Sister Zo – Groove Podcast 416

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Photo: Press (Sister Zo)

Zoey Shopmaker has many different interest. Besides her career in music, the New York City-based artist is also a writer and journalist. One of the co-founders of the UN/TUCK collective in Kansas City, she has made a name for herself as Sister Zo with UK-inspired (read: bass-heavy) EPs for labels such as 3024 and Scuffed. Having kicked off 2024 with a collaborative EP made together with Sam Binga for Pineapple, she now steps up to the decks for a contribution to our Groove Podcast. Blending percussive techno and occasionally dubbed-out bass music, this mix is to be understood as an invitation to become part of the Sister Zo continuum.

You started out as a producer and rapper during your teenage years. How did it come about that you increasingly started to focus on electronic dance music instead?

I got into production in high school, making hip-hop beats and freestyling over them. In my late teens, I got into the American dubstep scene—I feel like EDM was an entrypoint for many of us in the North American underground. But I fell out of love with it when I came out as a trans woman and began medically transitioning. My experiences in those spaces shifted and I just didn’t feel comfortable attending those events anymore. I simultaneously began digging quite heavily into the Los Angeles beat scene, Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, Shlohmo and WEDIDIT, artists like Lapalux and Holy Other. The Low End Theory lineage had a major impact on me creatively. When I moved back to Kansas City, I joined the label and collective, Intelligent Sound, which was run by my now-best friend, Coughman. That community became a central part of my life. UN/TUCK was born from that as Coughman encouraged my friends and I to build something meaningful. And eventually, that led to me moving from live beat sets to DJing. Coughman played a huge role in teaching me about the Black and queer origins of dance music. And finally I felt like I’d found a space in music that aligned with who I was. So it was kind of just this long progression of events in my life, meeting certain people, building community together, discovering new music on my own, continuing to grow and challenge myself as a producer and an artist that I found myself immersed in electronic dance music.

You’re originally from Kansas, where you co-founded the UN/TUCK collective, and now reside in New York City—however, a major influence on your own sound as a DJ and producer are the myriad styles that sprung from the British hardcore continuum. What was your entry point into this specific culture?

One of my first entry points was a Shlohmo remix of Burial’s track “Shell of Light.” I hadn’t heard of Burial before so discovering him was a big wow moment for me. Shlohmo’s stuff is so moody and dark and I think that vibe permeates much of the British hardcore continuum as well. Ever since I first discovered Pink Floyd, I’ve been drawn to that sort of sonic palette. But it was my involvement in KC’s now shuttered club, Niche, that really solidified things for me. The people who built and ran Niche have a deep love and respect for the British hardcore continuum and I was fortunate to receive a proper sound system education from them.

For your latest release Cabbage Juice for the Pineapple label, you’ve teamed up with Sam Binga, producing the three tracks within a few days in his Bristol studio. How did it come about that you collaborated in the first place, and what did your working process look like?

Sam hit me up after I put out “Bubbly” on Martyn’s second 3024 compilation. He loved the track and we struck up an online friendship. Then Jen Hartley a.k.a. Yussh booked me to play Pressure Dome in Bristol last May. And I ended up staying with Sam during my time there. Naturally, we had to get into the studio and literally within two days we’d written “Smells Like” and “Won’t Do It.” “Chop Dat” actually didn’t come about until I’d left. That one was more of an online collab. But whether we’re in the studio together or trading stems over the internet, I feel like we really gel. I love Sam so much. Our friendship is so easy and fun and I think that ease translates in the studio.

Your latest solo releases, Arcana for All Centre, followed up on EPs for Scuffed and 3024. The track titles hint at an overarching theme: tarot. How does it tie in with the music?

I think the tarot theme has more to do with the period in which the tracks were written than it does with the tracks themselves. The four cards after which the tracks are named—”The Devil,” “The Fool,” “The Hanged One” and “The Tower”—refer to experiences I’ve had in the past two years that have shaped who I am. With those who know me, I’m not shy about my relationship to plant medicine and the importance of spiritual growth in my life. Without going into too much detail, I’d say that the Arcana EP reflects on my life path and the importance of embracing change and hardship in the pursuit of self-transformation.

You will also be featured on the upcoming I.JORDAN album on Ninja Tune, having worked on the track “Butterlick.” How did you go about writing and producing the track?

Like many of my relationships in this industry, Jordan and I became online friends before meeting in person in New York. I sent them a drum loop I’d been working on and eventually they turned it into “Butterlick.” We finalized it at Leon Vynehall’s studio during my spring tour in the UK last year. I don’t think either of us remembers why we named it “Butterlick” though.

What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?

For this mix, I wanted to do what I do best: percussive techno and bass with a few left turns here and there. Still, it’s not without its moments of emotional reprieve and room to breathe. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. Just an hour of vibes from the Sister Zo continuum. Themes are pretty loose but I’m very much creating from a new place in life: one of accepting the innate uncertainty of things and trusting in the mystery. I hope that comes through on some level in the mix.

Last but not least: what are your plans for the future?

I’m throwing all my plans out the window. I’m kind of over trying to map out my career. All I care about right now is creating art from a place of authenticity, deepening my relationship to community, to family and friends, and trusting that everything else will come in its own time. On a less abstract note though, I’ve got some new releases in the pipeline, and I’ve just signed with Suo Motu, who will be handling my bookings in Europe, the UK, Australia/New Zealand, and Asia going forward. So I’m sure there will be some Sister Zo tours in the not too distant future.

Stream: Sister Zo – Groove Podcast 416

01. Pitch Patrol – Drumala
02. Laenz – Choices (Untold Remix)
03. Priori & Al Wootton – The Bell With The Golden Tongue
04. Andy Martin – Semantica
05. Roska – 480 BC
06. Circuit 900 – Halite
07. Dave N.A. – Solo Move
08. Skyshaker – Unreleased
09. Deadbeat – Grounation (Berghain Drum Jack)
10. Laksa – Voices
11. Delay Grounds – I’d Like To See You Try
12. Teqmun – Slug No Escargot (Ma Sha Remix)
13. De Grandi – Bravo Taig Khris
14. Atrice – Broke
15. Kamikaze Space Program – The Bailiff
16. Alredna – Octa 3
17. Buena Tarde – Guadalupe
18. Polygonia – Shen Wai Shenfa
19. Kangding Ray – We Will Never Grow Old

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