Its a good job vinyl is his only addiction. Still only 22, James Zabiela was introduced to the world of acid house through his father who worked in a local record shop and would come home laden with armfuls of early house and techno. The year?1992. A time of innovation, invention and an endless stream of Guerilla releases. James was hooked instantly. Like father like son? The phrase could've been coined for Zabiela's career. " I was only 12 years old but I can still hear the thumping through my bedroom floor!" smiles James, who for now has purposefully avoided the lure of London by remaining in Southampton. My Dad would come home with armfuls of acid house tracks at the weekends, he recalls. It wasn't until I was 15 years of age, when I was to work in the same record shop, that tracks such as Joey Beltram's 'Energy Flash' & 'LFO' made sense to me. As soon as they did I was hooked. It wasn't long until he was offered a job at the shop as a vinyl buyer.
An understanding of Renaissance and Northern Exposure would soon follow, as would spinning in local haunts. At the time it was just a fun thing to do, he nods. It still is and that's what's important but I do take what I do seriously as well. As far as being inspired by other artists, Sasha and Digweed were the first to open my eyes to a new sound. Lee Burridge & Craig Richards had a similar impact a couple of years ago. I like to be inspired by hearing new music and DJs.
Of course, it was full-on vinyl addiction from then on in. Through the shop, James was introduced to various promoters and went on to play for local clubs including Menage a Trois and the infamous High Tide boat parties. But James was interested in a more diverse sound than trance with a capital 'T' and found it hard to play his breakbeat-flavoured beats to local crowds, so as 'a way in' decided to enter Muzik Magazines prestigious Bedroom Bedlam competition - and won. Music has always been a passion ever since I can remember. I never decided. When I was in my last year at school I discovered mixing & DJing and it was just a hobbie then but also potentially something that I could apply my passion for music to & have some practical use career wise. I never dreamt it would go this far.
That success was a great boost to his confidence and inspired him into working harder to promote his DJing career. Going out to more & more events, he started handing out those trusty mixtapes he'd done. While at Bedrock in London James met Lee Burridge, a key influence - who took the time to listen to the tape. He too was hooked. "His style is diverse, interesting & he's technically skilled, said Burridge. Blurring the line between house and breakbeat, he encapsulates all the skills that a new DJ should bring to the job." Lee invited James to play at his own Breaks night along with DJ Hyper & Craig Richards at Bar Atlantis. Since then James has played there every month. Word was undoubtedly spreading.
Inevitably James was DJing in London more than ever with gigs at the Laundry and at Muzik parties alongside the likes of Justin Robertson, Hybrid and Danny Tenaglia. Even Diggers took the time to call him up, offering James a slot at Bedrock. And he's been asked back on several occasions since as well as DJing for the Daliparade in Istanbul. Could things really get any better? They could. Just as James' feet were about to float back to earth, the phone call of his career came out of nowhere. Thanks to a gentle prod from Lee Burridge, one of his mix tapes was heard by a certain superstar DJ called Sasha, another of James' musical heroes. Within the month, mid-December in fact, James was offered a place on Sasha's team at Excession, joining a roster that includes Lee himself, Steve Lawler and Sander Kleinenberg. The best Christmas present ever, said James at the time. And Ibiza was just a plane ride away.
On August 12th 2001, James flew out from Heathrow to play the gig of his career thus far - spinning before Sasha at the most important date in the clubs annual history, James joined Lawler and Morillo for a career-defining gig inside at Space. And this was on the clubs twelfth birthday, no less. It's a mad place, and a brilliant place to play mainly because people from all over the world are there on their holidays to party & relax. There's no other crowd like it. It's like the best clubs from all over the world all in one place. Space was the most uplifting experience I've ever had as a DJ. Amazing. He says amazing a lot by the way. But its impossible to underestimate the significance of Ibiza for Zabiela. Riotously energetic, that peak-season gig sealed his fast-ascending reputation for good. Impressed by his fast moves, Steve Lawler came and shook his hand moments after the gig. These things just dont happen every day.
So how come things have moved so damn fast? The answer, of course, lies in the performance. Fusing the latest breakbeat slates into dark swathes of way-deep tech-house, the key to Zabielas sound is a heady mix of bump-laden melodies and subtle, soul-stirring chord changes. Avoiding the relentless assault of the four/four beat he dips into every wayward sound that surrounds it instead. Nathan Coles, Rocket and Terry Lee Brown Junior are just three of his favourite producers this week. Its all about avoiding the perfect beat, ysee. I hate to pigeon-hole myself, he says. I play a mixture of all styles which I believe is a style in itself. I like to go smoothly from one style to another. Why put boundaries on yourself? A typical set varys depending on the slot I'm given but if was to play the whole night I'd go from deep house to techno and breakbeat. It's important to entertain as well as educate.
And the future? Well, I wouldn't like to say, but a record label & more production for me as well as a monthly residency in London. But I'm just really glad to be doing what I'm doing. Last year was easily the best year of my life. DJing all over the world, in the best clubs to the best crowds, giving me the chance push boundaries & experiment as a DJ. I just want to keep on doing that. Romania, Israel and several appearances on Radio One all attest to his skills behind the decks. Mute Records commisioned him to remix Depeche Mode for the masses - a track so good that Sasha made it his essential release when interviewed on Radio One earlier this year, and you can expect to hear Zabielas own Essential Mix across the airwaves in March.
Watching James spin at Heaven for Muziks Christmas party with Bedrock at the tail-end of 2001, its easy to forget that such quick-fire mixing should be coming from someone at the peak of their career. Favouring bluesy tech-house and the sax-laden melodrama of Chocolate City (Deep Dish, natch), James displays a depth and understanding that can only come with experience - and this is only the beginning. The bright lights of America must surely be only around the corner. Two years ago I was working as a graphic designer and DJing part-time locally. It was tough going to work after 3 hours sleep! Hes not forgotten his roots. I remember my first gig at Bedrock: I went straight to work after driving back to Southampton where I still live... I'm sure the boss was suspicious! But compared to two years ago? To say my life has been turned upside down in the best possible way would be an understatement. I guess Im just a complete musical, mixing junkie.
Which is pretty much where we came in. If only everything in life was as simple as this... Read more