James Zabiela

Superstar DJ in the house


A DJ that truly epitomises the flavour of Acid House. Introduced to dance music by his dad bringing home records from his workplace which just happened to be a record store, educated on the art of DJing by none other than Sasha and John Digweed at  his local club and before you know it, a new superstar DJ/producer headlining festivals and clubs around the world. We check into Zabiela’s disco towers…

Hi James. Welcome to the DMC world. Part 2 of your unique on live mix ‘Paradigm Shifts’ is out on now on Soundcloud and coming on nicely. You were quoted as saying you may give it a “shit ending like Lost” – surely not true young man…?

“Nah, I was just trying to be funny although I can’t say the same for the creators of Lost.” 

You leant the ropes thanks to your dad who used to own a record store in town and brought home all of the big classics for you and him to listen to. Was there a track he brought home that REALLY pricked your ears up?

“Yep. Joey Beltram ‘Energy Flash’.”

A Southampton boy born and bred – fair to say you were down the front at the Menage A Trois nights back in the day before they asked you to actually play there?

“Kind of, they wouldn’t let me go there as I was too young, so the first time I went I was actually playing!”

You are one of the new breed of DJs who are going to be for the next 20 years. What do you think about rocking the dancefloor at the age of 50, just like a few of the big boys are still doing. Does that appeal to you?

“I think if there’s still a passion for music to be shared it’s cool to be whatever age and still playing – but for me though, I doubt I’ll be still be DJing at 50. Although I think I’ll still be involved in music somehow because it is something I live and breathe.”

You are at the cutting edge of technology development in the DJ/producer market, can you tell us what the future holds in the next 10 years?

“Working with Pioneer, I obviously have a small glimpse into the future that I’m not at liberty to talk about, but let’s just say it’s a constantly evolving market now whereas Technics turntables dominated the market for many years. There are now many options available to the DJs in terms of performing and it will continue unfolding in this way and what defines a DJ will become increasingly hard to categorise. There are some ‘live’ acts that I’d already class as DJs, in fact other than the fact they’re playing (mostly) their own pre-recorded music, tweaking the odd plug in and triggering a few clips, they are no more ‘live’ than what I do in my DJ sets…sometimes just with (mostly) other peoples music, in even fact less so. Sometimes.”

Will it all come back to the turntable as the choice instrument of the DJ? 

“No, there’ll be many divisions of what constitutes DJing. There already are – and as I said it will increasingly go this way. I do miss mixing up some wonky vinyls though.”

Has technology gone too far and created a bunch of nerd DJ’s who twist and filter a track to pieces but maybe lose sight that people just want to dance to the music rather than applaud a live re-edit?  

“In some cases yes. It has also bred a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to DJ and that is both a good and a bad thing depending on the person and your viewpoint. Is technology bad? No of course not, it allows us to advance the possibilities of the art, but in my opinion, the laziness of some people using it is not good. A DJ once said to me he loves Traktor because now he doesn’t have to beatmatch and can get hammered whilst he playing. Failbot.”

What has been your best festival of 2011?

“Global Gathering UK was a good one for me this year. I didn’t f*ck my set up and people danced.” 

Another massive ADE coming up in Amsterdam, what have you got in store for us at the Positronik party?

“I have no idea yet but with guys like Midland and Pariah on the line up it’ll allow me to stretch my musical legs a bit. SMD also, they were banging out some Robert Hood techno the last time we played together. With these guys on either side of me, musically it is perfect.”

Can you remember the moment when you suddenly thought, hey up James, I think I may be onto something with this DJing? Was there a pivotal moment? 

“Weirdly I still get that thought. Haha! I can’t really remember ever thinking hang on a minute, I can do this because being able to DJ well is one thing and getting the opportunities to actually do it is another thing all together.”

What is your favourite ever album?  

“If I’m honest, it’s probably something non-dance related like Nirvana’s ‘Never Mind’ as it’s what I listened to when I was a kid growing up, whilst converging with the Prodigy’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. But really that’s an impossible question to answer as I have so many and it changes all the time. If I were to give a boring trendy answer I’d probably say something like Boards of Canada’s ‘Music Has The Right To Children’. My favourite LPs at the moment are Modeselektor ‘Monkeytown’, Apparat ‘The Devils Walk’ and Ben Howard ‘Every Kingdom’.”

Your passport must have more stamps on it than Wayne Rooney’s legs. Which country do you really enjoy flying out to play? 

“Russia’s a good time for me at the moment. I never used to succeed there really but over the last couple of years I’ve had some amazing party’s there.”

What is your favourite festival story, mine is when you were sick all over Sasha and Diggers’ tour bus at Coachella. Very funny, but trust me, I have seen them in worse states… 

“So have I. Ha! So I didn’t feel too bad about it frankly although I was sympathetic to the poor bus driver and his brand new tour bus. I can’t think of many festival stories that live up to that one but a few weeks ago I travelled in the boot of a car to a field in Ibiza and partied with Apparat, Pearson Sound and a herd of sheep. That was a good one.” 

What is the best set you have ever played?

“That’s not for me to judge really, but I know when I’ve done a good job and feel satisfied and often this can be at gigs that are not even that good in terms of sound, venues or other factors. It’s dealing with these things and still rocking it that can sometimes be the most satisfying. The last time I played in Lima, Peru was amazing and other than updating the firmware for the 2000’s during my set, didn’t suffer from any weird factors thankfully. Amazing crowd. Saying that, I had the best gig in Southampton which is still my hometown on the Hightide boat party just recently.”

So we head back to yours after club, what non house Back To Mine tunes do you spin us?  

“If people wanted to chill out I’d probably stick on some bloke folk like Ben Howard or even wimpier, Stornoway. If I was feeling cheeky I’d serve up some 80’s cheese bombs like Alexander O’Neal and Fleetwood Mac.” 

Who is your all time hero? 

“(Uncle) Sasha.”

And finally, what have you got in store for in 2012?  

“New music, label and more gigs.”




Words: Dan Prince

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