Exclusive: Go Backstage with ZHU

The electronic producer invited VMAN into his world as he opens for Swedish House Mafia’s “Paradise Again” tour.

With a brand new mixtape and an opening slot on Swedish House Mafia’s “Paradise Again” tour, in many ways ZHU is at the top of his game.  

Historically, the Grammy-nominated EDM producer has been fairly mysterious, though that hasn’t impacted the cult following he’s garnered through his ultra-cool, psychedelic dance music. But even beyond the hits like “Faded” and “Working For It,” ZHU has curated a slick persona with a massive influence far beyond his music, specifically in the fashion space.  

Photo: Justin Boruta

“I’ve kind of just been building a culture for the last five years,” ZHU told VMAN. “For me, it’s kind of like a cohesive thing I’ve been doing where when you think of ZHU, it’s the music and it’s fashion too.”

Kicking off the “Paradise Again” tour at New York’s Madison Square Garden, ZHU gave VMAN an exclusive glimpse into his life on the road and his creative process:

VMAN: Do you have any rituals before you go on stage? 

ZHU: I have a couple. When I first get in the green room I usually like to sage it. It’s just something that I do for me. And then before we go on, we do like this thing where we kind of just improvise a long jam session in the greenroom acoustically.  

Photo: Joslyn Jacoby

VMAN: And that’s just to make sure you’re all on the same page every night? 

ZHU: Because I play with musicians and I’m also playing electronically, for me it’s super important to sync it up and but also have some spontaneity. 

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: Do you have any must have snacks or food that you have to have in your dressing room? 

ZHU: I think that Tate’s Cookies are a staple. That’s like, the drug of choice. 

Photo: ZHU

VMAN: In terms of getting ready and your clothes, what’s the vibe you’re going for? 

ZHU: We have some lab coats that I designed. And I thought that because we’re quite experimental musically, we were looking like these mad scientists. I just kind of improvise it. Sometimes we work with stylists, sometimes we pull stuff from my own collection. It’s pretty much based on just the feeling of certain shows. 

VMAN: And is that the same for your band, too? 

ZHU: I like when we all look like a squad, but I think everybody has their own characteristics. For these particular shows I wanted them to look like my lab accomplices, so they were rocking the lab coat stuff. 

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: I don’t know how much you can see when you’re on stage, but if you can see, do you ever see people wearing your stuff in the crowd?  

ZHU: Oh, yeah. People come rocking merch all the time. And I think one of the things I’m trying to do is educate fans on the difference between merchandise and actual fashion, and for my fans who’ve come on this journey, I feel like we’ve opened their eyes to things that they might’ve never been into terms of like designers and even looking at runway shows. Or, even thinking about how things fit on their bodies. 

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: What’s your favorite thing about touring? 

ZHU: I like movement. I think I thrive when I’m in constant movement, and that’s what drives and inspires me. Even as narrow as just always doing something so I’m not sitting still to, you know, the macro level of just like moving from one place to another. I also love seeing and connecting with people in that way as well. 

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: What’s going through your mind each night on stage?

ZHU: On this particular run, I have some fans coming up to play musical chairs in this set. That’s kind of been a really exciting, unpredictable element to the show. 

VMAN: How did that whole thing start? Was it your idea? 

ZHU: It’s just something I played when I was young, and it was always pretty memorable in terms of like, listening to clips of new songs. It just happened organically, really, and people love to play the game. Right now, it’s kind of like, whoever’s first to the rail gets to play, but it’s funny because some fans will really try to get noticed and get picked with signs or like LED necklaces.  

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: Are you usually able to catch Swedish House Mafia’s set after yours? 

ZHU: Not really, but in New York I stayed. Me and the guys, we’ve been in the studio before, and I think they’ve been a big inspiration for modern dance electronic music. It was cool to see them come back and do that. 

VMAN: Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to your music? 

ZHU: I’ve always been a big Prince fan, of his artistry and his talent and really just his confidence. I love Pink Floyd.  

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: You’ve been making music for a while. How would you describe the evolution of your sound? In what ways is your new stuff different from some of your older stuff? 

ZHU: When I first started I was like, just one person making the entire project, from writing to producing to doing the vocals. And for the most part, it was very club and instrumental driven. And now I think it’s evolved into me being more of a voice and more of a present figure in the scope of my music. Before, my voice was much, much more distant and softer.

Photo: Justin Boruta

VMAN: Do you have a favorite song of yours? 

ZHU: That’s probably the hardest question. I think that my favorite song is always the stuff that I’m about to make, you know? 

Photo: Justin Boruta

ZHU’s latest mixtape, Musical Chairs Mixtape (Vol. 1) is available now. Tickets to his upcoming tour can be found here.

Discover More