Amp Live has cemented a reputation as one of Cali’s most versatile and prolific producer-DJ double-threats. His demonstrated abilities as an innovator, experimenter, and trendsetter have garnered him recognition, bringing together the Electronic, Reggae and Hip-Hop worlds with a technical and classical sensibility. In addition to a steadfast solo career and lengthy tenure with Zion I, Amp recently co-founded Unified Highway with Rebelution’s Eric Rachmany, and the 9-to-5ers DJ collective. He has produced Linkin Park, Bassnectar, Akon, Collie Buddz, The Submarines, MGMT, Goapele, and Atmosphere, as well as an authorized Radiohead remix.
Born in Texas, Amp Live relocated to California in the mid-1990s where he formed Zion I with Zumbi (fka MC Zion). The group would be deeply influential to the Underground Hip-Hop and DIY wave, playing shows, releasing cult-celebrated tapes, 12” singles, and handfuls of albums. Amp’s role as producer and DJ trail-blazed the group with an Electronic backbone in the sample era. With rich musicality, the Oakland-based duo would be championed in Hip-Hop circles as well as embraced within EDM pockets, long before the term existed. They worked with Too Short, Talib Kweli, and Macklemore, among others. After nearly 20 years, Amp—who began releasing solo side efforts with 2010’s Murder At The Discotech stepped away to pursue new endeavors. While he still has occasional involvement in Zion I, Amp notes a creative rebirth. “I used to feel like I was in a box. Even though that box was cool and successful, I didn’t feel like I had a voice. ‘Cause I don’t rap, I don’t sing. Basically, whoever I’m with, what they say is my voice in a way. People can interpret beats in any way, but with lyrics, it is pretty straightforward.” Amp Live is playing with vocals in some of his current creations, which fuse Future Bass with Hip-Hop, in addition to his Electronic-Reggae outfit, Unified Highway. “It’s been hard building things back up, but I’m in a way better mental place. I can do whatever I want; I feel free.”
Freedom is everything to a producer who invented rather than emulated. Unified Highway played Lollapalooza and two consecutive Cali Roots Festivals. Once a low-key experimental side project, the acclaimed group has given Amp and Eric new fans, and some excited audiences. Following 2016’s self-titled debut, the pair is in the lab again, with some new goals and challenges. “We’re making sure whatever we do in the studio can transfer to the stage more easily. This process was a little more difficult because the songs and production on the first album was set up in a way that was hard for us to recreate live,” he says, after touring much of the west coast. “This time around, we’re making sure the studio matches the stage better. Working with such a good singer and writer, it goes really well. I’m happy about this.” The group uses live musicians, with some of Amp’s custom consoles in their show. Like the arrangement of the songs, the producer says he has considered the total experience in crafting an album and a live show that is as cohesive and engaged with the audience as any in his career.
Additionally, while Amp Live is enjoying a new career zenith through the riddims and vibes of Reggae, he keeps Hip-Hop close by. In 2017, the producer struck with Atmosphere EP on the Gravitas label. “It’s not that I ever wanted to get away from Hip-Hop, it’s just that I do so many other types of music.” Close to his roots, he has an upcoming “surprise” album with a decorated Rap veteran (and past collaborator) that is sure the excite both fan-bases. Moreover, the next Amp Live solo LP looms on the horizon for 2018, with another EP ahead of that as a strong possibility.
An instructor at the Los Angeles Film School, Amp Live embraces the future, just as he does with sound, through mentoring the creators of tomorrow in a year-long class. Like the music he is part of these days, his spirit is strong and positive. At an age where boxes and labels are more and more meaningless, the forward-thinking, far-reaching talents of Amp Live are reborn.