WORDS BY THOMAS STUDDY - PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK BOWERS
An After Hours interview with Bradley Zero.
"Spend any amount of time with Bradley Zero and it’s easy to see that this is a person who’s extremely comfortable in his own skin and living with a clear. The one-time Boiler Room host and programmer, NTS radio host, owner of Rhythm Section International record label, and now also International Black, has had — on all accounts — a rise to the top of the underground music world. If you glance over his achievements, it’s easy to see why."
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN MAN? WE’RE just hanging out,” Bradley replies when I thank him for making time for us on a very balmy Friday afternoon in Sydney. We’ve managed to lock in a few precious hours with this in-demand musical connoisseur in between catching up with friends, enjoying a holiday and the occasional non-official gig.
He’s open, humble, charismatic, a tastemaker and someone who genuinely loves what he does. Everything he touches seems to be filled with a heartfelt sense of building community around ideas of culture, togetherness and exchanging information. Music is the medium but the ideas are bigger.
Listening to his much-loved NTS show Rhythm Section is a snapshot into the musical mind of someone extremely well-travelled with friends in many places. One week you might hear a selection of recent finds from one of his trips to the Middle East, the next time it could be all about the latest soon-to-be club tunes from local producers around South-East London. No matter what finds its way onto the show, it’s all done with a distinct energy and sound that has a strictly Bradley Zero and Rhythm Section vibe.
The idea of Rhythm Section started in 2012 as a party at the now-famous Peckham Pool Hall, although it’s recently moved to the Bussey Building not far from its original home. These early sessions grew quickly, building a loyal and regular following, and putting Peckham on the global musical map as a fertile ground for openness and musical progression, with Zero firmly at the centre of it. Unwavering policies of strictly vinyl sets, no photos or phones on the dance floor, compulsory membership and a host of some of the best international and local DJs and selectors are core to the ethos of these sessions. Outsiders might see this as elitist, however the importance of the above in creating a safe, accepting and connected place where people are free to enjoy themselves is anchored in these policies and ideas. “I want the party to be about being in the moment — not feeling the gaze of a camera but closing off all external stimuli and getting lost in the music and energy,” Zero says. Rhythm Section stands for quality over quantity and a party where music, people and the community are front and centre.
“MAKING A CLEAR DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE TWO LABELS IS IMPORTANT SO THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE, WHILE PROVIDING AN OUTLET FOR THE VARIOUS SIDES OF WHAT I DO.”
It was inevitable that through his time and travels as a key figure in the rise of Boiler Room and the almostreligious Rhythm Section parties that Bradley would take the spirit of his local Peckham scene and connect with similar scenes, individuals and movements globally. His work has taken him to many places and afforded him the opportunity to reach audiences that share the same kind of ideas around connectedness through music, art and culture. Travel and these connections have also given him the chance to link with local producers and release a significant amount of music from people outside his native England. “Over the years, naturally I got to meet a lot of new people and hear a ton of new music, until it got to the point where I had a hold of hours of fantastic unreleased material and thought — somebody’s got to put this out! I needed to share this stuff with the world and Rhythm Section International, the label, was born,” he recounts. Founded in 2014 and now 19 releases deep (and counting), the label has released records from the likes of Chaos in The CBD, Henry Wu, Al Dobson Jr, Earthtrax x Newborn Jr, Duke Hugh and a host of others. And although these releases sometimes differ in genre, tempo or style there’s still a distinct sound, vibe and energy that inexplicably has the touch of Zero.
Building on the success and reach of the Rhythm Section International label, 2017 sees the launch of a new and more club-focused imprint International Black. Utilising contacts both local and international, the choice to create a second label with a different focus, to more upfront sounds, is considered necessary to preserve the direction and energy of the original. “Making a clear distinction between the two labels and their output is important so that people understand the difference, while providing an outlet for the various sides of what I do,” he says. One gets the sense that he can’t be pigeonholed and nor does he want to, and that evolution and progression is vital. Keeping things fresh and interesting while maintaining quality is no mean feat, yet he makes it looks effortless.
This love and appreciation of Australia stems from his first trip with Boiler Room in 2014. Many of the genuine and strong bonds were made then, in Melbourne and Sydney, leading to releases on Rhythm Section from Retiree, DJ Prequel, Silent Jay & Jace XL, and more recently Jordan Rakei under his Dan Kye alias, not to mention numerous appearances of Australian DJs at the Peckham Rhythm Section sessions. The approach of looking outward and finding greatness in these micro-scenes comes from a place of genuine curiosity, which is perhaps why this affinity with Australia is so real. Whether or not he is aware of it, his championing of Australian music has been critical in strengthening the local scene and nurturing its development both here and abroad. “Australia has an amazing vibe with so many incredible producers, parties, DJs and people doing great things,” he says. Someone with his reputation, tastemaking ability and position in the underground music world endorsing Australian talent has fostered a new energy and helped certify that despite geographical limitations, Antipodean music holds its own alongside its international counterparts.
“AUSTRALIA HAS AN AMAZING VIBE WITH SO MANY INCREDIBLE PRODUCERS, PARTIES, DJS AND PEOPLE DOING GREAT THINGS.”
For someone who travels so frequently and has so much on, it’s a wonder he stays grounded. His time and attention is in frequent demand, and a full schedule of DJ gigs, radio appearances and releases would seemingly leave little downtime, however one gets the sense that amongst all the madness is an acute understanding that zoning out to plug back in is paramount. During our chat he excitedly reveals he’s off to Uluru and Kakadu National Park — for no other reason than because he wants to and because he can. That’s the thing about Bradley Zero; he’s a young man with a clear vision, openness and understanding of the world and someone who’s eager to experience all that he can. Fortunately for him and others he’s worked out the perfect way to do so — through music — and this is the channel that he chooses to communicate his message through, exchange information and trade experiences.
Critically acclaimed releases, a highly coveted radio show, constantly travelling the globe performing to inspired and open crowds and locally and internationally as a musical tastemaker is a good place to be, both professionally and personally. These achievements have been huge, however it’s fair to say that this is just the start. Zero is forging a long varied career while becoming an extremely influential figure in pushing sounds, scenes and vibes from all across the globe.
Rhythm Section and its various offshoots helmed by Zero and supported by a team of passionate believers is where the truest essence of community comes into play. It’s an international network of creatives borne out of a small community in the South of London, with a global reach that extends to almost all corners of the globe, sharing common ideas of music, art and culture. Rhythm Section is not simply a radio show, record label or party — it’s a movement. No matter where he goes or where he comes from, Bradley Zero injects a spirit and groove that’s unique and infectiously good. END