Filed under: Interview
He was the next big thing who is now big. Very big. It has been a quick and meteoric rise for the young James Zabiela. ‘Discovered’ after handing his mix to Lee Burridge at Tyrant, it was passed it onto Sasha who, after listening to it immediately signed James to his agency. Officially designated the great mans prodigy James had a lot to live up to from the start, but so far he has exceeded all expectations.
One of the few DJ’s who is really pushing himself in the live arena, James’s live spectacle utilises a pair of trusty 1210’s, a couple of CDJ’s, a DJM600 mixer and an effects unit create layers of sound that are captivating audiences world over. Sampling, looping, twisting, his technical mastery belies someone his age, his unique talent being jumped upon by electronic giants Pioneer who called on James for development advice for their next generation of DJ hardware.
Still only 24, James’s rise looks set to continue in the rest of 2004 with coverted appearances at nearly every major dance festival in Europe this summer and an upcoming release for Renaissance. HigherFrequency sat down with James after his world debut with the pioneer DVD DJ mixers at Womb.
Interview by Laura Brown (ArcTokyo)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : I think this is your 1st DJ trip to Japan. How do you feel now?
James Zabiela : It’s the most different place I’ve ever been to. It’s kind of bewildering. I feel about this big [small gesture]. It’s mad. Ever since I saw the Lost in Translation film, I’ve wanted to come here. Actually on Thurs. night I’m going to stay at that hotel. As a place it [Tokyo] is really unbelievable and Sat. at Womb was really great.
HRFQ : How did you feel about your performance at Womb?
James : Well it was the first time I’d ever used these DVJx1s which are the new machine that Pioneer have just made which plays DVDs, so I was doing visuals and the sound, so it was kind of exciting. It was the first time I’d ever done it. So I was concentrating quite a lot, so I don’t know. It was quite hectic. But the crowd were amazing. I’m always pretty critical, but maybe because I was concentrating on the visuals all the time, so maybe my mixing wasn’t as good as it usually is, but it’s always good toc
HRFQ : Can you tell us a bit about the structure in your decks? We know you’re using a lot of CDJ stuff. How do you integrate them with your vinyl playing?
James : You can use them in different ways. I put loads of visuals to scratch sounds so one of the visuals I had was literally my hand, and as I was scratching people could see my scratching – the giant hand behind me as well, scratching as well. So you can do it like that. Or what I did in February this year, I did an essential mix for Radio 1 in England and throughout the whole mix I was putting pieces of film soundtrack into the breakdowns of the record. You there’s bits from Lost in Translation, and Vanilla Sky and Bladerunner, and Dr. Who which is an English sci-fi, so in the club as well, I had Bladerunner and different movies and I was just like, it was amazing to be playing a movie in the middle of a set, not only the sound but with the visuals as well. You can really take people to a different place, you know. It is kind of a sensory overload.
HRFQ : Have you heard anything about WOMB’s reputation before?
James : Yeah. Loads. Mainly from Hernan Cattaneo. I speak to him quite often on email, I see him from place to place. ?And he always says it’s his favorite club in the world. “You’re going to love it – you’re going to love it!” So, we DJed together last week in South Hampton where I live, we did a boat party. And I told him I was coming here, and he was like “it’s my favorite place! It’s so good – so good!” And he was right. It was exactly how he had described it. So, it was awesome. In fact, this is the one place I came to where I was like, oh, this is exactly like how I have imagined it. When I went to America for the first time, it was kind of different. NY was very different from how I thought it would be. But here it’s just like being in a sci-fi film. Kind of surreal. And even the club itself is kind of film-like. Like that part in the last Matrix when they dance, but less naked people.
HRFQ : Can you describe your DJ style for Japanese?
James : I guess I’m a real mixture of c When I started DJing I was into so many Djs. The music I started playing when I started DJing myself, was kind of a mixture of all those Djs. The elements of Sasha, elements of Rennie Pilgrim, elements of techno Djs- Luke Slater and people like that. So I guess I just kind of confused as to my music style. I play what I like. Kind of everything. Acid House, breakbeat, tech-house, a bit of progressive, melody, all sorts.
HRFQ : Are you interested in other new technologies like Final Scratch orTraktor?
James : Everything. Anything like that is kind of exciting to me. I’ve not actually used them [Final Scratch or Traktor] in a club, but I’ve had a go on pretty much everything. I always go to the Plaza Fair that they do in England and it’s just like a big technology fair. Like last year they had the Technics CD player, the new Allen & Heath mixer. So I always go there and try everything out. I’m a bit of a super-geek.
HRFQ : How’s your residency at Ibiza going this year?
James : Last year was amazing. The first one this season has begun, but because I can’t be at two places at once. But when I get back, after Australia, I’ll do my first date then. [Last year] was kind of career building in a way. Because the first two times I played there it didn’t go so well because they didn’t really like the breatbeat. It wasn’t the sound of Ibiza. So by the time I did the last gig, it was amazing. I did a half an hour and played some techno and whatever, and it was unbelievable, but it was really good for me to learn how to read a crowd. I think I learned a lot from that. Especially at Space, outside the terrace it has that sort of funky house sound, that’s what it is. It’s about funky house and big tunes. And inside it’s really about dark driving, and fast records like all the Djs that came there that I saw, they all played different to what they would usually play like. So I had to work out a way of programming my set to suit the room. And last year I learned more about DJing then I had in all the time I’ve been DJing. It was a really psychological thing.
HRFQ : This year, you’ll be at many of major festivals in Europe like Global Gathering. Which one are you most looking forward to?
