parlour always work for me.

What do you think about the impact the internet has had on DJs today that can just google 'cosmic' or something and easily download an entire back catalogue of rare and classic mp3s without having spent time actually learning about the music like you have, and perhaps how and why records work together and what their relevance is?


If they've come as far as Googling cosmic DJ or something they deserve a musical treasure and if they “get it” I'm sure they will use it wisely and later on get an understanding.


Kids of today weren't born back then so without the crate diggers, DJs and collectors sharing their secrets they would not have a chance to experience real music, which would be a sad thing.


So are you still a vinyl purist or have you found yourself creeping into the digital realm?


I'm 100% strictly vinyl always but must admit that during the move, and now when trying to get some order among the records, the thought of how easy it would be to have the tracks stored digitally have crossed my mind several times. 


Some years ago I used to rip, decrackle and MP3 my records but stopped that after some time because to me they became kind of uninteresting to listen to once too easily accessible. It's like the vinyl itself carries a bit of the music's soul and once you separate the music from the vinyl a part of it dies and once I had added all the MP3s into a huge playlist in Winamp I would just sit there and click next, next, next cause everything sounded flat and boring and dead in a way.


Besides, I enjoy how you can see the music and what will happen in a track by looking at the grooves and there's also some extra magic added to a track when you, maybe after years of searching, finally have the actual record to play it from.


I was reading a thread over on the DJHistory forum a while back where Sean P was explaining the process he’d been through whilst digitising his records for the Claremont Originals CD. It seems that it really can become a painstaking labour of love, as you said so much of the soul can be lost if you just do a straight rip and I think Sean, being a vinyl purist, went to great lengths to find the balance between clarity and substance.


Interesting info there. I'm far from his league since I don't own any kind of audiophile equipment.


A lot of vinyl DJs tend to be quite secretive about their records and hold their cards very close to their chests. You on the other hand appear to be at the other end of the spectrum and go to the effort to identify and then actually upload all your killer discoveries...


My belief is that all music ever made was made with the purpose of being heard, not to be hidden away. The more people that the music reaches the better, so I'm never secret about what I play and enjoy getting questions about tracks I play cause then I know I've managed to reach out and make someone react and get interested.


My YouTube channel is in a way about the same thing; to expose people to good music. But I'm a bit more restricted there and there are definitely tracks I'll never put online. Not because I want to keep them secret, but because they simply don't work alone - they need to be in the mix.


How many records do you think you’ve got up on your channel now? You must spend ages digitising and filming it all to get them online!


At the moment I have some 800 videos posted there.


The procedure of uploading stuff is in no way complicated or tedious, I'm simply filming while relaxing and listening to some records. The tagging and uploading can be a bore sometimes, but you can't have fun all the time. 🙂


Besides, in a way I think it's for a good cause since I learned that my channel has inspired people to either hunt down and buy the old vinyls or, when possible, buy the tunes from iTunes or similar places.


Do you get a lot of grief from the Majors regarding copyright and stuff?


Not really, cause everything is more or less handled automatically these days.

YouTube have an audio identification system so if the audio in a video matches something from a copyright holder the video will get blocked in some countries or world wide depending on their policies, and that seems to be it.


The manual reporting system is dangerous though. Some labels seem to only use this and if you get three reports, or strikes as they're called, your account will be suspended and your channel removed.


The scary thing here is that they never give you the chance to remove the reported video so if you have bad luck you can get three consecutive strikes and your channel closed, just like that.


There’s quite a lot of rare music up on your channel. Have you ever found the composers themselves discovering their records and commenting on your posts?


A couple of times, yes, and always positive.


So, you’re also involved with producing some fairly off the wall electronica. Have you had anything released?


Some of my 0x51d pL4n374ry music have been featured on some compilations on the ISIGTUTEOT label.

  

0x51d pL4n374ry (or Oxsid Planetary) started as a music group on the Commodore 64, it's mainly about minimal electronica/electro, house, techno and other more dance oriented stuff but not quite... well, "normal".

  

Another project of mine is Someone's Imagination which is some kind of soft, spacey, dreamy pop usually made with the lyrics as the base where the main influences could be Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode or maybe Radiohead, but that's a bit simplified.

I haven't finished much material for a while but there's lots of old work in progress, 

I've also been involved in producing and writing some death metal albums released on Pulverised Records and Code 666.


Crikey, Pink Floyd to Death Metal... you really do take it to extremes don’t you!


It's always interesting to explore new musical places.


What can you tell us about the Commodore 64 demo scene you’re involved with?


I could tell you a lot about it but that would easily become a whole interview on its own, so just briefly -

Since 1990 I've used the C64 to compose music and have since then made over 350 tunes which have been released in music collections or included in demos.

If someone wants to know more about what I've done on the C64 they can check my profile at CSDb.


I guess similar to the basic early DJ setups that we were talking about, there’s something about having access to limited sounds and equipment that perhaps pushes you to work harder for your results.


Yes, I'm definitely more creative when there are extreme constraints involved.


Did you see that a revamped Commodore 64 is currently being relaunched?


Yeah I've seen that but it's just the case that is similar to the C64, inside it's basically just a PC running a C64 emulator. All in all a quite useless product since the emulators, no matter how advanced, will never give you the experience of the real thing.


You could always use it as a blue-ray player though. 🙂

What about classics, do you think you could do a top 10 records?


I can try but I'm sure I'll forget some important ones.

Albums of big importance to me, sorted alphabetically:


Beatles – Abbey Road

Dan Lissvik – 7 Trx + Intermission

Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion

Front 242 – Geography

Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

Godley & Creme – Freeze Frame

Greg Fitzpatrick – Det Persiska Äventyret

Hipnosis – Hipnosis

Jean-Michel Jarre – Zoolook

Jim Morrison – An American Prayer

Kraftwerk – Computer-World

Landscape – From the Tea-Rooms of Mars .... to the Hell-Holes of Uranus

Logic System – Logic

Moebius, Plank, Neumeier – Zero Set

Pink Floyd – Wish You were Here

Radiohead – Ok Computer

Scotch – Evolution

Simple Minds – Empires & Dance

Supersempfft – Roboterwerke

Talking Heads – Remain in Light

White Noise – An Electric Storm

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Technodelic


Oops, too many. Oh well. 🙂


Just adding these to my discogs want list, hang on a mo ...


Ok... last questions.


Have you got anything interesting lined up production or DJ wise that we should look out for?


There are always some things going up but at the moment the only specific details I have is that I'll keep on streaming on Interstate FM every other Saturday (even weeks).


To receive all kinds of updates, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or both.


Any last thoughts for our readers?


Not really, feels like I've been rambling enough already. Thanks for doing this Mark.


Johan, thanks a million for taking the time out to talk to The Electric Disco, it’s been great chatting and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future.


If you want to find out more about DJ Zyron, check out his mixes, tune into his YouTube channel or anything else then check out the links below..


http://zyron.c64.org

http://youtube.com/0x51d

http://facebook.com/zyron

http://twitter.com/zyr0n

http://soundcloud.com/zyron

http://www.play.fm/artist/zyron

http://www.mixcloud.com/zyron

http://interstatefm.com/index.php/Category:Zyron

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