WHP FEATURE 005
I went to Circo Loco on Monday. I was meant to stay in London, I got into London at about 6pm and decided very last minute that I was gonna get on a plane to Ibiza. I lost my voice just shouting…”
"I’m not gonna lie, croaks Jasper James ”I literally just woke up.” We’re on the phone to James in the middle of the day, and it turns out that to a DJ who’s getting rapidly hitting the big time, working out what hour it is – or perhaps even what country he’s in - is becoming a bit of a blur. “I’ve just been in Ibiza so I’m losing my voice.. I went to Circo Loco on Monday. I was meant to stay in London, I got into London at about 6pm and decided very last minute that I was gonna get on a plane to Ibiza. I lost my voice just shouting…”
“This life is just crazy. It’s just trains, planes and automobiles. And nightclubs.
This is where life is for James right now. Having cut his teeth in Glasgow’s Sub Club, following in the footsteps of his dad, long term Sub Club resident Harri, he’s now found himself forging his own identity, ticking off a list of achievements with apparent ease; Essential Mix, done. 12” release on Optimo Trax, done. DJ sets around Europe, done- he’s taken his mix of techno, disco, house, and soul everywhere from Ibiza’s DC-10 to the floors of Amsterdam. This has all come in tandem with James scoring that rarest of things; a Saturday night weekly residency in London. With every week bookended by 6 hours straight behind the decks at Brixton club Phonox, his life has become completely immersed in music; playing it, digging for it, or listening to his mates play it in other clubs. For some it’d seem a punishing schedule. For James it’s a dream come true – and he knows it.
“This life is just crazy. It’s just trains, planes and automobiles. And nightclubs. You just have to get used to it. If you start complaining or you can’t handle the lifestyle of travelling and getting around in nightclubs on no sleep then it’s not the right life for you. Don’t get me wrong, it gets tedious for absolutely everyone, and there’ll be a wee voice in the back of your head at times saying what the fuck am I doing here? But you just have to remember that you’re the luckiest person in the world doing a job you absolutely love, so there’s no room to complain.”
‘look sorry – there’s been a couple shagging just where the speakers were, they’ve tripped the wires and the fuse had gone…’ The high end in the club had gone and everyone had kept on dancing as thought nothing had happened
As he warms up – and his voice gets back to speed – James proves to be a good natured conversationalist, an amiability that probably helps him get on in life as much as his skill on the decks. Where many DJs could sink into monosyllabic muttering after a weekend spent on the lash in Ibiza, he’s quickly enthusing about the tunes he loves and the nights he’s playing at– and he’s got plenty of anecdotes to spill about life on tour…
“I was playing in Dublin last Saturday gone, and all of a sudden the high end in the club completely cut out. Everyone’s still dancing, so I hadn’t really noticed, cos I’d had my booth monitor on quite loud. I turned it down a little to see if the club still sounded OK, and there was just no top end – I was like, what the fuck is going on? So I went over to the promoter, and the sound engineer came up and said, ‘look sorry – there’s been a couple shagging just where the speakers were, they’ve tripped the wires and the fuse had gone…’ The high end in the club had gone and everyone had kept on dancing as thought nothing had happened, just dancing to the sound of sub. I didn’t see the couple, but I think would have shook their hand, even if they fucked up my gig..”
so I got back to the DJ booth, sick all over me and absolutely stinking, and the promoters like, ‘wooooahh what happened to you?’ I just took my t shirt off and DJ’d taps arf…”
Warming to his theme, he then remembers a truly distressing story – it turns out that a DJ life isn’t all glamour by a long stretch.
“Another story, I was playing in Belfast, and I’d seen a few casualties walking around the venue. So anyway, I went to have a piss and I was caught in a bit of a traffic jam on the steps to the toilet. I’m standing there, and I hear someone coughing behind me. I turn round, and just as I turn round this guy is sick alllllll over me. He just misses my face, but it goes all down me. I was covered in puke. I didn’t know what the fuck to do. And this was just before I was about to play, so I got back to the DJ booth, sick all over me and absolutely stinking, and the promoters like, ‘wooooahh what happened to you?’ I just took my t shirt off and DJ’d taps arf…”
He’s laughing at the memory, “I thought, at least I’ll have a story to tell the press,” but to focus exclusively on all these nightclub tragi-comedies would be to downplay something crucial – James is a very, very good DJ. When he reflects on the task of keeping a dancefloor rocking for 6 hours every Saturday at Phonox, week in, week out, for the last year, the work and passion he puts into his craft is immediately apparent.
“I was pretty nervous going into Phonox – I’d maybe played 6 hours in my bedroom before, but I’d never done that long in a club before. Coming up to it I was thinking, I don’t know if I’m up for this challenge, and I spoke to loads of folk about it; my dad, Jackmaster, and they were like, ‘it’ll be cool you’ll love it’. Once I’d got the first couple of Saturdays under my belt, I’d know if it was for me or if I’d taken on too much. And after the first couple of Saturdays I knew, this is the right job for me. Six hours of DJing means heavy grafting during the week making sure that I’ve got new music and I can keep it fresh, but I absolutely love it – it’s been amazing. It’s very different to Glasgow, but by no means is it a bad crowd – I think the London crowd are pretty fucking good! Everyone’s up for a good time and been pretty open minded, and been very supportive. The thing is, Phonox is such a dark, dark room and it’s very hard to see people’s faces – it’s different to the Sub Club, in that there you can get to see people and maybe start to recognise regulars faces – so I don’t know whether it’s a completely different crowd every week or the same folk, which I guess keeps me on my toes – I’m playing as if it’s the same crowd every week, so I have to keep it fresh.”
“I don’t play anything I’ve ever made. I don’t think I’ve ever played one of my own tracks.
Even if he’s constantly digging for new records, there are certain cuts James returns to again and again, and in them you get a flavour of his sound. He’s as happy to draw on a 90s techno stomper as he is to play 70s disco obscurity or a fresh house white label – but across his selections there’s a deep thread of soul, with bursts of diva vocal and heart-pulling melodies cutting over even his sparsest moments. He talks about French producer Didier Sinclair’s cut Lovely Flight, released back in 2000, a dubbed out tech-house roller sprinkled with euphoric vocal cut ups that draws cries of joy from the dancefloor, or DJ Duke’s D2 D2, a 20 minute re-imagining of Manuel Gottsching’s 1984 proto house classic E2-E4, that locks into a hypnotic, slowly evolving two chord groove. Both tracks combine warmth with energy – and these seem to be the only given in one of James’s mammoth sets, which can travel from dropping classic boom bap hip hop joints (“anything from Skinnyman to The Roots”) to “dark, druggy music”. However, there’s one surprising thing he won’t play.
“I don’t play anything I’ve ever made. I don’t think I’ve ever played one of my own tracks. I’m so sick of them by the time I’ve made them and I’m so sick of them by the time they’ve come out, I get more of a buzz playing someone else’s tunes.”
You have those two buzzes, one of digging for records and playing stuff you think is amazing and the crowd agreeing with you, and then you have the buzz of producing records and being on the dancefloor and seeing people react to what you’ve created which is an equally amazing feeling.”
This doesn’t mean he’s planning on stopping producing any time soon – even if he does find it an uphill struggle.
“I get more pleasure sending out my tracks to people I respect and seeing if they dig it – if they don’t then it’s back to the studio, but when they do dig it, and you hear one of your tunes in a club when you don’t know they’re going to play it, and you see the crowd’s reaction, that’s really a buzz. That’s why I know that I’ll never stop making records. You have those two buzzes, one of digging for records and playing stuff you think is amazing and the crowd agreeing with you, and then you have the buzz of producing records and being on the dancefloor and seeing people react to what you’ve created which is an equally amazing feeling.”
“I’d always say I’m a DJ not a producer. Production is something I’ll always do, but to be honest it can do my head in at the best of times – it was something I got into so I could get onto the platform and be able to DJ. I don’t think I’ll be making an album any time soon, but later on in my career if I get comfortable with my sound and work out what I’m trying to do, then maybe, but for the time being I’m just going to chuck out tracks when I feel like I’ve got something suitable that I’m happy with. As it is, I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline. I’m working on a disco-y tune that’s coming out on one of Seth Troxler’s labels, I think Play It Say It. I’ve also got another track coming out on Edible, that’s more of a dancefloor driven track, it’s been getting played out loads by Jack, Jamie Jones and these kind of folk.”
The obvious next step for someone who loves listening out for new music is to start a label. It turns out that James has plans in this direction, waiting to come to fruition
I don’t have anything set up ready to go yet, but I do have a couple of tracks that I’d like to release. I’m basically trying to build up a real cargo – at the moment I’m only sitting on three or four tracks which isn’t enough, but when I’m on 15 or 20 I’ll be ready. But definitely at one point I want to be releasing other people’s music.”
Until that time comes, James will keep on focusing doing what he loves; flying off to nightclubs, listening to and loving tunes from across decades, and keeping people dancing for hour after hour…