James Holden

The U.K. producer goes pagan.

  • GIVING THE BOOT Holden celebrates the release of his rapturous DJ-Kicks mix at Cielo.

GIVING THE BOOT Holden celebrates the release of his rapturous DJ-Kicks mix at Cielo.

Click #2 for a 3-D image (3-D glasses required).

The slate of artists who’ve been deemed worthy of compiling a DJ-Kicks mix-CD reads like a catalog of electronic music’s most creative, envelope-pushing heavyweights. Claude Young, Carl Craig, Burial—these are the kinds of artists who don’t just make and play dance music, but alter the very nature of what dance music can be. So it would only be natural for James Holden, the DJ, producer and boss of the Border Community label, to feel a bit intimidated when he recently got the nod. “Actually, there was no intimidation at all,” the good-natured Brit says, chuckling, days after the CD hit the shops. “Since DJ-Kicks is based on people just doing what they feel like, it was actually pretty relaxed. You don’t have to conform to anything; you can do whatever you want.” In Holden’s case, what he wanted was a ravishing, rapturous set of tunes that includes the likes of Mogwai, Kieran Hebdon and Steve Reid, MIT, Maserati and—as on every DJ-Kicks—an exclusive new track from the DJ himself. It’s another step in the evolution of the onetime trance master, one that next takes him to Cielo on Thursday 8 to celebrate the mix’s release.

Did the label, !K7, approach you to do this CD, or was it the other way around?
They approached me. It was funny, because two months before they did, I was talking to Gemma—my partner at Border Community—and she said, “Mix-CDs are kind of dead, aren’t they?” I said, “Yeah, they are.” And she said, “The only one that’s worth you doing is DJ-Kicks.” Then through some witchcraft or something, I got the call.

Given the free range the series gives you, did it take you long to figure out what direction you wanted to go in?
Well, one’s whole career is a bit of a trip, wandering around and evolving. For me, in the last few years, I felt like I had been doing something for a while, and now there were people making cheap copies of it. And that made me start to hate it. So I needed to find a way to work with what I love, which is this very hypnotic, melodic sort of techno, and I started to really concentrate on how I could just do that and avoid all the things that I was hating. I had already worked this out by the time I did the mix and I already had a list of artists who really appealed to me, so it was just a matter of figuring out exactly which tracks to use.

And how did you figure that out?
I have every record and CD and download that I own on one server and set it to random play, and it’s playing all the time all over the house. If I like something I hear, I run upstairs and grab the files and add them to my DJ folder. It’s almost the only way for me to do it. I’m not one of those guys who can go, “Now I’m gonna sit down and find out all about this or that artist.” I don’t take it in very well that way.

It’s sort of like using chaos theory to your advantage.
Kind of. But it pisses off this kind of male, nerdy music fan that likes to talk about songs and artists and bands in detail. I’m always like, “Er, I think I have that....” I’m like an ultra dilettante—I don’t even know the names of what I play. But I really know what I like.

Whatever the case, your method works; the mix has this very pastoral, almost pagan-ritual kind of vibe.
Yeah, that’s the kind of sound that I’m super interested in at the moment. As I was kind of saying before, I realized there was a lot of stuff I was hating, specifically that cynical, cold, premeditated computer dance music, the kind that has big drops exactly where you expect the big drops and all that kind of thing. So, in reaction, I started listening to a lot of krautrock, and my favorite bits were the parts that were very wild and free. And I love Jodorowsky films like The Holy Mountain, with this hippie-LSD aesthetic and really ritualistic edge. And that’s what techno originally was to me, with machines running out of control and people trying to control them. It wasn’t much different than it was in the beginning, with people standing around banging sticks. That’s what I’m trying to get back to.

James Holden plays the Made at Cielo party Thu 8; James Holden: DJ-Kicks (!K7) is out now.

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