There was a genius named Michael Zucker. He made great records, he pressed records for other people and he kept producers on his label happy for many years. That’s an understatement if there ever was one, because if you can become in any way notable in this scene and not have a few haters throwing stones, you must be one hell of a guy.
But Michael Zucker is one of the people whose genius can’t be captured in an easily memorialized form. Or not only. As talented as he was at making music, Michael Zucker’s real genius and his true calling on this planet was in the things he did for others.
Michael Zucker tended to a small fire that cast a big light for a lot of people trying to find a way. And now that light has gone out. On September 26, Michael Zucker passed away after fighting colon cancer for two years.
Earlier last month, he had gone into the hospital “trying to deal with this cancer thing.”
“I have not given up, just remember that,” he wrote in the first of a series of posts on social media. “I never give up. That is my family’s motto.” Last week it was announced he had been moved to hospice care, according to a post from his sister, “so he can be as comfortable as possible until the end.”
Outside of a few emails, I knew Michael from the record racks, though I was introduced in a sense much earlier. In 2011, Chez Damier introduced me to the “students” — young producers scattered around the world he invested his time in. There were a lot of names there that would become renown — Brawther, Yossi Amoyal of Sushitech, Demitrio Giannice, and Michael Zucker. Michael wrote that he studied at the “University of Balance and Prescription,” Chez’s labels (the latter of course with Ron Trent) and from 2009 had been part of the “Balance Alliance” with him.
It’s a beautiful thing to see a record label come to life like this, like a real, living entity much bigger than all of its parts. That happened with Finale Sessions.
I kept an eye on most of those guys — you’d be a fool not to, Chez’s taste is probably the best in the business — but didn’t need any other pointers. By 2012 Finale Sessions, Michael’s label, was already leaving a mark and by 2014 it’d be like ignoring an earthquake.
I regret now never sitting down and getting the finer details — the answer in full measurement — of Michael’s recipe for Finale Sessions. Some labels are clearly throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. With Finale Sessions, though, there was an obvious blueprint, a mission statement, an invisible hand of the artist guiding it. It’s a beautiful thing to see a record label — otherwise a legal entity designed to shuffle papers and cash checks and mostly write them — come to life like this, like a real, living entity much bigger than all of its parts. That happened with Finale Sessions.
The outlines of the blueprint, though, were easy to trace. Michael was mixing some of the established masters (mostly American masters) of deep house and techno with exceptionally talented newcomers. He had a great gift for getting the best records of the former and some of the first notable records of the latter. Some of the most interesting people got their bearings and introduction to a wider audience thanks to his care for the craft; a platform on Finale Sessions was a high and mighty place for a music maker to stand. Among those who did are Anaxander, Fred P, Amir Alexander, Hakim Murphy, Will Azada, Ike Release, Terrence Dixon, Pittsburgh Track Authority, Brothers’ Vibe, Ka§par, Kai Alcé, Luke Hess, Simone Gatto, Thomas Barnett, Norm Talley, Myles Serge, Alex Falk… we could go on. It’s virtually a directory of the most interesting people in deep house in America with a few like-minded fellows from abroad.
Everyone that you’d like to consider promising, underrated or our last great hope for deep house in America was drawn to Finale Sessions.
“Everyone that you’d like to consider promising, underrated or our last great hope for deep house in America has been drawn to Finale Sessions,” I wrote a couple years ago. If you just woke up from a 20 year disco nap and wanted to know who was worth knowing in this music today, Finale Sessions’ back catalog was — and is — a good place to start.
Finale was also highly prolific for a vinyl label that’s not run out of the back lot of Sony. Some years he released 8 or 9 EPs, just on Finale Sessions. Even the V/As by the label were essential. Where else would you get Kai Alcé, Michael and Reggie Dokes on the same release? In fact, I think that’s where the label really excelled. The one above (“US I-75”), a split with Michael and Anaxander called “Rise Up,” Fred P and Kai Alcé’s “Finale Select 1” — all of these showed a strong reverence for collaboration in a business where people are often isolated and working alone; comradeship where they compete for bookings, attention and money; friendship where it’s usually in short supply. Finale Sessions was a classic label that was only 10 years old, and I can tell you now that its legend will continue to grow.
The last that we wrote about Michael was his album, Draw Closer, released in early 2018 and due to his health destined to become one the final records that Michael would release on Finale. Like most writers, I find it far easier to describe something I hate than to explain why something is beautiful and why it moved me. This wasn’t the first time I had trouble with that, but “Draw Closer” is a work of art, with everything that word implies.
“This record is almost too beautiful for words,” I said. “Put the headphones, lean back, close your eyes and let go.”
In those grooves, for the time you listen until the time the record stops, Michael Zucker lived and he still does live there.
Michael Zucker’s family has set up a GoFundMe for burial and memorial arrangements at https://gf.me/u/y2iqsw.