James : That one actually. Have you seen the line-up? I almost had to cancel because I’m going to be in America on Fri. night – in Chicago. I have to leave the club and get straight on a plane, just go straight there to get there on time. So there was just no way I was going to miss it. And I just did Homelands and that was really good. It was really nice to see because the scene in the UK has kind of been up and down. And last year Homelands was good but the numbers weren’t as good as they have been, but this year was the busiest it’s been in three years. And it was really refreshing. And also Homelands is in Winchester which is very close to where I live, in South Hampton, so it was special. [At Global Gathering] all the rooms, everything is kind of covered.
HRFQ : How do you describe your feeling when you play in front of thousands of people?
James : I don’t know. It’s just unbelievable. It’s hard not to smile. I never understand some Djs who look so moody and cool. I’ve tried to do that sometimes, but it’s just like I find myself biting my cheeks – myself. It’s like at Womb and Homelands as well this year, the crowd are just happy and bouncy. It’s hard not to ignore that.
HRFQ : Can you tell us the details of the forthcoming renaissance compilation?
James : Well I just finished it a few weeks ago, and it’s done on CDJ1000s with the effects unit. And it’s basically – I call it a “live” because the CDs I’ve done in the past – it’s not like I’m ashamed of them or anything, you know, but I just don’t think they represent what I do in c So this is more of an approach sort or- live approach. It’s all completely live and I think it’s a much better representation of perhaps what you heard on Sat. you know, just kind of just that on two CDs. It’s just me having fun. There are loads of effects and loops, and chopping things around. Just having fun with the music really. And again star-wise, there is some film soundtrack stuff. I got this track from BT that he made for the Monster film and there is a Jeff Bennett track who’s really soundtracky and there’s acid house and breaks and everything I’m into really.
HRFQ : Now that you have become a part of such a legendary icon — Club Music Renaissance, how do you want to integrate yourself into this long-running label as a leader of the new generation?
James : I don’t know. Ha. It was weird actually when I gave them the CD. I was really nervous about giving it to them because my music isn’t really what’s considered “Renaissance.” Renaissance is very famous for progressive House and that’s their thing. That’s what they’re famous for, so I was quite surprise when they asked me to do the CD. And when I was doing the CD, I thought maybe I should do it to more Renaissance, you know, but I didn’t I took the risk and I was prepared if they wanted me to change the CD, I was thinking, oh I’ll change it if they ask me. But I gave them the CDs and they really liked it, so I was lucky. So, yeah. I never really thought I was – I never dreamed I would do a CD for Renaissance, not because I didn’t think that I’d fit that style, but just because I never thought I would be this big [big hand gesture], I was always this big [small gesture] until recently.
HRFQ : What’s happening on your production front? I think you’ve done loads of remixes and a couple of Mix CDs. Do you have any plans to release an original album?
James : That’s too difficult. Actually, no, on my laptop that I take around everywhere, I put lots of music which I’ve started, but I’ve never finished, I’m not really in a rush. Everything’s happened so fast so far, so I just want to get something that I’m really happy with before I release it.
HRFQ : So you want to keep focusing on the DJ stuff?
James : Well DJing is my first passion, my main problem with some Djs is that they are great Djs but they’re not musicians, or they are not that great in the studio. I just don’t want to be someone who is a DJ – that sort of pressure to make a record is there. I’m just doing it because that’s what I’m meant to do. I want to take my time and get it right. You know, it’s the same the other way around. There are people who make great music, but are terrible Djs, Its just that it’s important for me to do it right – even if it takes me five years before the first record comes out. But you know, I don’t mind. Hopefully I’ve still got the time.
HRFQ : Do you want to set up your own label in the future?
James : No, I’ve actually got a small label which I run kind of secretly. With my friend Paul in England, out of his bedroom. It is called Hearing Aid. We’ve got two releases out. It’s a small thing. We do no promotion for it – no advertising. I don’t really tell anybody it’s mine – anything to do with me. It’s really a vehicle for putting out a lot of the CDs I get sent which will never see the light of day. But there’s a guy, Dave Robertson from Portsmouth near where I live, who’s been giving me great music for years on CD and never had a record out, so we just put one of his records out. And I’ve got loads. I’ve got so many CDs given to me. Some tracks- I think it would be sad for them not to get released, so that was the whole idea behind it. We’re not really interested in making any money out of it – as long as we break even. We just get the music out there. But that’s why no one knows about it – I don’t really tell anyone. There’s no advertising. I just mention it in interviews every now and again. When I get asked about it. We’ve only had two releases out so far, we’ll have a third one in September.
HRFQ : Can you name your recent favorite tunes?
James : There’s this really good electro record called “Straight out of Stokie” by Weekend World. And that is really nice. That’s probably my favorite record at the moment. I’ll give you a couple more. There’s a track called lick the frog by Lee Coombs. I made an intro at Womb, but it was my first proper house record – kind of acid, old-school sounding thing. And this is pretty cool. It’s a guy that I met – this guy Mark Ashken, I met at the Global Underground message board, and James who lives in South Hampton who also goes on there. I get CDs given to me from all over the place, and often – if I go on a message board and say hello, people say where can we send you a CD? And this track here is just cool – “Double Your Acid” it’s a dubby-acid house record. It’s really cool, so I guess those three I keepc
HRFQ : Any messages to Japanese fans?
James : Thank you and if you’re trying to get DJing or producing, don’t give up and give just out sample CDs all the time. That’s just what I did – just give out the tapes. I must have given out hundreds of tapes.
End of the interview
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