Groove is a word that keeps cropping up whenever the name Robert James is mentioned. Handy that when you just so happen to be one of the new breed of DJs and producers to emerge from that bastion of house and techno that is Leeds.
Having learnt his trade and made his name behind the decks not only across the city but also in Ibiza, it was inevitable that he’d eventually turn his hand to production. Signed to Hot Creations, the much-touted label run by Lee Foss and Best of British nominee Jamie Jones, the talented Mr James has hit the ground running. The groove-driven [it’s that G-word again] ‘Sleep Moods’ was as an impressive and promising a debut as any this year, while the follow-up ‘Malibu’ co-produced with Burnski, yet another Best of British nominee, has been one of the most infectious and stylish deep house tracks of 2010.
Robert spoke to us about old-school house, the ‘80s and a rock ‘n’ roll season in Ibiza.
There’s a really strong sense of groove running through your initial releases. So is there a plan as to where you want to go musically?
“At the moment I’m quite enjoying experimenting with all kinds of underground music from house to tech house to disco. So no idea where I’m gonna end up. I definitely will always stick to the groove though.”
You seem to love music from the often-maligned 1980s. You sampled Stereo MCs and Third World on ‘Connected’ and drop the occasional classic in your sets. So what’s the deal?
“Got to love the ‘80s! It was such a good period for music even though I was only five when the ’90s started. But over the years I’ve been into it more and more from ’80s rock, house and a lot of ’80s movie soundtracks. Love a lot of the ’80s house music like the sounds of Chicago. You don’t get music like that anymore.”
And what about old-school house producers?
“I’m really into stuff like Todd Terry, MK, Fingers Inc. and Jamie Principle. Once again, they all had groove, wicked vocals and you can have a dance to it on the dance-floor. It’s not boring!”
But you’re obviously too young [he’s 25 this month] to remember these producers at the time, so what did you grow up listening to?
“When I was younger I was into a lot of different types of music but mainly hip-hop and rap. My dad is a massive music fan so I was brought up with a lot of music in the house. He was into a lot of rock and at one point I did the skateboard and rock thing. I was mainly into hip-hop and rap though from the likes of the Beastie Boys, De Le Soul, Eric B and Rakim, NWA and some new artists from Eminem to Jay Z.”
As a DJ, you really started to make your name in Ibiza as much as Leeds.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Ibiza. I went out in 2007 for my first season with a CD wallet and about 200 quid. It was such a good summer and I ended up staying from May until October. I met a lot of people who have helped me along the way and got to play at Space for Carl Cox’s night in my first season in Ibiza. After that I was hooked.
“Last year was mental though. It was a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll season. Got my first track ‘Connected’ signed to Jamie Jones and Lee Foss’ label Hot Creations, which was amazing, but there were a lot of downsides to the season. Car crashes with broken ribs, got my apartment robbed twice where my laptop, external hard drive and my mate’s CDJ 1000s got pinched. To top the season off, I spent five nights in jail and got another broken rib all for a villa party raid where they [the police] thought we were all drug dealers. Everything happens for a reason though, so none of it has got me down at all. I’ll be back out next year for sure and many years after that.”
It’s a long way from your adopted hometown of Leeds.
“Leeds has a wicked vibe. It’s like Ibiza but cold. There are so many nights, parties and after-parties all the time. You can get carried away sometimes. Mostly every weekend! There are a lot of good DJs and wicked nights, from the legendary Back to Basics to Mono_Cult and newcomers Louche. There’s something for everyone. I love Leeds!”
So what’s on the horizon production-wise?
“The next EP for Hot Creations is collaboration between me, Jamie Jones, Lee Foss and FB Julian from the Kubicle parties, which should be out at the end of December. Also, next year there’s a digital label coming from Hot Creations, where I have a track called ‘Mind-Scaping’, which is a bit more techy. I’ve got a helluva lot of unfinished tracks so I’m just trying to finish them off. But I don’t want to put out too much too soon. I’m still learning and I want to make sure I’m putting out really decent stuff that I’m happy with. Some producers put out track after track after track. Some is good, some just all right. I only really want to put out my best stuff.”
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