Fortunate Son: Jasper James interview
Glasgow DJ royalty Jasper James talks touring and accolades ahead of his SWG3 appearance this month
Jasper James' musical heritage is no big secret, at least around these parts. The son of long-running Sub Club resident Harri – one half of Harri & Domenic – it's fair to say that DJing runs in his blood. Yet pedigree aside, James has proved himself as more than a rising talent, with the accolades to match. Last year he placed at number 81 in Resident Advisor's annual Top 100 DJs poll, ahead of contemporaries such as George FitzGerald, Steve Lawler and Richy Ahmed. He also scored DJ Mag's ‘Breakthrough DJ Of The Year’ mantle at their annual Best Of British awards. With an ongoing residency at new London hotspot Phonox, it seems that now is James' time to shine – with no nepotism needed.
Chatting to The Skinny from his girlfriend’s place in East London, the young DJ and producer (his debut EP Sneaky was released via Optimo’s Optimo Trax label in 2014, with follow-up ZTRK1 released on Leftroom in 2015) is clearly feeling at home with his latest venture, based in Phonox in London's Brixton. “It’s going really well, it’s been close to a year that I’ve been doing that,” he explains. “I play for six hours every Saturday. It’s been open for a year. Before it opened it used to be Plan B… I never got the chance to go when it was called Plan B, but apparently it’s quite different now!
“Brixton’s amazing, I love it there. It’s just a great part of London, full of energy and all the people are really friendly. It’s kind of got that slightly rough feel, which I like.” Much like Glasgow? “Haha, yeah I suppose so,” he laughs.
At the time of this interview taking place, the fate of iconic London nightclub Fabric hung in the balance. Ahead of the now widely mourned closure of the club, James reflected on the state of clubbing in London and the UK more generally: “It’s a scary time isn’t it, when an institution as big as Fabric can have its doors shut. It’s a real wake-up call I suppose, that no club is safe.
“It came as a real shock to me; I absolutely love Fabric. Fabric is one of the first clubs I ever went to, and I’m really good friends with all of the people who run Fabric. I just hope they can get their licence back and get their doors open soon. I’m absolutely gutted for them.”
Through the Phonox residency James has built a reputation with his fierce, genre-spanning sets – encompassing racing techno, dance ready house, disco, funk and soul – and with two EPs in the bag, no doubt there are a large number of supporters eagerly awaiting the drop of his first LP?
“I literally just got asked that question,” he laughs, referring to a back-to-back stint of PR that morning. “For the time being, I don’t have any plans to make an album, but it’s definitely on a Post-It note somewhere, on my to-do list… at some point if I feel comfortable enough with my sound. For the time being, I’m just concentrating on touring and DJing and releasing EPs here and there.”
With regards to his two previous production efforts, James reveals that the inspiration was drawn from slightly uninspiring circumstances. “When I did the first EP, I was studying sound production in Dundee, which I hated. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be – about making music and improving my productions – it was actually the polar opposite. It just wasn’t for me. And so I used to come back from uni everyday and I’d just lock myself in my room and just work really hard at trying to produce records that other people liked, so that I could possibly, maybe, get some DJ gigs, so that I didn’t have to get a real job,” he laughs.
“I knew that DJing was always what I wanted to do, it was always what I wanted to be. It’s always been my passion, it’s always been the only thing I can see myself doing.”
If it was a calling that, given his bloodline, he was destined to pursue, then it's a profession on which James has already made his mark. When asked how he feels about the various aforementioned accolades, he remains humble. “They definitely matter to me, and I’m very grateful. I never really think about it too much. I know a lot of people have their opinions about these kind of things, but if you’re presented with these kind of things… amazing!”
And what about the countless interviews, media articles, online discussions – does he read his own reviews? “People always tell me not to… it’s very hard not to! I always find myself reading them and getting upset,” he exclaims. “For the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky. You can’t please everybody, in this line of work. There’s always going to be haters.”
Yet when it comes to career achievements, it's not the awards and citations that mean the most to him. When asked about his proudest career achievement to date, James responds with little hesitation. “I guess being able to hold my own and play for six hours every Saturday. It’s been a dream come true.”
James boasts a CV that would make even the most seasoned DJ envious. Having clocked up gigs with Manchester's Warehouse Project, Glastonbury, Chicago’s Smartbar, Berlin’s Watergate, Sub Club, Circoloco at DC10 and El Row (in London, Bristol and Ibiza), it's hard to imagine the young DJ being affected by pre-show anxiety. His secret to quelling the nerves?
“When I started out, I always used to have a pint or two. A few beers is nice, it makes you feel a bit more at one with the crowd.
“I like the variation, it’s great to arrive at a festival, that’s fucking amazing, but at the same time, it’s crazy. Whereas in a small venue, with 250 people right in front of where you’re standing… I love having that variety, being lucky enough to get to play to both. I couldn’t pick which I prefer, if I’m being honest – I’ve had a real buzz out of both.”
Alongside his mammoth six-hour Phonox stints every Saturday, James is in the midst of a relentless touring schedule, which in this year alone has seen him play countless gigs across the UK, as well as shows in France, Spain, Croatia, Tunisia and beyond. Luckily, it seems that he has inherited the work ethic and stamina of his famous father.
“Aye... I guess I’ve still got the energy for it. Sometimes (after a gig) all you want to do is get to a bed and lie down and sleep for a few hours. I just remind myself that I am so lucky and doing a job that I love. The travelling can get a bit… it can take a toll on your health. The late nights and lack of sleep... but it comes with the job, it comes with this line of work.”
With so many career highlights already in the bag, one could wonder what else the talented Scot hopes to achieve. Yet when asked about the one elusive goal he'd like to accomplish, the answer comes decisively.
“Panorama Bar,” he states, speaking of the hallowed upstairs space at Berlin's revered Berghain. Judging from the ever increasing pace at which his star is ascending, we wager it won't be too long before Jasper James gets his wish.