Space, the final frontier. As the smartest club in Ibiza opens its doors to welcome in their shiny new resident, James Zabiela just smiles and blinks a little. See, the ride here has been kinda fast. And while its been a relatively bump-free trip to acceptance and ubiquity, it’s still blinkin’ quick. Two years ago, James Zabiela popped his Balearic cherry by warming up for Sasha at the place the island calls Inside At Space. Wowing the crowd – and We Love boss Darren Hughes – with two hours of snappy, synth-fixated, breakbeat action – it was a defining moment in his DJ career. Two years later, he’s now the club’s new bi-weekly resident. It’s official. Now “that’s” what I call progression.
Knowing what a great track should sound like – and the place it can be taken by warping and twisting it – is James Zabiela’s forte. Layering different sounds with the aid of two Pioneer CDJ1000s, a Pioneer DJM600 and a pair of trusty Technics 1210s, his hands and ears don’t let up for a second, leaving any punters feet a-moving and mouth a-gap. And his demands for such kit wherever he spins is a reminder that he’s one of the scant few DJs who’s pushing things forward in 03. James’s style is trippy, bleepy and deeply – nay, downright – groovy. Oh, and watch out for a few gnarly basslines along the way. Those nasty, dirty sounds are a part of Jay-Z’s signature sound now. Scratches, loops, fluttering chord changes and are all par for the course in a Zabiela set. No wonder childhood idols Depeche Mode remain his heroes – like fellow tech-house don Mathew Bushwacka!, they all understand that the best electronic music moves both heart and feet. And if the magic’s there, the spirit will fly as well. And boy does this boy soar.
“Entertainment and education are the key,” nods James sagely. “It’s all about finding the balance. People have paid good money to have a party but you still need a balance.” Which is why his FX unit is so crucial to his performance. “Anyone can mix two records to a degree,” he grins, while still admitting to the odd bout of nervousness during radio interviews, if not behind the decks. “But I’m a hundred times more confident than I used to be. DJing has definitely helped my confidence as a person.” Watching him play, its easy to forget that making things look easy takes time to perfect. But then he’s crossed a few bridges – and a few national boundaries – along the way. “I haven’t worked it all out yet,” he adds. “But I do wish I could grow an extra arm sometimes!” (Fact One: talking of three deck wizards, on a recent hometown gig in Southampton, a certain Carl Cox came down to pay some respect, if not the door tab. High praise indeed…)
James’ career so far has been stratospheric to say the least. After winning Muzik Magazine’s Bedroom Bedlam competition with a string of well-placed mix tapes in 2000, he went on to win the award for Best Bedroom Bedlam DJ at The Muzik Awards one year later. Swiftly snapped up by Sasha’s Excession agency a few weeks later, he spent the next year taking on Eastern Europe, Australia, South America and the US of A (“more fanatical than anywhere else in the world”) while still finding time to record well-received CDs for Groovetech, Hooj and unleash a string of fine remixes along the way. Royksopp, Virgin Souls and End Recordings artist Dave Breannan have all been under the Zabiela scalpel – and more are on their way. (Fact Two: Sunday Best boss Rob Da Bank declared Jay-Z’s work on ‘Remind Me’ to be his favourite re-rub of the year… aside from the factor five on Salinas Beach that one time of course.)
Still only 24, still pushing the envelope and still learning to cope with a real-life fanbase and life on the other side of the record counter, its unlikely that James Zabiela will be taking a breather anytime soon. There are further late niteries like Tribal Sessions and The End to entertain and regular slots in Romania and Budapest to attend to. (I get to play whatever I want," he smiles). On a recent trip to Australia he played a five hour set in front of 3,000 screaming punters at The Art House in Sydney. No wonder Sasha refers to James as the guv’nor, This is just the beginning.