"I love the crazy, self-destructive rock stars..."

As the dust settles from another electrifying Coachella performance, New York’s Flatbush Zombies are upbeat as they prepare for their return to Brooklyn.

“I enjoyed Coachella a lot,” offers Zombie Juice. “I heard some people didn’t enjoy some of the crowds reactions to their songs, but I feel we had the perfect set and the perfect stage.”

The group have been absent from the festival in recent years, and Erick Arc Elliott feels that has served to strengthen their return. “We hadn’t been to Coachella in almost four years, so it was a really nice way to welcome us back,” he explains. “We tried out a few new songs too that we’ve never performed live, and usually that’s nerve-wracking for me but I didn’t feel that at all.”

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Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko and Erick Arc Elliott are much revered for their punk-esque live shows, eschewing the “cool” factor of their peers in exchange for raw energy. This approach is drawn from studying great performers. “I come up with nicknames like Niggy Pop and Dirt Cobain. [Iggy and Kurt] are people that I used to listen to, older white people who were just weird to people where I’m from, cos they weren’t exposed to that shit. My mother used to laugh when I watched Marilyn Manson videos.” says Meech of the rock legends that have inspired him - the more nihilistic the better.

“I love the crazy, self-destructive rock stars, and I think that a lot of the younger people nowadays need to know about these people. It’s shit that inspires me, and I think it’s cool to be able to bring that into hip-hop and talk about people like Sid [Vicious] and Nancy [Spungen], it shows people that we know what’s going on in the world and not just in our neighbourhood.”

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Anyone who has a mic we try and learn from...

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In fact, the Flatbush Zombies pride themselves on their showmanship period, and their influence extends beyond just music. “We ain’t rappers bro, we’re artists!” Meech exclaims. “There are rappers who have that swagger about them on stage, whereas we’re performers. We get inspired by everyone from Eddie Murphy and Eddie Guerroro to Dwayne Johnson and Jerry Springer. Anyone who has a mic we try and learn from, and me and Juice try to apply that in our shows.”

The Coachella shows came off the back of their sophomore album ‘Vacation In Hell’, which was well received amongst fans and critics when it was released in April. The album charted at number eleven in the Billboard 200, despite the group remaining independent. Fans were clamouring to get their hands on a copy of the physical release, something that the group are passionate about.

“It’s very important for us to have these physical copies, to be able to touch the music, taste the music, a collectible piece of art as opposed to something you just download on your phone,” states Erick. “We’re trying to make something special with the vinyl release, something a little left-field. It takes more time to make a product a lot more special.”

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What ‘Vacation In Hell’ does incredibly well, is blend each of the trio’s own personal styles and create one body of work that demonstrates how hard they work on their craft, even if the time between projects leaves fans hanging on. “I wanna make it clear that we’re always making music. There’s a misconception that we’re not making music in between, but I’m sure theres plenty of directors that are currently working on films that never come out. We’re never not making music, Erick is never not making beats” Meech divulges.

“We’re artists that need to experience and live life. A lot of people write stuff and then try to live it after, we’re doing it the other way round, we’re living and then writing our raps after.”

In modern music, especially hip-hop, the onus seems to be focused on releasing new music as frequently as you can, in the modern climate where music is digested so quickly, and opinions are made after a single play.

And while this approach may be favoured by the major labels, finessing streaming services to fill their pockets, it’s not something that the Flatbush Zombies conform to: “If you release a lot of music, it doesn’t mean it’s good,” says Erick, bluntly. “It’s like you’re trying to feed the machine. We’ve never been solely about making money. What we stand for, the hope and courage that we give people is much bigger than that.”

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We’re never not making music...

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Indeed, the ‘Zombies formula’ of being independent and fully in control of their own destiny is something that was often laughed about when they first started out, and nowadays the motive is all about staying independent. “I’m hoping that one day we can inspire a lot more people to follow dreams,” says Erick. “Being independent, means that we’re not a household name yet but we like the idea that we can encourage kids to be creative and themselves, and to not care what people think.”

“What separates us from a lot of people, is not being afraid to speak on how we feel,” Meech concurs. “They’re afraid of making mistakes, whereas if I make a mistake, I ain’t afraid of the consequences, I own it. People don’t want to make a stand against anything, and I think that’s what sets us apart from others is our tendency to say it how it is.”

Their hometown pride is worn on their sleeves throughout ‘Vacation In Hell’, with features coming courtesy of Big Apple legend Jadakiss as well as peers such as Joey Bada$$, A$AP Twelvyy and Nyck Caution. “It’s an honour to have all the features on our album, and especially Jadakiss,” Juice enthuses. “It just solidifies that you’re probably doing something right in hip-hop, y’know what I mean?”

Erick agrees: “We have a certain responsibility to uphold a certain quality of hip-hop, as it was created in New York City.” As the sound of their city continues to be remixed by regional influences that have made hip-hop a truly global force, the Flatbush Zombies want to keep that strand alive - amongst their own experiments with it, of course.

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If I make a mistake, I ain’t afraid of the consequences, I own it.

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Creating music in their hometown of Brooklyn and then seeing it connect with fans across the pond is something that the trio really love about their work. “It’s the best feeling travelling over to Europe and playing sold out shows and seeing the fans” offers Juice. “Just to walk down the street and have people shouting ‘Yo, Zombies, Zombies,’ taking pictures and telling you how you’ve changed their lives all the way in another country, that’s a really good feeling”.

It’s even crazier for them to get their home borough of Flatbush on the world map. “They call us ‘Flatbush’,” laughs Erick, “it’s crazy to hear them chanting the name of the place we grew up in cities like Bristol and Manchester. Now they know about where we came from!”

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Words: Mike Wood

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