Technical wunderkind James Zabiela is the sort of DJ that makes other DJs nervous. He also serves as a reminder that there is more to the art of deejaying than mixing records, but more on that later. His musical foundations are solid -- working from a young age in his father's record shop, he had access to everything and time to mess with the equipment. By the age of 18 he was already the chief buyer in the house department, and had taken to handing out mixes to any names that happened to drop in. Legend has it that his big break came when he handed a mix to Lee Burridge, who then gave it to Sasha, who asked him to join his Excession agency. This however is only part of the story, since the now- defunct Muzik magazine also claimed him as their discovery when he won their "Bedroom Bedlam" amateur mix competition. Either way, his rise up through the ranks was rapid and impressive and he was soon to be seen playing all over the world, writing about his experiences in the "Zabiela we feel ya" Muzik magazine column and being called in for remixing duties for Virgin Souls and RÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¶yksopp, amongst others.
His rapid success was well deserved -- he clearly loves doing this. The ability to strip down tracks to bar-long loops, reverse them, tweak them, pitch bend and create something completely new obviously thrills him and his joy at the endless malleability of this music generates an infectious enthusiasm within his audience. His technical skill is virtually unmatched anywhere else in the DJ world, with one famous global name claiming to "want to throw up" when he first saw Zabiela rip into his set. To this day, the trainspotters will crowd the decks just to see his hands fly around the equipment.
Mixing abilities are only part of the story however, and as any seasoned DJ or clubber knows, it's all about the programming. The relative lack of time spent on the dancing side of the decks showed in Zabiela's early performances, but it wasn't a problem as he was usually opening for Sasha and didn't really need to seriously bang it out. This was a distant memory by 2005, where his breathtaking performance at the BBC Radio1 party during the annual Winter Music Conference showcased his ability to send a dancefloor into a frenzy. The bravura display was also helped by the inclusion of his track "Robophobia" (2005) -- a seductive blend of driving house, complex beats and catchy vocals -- which he placed before the Buick Project remix of an old KLF classic, a masterful piece of mixing and programming that confirmed his status as one of the great all-rounders in the DJ world. Other DJs should remain nervous -- Zabiela is only just getting started.