Music Writing Clash Zero dB

Here’s a profile I wrote for Clash in 2006 about two-man band Zero dB.

Trace a line from The Police to Sun Ra via a menswear shop, Newcastle and the Big Chill and you’ll emerge through the looking glass into the bent, sun-blitzed world of Zero dB. Where, for the last six years, Neil Combstock and Chris Vogado have been conjuring up aural mischief as remixers for the likes of Peace Orchestra, Truby Trio, Hexstatic and Original Soul Boy and the legendary Sun Ra.

Now, with debut album ‘Bongos, Bleeps & Basslines’, Zero dB are stepping from the brackets of the liner notes to deliver a joyously muddled musical adventure that veers and swoops, punch drunk, from dance floor to cocktail lounge.
Relaxing at his home in the heart of Barcelona affable Chris Vogado (first record: ‘Outlandos d’Amour’) admits he never meant to end up in a band. “I always wanted to be an electrician – and I was for a bit… it didn’t take me long to realise it wasn’t a dream job.” A stint in tailoring followed. “The worst job ever. Too many inside leg measurements. Was it women’s tailoring? No. If it had been I might not be here now,” he chuckles. On a music technology course in Newcastle he met Neil Combstock, and the pair started working together after the both drifted down to London. Alongside their extensive remix work they started releasing their own tracks, beginning with ‘Come Party’ (still, Chris says, the ultimate floor filler).

“Thirty or forty” tracks later and Zero dB were ready to skim the cream to create ‘Bongos, Bleeps & Basslines’, beginning with the title track (Chris’s top pick of the album), a barefoot-electro tribal funk anthem. His second favourite, ‘Sunshine Lazy’, oozes with affection for the bossa nova music he grew up on, all loping beats and hazy heat-shimmer vocals from Nouvelle Vague collaborator Phoebe Tolmer.

Elsewhere the record skips merrily between genres, appealing, Chris says hopefully, to any audience from WOMAD to Homelands, jazz festivals or the Big Chill. “We could fit into all four – we’ve done the Big Chill before, and I’d love to go back, but all of them really.” Robust internationalism is very much part of the Zero dB experience, actually, with Chris in Spain and Neil regularly moving between Tokyo and London.

“We recorded the album in London though,” Chris reports. “We both realised that to get a really good album together you need to be face to face. Otherwise, when you start arguing about it, it’s too easy to put the phone down.”

And they’ll be reunited soon, he says, to take the album on the road. “We’re producers first, really, and DJs second, but we’re going to try something live this year. The album sounds very ‘live’ and we want to capture that atmosphere – it’s going to take a big band though.”

Meantime, Neil is back in Tokyo and Chris and his wife are looking forward to their first holiday in, well, six years. “Since this whole thing started, actually,” Chris says with a mock sigh. “We might jump on the ferry and go to Ibiza. That would be nice.”

Clash: Deaf Stereo

Originally published in Clash

Deaf Stereo

Deaf Stereo


Deaf Stereo has been percolating ever since Luke, Will and Ben met at Westminster Uni on a music course, at the turn of the millennium. It was four years before they had a name and an idea to go with it. “We decided to stop playing stuff we thought we should, and play music we wanted to listen to,” they explain. The music they wanted to play, if their first single is anything to go by, is solid, grooving beat driven indie pop. Disco biscuits with a side order of Jack Daniels, say.

“We’re into bands like the Chemical Brothers, Underworld… we like the peaks and troughs of dance, but we also wanted proper songs,” says Barney, who describes his role in the band as doing “keyboards and laptop stuff.” About a year ago, they completed their set up, with fifth member, Tom, the handsome, clean-cut drummer.

Sitting in the trendy bowels of the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, it’s Will, who plays bass, who keeps up the steadiest stream of patter. A series of wry asides from behind a hand rolled cigarette. “Would I ever sail a giant effigy of myself down the Thames? Shit. If I were as big as Michael Jackson that’s the least I would do. I’d have a whole set of them.”

Ben, (guitars, backing vocals) is small, dark, thoughtful. He takes on the philosophical questions. Or rather, turns questions philosophical. If you had a band uniform, say, what would it be? Luke (singer) runs a hand through his beautifully cut hair and says, “That’s something we’re still thinking about.” But Ben launches into an earnest and articulate explanation of the dangers of embracing style over substance. Absorbing this, Luke effortlessly readjusts his stance on the issue. “We happy wearing what we wear. No one’s told us to change anything yet.”

These small, subtle realignments happen more than once. Not in a deliberate presenting-a-united-front kind of way, but in a fluid manner which suggests long practice in accommodating each other’s ideas and opinions. Disagreements are minor: Barney prefers Addlestone cider, while Ben is happiest drinking mojitos. Will predicts a Dire Straits revival to general eye-rolling. When it matters, they’re in perfect sync. They want the right songs on the album (“we have a reputation as a party band, but we have some slower songs too, we want to showcase that”); they like the same venues (Koko and Fabric, where they played a riotous 3am gig); and perhaps most importantly, they all know what they want on their rider: “You mean when we have a rider? We’ll have as much as we can get! We got sandwiches when we were at Brixton, that was great,” Luke says.

So far, they’ve humped their equipment through calf-deep mud to play at Glastonbury last year. They’ve written a raft of songs which will somehow have to be whittled into an album. They’ve learned to party on backstage freebies because “we can’t afford to go out unless we’re playing.” They’ve been given some good advice: “Get a job, sort your life out, stop wasting your time,” Will guffaws. And what advice would they give someone following in their footsteps? Ben and Will catch each other’s eye and chorus, “Get a job! Stop wasting your time!” They all laugh.