After-dark inquiry: James Zabiela

The beloved British spinner plays alongside Fatboy Slim at the [node:1605039 link=Dance.Here.Now. Festival;] on Governors Island.

You look so young in your press photos. How old are you now?

I'm 31.

You looks exactly the same as you did when you won Muzik magazine's Bedroom Bedlam contest a decade ago, when you were first starting out. What were you then, like 20?

Yeah, and I don't know how I feel about that! I try to look older, growing my stubble and stuff, but I don't really pull it off.

You'll appreciate your youthful appearance someday. Are you still based in Southampton, England?

Yeah. I'm actually leaving for Santo Domingo in the morning, though.

I'm guessing now that we're in high festival season, you're probably not home very much.

I was just away for five weeks, actually. And now I'm away again tomorrow. The travelling part is the "job" part of what I do, though the rest of it is amazing. Last night I finally got to hang out with some of my old friends whom I haven't seen for a while, which was nice. But deejaying is my life. Don't get me wrong—I really enjoy what I do!

Your most recent track, "Blame," out on your own Hope Recordings label, is a bleepy, trippy little number. Is that indicative of your sound right now?

I kind of like everything, so I think my sound is kind of all over the place, really. And I made "Blame" more than a year ago, even though it just came out. So...I dunno. I'm working on some new music right now that's sort of in a similar vein as "Blame," but a little bit different, too. I have to say, I haven't even played "Blame" in a club for six months, though I was probably meant to be promoting it. I kind of got sick of it.

You could play one of the track's remixes—that Robert Babicz version is pretty hot

.Oh, I do, but I also made a little mash-up with "Blame" and a Telefon Tel Aviv track, which I've been playing some.

So you're not totally averse to playing your own music, like some DJs are?

Well, I always find it kind of weird. It feels a bit strange to be playing your own stuff, you know? I suppose I have a warped perception of my own music. When you work with something for so long, you get so involved with it, and you're hearing it totally differently than other people are.

You've always had a sound that's a bit hard to pin down; there are breakbeats involved, there's progressive house, there's techno....

Yeah, I do play a bit of everything. I'm just confused, I guess. I've been playing a lot of dubstep stuff lately, though I'm using that term very loosely. What some people consider dubstep is that noisy, gnarly, wobbly-bassline stuff. I stay away from that. I'm more into Ramadanman, Midland, Jackmaster, Martyn...the more techno end of it. I kind of like that sort of music, because it's as confused as I am. It doesn't know if it wants to be dubstep or acid house, you know? I really like the most recent Scuba track, too—it's totally a house record, but you can tell it's made by someone who usually makes dubstep. It's really cool, with all these really loud snares and other things that a typical house producer wouldn't do.

Those dubstep crossover records are certainly less formulaic than regular house records.

And that's what I find quite exciting.

And you're playing a lot of that kind of stuff at your gigs?

Yeah, I am, but it depends on the gig. Like, a big festival requires a lot of big-festival-sounding music. As far as that kind of stuff goes, I quite like the more recent Boys Noize things. But Tiga's label, Turbo, is really doing great things at the moment. Turbo just released this great Julio Bashmore thing [the Bashmore remix of ZZT's "ZZafrika"] that I've been playing a lot. That's one of my favorite summery, housey, dubsteppy things right now.

You'll have to play that when you come to the Dance.Here.Now. Festival.

We'll have to see—it's kind of hard to play deep stuff to thousands of people, especially when they're waiting for Fatboy Slim to come on! But I do enjoy playing the bigger-sounding stuff as well, and I'm really lucky to have the kind of variation in my gigs that allows me to play all of it. Like, I just played on a Wednesday in San Francisco, at Vessel, for maybe 200 people—and now I'm playing with Fatboy Slim. It lets you exercise your musical legs. Confusion works for me, it seems.

I'm guessing it's a bit less boring than having to play the same thing over and over.

God, it would be horrible to just play big festivals. There's just so much great, beautiful music that you can't get away with at a big rave. And it's the same the other way around: If you're playing these kind of loungey things, you'll get frustrated that you can't play some big techno record.

Not every DJ has the ability to switch up their style like you do.

Some DJs have a very particular sound, and no matter where they play, that's what they'll do. It's good and bad: It's good because people know what to expect from that DJ, but it's bad because if you get locked into a genre and decide at some point that you want to play something else, you can't. Or even worse, if the genre you're known for goes massively out of fashion, you're in trouble!

You're ready for that—if the dubstep-house sound became a hated style, you have other tricks up your sleeve.

Well, there's already a big backlash against it in the U.K.—there's always a big backlash against something here.