British DJ James Zabiela is a bit more hands-on than most. He spices up his tech-house and breakbeat-heavy sets with a healthy amount of turntable skills, mixing brooding melodies with deep rhythmic bass and jolting technological effects. For a good taste of his dark sound, check out his CD mix series on the illustrious Renaissance label, plus his excellent 2003 mix, “Sound in Motion.” Catch Zabiela at several gigs this week: Wednesday at the DJ Mag show at the Shelborne, Friday at Pete Tong’s party at the Surfcomber, his Positronic boat party Saturday afternoon, and then headlining Mokai Saturday night.
What can we expect from your sets?
I’m playing a variety of different venues, from pool parties to a boat party and alongside a mixture of different DJs, so I think each set will differ depending on all those factors. For example, I’m on after A-Track at the DJ Mag gig, so I need to be able to follow that, and alternately I’m playing alongside Magda and [Josh] Wink on my boat gig, so it calls for something different from me to work.
Do you plan your sets differently depending on whether you’re performing in a big club at night as opposed to a pool party during the day?
Absolutely. Sometimes, especially during WMC, there’s not much time between gigs to prepare, but I am going to be more organized this year. The thing about those pool parties is your set is rarely longer than an hour, so it’s more of a snapshot than a proper DJ set where you can take people on a musical journey (I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true).
How would you describe your sound?
I like all sorts. I guess I play all things “tech,” stuff with melody, gnarly stuff. I particularly like broken-beat influenced music. I’m not a fan of monotony, and I realize that we’re talking about electronic loop-based music here, but unless a track has a killer groove I stay away from the more hypnotic stuff.
You’re known for being really involved in DJ technology and equipment. Why did you skip all the panels and demonstrations during WMC “proper” in early March?
Honestly, I don’t really like doing those things. And besides, I had planned my early March gigs before they (whoever that is) decided to mess it up for everyone.
Did Ultra ask you to perform?
Yes, I believe so – my agent will have to clarify.
What made you decline?
I think they wanted some exclusivity, but I was already committed to the other gigs. Of course, it would’ve been nice to do Ultra as well, but I have enough going on throughout that week as it is. Incidentally, my last appearance there was pretty stressful, playing off only one working CDJ and no monitors (they fell to the floor and broke right as I was going on). I’d never play there again without a tour manager, and I don’t believe DJs should need tour managers, really.
How many WMCs have you attended?
In effect, because of the UMF and WMC thing, this will be the first one I’ll have missed since 2003.
Do you enjoy the party scene, or is it strictly business?
I’m a bit rubbish at both, but working on it. This year I intend to have fun and get up to lots of mischief. Mwahahaha!
What do you think of Miami?
As a place? Well for me, being from Southampton, I think it’s pretty weird. Ha!