Hey, DJ: Neil Perch

The Zion Train producer and DJ talks remixes, the healing powers of dub, and seeing S.F.'s sea lions.

Neil Perch of Zion Train has spent the past three decades of his career exploring concepts such as global consciousness, spirituality, and unity through music. Founded in Oxford in 1988 by Perch, the Zion Train ensemble has continually been an innovator in the worldwide dub scene, dropping memorable records, like the early ’90s dub and acid house fusion single “Follow Like Wolves” and 2001’s uplifting live album State of Mind. In fact, in the last 30 years, Zion Train has played over 2000 shows on six continents.

Late last year, Perch released Versions, a compilation of remixes from State Of Mind and Land Of The Blind made by friends and colleagues around the world. Prior to returning to Dub Mission’s decks for the first time in five years, we caught up with Perch on his travel plans, 30-year career, and what he wants to see in San Francisco.

Catch Neil Perch this Friday, [3/10] for Dub Mission at Elbo Room.

SF Weekly: Where are you currently in the world and how are you doing?
Neil Perch: Right now, I am sitting in Portland, Oregon having played a show here, and I am about to drive my family down the coast to San Francisco to see some of the most beautiful trees in the world which my infant daughter will see for the first time.

SFW: For those of us that don’t know, sum up your musical style in a few sentences.
NP: Musically, Zion Train makes psychedelic dub reggae spiced with electronic sauce and seasoned with a little politics to help spread the fire of realization which is burning down the Babylon that threatens to ensnare us.

SFW: Zion Train is turning 30 next year. In these three decades, what has been the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself as an artist?
NP: It is a total blessing and a privilege to celebrate 30 years in such a beautiful profession. The most important thing I have learned so far in these years is that humility is the key to understanding others and myself, and understanding is the key to positive forward motion in life.

SFW: What has been your proudest accomplishment thus far?
NP: My proudest accomplishment has been to come so far and retain a real sense of who I am and why I started on this road. An example is that I constantly remind myself that my greatest ambition at the start of this road was solely to produce music that would be played by some of the sound systems I followed. I was lucky enough to achieve that a long time ago. More holistically speaking, I believe music is a magical energy that exists among us with or without my personal participation. I am privileged to channel a small part of that magic. … That all keeps me remembering that I am just another small mammal on this wonderful planet — nothing more and nothing less.

SFW: Tell us about your latest release, Versions. Where did the inspiration come from to release this album?
NP: The Versions release is an album full of remixes of Zion Train material performed by many talented producer colleagues from around the world. The inspiration for this was simply to see what these talented guys could make of some of the works I have myself produced over the last few months. Music is universal communication and I welcome that ethic in all my works.


SFW: Having worked and collaborated with so many artists, what’s the key to keeping good artist relations?
NP: The key to good artist relations is respect and love, like in all relationships.

SFW: Dub music has always held messages of universal peace and unity. Any hopeful thoughts to share for those concerned about the current state of our political climate?
NP: Dub is one of many energetic channels into our collective human consciousness, and in order to challenge hatred, we need to access this universal consciousness, combine energies and more forward. It is not about the USA alone; it is about global consciousness. We join together to remove the beast. We can join through music.

SFW: It’s been five years since you’ve been back at Dub Mission. What kind of set are you preparing for us?
NP: I have always enjoyed trips to Dub Mission with its cool and knowledgeable crowd schooled by DJ Sep, and this time I am bringing a set of exclusive and unreleased dub plates.


SFW: Anything you’re looking forward to doing in San Francisco?
NP: I will also be looking forward to introducing my family to the Californian sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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