Don't let the humble smile or timid eyes fool you: When James Zabiela is on the other side of the record, he unleashes a full assault. It is a common misconception that Zabiela is just another bedroom DJ who got a lucky break in front of the right person, but the story is actually the opposite. Winning Muzik magazine's 2000 Bedroom Bedlam competition, as well as the 2001 Muzik Awards' Best Bedroom Bedlam DJ nod, not only awarded Zabiela instant recognition but also launched his career to unbelievable heights.
“Listen to records and understand how they work inside and out,” Zabiela says, revealing the secret to what gave him the ear and talent to create a sound all his own, a sound that developed in part due to his father's passion for music and the record-store gems he brought home from the Southampton, UK, shop in which he worked. With obvious references to genres that run the musical gamut, Zabiela's style is sick and twisted and spreading like a virus.
Sasha's Excession agency wasn't slow to pick up on this trend, either, signing Zabiela shortly after the Bedroom Bedlam wins and sending the young DJ on a world-wide tour infecting Europe, Australia, South America, the U.S. and other locations. Live scratches, re-edits and ever-changing textures fill each venue with a unique energy that only Zabiela can create with his fusion of decades of influence.
From Depeche Mode to raw, funky house and back around to breaks, this dangerously technical DJ shows a skill and passion for live mixing that is only a twinkle in most DJs eyes. Whether it is a live set or a mix CD, Zabiela flawlessly concocts a recipe for success. Pulsating bass lines splice vaguely familiar sounds of beats past, and masterful scratches sprinkle all-too-familiar lyrics with soft, melodic riffs; beeps; and blips. A personal dash of culture adds just enough atmosphere that Zabiela's music is a different listen every time. To create those expert sets, Zabiela is always armed in the studio and on tour with two Pioneer CDJ-1000s, a Pioneer DJM-600 and a pair of good ol' Technics 1210s.
With an obvious attraction to technology, this 24-year-old is also headed into the production realm. His first mix CD, Sound in Motion (Hooj, 2003), is a two-disc set of retro synths and effects grounded by house rhythms and deep, penetrating bass lines. Zabiela's approach to building dance tracks is a minimalist one. “You can make an entire song out of a drum stick hitting a table if you use enough processors and re-edits,” he says.
But how does Zabiela make it look so easy after only three years in the spotlight? After all, he swears that there is no method, other than an open ear, to his madness. “Entertainment and education are the key,” he says. “It's all about finding a balance.”
Although Zabiela may strike an equilibrium in his DJ career, he certainly doesn't temper his zeal for new vinyl. Upon walking into Denver's Sweat Records, Zabiela's eyes light up with childlike excitement. Walking straight to the bins without asking either of the managers — Mike Chapman and Ty Tekavek — for assistance, Zabiela has about 20 records in his hands within five minutes. During his first round of auditions, Zabiela scans, scratches and dissects each record like a kid with a new chemistry set. Launching into successive listening rounds, Zabiela continues to sift through the crates while Chapman and Tekavek retrieve more records. Three hours later, Zabiela has his finds. “If time would have let me, I could have stayed here all night and listened to every record in here,” he says. Check out what Zabiela has to say about the records that he can't part with.
B.NICE VS. KMFX
“System 2” (After Dark)
This is ace: a fun track with those old-style Reese stabs that no one ever seems to get bored with. A cheeky bass line and filtered-down scratching make this impossible to resist. The other side is also a cheeky-sounding track with “borrowed” samples, I'm guessing, worked into a frenzy. Stonkin.' This could be in The Fast and the Furious soundtrack or something. I like it, although I thought that film sucked.
I've played a few of this dude's tracks before. They're always cool and interesting, and this is no exception. There are some rather odd key changes that somehow work in a discordant way. This is deep, synthy house.
“C Is for Cookie”(Sesame Street Records)
Onetwothreefourfive, sixseveneightnineten, eleven, tweeeeeelve!
I really loved Earth's “Turn the Tables” out now on Hellpass Records, and this is equally as good, although not really my style. The B-side, on the other hand, is really great, a superclassy slice of deep-house heaven. A superb remix by Wyatt Earp & DJ Foxx, this has to be one of their best remixes yet. I bought it for this track alone. This has great, solid production that sounds brilliant on any system. Well done, guys!
“Da Revival” (Hardfloor)
Wow! This is awesome. It reminds me of growing up with my techno-obsessed father. This is bouncing and full of energy, old-school style. Acid is back for good — I guess it never went away. The B-side is also brilliant: “Hubbub Rub” is deeper, groovier acid house. This is the record of the week, for sure.
Qurious Sampler 2 (Mob)
This has rocking breaks with lots of evil bass sound and what sounds like MC war cries. It's a bit of a large monster of a record, maybe too large for me, but I still dig it. The B-side is a vocoded jobbie, more static than the A-side but still good. Mob is a decent label with a top A&R guy, Tayo, so as usual, another quality release.
DIETRICH SCHOENEMANN & CASEY HOGAN
“Stamp Series 6” (Stamp Series)
This is quite dark and progressive-sounding. It's not really me, but there's something quite techno about this track that I like. It's hard to describe, but it just has that edge where you might hear someone like Richie Hawtin play it, as well as someone like John Digweed. Anyway, it's in my bag now.
“No. 2 (Make Ya Move, Groove Edit)” (Distraektions)
I bought this for the little bitty track on the end of the B-side. Forget the main tracks; this overlooked gem combines dub-ragga house vocals with acid-synth progressive and would easily rock a big dark room. Where were you last night when I needed ya?
Monza Sounds Lap One (Madnet)
The A-side has some madwoman talking about the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It's really odd, but I like it. It has a groove and is nice and melodic, too. The B-side is dope; it has a superphat tech-house gem from man of the moment Steve Bug. You gotta love the bass in this track: booming, with squelchy analog noises, acid style, that give it some quirkiness. Love it. It has the same claps that are used by Bobby Peru in his tracks — nothing wrong with that, though. Finally, the third track is a lovely deep-house affair with analog organ riffs.
Sweat Records; 2229 Larimer St., Denver, CO 80205; tel. (303) 29-SWEAT; firstname.lastname@example.org