There is no such thing in the minimal world as an overnight success and Michael James can attest to this fact. Having put in the hours in the studio until he had his own sound down and pat he is in the process of unleashing a torrent of high-quality minimal house on dancefloors around the world. In advance of his debut mix for Trommel we sat down with the man himself to find out his story…
Going back to the beginning, how formative were those early years at Zoo Project?
The Zoo Project started as a small party with a team that was kind of like a family. It was really just a party for themselves and their friends but it just took off, I don’t think the guys who started it had any idea it would get so big so quickly. I was one of the first residents there and we had people like Evan Baggs, Ryan Elliot, Dana Ruh, Margaret Dygas all playing regularly there. It was a great opportunity to cut my teeth alongside some incredible artists and get a feel for playing peak time to thousands of people or warm up sets for some of the biggest names in the business. I had to play in lots of different situations and I think it’s important for any deejay to be able to adapt to what’s going on around them, I learnt a lot of important lessons from deejaying at The Zoo Project
Would you say this is your “big moment” or do you feel it is yet to happen?
Haha, I’m not so sure about that, lots of reviews and publicity of my releases have been calling me “the man of the moment” or “the man on fire” for the last couple of years, surely, I can’t be that forever! I’ve been around for quite a while now, but this is a long process and longevity is very important to me. I’ve started to up my output with releases over the last couple of years but I think with each release an artist grows and evolves, for me this is still just the beginning. I’ve got plans to work with more labels, get involved in more projects, and I’m intending to start my own imprint in the near future.
How did you approach your time in the studio that has lead you to this point?
In my eyes, the music that really inspires me is complex, intricate and has a lot of attention to detail. I released some music about 10 years ago, it was well received but I wanted to make something more timeless, and something that I could be proud of. I decided to stop releasing music and really focus on creating my own sound so I spent years working alone in the studio on tracks that never saw the light of day until I thought I was ready. I never really liked the idea of sending music to labels, but I felt like I had reached a level of production that I was happy with, so instead, I uploaded some clips to my Soundcloud page and from doing that a lot of labels approached me asking to sign the tracks. One of the labels that approached me was Constant Sound, I knew Burnski quite well, he’s a great producer and seemed genuinely excited to release my music, so I jumped at the chance to get involved. My first release for Constant Black was “010101” and just after he’d signed it Burnski asked if I had any more tracks for the label, I sent him about 100 finished tracks that no one had ever heard, he lost his mind!
You have released music on some great labels since your initial signing to Burnski’s Constant Black imprint, which do you feel has been your biggest achievement and why?
Releasing my album last year on Constant Black was a great feeling, especially when I took my first trip to Sunwaves and saw the support it was getting from some of my favourite artists. What makes it more special to me is that most of the tracks on there were tracks I was making 4-5 years ago, to see the support it got really made it clear that the hard work had been worth it.
Releasing on iO Mulen’s Mulen Records last year was great too because the guy is an absolute machine and everybody supports his music, so knowing that he believed in my music was really inspiring.
All your releases have sold out and hit top spots in many charts, do you still get the same buzz now that you did when it happened for the first time?
Haha, yeah, it’s kinda crazy. I’m really humbled by the support that I receive, it still blows my mind that people send me messages from all over the world telling me that they love the records. It’s a great feeling to know that the time and effort I put into each release is appreciated. It usually takes me a couple of days to finish a track, sometimes almost a week, and I think for everyone producing music the experience is a real rollercoaster, sometimes I’ll go to bed thinking that nothing is working out, and then the next day I’ll make a small change to the track and I’ll feel great about it. Every now and then I think it’s good to remind myself of how well the music is received and that can really help me from pulling my hair out when things don’t seem to be fitting exactly right. Seeing a release at the top spot, or hearing it being supported by a favourite artist on a video or in a podcast is a real inspiration to me and it definitely makes me work harder.
In the studio do you have a specific piece of kit or VST that typifies your sound? What can’t you live without in the studio?
My Virus synthesizer, I don’t know what made me buy it in the first place, I think I must have had it for 7-8 years now, but I’ve bought and sold lots of hardware since I got it and I can’t ever see myself letting it go. It’s super versatile, it has a VST which runs simultaneously in your DAW so you can automate it from the computer and save presets there, also you can send audio to and from it via the USB, it’s pretty complex when you get in to it, and it’s taken me a long time to get the sounds out of it that I do but I really love it.
What is your take on hardware being necessary in order to make a good minimal track?
I don’t think that’s true at all, I know lots of great producers who make their tracks only using computers. I personally much prefer to be more hands-on, I find that having the hardware in front of me encourages me to be a bit more experimental as you physically have the knobs, buttons, and faders in front of you, rather than scrolling through pages and using your mouse or trackpad. I think that a lot of VSTs are really powerful but I find the physical hardware a bit more inspiring.
Last year saw you playing on a massive line up at DC10 for your new residency Game Over, what do you have coming up that you are most excited about?
Yeah that was certainly a highlight last year having spent so many nights there as a spectator, when I first started going to Ibiza it was always a dream to play there, and hopefully, I’ll be there again this summer. Other than that, there are a lot of very exciting things in the pipeline. I’m on a great agency, alongside some really talented artists, I’m working with some great promoters and I’m regularly in contact with a lot of amazing labels planning the next moves. To pinpoint something specific would be impossible, I’m extremely excited and humbled to be touring a lot at the moment. I’m very lucky to be able to focus on something that I’m passionate about and I’m really enjoying getting to travel the world and meet lots of amazing people.
Where can we see you playing in the coming weeks?
I’ll be playing a few dates in Europe in the next weeks, Macedonia, Budapest, Madrid, Essen, London & Ibiza. Also, I’ve got my debut tour in Australia coming up with some gigs in Sydney and Melbourne which I’m excited about. There are also a few things that I’m really looking forward to that haven’t been announced yet so I can’t tell you about those, unfortunately!
You’ve just put together a Trommel podcast for us, can you give us any information on any of the tracks you’ve included?
There’s a few forthcoming tracks from myself, some from my next EP on Constant Black, and something new that I’ve done together with Nolga, the guy that I had a release with on Hoarder earlier in the year. There are lots of tracks from my friends such as Rowlanz and Swoy, and one of my favourite tracks on the mix is actually produced by my younger brother Zweizig who just released his first EP on Brawther’s label Negentropy. He’s an amazing talent, you’ll definitely be hearing a lot from him!
Thanks a lot for inviting me to do this interview with you guys, I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy the podcast 🙂
Lead email by Gemma Parker