LessThan3: Tell us about working with Above & Beyond. What influence have they had on your music and A&R decisions?
Ever since I started working with them it was basically transitioning from a bedroom producer to not only a professional music producer but also someone doing activities such as A&R for a label. I lived with Jono for a while in 2009 and during that time I learned so much about music production and the production process and writing a good record as well—not only from just nerdy production conversations but also from getting to hang out with them in the studio and checking out their projects in depth to see how they put their tracks together. They came from a more traditional background where they were working with hardware and all these old school samplers, so their approach to it is quite different from what I’ve been used to in the past. And also the scale at which they do things is also a lot bigger. Working with them basically taught me to think on a lot bigger scale than I already was, not only with my own productions but with my career in general.
As far as the A&R side of things goes, obviously they are very surgical with their analysis of tracks and between the three of them they’ve all got different approaches to dance music, so it’s taught me to listen out for certain hooks in tracks that we think people are going to like. There’s a certain sound quality that we also have come to expect nowadays. Things need to be not only musically valid but sonically well put together. There’s also a club sensibility that we are looking for. There are a lot of records that may sound good on someone’s radio show or listening on your laptop speakers or home stereo but might not work well in a club.
LessThan3: Does that mean that you produce tracks that are for certain venues or outlets—laptop speakers versus a club?
It depends on the track. If I’m writing a new single for Anjunadeep
then it’s definitely something that I want to be able to play in a club. When I go and play nowadays people want to hear new tracks, so it’s essential that I have something that is going to generate a good crowd response. That does influence the outcome of the tracks, but I think the musicality of dance music is finding that fine line between something being musically pleasing and being able to drive people nuts on the dancefloor.
LessThan3: We’re of the opinion that audio technology inside regular consumer electronics is not at an appropriate level given how much technology has advanced in the past few years. Do you think that Apple, for example, should have better speakers in their laptops to really bring out the work you’ve put into your music?
James: This is true—but you have to take into account the fact that many people out there just don’t care. There are people for whom the quality of their audio or music that they are listening to is not overly important to them. If you’re a music buff then you spend your time researching the equipment to listen to the musicon and trying to track down good tracks, whereas there are also a lot of people out there who aren’t really too fussed by it and are happy to just listen to whatever is in the background. It’s made me realize that despite the fact that the quality of the audio on things like Apple laptop speakers is not very good at all, you should also be tailoring your music to cater to the type of people who are going to be listening to it through those speakers and who aren’t going to necessarily notice the more nitty-gritty side of music production. To that end, you have to be careful when you are mixing a track down or writing a track that you don’t make it so busy and so washed out in the mixdown that it’s not going to come through on a really crappy setup. And that’s something that’s changed in the past decade. The dance music you heard ten years ago was designed purely to be played off vinyl records on big sound systems—that kind of thing. Nowadays people are definitely taking into account the smaller laptop speakers and the fact that the music is going to be played on car radios, despite the fact that it does limit your options a little bit for how you write your music.
In a recent episode of your podcast, Jaytech Music, you spun a track from Japanese progressive artist Shingo Nakamura
. How do you feel about the unique beats coming from Japan?
James: Having only been there a couple times I can still say that the appreciation for progressive house music over there is absolutely huge. The handful of names that are actually producing stuff and coming out onto the progressive scene are all up to date and very educated over there. I actually met Shingo Nakamura in Tokyo—he’s from Sapporo and came to Tokyo just to come and see me play and say hi. I would classify him as another one of those very educated kind of Japanese progressive fans. All of his talent aside, he’s also very up-to-date with the whole scene and is very much inspired by other producers. That definitely comes through in the way that he writes his music. The way that he uses his piano and the way that he lays out his sounds and melodies are definitely very Japanese-influenced to my ears, which is what I like about his music so much.
Tell us some of the aspects you enjoyed most about preparing and recording Anjunadeep:03
. What are your personal favorite tracks from your mix?
My favorite track from the mix is by Soundprank
. He is a very exciting producer to all of us at the Anjuna team and for me that was his most inspiring work to date when he submitted it, though since then he’s come through with some even more amazing stuff which we are also very excited about. For someone who can still be considered a bedroom producer, all of the thinking with his sound and the amount of power and energy that he is able to put into it is very impressive. As far as putting the compilation together, this year it was probably a longer process than Anjunadeep:02
. It took us about three months to put the entire tracklist together and there was a lot of track sifting and discussions and recommendations for improvement, but also cutting tracks to fit everything on. For my mix in particular, it was fifteen tracks in eighty minutes which is really pushing it as far as the limits of a CD goes. So for me, it was splitting tracks into 15-second sections and really just analyzing every track to work out what we needed and what we didn’t.
LessThan3: Reflecting over your career and the growth of progressive beats, what do you feel were some main driving forces behind the success of your sound that continues to lead Anjunadeep?
James: Partly it was my classical upbringing—I played piano for twelve years before I got into the electronic stuff, and I did music at school, music composition, theory, etc. I would say that playing in piano competitions as a kid really helped with the performance side of things. They used to absolutely scare the hell out of me. By comparison, the DJ gigs don’t make me nervous at all, so that was a big help. There was also a boom of progressive music in Canberra around the year 2000 where we had basically every big progressive name under the sun coming through and playing to very appreciative crowds of 200 people in small venues with great sound systems. We were very spoiled. I used to sneak into clubs underage to hear my favorite DJs play and I was there, studiously taking notes the whole time. All these things kind of culminated together. Also I came onto the scene just as everyone was looking toward the Internet to get their music out there other than traditional methods, so I was one of the first generation of people to do that as well.
LessThan3: How has the Internet changed the distribution of music or allowed other artists to become successful in this day and age? How has it changed the dynamics?
James: It’s changed the scope of what a record is and what value it has, that’s for sure. When everything was still in physical format, the whole prospect of writing a track and releasing it was a lot bigger project than it is now. The fact that it’s so much easier now changes the way that people write. But it’s a system that can easily be abused at the moment. When I’m traveling, a lot of people tell me about a label they’ve got and that they’re releasing fice releases a week or so, which usually consist of two tracks each. So you’ll have one group of people putting out ten tracks a week. I feel like now that it’s at that point and everybody is doing that; everybody is rereleasing their own releases on compilations every few months, so it’s sort of making for this current scene. When you go to listen to something nowadays on Beatport, your first inclination is that it’s not going to be any good. You’re sifting through mountains of noise to find what’s good out there.
LessThan3: Given this situation, do you think there needs to be a filter that will bring the quality to noise ratio up?
James: I think I would say certainly—that filter is still going to be defined by the people who are influential in the scene in the first place. Ultimately that is still kind of the purpose of DJs aside from being entertainment. They give people a guiding light toward the direction that they can look in to find this kind of music.
LessThan3: You are called a perfectionist in many of your bios. In this industry is this a positive or negative characteristic and why?
James: As far as the perfectionist thing goes, that’s purely something I’ve set for myself as far as music production. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing it for such a long time, it’s still this ever-evolving learning process. I’m always learning new things and coming across new ways of doing things that make the way I was doing things a month ago look obsolete and out of date. It’s a personal goal for me to attain that perfect sound, because for me that’s a very exciting thing. To have the ability to create that kind of magic and energy with sound is a very special thing to have.
LessThan3: If the world was ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you play?
James: I Know by Hybrid, because as far as I understand the lyrics, they’re about life being a bit of an illusion. That would be a poignant ending note.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
James: Intelligent melodic house.