Imagine a billionaire’s yacht party in St. Barts that lasts till the break of dawn, and your the man behind the DJ booth — the sway of the party’s atmosphere in your hands. You need to be back in Vegas within 12 hours, which is no small feat. A speedboat travels out to sea to retrieve you, following connecting flights by helicopter, a small plane, and a jet. You make it back in time for your second performance in 24 hours. There’s no need for DJ and music producer Zen Freeman to imagine anything like this, he lives it as the anointed DJ to the elite.
When able to share stories such as this about Microsoft founder Paul Allen’s yacht party, and the efforts organized in transporting him, it’s a wonder how Freeman remains so modest. To him, there’s nothing blasé about the high life, it all still seems a little out there as he shares with FILLER in a phone interview from his L.A. home. “I mean, there have been some kind of odd things like that, where I kind of just wonder: ‘what am I doing, why am I even here.’”
In a suit and sipping champagne on stage, surrounded by actors and actresses, Freeman is the entertainment when the entertainers are in need of soulful, melodic fun and relaxation. Freeman’s presence in the film festival scene is evident; he annually plays at Sundance, TIFF and Cannes, not to mention, Paul Allen’s exclusive Cannes Film Festival party and Harvey Weinstein’s Golden Globe and Oscar after parties.
On top of the high-profile events he plays for, Freeman is a music supervisor for Soho House (he’ll be at Toronto’s Grey Goose Soho House this week for TIFF) and luxury fashion house brands like Prada. He explains that, “Most of the time it’s just tailored for whatever the client needs.” So whether it is a launch or cocktail party he will DJ, or if the brand needs a playlist to stream in the store or on the runway, Freeman is in charge.
As he shares, the Soho House has been a well of unrelated gigs for him. Thanks to the pop-ups at the TIFF, Cannes and the Oscars, Freeman caught the attention of other high profile would-be-clients, catapulting his career forward. A compliment on his networking capabilities gets a chuckle from Freeman. “I am quite good at networking, yeah,” he says. “I mean I always have the headphones on so it’s not the easiest thing to do, but I always find time.”
With his extensive list of clientele and a reputation that proceeds him in the best of way, more schmoozing isn’t something Freeman need worry about despite the mass spawning of “DJs” as of late. Freeman shrugs off the phenomenon of MacBook Pro scratchers; “all its done is for people like me is its just put pressure on,” and in his opinion, that’s not a bad thing. Having started out back when a DJ was just a DJ, Freeman explains that the bar has been raised, and now a DJ has to be an entertainment producer to play in front of 10,000 people. “Anyone can kind of just go and DJ in a bar, I mean it makes it kind of interesting sometimes,” she says. “It’s good when it’s good, and it’s bad when it’s bad.”
Happy to see more people interested in what he is most passionate about, Freeman admits to haveing handed out DJ tips left, right and center to the likes of Lindsey Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez and the list goes on.
Evidently in on the scene, we ask Freeman for suggestions of music blogs. Bacau House Mafia, Dancing Astronaut, and Hypemachine — a blog generator that compiles popular picks from other blogs — top his list. Though he admits to keeping his ear to music blogs for new tracks and trends, Freeman still sees the novelty in ordering records from his native Europe. He passionately reminisces about his early days in the U.K., “I would make friends with every single guy in the record store,” he gushes. “I would be the first guy to ring on the doorbell at 9am before they open, and it was a really amazing feeling…like I cannot explain…like when you have it on vinyl, and you have the only copy, and the only true way you could play it was by putting the needle on the record in the club. It was a really lovely thing.”
The thrill of playing a one-of-a-kind unique record is what keeps Freeman in the game. Stale playlist aren’t something he can get behind, which is why he was “amazed to hear so many of the same songs over a period of 6 hours,” when he played at Coachella this year.
He does have his own staple tracks though (though he wouldn’t play them on a loop). “Levels, Levels, and Lev…I am just joking,” he laughs. (For those of you not apart of the Electronic Dance Music scene, “Levels” is an overplayed song by Avicii.) He continues with his real suggestions, audibly flipping through his record box: 1.) Calvin Harris ft. Example “We’ll Be Coming Back,” 2.) Afrojack’s “Rock the House” and 3.) Nicky Romero and Fedde Le Grand’s “Sparks.”
Despite Freeman’s reputation as Hollywood golden DJ, and gigs that include playing an official Olympic after-party at the recent summer games, its the essential principle of absorbing a crowd into the music that inspires Freeman, and gets him excited about his job. “Stick me in a room with 5000 kids dancing away – I love it,” he exclaims. “I love playing high-profile events, but I also really adore…love…have so much fun…playing on big sound stages.” And the kiddies love it, as Freeman concludes, “EDM DJ’s have become the new rock stars.”
While not quite the stage at the Palms Marquee in Vegas, below Freeman has complied a playlist of his favourite tracks from films, specially for FILLER in honour of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. If you won’t be able to catch Freeman at the Grey Goose Soho House this festival, this little compilation below is the next best thing.
Movie: Tron: Legacy
Song: “Derezzed” by Daft Punk
Daft Punk spent two years on this score, from pre-production to completion. They delivered a mixture of orchestral and electronic music. This track pushed it’s way to the top of the soundtrack and also my record bag.
Song: “Escape 700” by The Chemical Brothers
Such a well produced minimal, instrumental track with epic percussion that builds and eludes a powerful dramatic feeling within the scene. It was only logical that Chemical Brothers would eventually score a full-length feature film.
Song: “Born Slippy” by Underworld
I thought this track was truly epic when I first heard it. It was also one of the first records in my club crate when I was a kid. Loved how Danny Boyle used it in the “How it all worked out scene” in the movie.
Movie: Reservoir Dogs
Song: “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
I’ve always loved this song. But I was so shocked when I first watched how it was portrayed in this movie! I have my own edit that I play in my party sets in Hollywood or at Film Festivals, still works every time.
Song: “A Real Hero” by College
I like how this track can simply set the mood, and there’s no need for any dialogue in the scene. Title speaks for itself.
Song: “Gimme Shelter” by Rolling Stones
This mid-tempo rock track that starts with a rhythm guitar intro by Keith Richards, gives me goose bumps every time. I can’t tell you how amazing it sounds in the movie. The sound makes the scene look so cool.
Movie: Rocky & Rocky II
Rocky’s Theme (“Gonna Fly Now”)
At one of my first club gigs in Hollywood, at a place with a beefy sound system, a huge fight broke out on the dance floor. I dropped this track! Couldn’t help myself. It was pretty funny. And I have to admit, sometimes when I play a show in Philly, I ask the driver to swing by the place where the scene where Rocky was running up the steps was shot. I’m not sure why.
Movie: Pulp Fiction
Song: “Son Of A Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield
This song made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#240). It’s a classic, and never to be removed from my iPod. I think it sets up the scene amazingly well.
Movie: Saturday Night Fever
Song Title: “You Should Be Dancing” by Bee Gees
This is a classic disco track, but with rock-oriented drums and guitars, which to this day is still quite unique. And it’s still a floor filler around the globe. Along with John Travolta’s slick moves, this song absolutely makes the scene work!
Movie: Fight Club
Song: “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies
I wasn’t really up on my American Alternative Rock when this song came out, so I ended up listening to this for the first time during the last scene of the movie. Loved it!
Song: “Black Betty” by Ram Jam
When I watched this scene in the movie for the first time, I immediately wanted to make a dance remix of this song. Works really well.
Movie: Garden State
Song: “New Slang” by The Shins
This movie introduced me to The Shins in 2004. And I still burn this track on playlists for clients, not to mention listen to in my car on an early morning drive.