It’s no coincidence that James Zabiela’s press shot has a Star Wars character in the background. From the time he was four years old he’s been a huge fan of worlds and galaxies that are far, far away from this planet. As the years passed, his passion for futuristic toys turned to the DJ world, colliding the human heartbeat of house with the robotic traits of synth and bleeping breakbeats. Embracing the latest technology tools, specifically Ableton, he’s written most of his music from the space of a laptop.
Released this past week on Thrive Records/Renaissance, Zabiela takes his production skills a few steps further, breaking his double CD Utilities into two volumes: disk 1, Computed, is programmed on his computer with Albeton, and disk 2, Recorded, returns to his previous format of DJs, samples and an EFX unit to record a live set.
He comes to Denver this week with all his tech toys in tow, taking a few moments to give us more insight on what makes him tick.
The double CD concept is a very interesting one. It seems as though you have always embraced technology from the very beginning. Did you start your DJ career with vinyl and move to the tech tools or have you always worked with CDJs?
I used to be a vinyl Junkie, I then bought a second CDJ-100Mk2 to play the odd CD i was given. Then I used the CDJ1000 at Cream in Liverpool (they were the club to have them and I happened to be there the same weekend). I was hooked since then and went out and bought a pair straight away.
We have a company called Beatport here (I believe you may have heard of them) that was an early proponent of Native and Final Scratch – how do you think these production and DJ tools compare to the utilities you use and do you plan to work with Final Scratch in the future?
Well, using Final Scratch is just the same as using records but you don’t have to carry heavy bags around. I think if people like the Technics interface better than the CDJ1000’s then that’s for them but I love the CDJ interface personally, I find it very intuitive so I doubt I’ll be using final scratch anytime soon, although I have started using Ableton Live in my sets as an addition to my sets.
What do you think about the careers of those DJs that are still clinging to vinyl? Do you think with the continued evolution of technology within the DJ world that there’s more pressure for a DJ to also evolve, to do more than just spin records, to make music him/herself given all that’s available to them?
There’s pressure, I guess, as people will begin to expect more, seeing some DJ’s really going to town with technology, but it really depends on what the DJ is trying to achieve. If they want to simply mix one track into the next, then why not use vinyl?
How is it working with a company like Pioneer where you can actually impact the product development process? How has that impacted your songwriting and ability to perform? What do you see on the horizon that will further impact the Digital DJ?
It’s been amazing to work with them! And it has help my performances in regard to the fact that I’ve been able to work with them on the firmware of the equipment to suit my DJing, even as far as adding purposeful bugs that make the equipment behave in ways it was never originally intended. Who knows what the future hold except that I will always be open minded into using whatever I can get my hands on!
I noticed that the tracks you chose definitely represent a futuristic flavor, but the first track on CD 1 that you produced has a warm, human element, along with the remix of “Windowlicker” and some of the other chunky songs. Do you make a contentious effort to give balance to both?
I don’t really think about it to be honest I just music I like… I happen to be a huge sci-fi nerd so that comes through in the tracks I choose!
How did you come to use Wyatt Earp & Little Mike’s “Android” – I had to ask since they’re local heroes here in Denver.
I love the record. It’s actually very amusing if you listen to the lyrics. It has a charming cheekiness about it and it was a track I played out a lot in the past. I actually just got another Little Mike track called ‘Sexual Deviant’ (I’m not sure what that’s all about, you’ll have to ask Mike), which has an enormous bassline and whitenoise stabs. A dance floor destroyer for sure.
Have you DJ’d in Denver in the past, and if so, how did that go for you?
Yes, I have played at the Church a few times and often end up at the after hours club playing there too. Always a great time in Denver, I can’t wait!
Go to www.jameszabiela.com and www.djsounds.com to learn more about this dancefloor voyager.