Prequel: Melbourne DJ/producer’s long-gestating debut is fuelled by heartbreak

Jamie Lorusso-Zyskind talks career highs, from Big Day Out to Golden Plains, and the stories behind his debut album ‘Love Or (I Heard You Like Heartbreak)’

“There’s nothing more whole than a broken heart,” Melbourne DJ/producer Prequel tells NME. Pithy quote, but it isn’t his.

“I was in synagogue for nine hours for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and my rabbi said it,” he reveals. “I pulled out my phone and typed it in notes.”

The line appears on the back of Prequel’s debut album, ‘Love Or (I Heard You Like Heartbreak)’, which dropped last Friday. It’s a 50-minute odyssey through woozy, sped-up jazz (‘All I’m Missing Is You’), chunky house (‘When Love Is New’) and Brazilian soul (‘Violeiro’), all tugged forward by a 4/4 beat.

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The emotional title goes beyond the frame of two people in a lovey-dovey physical relationship. It covers Prequel’s deep appreciation of his friends and family, as well as the lingering spectre of two heartbreaks: a long-term relationship that crumbled, and the passing of his mother from cancer when he was 19.

“That’s not something I really speak about very often,” the producer born Jamie Lorusso-Zyskind says over Zoom. He’s wearing a white t-shirt with the word “love” printed on it, and talks with the tone of someone about to open up.

The perennially youthful artist is mostly a blur. Not because of a bad connection – quite the opposite, if anything. Prequel wants to connect and get his point across so badly that he constantly gesticulates to emphasise his words. He flips between butterfly hands, can-you-believe-it shrugs and get-the-fuck-outta-here waves. “I’m half Italian, half Jewish,” he reasons.

Just as the best surfers grow up by the beach, Lorusso-Zyskind was reared on music. It was everywhere: His father ran a restaurant which piped tunes that he and his friends liked to call “focaccia house”, and at home they played the likes of John Coltrane, St Germain and Frank Zappa.

One day he found an album that looked a bit different. “I remember pulling out this CD called ‘Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde’ and asking my dad, ‘Is this a jazz album?’” he recalls. “He said, ‘No, but it samples jazz very heavily.’ It just fucking blew my mind.”

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Other influences came from the Fugees’ album ‘The Score’, and Daft Punk records that a cool babysitter would play in the car when she picked him up from primary school “in a little shitty green car with a busted door”.

Then, with fellow Melbourne DJ Edd Fisher and his dad, he watched Doug Pray’s documentary Scratch. “It fully opened this world to me. I watched Pete Rock cutting up ‘Love is a Battlefield’,” Prequel says, “then I bought myself an Akai MPC.” Two months after acquiring the much-vaunted workstation, he and a mate bought two turntables. “I didn’t even know how to balance the tonearm!”

Lorusso-Zyskind’s constantly bobbing head has been a buoyant presence in Melbourne’s dance scene since 2005. He started off at a small pizza joint with decks – Argy Bargy in Balaclava – to Seven and Glamorama nightclubs, all the way up to a show on the main stage at Golden Plains 2020, a week shy of the pandemic’s arrival and Victoria’s shutdown.

Like many, he has survived on JobKeeper and hustling as any work that involved a dancefloor was deemed unsafe.

As a producer, Lorusso-Zyskind has put out tracks on Rhythm Section and Revolver Upstairs Records and delivered remixes for Sofa Talk, Alta and Sampa The Great. As a party DJ he’s at home playing a teeming Boiler Room gig or in the middle of a big field at a bush doof.

In 2009, Lorusso-Zyskind played Melbourne institution Soul-A-Go-Go, and met singer Paris Wells. “She said, ‘Do you wanna be my DJ for the Big Day Out?’ I had no idea what was going on.”

Lorusso-Zyskind toured nationally with the travelling festival, which back then was nicknamed “The Big Day Off” among international acts. Prequel’s hands flutter around. “I got to the afterparty in Brisbane and Paris was like ‘Come do a shot at the bar.’ I go to the bar, pick up the little shot glass and go to cheers. And on my left is Keith Flint from The Prodigy – rest in peace – and on my right it’s Neil Young!”

