Zs (band)

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Origin New York, New York
Genres Experimental
free jazz
no wave
Years active 2000–present
Labels The Social Registry
Northern Spy
Three One G
Website Official Site
Members Sam Hillmer (tenor saxophone)
Patrick Higgins (electric guitar)
Greg Fox (drum set)
Past members Amnon Freidlin (electric guitar)
Ian Antonio (drum set)
Ben Greenberg (electric guitar)
Tony Lowe (electric guitar)
Alex Mincek (tenor saxophone)
Charlie Looker (electric guitar)
Matthew Hough (electric guitar)
Brad Wentworth (drum set)

Zs is a Brooklyn, New York based experimental/avant-garde band.


Zs was founded in 2000 by tenor saxophonist and composer Sam Hillmer. Since the band’s inception ZS has incarnated as everything from a sextet to a duo, most recently solidifying into the trio of Patrick Higgins (electric guitar), Greg Fox (percussion), and Hillmer. While Zs' music has been variously categorized as no-wave, noise, post-minimalist, drone, and psych, it is primarily concerned with making music that challenges the physical and mental limitations of both performer and listener. The band has been heralded by New York Times as "one of the strongest avant-garde bands in New York."[1]

In 2003, the group (as Alex Hoskins, Brad Wentworth, Charlie Looker, Matthew Hough, Alex Mincek and Sam Hillmer) released Untitled, a two-track written by Looker released on Ricecontrol Records. In July of the same year, the band released Zs, recorded at Westbeth Studios, in New York City, consisting of 5 tracks primarily written by Alex Mincek and Sam Hillmer, the two saxophonists. In November of that year, the EP Karate Bump was recorded in Brooklyn. It was later released by Planaria Recordings in March 2005.

Magnet, a single-track CD written by Matthew Hough, was released in December 2005, followed by Buck, released on cassette by Folding Cassettes in 2006 and on CD by Gilgongo Records in 2007. The LP Arms was also released in 2007. Interestingly, Zs were thrown into the spotlight on a November 2007 broadcast of the Howard Stern show, in which Stern played tracks from Arms and subsequently started a discussion on avant-garde music, and an impromptu exploration of a list of theoretical questions about what constitutes "music" and why we listen to it. In a particularly memorable moment, while listening to the opening notes of "Woodworking", Stern stated, "it's mood music... if you're in a mental home," later asking "do they write this stuff down? Can this be repeated? How do you tell when something's 'good'?" By the end, Stern and his cast had decided to form their own faux-avant-garde ensemble, and talked about trying to open for Zs' upcoming Knitting Factory performance. B Is For Burning, a track from Arms, was released as a 7" live recording in two parts in February 2008 by Rock Is Hell records.

In August 2008, Zs and Child Abuse released a split album on Zum records, the A side of which was the Zs track In My Dream I Shot A Monk. The cover painting was "Incident at the barbecue" by John Dwyer. The same year, The Hard EP was released by Three One G, and received critical acclaim, with Chris Sabbath of the San Francisco Bay Guardian writing "Zs excels with high marks across the board... earch member vents ballistic impulses into one giant movement of astounding precision. Throughout its 15-minute sprawl, [Zs] are so accurate in their delivery that you start to question the laws of memory and begin to wonder if some telepathic device factors into the outfit's formula..."[2]

In April 2009, a remix album was released entitled Zs Remixed. The album contains two tracks remixed by Excepter's Nathan Corbin (Zebrablood), each followed by their original. The remixed songs are "Except When You Don't Because Sometimes You Won't" (which originally appeared on Arms) and "Bump" (which originally appeared on Karate Bump EP).

On July 7, 2009 ZS released its first record for the label The Social Registry. ZS' first record without longtime member Charlie Looker (who had left to build his band Extra Life) the band explored the possibilities of the studio as compositional tool for the first time. While none of the music on this record was ever performed live, the band did do several short tours of the East Coast and Canada.

In May 2009, Zs played at the prestigious Moers Festival, an international jazz festival in Moers, Germany. In December of the Same year ZS played in Madrid and Barcelona as part of the famed Prima Vera festival. In early 2010 ZS made its first excursion through the southern states of the US culminating in 10 performances at Austin's South By Southwest Festival.

