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A Candid Interview With Electronic Music Star James Zabiela

Beginning a multi-city U.S. tour, VIBE caught up with tech house superstar James Zabiela at his hotel in New York City moments before debuting at the still-fresh and so-new, Marquee NY.

VIBE: DJs are often pigeon holed into certain genres, but how would you describe your sound?
James Zabiela: That’s actually a question I get asked every time I come to America by the custom officers. Probably something between house and techno; I know they’re such a broad terms and it’s an easy answer, but it’s true. I really do go all over the place with my sets, and there’s just no limit at the moment, which is really nice.

Walk us through your approach to playing a live show. What do you do to prepare?
Mentally, I don’t usually have time to think about it because I’m so badly organized. Sometimes, I’m sitting in the taxi still making playlists and adjustments to things. I don’t give myself any time to panic because that is what I probably would do. Actually, the smaller gigs are the scarier ones.

So how do you get over that and connect with the crowd?
It is quite psychological, especially if it’s early in the night. I used to play a lot of warm-up sets where you had to be careful not to make the atmosphere in the room too oppressive.

Now you’re in NY and the crowd here is really intense. Tell us about your tour and where you’re excited to visit.
I’m excited about tonight at Marquee. I went to Tampa, which is the first time I’ve ever been, and that was insane. It seems wrong to say this, but my expectations were not massively high for the gig, but it was brilliant. I’m looking forward to go back to Austin. Those gigs are usually mid-week, and they’re often the best.

Talk to us about “The Healing”. It’s a very soothing and romantic track. What was your muse, for lack of a better word, to produce this track?
I started making that track when I split up with my ex-girlfriend in 2011. I didn’t really work on it that much after the initial start of it, but I kept going back to it and kept adding parts. By the time it was finished a year had past. It was not only an emotional journey, but a physical one as well. I was traveling all over place DJing and I was recording all different sounds of things. It has bits of a storm in Mexico and stuff from South America and Asia. All sounds from places I went to throughout that year and in a nice way it’s a diary in a song.

Have you ever considered collaborating with a hip-hop artist?
It would probably be someone super old school, like Run DMC, because that’s the hip-hop I remember. I used to watch “Yo! MTV Raps with Dr Dre” when I was 14. There were great hip-hop acts I used to love like Jurassic 5 and De La Soul.

You came up in 2000 after winning the Muzik Magazine Bedroom Bedlam Competition, and have been growing and evolving over the past 13 years. What keeps you motivated?
Motivation is always there. DJing is an amazing and fun thing to do, it’s ever present. It feels nice to have a project, and have something to work towards. The label was born out of wanting to sink my teeth into something. I’m learning as I go along; I’m going get there.

If you could give upcoming DJ/Producers who have tasted some success some advice about longevity and staying relevant in this industry what would it be?
It’s an interesting thing to say, you know, when you have that bit of success. I grabbed it and really ran with it. I used it and pushed it in everyone’s face as much as I could. I made demos with the award thing written on the sleeve and sent it to promoters. Anything like that you really have to grab with both hands. A lot of people won that award, but only a handful of people who won it are still DJing, like Yousef. He’s hugely successful because he did exactly that; he grabbed it and ran with it.

What’s your favorite drink?
I disguise vodka with a good drink. I find a drink I like and put a bit of vodka in it.

What’s your favorite cuisine?
Sushi, or Japanese in general. It’s really a treat, and NY is a great place for that, but I’m probably going to grab McDonalds or something.

What is your favorite club, anywhere in the world?
Space in Ibiza. It’s were I learned my craft.

If someone was going to visit South Hampton, where should the go?
There is a club called Junk, probably one of the best clubs in the UK now. It’s now a place where DJs want to go play. I took January off and went raving there every weekend.

What do you have planned in 2013? Any special projects you’re working on?
We have our first Born Electric yacht party scheduled in WMC with Four Tet, Tensnake, Eats Everything and Miguel Campbell, which is a huge lineup - especially for such a small yacht. That evening I’m at Mokai.

I plan to work on some more music, which I’m releasing in the fall, but I’m also doing a remix for a UK drum n bass act called Spectral Souls, and it’s quite cool with Benjamin Damage and Doc Daneeka. I’m a huge fan of them, and the next release will probably be out in April.

One thing about the Big Electric label, we’re not going to release tracks month by month, but only when they’re are ready. It’ll be more organic. When you’re doing a vinyl of everything, you become much more protective over the music. I haven’t told anyone what the next release is, because I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag too early. I’ve been playing one of the new tracks in my sets, and everyone asks me what the track is so that’s a really good sign. The artist is a friend of mine, and pretty unknown at the moment, so it’s nice to help someone out.

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