James Zabiela's playlist
The speakers will have barely cooled before James Zabiela has to fly to his next gig. He’s hopping between Lebanon, the UAE, Hungary and the UK without a day in between. Don’t feel too sorry for him though, the tech house DJ loves it. When he's not mixing he's running his own record label, Born Electric, which he calls a ‘hobby’, proving that even in his down-time, he can’t unplug.
ShortList caught up with him (while he was creating new tacks, of course) to talk about his upcoming gig at Level 41 on May 1, and go through his YouTube favourites.
Have you had a chance to explore Dubai before?
This weekend I don't have time but I’ve done other gigs in Dubai and combined it with a mini-break. I went to the waterpark at Atlantis and spent the day lounging on the inflatables. Once I went on a holiday to Dubai and rode a camel. That was weird. It’s the kind of place where you explore your hotel, get in a cab to another hotel, and explore that. Or an air-conditioned mall.
Will you be playing a different set here to Beirut?
Definitely. I’ll play to the room. The gig in Beirut is in a big event centre so it’ll be a bigger sound – quite different to the small venue I’ll be playing in Dubai. I haven’t been to Level 41 before so I’m kind of making a guess, but I think if you go somewhere with a planned set it can be a huge mistake. You still need to prepare, though – in a weird way the more preparation you do, the more you can improvise.
When did you start experimenting with equipment?
I don’t know really, it just kind of happened. I fight with stuff until it breaks. At the moment I’m obsessed with the volca bass, which is just this tiny thing that you can play around with. It’s just like a toy that you sit with and it’s great fun – it’s not too far away from playing computer games.
Where was your first gig?
At a club in Southampton. I was underage. It was called Old Oriental, which is like a proper student place. I got 20 quid. That included my taxi money there and back. At the time it felt monumental but it really wasn’t.
Can you give us a YouTube clip that sums you up?
My Dad used to buy loads of techno music. Yesterday this sample from my childhood came into my head – Brother from another Planet – Planet Earth. It’s almost something I could play now, not at most gigs, but maybe at a huge rave. It’s sort of the fabric of who I am. I had techno music beaten into me as a child, coming up through the floorboards as I was listening to Nirvana or something.
Does your Dad come to your gigs?
Yes! He came to a gig in Southampton and spent the whole night on the dancefloor in front of the speakers. He hasn’t changed. The next day he said ‘my ears are ringing!’ and I was like ‘Dad you spent five hours in front of a speaker!’
What song changed it all?
A lovely record by Furry Phreaks called Soothe. It’s got a super chilled breakout beat. It’s by a producer called Charles Webster but he did it under a pseudonym. It transcended what I was listening to at the time which was cheesy dance.
What’s your go-to floor filler?
There’s a great track – A Night at Trouw by Makam. It’s this pumping disco techno thing. It’s actually 15 minutes long but I don’t play it for longer than six minutes. It’s been the track of the night for this Australian tour. People can’t get enough of it. I’ll almost definitely play it in Dubai.
What’s your track of the future?
This is tough. Techno is retro, but it also has this futuristic quality. I really like this producer Shed but he does stuff under so many pseudonyms that he’s hard to keep track of. Although it’s techno it doesn’t seem to age. He does this track under the name Head High. It sounds like it could have been made yesterday or it could have been made years ago. I’m a big fan.