Former English language and linguistics student James Gray has swapped nine o’clock seminars in favour of touring with the likes of Drake, Chase & Status and Ms. Dynamite. DJAMES, who specialises in R&B, Hip-Hop & UK Garage is currently the 26-year-old resident in Kuda and Revs, and is hurtling towards UK-wide production and music revelation. Scene speaks to the former Derwent student on life: everything from touring with Professor Green, spending the summer in the States and being offered money for his boxers…
How did you get first get into DJing? And where did DJames come from?
I played whilst a student here to help out friends when they ran campus events and got a really good response! So I eventually started my own night back in 2007 which got me recognised around town, and it just snowballed from there. DJames was a name given to me by a friend when I was 18, and I just went with it.
Is there anyone who inspired you early on? Or that you particularly looked up to?
I’ve always looked up to DJ EZ, A-Trak and Jazzy Jeff. But I’d say my biggest influences now are Diplo & Kanye West for the way they push the boundaries of music while remaining commercially relevant.
What does your typical day entail?
So the first thing I do when I wake up is check my e-mails and all social media. I’ll then go through photos and videos from the night before, edit them and share anything that promotes the night, the venue or my work via Facebook & Twitter. I’ll normally have at least one meeting with club managers or promoters and then network with other DJs to see what’s going on in other cities. I’ll trawl through all my record pool subscriptions, and listen to as much new music as possible online; organising anything I like into folders, depending on whether they’re ready to play in the club straight away or whether they can go on a mixtape. I’ll work in my studio for a few hours on re-editing tracks so I can play them exactly the way I want, or remix them to give them a totally different vibe.
Wow, that sounds quite intense! Do you have time to relax and pursue other things?
It is! If I get time to eat, sleep and play my Xbox I’m happy! I also train and play for York Uni Futsal team two to three times a week, so that’s a welcome break.
Does this non-stop lifestyle take a toll on your health?
Most definitely. I’ve had bags under my eyes since I can remember. I once worked 7 nights a week for about 4 months and I don’t think I ever recovered!
Health aside, what would you say is the hardest thing about DJing?
Honestly, staying relevant. Music is moving so quickly, plus kids have a really short attention span these days: they want everything here and now.
We’ve seen you on the decks in Tiki Bar and upstairs in Revs, is there one you prefer?
At the moment, Entourage (Kuda Tuesdays) without a doubt. It’s a very specialist crowd, meaning I get way more freedom than other nights. The energy is insane, I’m pretty sure the staff were scared to collect the glasses at one point last week!
We were there last week, and it was absolute anarchy! What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?
People say the craziest things when they’re drunk; I once had a girl trying to convince me that the Arctic Monkeys produced hip-hop, so that I would play one of their tracks in my room! Another girl asked me for “the song with the vocal bit, then the beat”, which was received by a blank stare. My favourite though has to be the girl who offered me £5 for my boxers – I told her I wanted them back washed and ironed!
It must be quite hard having to deal with drunken students?
I’m really focused when DJing and my priority is entertaining the room as a whole so individuals don’t really get to me. I take requests and say hello to people, but that’s about it – I’m at work at the end of the day.
How do you cope spending large amounts of time away from home? Constantly travelling must be pretty challenging!
Well I live away from home as it is, as my family are in Essex. I’ve always been independent, and that really helps with this job – especially when I spent the summer in the States. I go there once a year now because their DJ culture is so inspiring to see, and I love hearing other DJs and artists play music differently to how I do. I actually met Rita Ora in a thrift shop in LA – she was so humble! Leaving the house when my girlfriend is going to sleep, and getting in when she’s about to get up isn’t cool though.
Any advice for an aspiring DJ?
Learn to DJ the right way by putting the hours of practice in at home. For me the hard work is done at home, so do your research, preparation and the gig will be much more enjoyable. The most important thing though is respect other DJs. You can learn a lot from their experience and it’s always good to network.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Putting out my own original productions and growing my podcasts. Here’s an exclusive: Ego is actually relaunching at Kuda on Halloween, and then every Friday after that. We are also looking to roll it out into other cities across the UK in the next year.
Find DJames every Tuesday in Kuda’s Tiki bar, Thursday at Fibbers and Sunday in Revs!