A Sit Down With DJ James Zabiela
James Zabiela one of the few DJ's who is really pushing himself in the live arena, James's live spectacle utilities a pair of trusty 1210's, a couple of CD J's, a DJ M600 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.
"I think everyones got a secret desire to share their favorite music with as many people as possible. I mean the most integral part of DJing is sharing music with other people but also putting my own spin on it, so I guess I have the best job in the world really."
Can you describe your DJ style?
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, break-beat, tech-house, a bit of progressive, melody, all sorts.
Did you have any songs that you wanted, but you couldnt license?
There were a few, but it is always with these vinyl only tracks. They are the tough ones because the labels just want their releases out strictly on vinyl, which I can appreciate. There were a couple I wanted to license, but couldnt because of that reason. They dont want their tracks on Spotify. It is quite nice because now I have those tracks to use in another way such as a radio mix or something like that. Also as time goes by, with those vinyl only tracks, once they are out of press, the labels are more relaxed and you can license it for something else.
You're known for your technical ability behind the decks and on the fly style of DJing, whom were you inspired by as a DJ to do the type of sets you do?
The weird thing is I don't actually know, not for those particular attributes you mentioned at least. I was always fascinated by scratch DJs and computer games as a kid, so some of that is definitely to blame. When I was growing up I mostly just wanted to emulate my hero Sasha who was the king of the long seamless blend and was technical in an entirely different sense. So I guess all the tech stuff just kind of happened through my personality.
Your routines are amazing. How long do you spend practicing for a routine?
Thank you for saying so. Not as much as I should do these days but the good thing about a long run of gigs such as the above is that Im really practicing live. When you do something really cool you can try and repeat it the following night if you can remember how you did it. When there are a lot of gigs in a row you kind of get in the zone.
This year, you'll be at many of major festivals in Europe like Global Gathering. Which one are you most looking forward to?
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.
You travel a lot. What are the essential things you need to have with you at all times and what are the things you miss when you are on tour?
This is easy and if one of the below items are missing I get very upset and will find a replacement at all costs before beginning my journey. Noise cancelling headphones, an Ipod with storm sim app, a comfy hood and an eye mask. With those things I transform myself into a walking, sitting, laying human-hibernation travel cocoon.
Any advice to new DJs?
Ive been helping my girlfriend practice mixing and beat-matching, and she had a gig recently and the DJ after her showed up with a Native Instruments S2 synced to Traktor, but he didnt know how to beat match, so he turned to her to ask if she could bring his first track in, which is madness! I couldnt even imagine it! Its crazy to think that there are DJs out there that dont even have that skill of beat-matching, which in its basic sense isnt even hard. I know there are different levels of beat-matching, like if you look at what Sasha was doing with wonky acetates 10 years ago, that was something beyond basic beat-matching; 3 minute mixes of things that arent supposed to go together.
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