“I watched Pete Rock cutting up ‘Love is a Battlefield’, then I bought myself an Akai MPC”

For a long time, Prequel seemed like he might remain one of Australia’s best-kept secrets. Though ‘Love Or’ looks likely to be the moment he goes up a level, in fact, Prequel’s second wind has been gathering force for a few years now.

This can be linked to a strong showing as an interstitial DJ at Golden Plains Festival in 2019, where his selections provoked “death drops” from some of the crowd and a circle pit when he dropped N.E.R.D.

Six months later he got a pivotal email from Golden Plains’ booker Woody McDonald. It was a call-up to the big leagues: Golden Plains main stage, late Saturday night. “Straight away I went into planning mode,” he says. “I started sending emails to arrange dancers, visuals, costumes, set rehearsal spaces.”

Prequel’s slot was right after Hot Chip who ended with a punk funk cover of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’. “I was pacing around backstage, smoking 100 cigarettes an hour,” he recalls. “Then the power generators died, and the set got moved and I’m shitting myself but I’m still prepared.”

Melbourne DJ producer Prequel new album Love Or I Heard You Like Heartbreak
Credit: Natalie Jurrjens

All those nerves vanished the moment he hit play on his first record. “I was complete Zen tranquility, just 100 percent in the moment. I didn’t touch my phone once.”

At the conclusion of his set, Lorusso-Zyskind jumped into the crowd with his rig out. “It was a toss-up whether I was gonna do it but there was 10,000 people and 98 percent of them didn’t know who I am. I’m like, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to get to do this again’. I started pouring Hennessy into everyone’s mouths. I saw Moodymann do it once without his top on, so I copied him.”

Moodymann’s fingerprints are all over Prequel’s album. ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’ blends Pnau’s mystical ‘Sambanova’ flourishes with the Detroit techno titan’s 3am leanings. “That was heavily inspired by a track Moodymann did with Norma Jean Bell, ‘I’m The Baddest Bitch (In The Room)’, from the drums to the saxophone solo. I hit up Josh Kelly from 30/70 and he pulled out three different saxes,” Prequel says. “He’s the smiling assassin.”

Other players Lorusso-Zyskind assembled to augment the samples and flesh out his vision included Horatio Luna on bass, Javier Fredes on percussion and Tamil Rogeon on violin/viola. Singer Cazeaux O.S.L.O. – whom superfans will remember from Prequel’s 2017 Boiler Room set – ties the album together on penultimate cut ‘Love Is’.

“O.S.L.O. didn’t have any lyrics prepared for ‘Love Is’ so I just showed him the track titles for the album, y’know, to serve as inspiration,” Prequel explains. “I hit record and he proceeds to read out the album tracks pretty much in order, weaving into the narrative of what he’s saying. He improvises a chorus and it’s done. He’s like ‘Should we do another one?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t think we need to, that was fucking amazing’. The guy’s a poet.”

‘Love Or’ is a record Prequel never set out to make. “I was coming off a writer’s blockade, as Fran Lebowitz would call it. I just sort of was making excuses for myself; it snowballed a bit. I was like, ‘Get your ass in the gear, Prequel, go through the records – you’ve got to find samples and just start the process’.”

Finding samples and getting his mojo back coincided with the mending of a broken heart after the end of a three-and-a-half-year relationship. “That made me go back to therapy to work on myself. The biggest heartbreak on a more platonic level would probably be my late mother, who passed away in 2006.” Lorusso-Zyskind’s mum died just before his 19th birthday after an eight-year fight with breast cancer. “That’s a big hit for anyone, doesn’t matter how old you are.”

So far, 2021 is shaping up nicely for Prequel. His heart is full and so is his schedule. While international artists are unable to tour due to COVID, local artists are moving up the bill – and an increase in font-size is an increase in fee-size.

Next month, Prequel is playing Meadow in Bambra, an event that was postponed last year. “I’m playing the second last spot before Darcy Justice. The capacity is 1,000, not quite 10,000 people in Meredith. Whatever the fuck they’ve gotta do to get us to play, here’s to that!”

Prequel’s ‘Love Or (I Heard You Like Heartbreak)’ is out now on Rhythm Section

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