James Zabiela Q&A

by Jeff Wilser
07.14.2005

James Z.JPG
Think of James Zabiela as the "George Lucas of DJs." Except without the wooden dialogue, sappy romance, and Jar Jar Binks. In the world of cinema, Lucas is ushering in a new digital era, using new technology to open infinite cinematic possibilities.

Zabiela is doing the same with DJing. Only 24 years old, he's at the forefront of a technological revolution. But there's one key difference: Zabiela's new material doesn't suck. Rather than getting tripped up in the whiz-bang tools, Zabiela has the artistry to match the technology, as he proves on his sophomore album, "Utilities," the follow-up to his critical darling "ALiVE."

"Utilities" comes on two discs. On the first, "Computed," Zabiela uses Ableton technology to program entirely on a computer. With the second, "Recorded," he reverts back to his more familiar blend of CDJs and samplers.

It might sound like a gimmick. But through it all, Zabiela never loses sight of his funky blend of tech, funk, and even some traces of wacky sci-fi. In between his frantic worldwide tour promoting "Utilities," he took a few minutes to chat with Clubplanet.

So you've become the technology pioneer. Do you ever see yourself going back to vinyl exclusively?

[Laughs.] No. No way. Sometimes I like to muck around with it, but not really.

Is there any danger of getting so wrapped up in the technology, so bent on innovation, that you lose sight of the music?

I don't know if I really think about that. I just play around and see what happens. Try and balance the old school and new school. [Laughs.] I try and keep a healthy balance--a little of everything.

So why use all the new technology?

Since "ALiVE" there's been a huge leap in computer software. I felt it was really important I made of use of all these technologies available.

Can you talk about the 2-disc split?

It's allowed me to lay down what is essentially a musical debate. For the first time on one album, by comparing both discs, people can draw their own conclusions as to what system they prefer.

You just finished a release party at Cielo. What are some of your favorite venues to perform in?

I like Circus in L.A. That was my favorite for awhile. But now it's Avalon. And yeah, Cielo in New York...it's unbelievable. Such a small room, but the sound is fantastic. I actually went there last night just to go there, just because I like the place so much.

How much work do you do beforehand, to prepare tracks and what-not?

You can't decide really until you're there. It depends on the venue, and how busy it is, how crowded it is, what other DJs were on, what time of the night it is.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

I've been influenced by loads of different people. Everyone from the Depeche Mode to the Foo Fighters--a real mixture of all sorts of things. I think it's important to look outside your comfort zone.

I'm sure you'll be working with more and more big-name artists in the near future. Who are some people you want to work with?

I don't know. I have this sort of fear that if I work with people that I really respect and admire, I won't be able to perform with them. If I was asked to perform with Depeche Mode--arrhhghghh!!!!!!--I wouldn't know what to do! I'm not someone who works well with other people.


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