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James Zabiela Interview

James Zabiela Interview

Wonderkid James Zabiela chatted to DJmag.com about his love for Ibiza, his first visit to the infamous DC10, and being Sasha's mate.

Remember your first trip to Ibiza?

Of course you can. You'd heard a lot about the island, everyone said you had to go and then you received an invite.

You collected your free plane tickets, and before long you were picked up at Eivissa airport and driven to Club Tropicana itself, Pikes Hotel.

While you were checking in Peter Stringfellow was loitering about with a girl who looked like his daughter and after a bit of recuperation you were off to a club.

As you stepped behind the decks at the legendary Space, for We Love Sundays, the crowd went mental.

You brought them to fever pitch with your mastery of the then misunderstood Pioneer CDJs, only to let Sasha take over for an incredible set.

The rest of the weekend, to be honest, is a bit of a libertine blur.

No? That doesn't ring a bell? Then you're not James Zabiela.

James Zabiela
"Yeah, my first ever trip to Ibiza was playing at Space, which is pretty amazing for a debut visit," recalls Zabiela.

"To this day it's one of my fondest memories. It's definitely one of the best gigs I've ever had and was a real changing point for my career."

It set a pattern for James's future trips - fly in, play tunes, party, fly home - and it took a while for the young DJ to see the island as the spiritual, historic island that it is.

"It's really backwards and forwards for me," the curly-haired Pioneer poster boy laments.

"Nic Fanciulli is staying out here this year so I might be crashing on his floor with the hope that I'll get to explore Ibiza a bit more and spend some time relaxing."


His normal home while on Ibiza is the Ocean Drive hotel, and not just because of the view overlooking the harbour.

He also loves the three-mile walk to Ibiza
Town, where he likes to grab some food,
kick back and watch the madness for
hours on end.

Lee Burridge

My first ever trip to Ibiza was playing at Space. It's definitely one of the best gigs I've ever had and was a real changing point for my career.

james zabiela
James Zabiela
james zabiela
"It's a cool place to just sit and watch all the loonies wander past, the parades and stuff," he says.

"I brought a few friends last year and they thought they were at the circus, and that vibe is really endearing."

More hi-octane fun came from the discovery of a go-kart track that could have ended in the dance music equivalent of the Munich air disaster.

Along with a huge crowd from We Love, Zabiela climbed into the cart and was thrown around the track for several laps.

It was only when he was surveying his bruises that he spotted the next racers were kitted out like Michelin men.

Not knowing the Spanish for, "You really ought to put a crash helmet on, sir!" might not have helped in dealing with the anxious owner who was urgently talking to him before he hit the track.

"Afterwards it looked like we'd been in a brawl," he recalls with mixed emotions.

However frightening the thought of losing a limb in a motor sport accident was, it was nothing next to his visit to DC10 ("definitely a scary place," he laughs).

Still, he had a good time hanging with his DJ peers, and enjoyed seeing Miss Kittin and an excellent live PA from electro god Anthony Rother.

James Zabiela

Home from Home

But it's Space that is like a home from home - thanks to that stunning debut Ibiza set turning into a residency, an amazing feat for someone who had only come to the public's attention two years earlier.

A year later Sasha came calling, taking James under his wing and dragging him around Eastern Europe, Australia, South America and the US.

Taking James to Space was just a part of Sasha's Godfather-like role.

"Space has been long established as the premier night on the island so you just get the right crowd in there," reckons James.

"And they've got great soundsystems, with the massive, massive line-ups that range from great local DJs to - at the other end of the spectrum - people like Grandmaster Flash. Having a residency there is awesome."

When he's on the White Island, James says his sets take on a more summery vibe, especially if he's on the terrace at Space.

However, heading into the connecting main room is a much heavier experience.

"Being inside at Space is more of a journey to the centre of the earth!" he exclaims. It's darker and tougher.

"That's the cool thing about Space, you've got two sides of the coin. I'm lucky enough to be able to stretch both legs."

james zabiela

Being inside at Space is more of a journey to the centre of the earth! It's darker and tougher.

Lee Burridge
James Zabiela
James Zabiela
With his incredible technical skills it seems like James is not only stretching lower limbs, but two or three sets of arms as well.

One of the first to fully exploit the potential of the CD deck, he's now a master at the FX unit too.

Like Erick Morillo, hearing Zabiela play is more like having someone remixing records live.

It means that he's able to keep up with Sasha on those very special occasions that they go back-to-back.

"On Sasha birthday, the year before last, I was fortunate enough to play back-to-back with him," beams James.

"He was on fire. It was a really awesome gig for me, and one of the best sets I've ever seen him play.

"We played for a ridiculous amount of time - four hours on the terrace and then the same again inside.

"It got to the point where I was nearly running out of music."

Along with his Ibiza debut, it was, he reckons, next in line for his best gig ever.

And the pair are doing it again this year, on 3rd September, something Zabiela is already getting excited about.

They say you always remember your first time, but James - thanks to great relationships with Space, Sasha and his Pioneer CDJs - is making new memories every time he steps on the island - for himself and the rest of us mortals.