On May 11, 2010 ZS released their 2nd full length record New Slaves, also on the Social Registry. The record was celebrated by the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/arts/music/10choi.html, Pitchfork http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14230-new-slaves/, and the Village Voice http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2010/04/premiere_downlo.php, and was named Album of the Year by Tiny-Mix-Tapes.[3] In support of the bands longest and most ambitious full length record ZS embarked on its first proper European tour. During their summer 2010 European tour the band performed in 11 countries including a now legendary performance at Poland's OFF festival where an audience member was removed from the performance by paramedics due to a sort of blissful stupor brought on by the music???!!! "The festival is over for me" the inebriated fan was quoted as saying on the way out.

Current Work[edit]

The new trio made its debut in August of 2012 at 285 Kent, in Brooklyn NY, with Ben Ratliff of the New York Times covering and reviewing the event. "Zs", he wrote, "is a band. It's also a perpetual itch, an index of unease around the restrictions of genre in New York experimental music [...] From a distance it seems about equidistant from classical minimalism, No Wave, prog-metal and noise. Its music is built on shards of melody, but more and more [Zs] seems to be looking for sound and texture. It’s rigorous about the power of coordinated playing in real time, but it also uses digital delay effects that artificially stretch time. It’s never wanted to be one thing, and now, with the addition of the guitarist Patrick Higgins and the drummer Greg Fox, it’s something else again." [4]

In recent times the band has made a significant amount of work, both by remixing and compiling earlier material, and composing and extensively touring new work with the trio of Higgins, Fox, and Hillmer. The new trio toured the United States and extensively across Europe, playing in over 20 countries in 2013 and 2014, as well as a tour of Japan in January of 2013. Touring included performances at Ecstatic Music Festival at NYC's Merkin Concert Hall, Donau Festival in Krems, Austria, South-by-Southwest in Austin TX, Club Unit and Vacant Gallery in Tokyo, JP, Unsound Festival in Kracow, Poland, and many others.

Zs also performed collaborative sets with varied artists, including DJ_/rupture, Gyða Valtýsdóttir of Múm, the Mivos String Quartet, Mantra Percussion, Dustin Wong, and more.

A four-disc retrospective box-set was released on the Northern Spy Records label in August of 2012. This was followed by the GRAIN EP in April of 2013, in which Patrick Higgins and Greg Fox developed experimental electronic music compositions using source recordings of previous incarnations of the ensemble. GRAIN was released to critical acclaim.[5][6]

In January of 2015, Zs released its newest full-length LP "Xe" on Northern-Spy. The record was the result of two and half years of international touring by the trio. It was recorded without overdubs or edits, live in full-takes at Future-Past Studios in Hudson, NY, and engineered by legendary recordist Henry Hirsch. "Xe" was produced by Patrick Higgins and mastered by Heba Kadry of Timeless Mastering. The artwork for the album features custom brass sculptures made for Zs by the renowned visual artist Tauba Auerbach.

"Xe" was released to immediate critical acclaim, signaling a new direction for Zs while demonstrating the same commitment as ever to an uncompromising avant-garde aesthetic. Pitchfork Media issued an 8.0 rating to "Xe", the highest score yet given to Zs by the prominent music web magazine. [7] NPR National Public Radio described Xe as "the group's most radical statement." [8] The Wall Street Journal described the group's performance on 'Xe' as "hypnotic and harsh at once, with an ability to mesmerize while keeping a listener at attention." [9]

The band headlined a release concert for 'Xe' at Manhattan venue (Le) Poisson Rouge on January 21, 2015.


  • Untitled (2003)
  • Zs (2003)
  • Karate Bump EP (2005)
  • Magnet (2005)
  • Buck (2006)
  • Arms (2007)
  • B Is For Burning 7" (2008)
  • Child Abuse split (2008)
  • The Hard EP (2008)
  • Zs Remixed (2009)
  • Music of the Modern White (2009)
  • New Slaves (2010)
  • New Slaves Pt. II: Essence Implosion! (2011)
  • Score: The Complete Sextet Works: 2002-7 (2012)
  • Grain (2013)
  • Xe (2015)


  1. ^ "The Listings". New York Times. 2006-11-24. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  2. ^ Sabbath, Chris (2008-08-13). "Grooves". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  3. ^ "50 albums that defined our 2010". Tiny Mix Tapes. 
  4. ^ "A Band Sprawls Its Way Across Genres on a Rigorous Wavelength All Its Own". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Music Review Zs Grain". Tiny Mix Tapes. 
  6. ^ "Zs-Grain". The Esoterrorist. 
  7. ^ "Zs: Xe, Album Review". Pitchfork. 
  8. ^ "Viking's Choice: Zs, 'Xe'". NPR Music. 
  9. ^ "Zs at le Poisson Rouge". Wall Street Journal. 

External links[edit]