Local Current Blog

Toy story: Medium Zach raids his son’s playroom to make fresh beats

Medium Zach in 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Many musicians see their careers change when they have kids. Few actually make music out of their children’s toys, but this is exactly what Zach Bagaason, better known as Medium Zach, does in episode 75 of his #BeatStory video series. I had the opportunity to sit in on the making of this episode with Medium Zach, but rather than inviting me to his studio, he brought me into his son’s playroom.

When Zach began the weekly #BeatStory series on his Snapchat and Instagram in 2016, he was showing his viewers how he utilizes samples from vinyl records and other old-school equipment, like the ASR-10.

Nowadays, he typically goes for more unconventional sounds with his #BeatStory projects, featuring special guest session musicians or even himself playing instruments himself. “Sampling taught me something about being a musician,” he says.

Medium Zach has been churning out beats since 1999. Upon moving to the Twin Cities with his older brother Brandon — a.k.a. Brandon Allday, the other half of Big Quarters — shortly after he had just picked up his first recording equipment, he was already competing against some of the premier underground hip-hop producers of the 2000s for placements on albums.

“My crew and I would put together a whole beat tape, filled with 30-something beats for each time we went over to a session with I Self Devine,” he says. “It’s what we had to do if I wanted to compete with Jake One, Ant, DJ Abilities, and Vitamin D.”

Medium Zach’s track record, aside from production work with his own crews Fam Feud and Big Quarters, also includes collaborations with Stones Throw emcee Homeboy Sandman, Metasota, MaLLy, Slug, and Mankwe Ndosi.

He also plays a big role in the production and engineering for Greg Grease and his full-band project astralblak (f.k.a. ZULUZULUU). Medium Zach further supports the beat scene up in Minneapolis by curating the Last of the Record Buyers production showcases, where beat-makers get an opportunity to get their new material heard by like-minded peers.

In December 2016, he compiled the first seventeen episodes into a beat mix on his Bandcamp page.

“The studio we used to record the Big Quarters albums, and all of my other projects has always been in my home until recently,” he says. “The space I used to work in is now a play area I have been clearing out for my son.”

While we drank lemon-essence water at a kid’s play table, Zach played back the audio he had sampled from the arsenal of toys, and began assigning the sounds to his ultra-portable MIDI keyboard.

The new video, as with all of his #BeatStory episodes, shows clips of all of the original sound sources, then shows clips of how each one gets edited and incorporated into an instrumental song. Despite stumbling upon this new way to share his music, Zach said, “I don’t want to get famous off of being the artist who makes beats out of breakfast.”

Do your kids love cool tunes? Bring them to Mia this Sunday for Rock the Cradle!