Kaz James is very much a people’s DJ. A One Love resident at 18 and one half of the infuriatingly earwormy Bodyrockers at 22, he’s got a knack for reading the biggest crowds while keeping a comfortable flexibility in his work. This year alone, he’s seen his remix of Oliver Heldens’ Gecko go to number one in the UK, and worked on collabs with David Guetta, Junior Sanchez, and Tom Staar. Current single Show Me All Your Love’s spent three weeks at the top of the ARIA club charts, which, he tells ZOE KILBOURN, is down to that intuitive reading of what people want.
“I definitely grew up in the house scene, and I think that’s where stuff like Show Me All Your Love sits – driving funky house, I guess,” he says. “I wrote it back Paris maybe three years ago, and the sound at the time was really banging. The record was so funky, I just wasn’t sure if the timing was right with it. I think now definitely is the right time.
“I think I’ve always been one of those DJs who’s willing to take risks, you know what I mean? Getting Macy Gray, as a soul singer, to go on a dance record was a pretty risky move at the time. Doing the David Guetta track with like a rock riff with an English rapper. Unless you step outside the box, no one’s going to notice you. Show Me All Your Love, for me, feels different, feels fresh. I think it was something that needed to happen musically.”
Show Me All Your Love, with its anthemic hook and bright synth horns, isn’t too big a step away from James’ production roots – electro house that teeters into candy floss pop. He considers himself as much a songwriter and producer as a DJ, still tries to include as many of his own vocals as he can, and is famed for crossover hits like 2008’s Breathe (and Bodyrockers’ breakout hit, I Like The Way You Move).
That said, it’s a significant move away from his current ream of hits, from 2012’s Drums onwards. While learning towards the pop structures of fellow Aussies The Presets, his work’s firmly grounded in big room house – which has received no less than the Guetta stamp of approval. They’re mates.
“I’ve known David for a long time,” says James. “He asked me to open up for his world tour last year. I’ve played plenty of shows with him. We were leaving Germany, and I jumped on the Guetta private jet this year – as you do – and on the way back to London, I was just playing him some ideas. He has an amazing ear. I sort of had that guitar riff – he was like, ‘What’s that? I love it. Can I work on it?’. I gave him all the parts of the record and he sent me a version back. I was like, ‘Shit. Wow.’”
That version became Blast Off, a typically dirty Guetta tune with an opening guitar riff reminiscent of James’ early collaborative work.
“ When we stepped back and looked at it, David was like, ‘If there’s anyone who could do it, it’s you,’” says James. “And yeah, he had a point. I guess I can get away with it. It worked out really well – people were really into it, Diplo approached me the other day and said he was really into it. It was funny, he said, ‘You’re kinda crazy – you put out this acid house record with Junior Sanchez and then you do a rock record with Guetta.’ Yeah, I guess so.”
That acid house record was James’ very recent nostalgia trip, Underground Police, featuring a sneaky synth drop and a prominent, heavily vocoded set of instructions in the style of an early rave selector. Even for someone who prides himself on his versatility, it came out of nowhere.
“I’ll be honest – I was on a train to Junior’s place in New York, and I was just listening to the old Daft Punk record,” he says. “If you listen to the lyrics – it’s like, stop making love hearts with your hands, drop the glow sticks. It’s basically just trying to tell people to fucking dance. Especially to DJs – DJs, standing there making hand signals to the crowd. Like, try to push boundaries. I think my goal when I play is to make people dance. Other people want people to jump up and down like pogo sticks. It’s a different thing to dancing.”
When you’ve had James’ success, it’s a small DJ world. “A lot of people don’t know that Vic Knightley, who does the vocals on that record, is Felix Da Housecat. We just sort of thought, if anyone was going to do the lyrics on this, you’d get Felix, cause he’s so crazy.”
Schooled by an extremely early One Love residency, an enormous part of James’ musical live is out of the studio. Flying between 25 shows in Ibiza over the European summer while maintaining a Mykonos residency has been gruelling, as was “an amazing party in Coachella this year. I played for like eight hours. There were about 1600 people there. There was Seth Troxler, Arthur Baker was there, even Paris Hilton was running around. For the last three hours of the party, I just played disco.” (To clarify: “Not Kool And The Gang. Real disco. Like New York garage.”)
A festival veteran – he played the first non-national Stereosonic in Melbourne – “Stereosonic’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s kinda like a school trip for DJs. It’s quite unique – there’s not that many tours around the world where you get to fly around together and hang out between shows for a week, just party up in the hotel.
“I don’t know what number [of Stereosonics]we’re at now, but when I play, I’m always trying to give people something different to what they hear from everyone else, different from what everyone else is playing. Give them something they’ll go home and remember.
SHOW ME ALL YOUR LOVE TOUR
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30 @ CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS