Image“I do use Twitter, yes, and I do it myself because I actually think it’s good fun. I uploaded a picture just an hour ago. It’s good for venting . . . if you get annoyed about anything.”

With James Zabiela’s blog telling tales of being stopped by Russian customs and quoting Roy’s seminal death line from Bladerunner ('The light that burns twice as bright, only burns for half as long (and you have burned so very brightly Roy)', his Tweets might be expected to be similarly exotic though he admits other issues are of greater importance in practice

“I was in Greggs the other day, in Southampton, and I got really annoyed because I wanted to buy some lunch and they didn’t take credit cards. Immediately I went on Twitter to pour out my frustration. Can you believe it, I had to go to the cash machine just to buy some lunch.”

Investigating James’ Twitter posts more, it emerges his anger was about failing to buy a ‘cheese and bean slice’ from the high street bakery store, though travelling and staying up late (to play X box) appear equally pressing concerns.

‘Would Mr James Zab-ee-ella please make your way to gate A18 where your flight is scheduled to depart. This is the final call,” he says in one post, while in another he’s on the road.

“I'm currently travelling in the boot of someone’s car for my gig in Zurich,” he writes, “This beats business class anyday.”
Chatting to Skrufff’s Benedetta Ferraro today though, he’s keen to talk about music specifically about his new compilation for Renaissance’s Masters’ collection, his first in two years.

“I know some DJs put out compilations every single year but I think if you do that, you run the risk of people getting bored of you and I certainly don’t want that. Also, if you save good tracks for a couple of years, you’ll end up with a stronger compilation,” he suggests.

Skrufff (Benedetta Ferraro): Have you experienced much pressure from your management or record label to be more ‘active’ on the release front?

James Zabiela: “Well yes, there’s also that. Especially management companies want you to say yes to every single remix or compilation… and sometimes you have to say no.”

Skrufff: The press release says the CD includes your ‘field recordings’, including spoken word of your thoughts between gigs: how hard is it avoid living in a 5 star bubble?

James Zabiela: “It can be weird, but the time that you spend on your own can also be sobering. You just need good friends ultimately. I still have my good friends from school back home, whom I see whenever I’m back in Southampton, I’ve never moved to London. Sometimes I take some of them with me to gigs overseas, just to have a little holiday. Southampton is not an exciting place, but when I go back it’s home, and I love it for that.”

Skrufff: What do you consider the key role of a DJ is about? How much, if at all, do you consider DJing as being more than just entertainment?

James Zabiela: “Yes, it’s entertainment, but it can also be educational. For me, the excitement of playing something I love and that people might have never heard is very appealing.”

Skrufff: How about boredom; how do you avoid falling into routines: particularly with your sets?

James Zabiela: “When you’re on tour, especially in the States, ‘cause it’s such a massive country, you might end up playing five nights in a row, and you don’t have much time to listen to tracks in the day, because you might be travelling long distances so it’s important to change your sets or you might get really bored. I always have gadgets and stuff to edit live or switch things around. Even though I might be playing the same tracks, I try to change them in these ways, mainly not to get bored myself, because if it’s boring me it will definitely show. As entertainers, even comedians I’m sure have to find different ways of telling the same jokes every night.”

“It only feels like I’m doing a job, if I have a bad gig or if I’ve messed up something, or when I’m travelling. The actual part of what is considered a job, which is DJing, it’s almost silly to call it a job. It’s so much fun, it’s the best thing in the world.”

Skrufff: Have you have many moments when things have gone wrong: or any crises of confidence?

James Zabiela: “Everyone has, but I suppose I’m my own worst critic. If anything goes wrong, if I mess up something, it sticks in my head for ages and I’m hungry until my next gig to put things right, I look for redemption. I beat myself up over the silliest things.”

Skrufff:  You’re turning 30 soon though are much younger than virtually all your peers in the DJ top 100: do you notice any age related differences between you and them?

James Zabiela: “I wouldn’t say so, not too many anyway, because I obviously grew up wanting to be them. I’ve been influenced by not just one, but many of my favourite DJs. I guess when you’re starting out, you’re a mixture of your favourite DJs all rolled into one. You do that until you find your own style and then go into your own direction.”

Skrufff: Do you ever get problems from local resident DJs feeling envious and trying to trip you up (eg by messing with equipment? Or playing your tracks right before you started?)

James Zabiela: “Yes, it has happened but it was almost an innocent act rather than a real sabotage. They think I might love them to play my record before I go up. I think it’s meant as a compliment. Other than that I’ve never really experienced proper nastiness.”

Skrufff: Technology’s making DJing easier and easier with more and more skilled DJs emerging all the time: how much is superior technical ability still key: for you personally? For other DJs generally?

James Zabiela: “For me personally, I still love to beat-match even though I have Ableton and Tracker in the booth, I still love the traditional way of DJing; I think it’s the fun part of it. It’s also part of the performance act, if you just stand there and all you do is push a button it just looks like you’re not putting any work into it. There are DJs who synch all their stuff and don’t beat-mach, and there are others who layer their tracks together and create new versions. Sometimes I like to mash up tracks and re-work them live, that’s why I have all this equipment in the booth. I grew up beat matching and that excited me more than the actual music. I was fifteen years old and listening to Nirvana at the time and I got into it just because I was listening to my friend scratching. That was before I even listened to any house records. I remember I wanted to have decks so that I could have a go at that.”

Skrufff: You’re signed with mega talent company William Morris Agency: how important is marketing these days?

James Zabiela: “Of course they want you to do things all the time, but like I was saying before when we were talking about the compilations, it’s better to do interviews only when you have things to say or stuff to promote. This Renaissance compilation has given me a good opportunity to talk to the press, but if I have nothing important going on I don’t want to be in the magazines for its own sake. If you overload the media, then when you do have something worth reading about, people will flick over. It’s important to remember that less is sometimes more. I look at people like Sasha or (Radiohead singer) Thom Yorke for inspiration on how to handle the media. At the William Morris Agency they’re actually OK, but if it was for my management company I’d have to do interviews all the time.”

Interview by Benedetta Ferraro (

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JAMES ZABIELA will be DJing at Volar on May 27 2009.


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