James Zabiela has always been into robots. “Human cyborg relations!” he laughs, Star Wars reference intended. James been brought up with the force from a very young age you see – he was just three years old when his parents rented the sci fi classic on video. The year was 1984 and it would change his life irrevocably. “After that I had to have the Millenium Falcon, the grand prize of all Star Wars toys!” he remembers. As a young boy, James grew up surrounded by eighties sci-fi series, including the recently resurrected Dr Who and the (original) & the Transformers cartoons. Little wonder, then, that six years into his DJ career, James’ home is now full of Star Wars and Dr Who memorabilia, including a life size storm-trooper (“the real deal!”) and two full-sized Daleks, which live in the living room and second bedroom next to his decks. Is it any wonder, then, that James’ jet-propelled first single proper is called ‘Robophobia’?
“I was in Australia and I’d hurt my back picking up a super-heavy suitcase containing three limited edition Japanese Optimus Prime toys and that put me out of action for a couple of days,” explains James. “That was when I decided to sit in my hotel room and learn how to use Ableton, which was so different to the sequencers that I’ve used before. My track came out of that very naturally. I didn’t even think that it would be my first record – it was only when I gave it to people like Pete Tong and Nic Fancuilli that I realised that I might be onto something. It appealed to a wide cross section of people and that made me go for it. Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo and all the people I expected to be into it liked it but then so did people like Paul Woolford, Lee Coombs and Meat Katie and that was really encouraging. The record was snapped up by Renaissance straight away. There’s also another track – ‘eyeamcomputer’ – doing the rounds right now, a track James describes as “sci-fi breaks.” What else.
Still only 25 years old, James Zabiela is a DJ who’s firmly at the top of his game. This year alone, he’s had key gigs at Womb in Tokyo, Field Day in Sydney, Avalon in LA, Crobar in New York, Shindig, Colours and Urban Guerilla in the UK, Club Crystal in Romania, The Forum Palace in Lithuania and Creamfields in South America. “That was in front of 60,000 people in the biggest tent I’ve ever seen,” he sighs. “That’s got to be the biggest crowd I’ve ever played to so far!”
Travelling comes as second nature to James now. Last autumn James flew to Japan to play at Womb in Tokyo and ended up playing around in the head offices of Pioneer, showing them his skills on their new studio equipment. "It was weird playing to a room full of Japanese guys in suits - I felt like I was being experimented on!' he laughs – but when he finished, all the staff clapped politely in unison. I have to say that's been a highlight for me, meeting all the people behind the equipment I use to play my sets and having them compliment me for using their equipment in ways that impressed them was a big deal to me. When James arrived back in the U.K, Pioneer sent him a blue EFX500 unit -“my most prized possession - along with my full size Daleks & Stormtrooper uniform that is!" He’s since helped design the EFX 1000, which will be the latest Pioneer model to hit the block. "I really enjoyed your performance in our office, you are the best EFX player” commented Pioneer boss Gen Inoshita politely. Kind words for such a young Jedi…
Born and raised in Southampton, England, James’ big break came winning a magazine bedroom DJ competition in 1999 – but that was really was only the beginning. Mere months later, he’d been snapped up by Sasha’s world-famous Excession DJ Agency and was soon spinning alongside Mr Coe at gigs across the globe. And what does Sasha have to say about his new sidekick now? “He’s absolutely amazing. It's been so fantastic to watch his rise over the past three years. His career has just gone through the roof, and he's got a big future in front of him. He's an inspiring DJ to watch.”
Fast forward to 2005 and he’s still flying high. As well as travelling the world with a bag of CDs, an EFX1000, a Sampler and a box of tricks to unleash in every unsuspecting DJ booth, James also helps Pioneer develop new products & is a tester for prototype products. The first DJ to use DVJs in a club environment in Asia (at Womb), this summer James has regular appearances for Space and Renaissance in Ibiza, and he still holds down a residency at the High Tide boat parties in Southampton, where he had his first DJ break warming up for Danny Howells aged sixteen. He’s played at Space on Sundays as a resident every summer for the last three years, this summer is all about a tour for his new compilation ‘Utilities’, which was part-produced on Ableton. One CD was mixed with the software and the other mixed live with CDJ’s and Pioneers new mixer and FX as well as his trusty sampler. “It’s all about utilising new technology,” says James. Is it any wonder that one of James’ favourite films of all time is Blade Runner?
Firing on fourteen cylinders, his robo-centric new 2 CD mix opens with an actor talking about parallel dimensions - “that;s Nick Boulton, the voice of the old Coca Cola ads, who came in and put his best seventies sci-fi voice!” says James. “I goofed around with that and all of the sudden the mix had an intro. “Like my last CD, I wanted to represent what I can do in a club. And this is my best CD so far for that. It’s hard to put on a CD at home that stands up to a night in a club, but when people put on the CD, they’ll still know it’s me (I hope)! All the tracks are records I’ve road-tested in the last few months. It’s not about new music, its about gems you discover in the back of the record shop. It’s a lot more musical, I think than The Alive CD which was my most technical phase ever.” And what’s his favourite moment on the mix? “The Aphex Twin track! I’m a house DJ who secretly inside wants to play Warp Records and Kriece’s tech-house mix of ‘Windowlicker’ was a great way to do that.”
Voted into DJ Mag's Top 20 DJ poll for two years running, James promises that this will be his last commercial mix CD for a while – so enjoy it while you can. “I’m not going to saturate myself,” he says. With a world tour that promises to take up James’ entire summer and beyond, its quite likely that young James will be on tour until the year is out. “I guess I’m stll a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t stopped since I started. You don’t take a break from something like this. It’s a passion, a love you cannot give up. Ever.