Dj Andrew James has been a music addict all his life. The disco sounds of the early 80’s and the rap and hip hop of the mid 80’s were always on rotation in Walkmans and record players. Then techno and acid house began to emerge and buying records became an obsession that would lead to him to becoming a dj. After forging a successful career spinning records at early rave parties Andrew was given residencies at underground club events and then Sydney’s super clubs. Over the next 20 years he played at some of the biggest clubs and festivals in Australia.
So you’ve been involved in the scene for a long time in Sydney and still actively performing across all sorts of events and projects. What are your fondest memories of the good old days from iconic places like Icebox, Gas and Sublime.
As a teenager, I loved Aussie rock and underground US rap but I grew up on a diet of Disco and Synth pop so when I heard the first house and techno tracks that came out of London and Detroit I was certain that this new sound was the future of music. I regularly spent an hour on the bus travelling into the city to buy just 2 or 3 records. Most of my friends and family did not share my enthusiasm for this new sound but the joy of new music kept me interested in records and house music. Some of my best memories are from my pre DJ days in the late 80’s and very early 90’s in small record stores in Sydney’s back alleys where I originally collected records purely for the love of the music.
After attending a Horden dance party in 88 and few raves in 1989 and 1990 I started to curiously watch the djs use the turntables to blend tracks seamlessly together and I wanted to do the same with my record collection. It took a year of practice but by 1992 I was busting to mix my records to a crowd so throwing parties was an easy option because getting a paid gig was not at the forefront of my mind back then.
After playing a few house parties and making mix tapes for friends I was asked to play a club gig and my love of DJing to a energetic crowd began. Being in control of the music always felt natural to me, like it was something I was born to do. Every time I played someone would book me for another gig and eventually by 1994 I found myself supporting some of the worlds biggest international djs and playing at Sydney’s biggest underground raves. But it did not feel special at the time, I was just doing what I loved and bringing the joy of music to everyone who wanted to listen. Most of my best memories from the early golden days of my DJ career in Sydney venues like Kings Head Tavern, Icebox, The Duke, Moretons, Skygarden, The Pavilion, Sugareef, Gas, DCM, and Sublime come from playing tracks that eventually went on to become massive dance floor hits or classic tracks that still feature in many dj sets to this day. Seeing big crowds elevate and glow when you drop a massive new tune was something I lived for and that kept me constantly hunting for those special tracks as soon as they were available.
It is a difficult thing to do these days because in the digital era we all get the tracks within a few weeks of each other but back in the day I could have a promo 12 months ahead of release so that gave me a lot of time to expose the tune before other djs got their hands on it. It’s funny looking back now but hearing Donna Summers hits like “love to love you baby” and “I feel love” on my dads record player in the 70’s really left an impression on me. I didn’t know back then, but these seminal dance floor hits would be instrumental in influencing the music I play to this day. Those high energy Disco loops and never ending drums still feature as samples in some of tracks I play to this day. The mesmerising array of disco strings and synth riffs still form the basis of many house music styles we all love and dance to now.
How does your influence and music flow into your sets your playing nowadays and more so in the upcoming set with your partner in crime Keli Parkes at Karma Beach?
In the last few years my wife Keli and I have been doing gigs together. Our history began at a secret underground rave early in 1992 where we met and instantly shared a common bond through music that has been at the centre of our relationship ever since. She has been there to see me go from bedroom DJ to mixing records in front of 10 thousand people. Throughout my early djing career I tried to introduce Keli to mixing records on turntables but it was something she always left to me until recently. Then the inevitable happened a few years back when she jumped behind the decks to play a track or two & got hooked and now wants to take over the decks at every party. We work together well because we know where we have been and where are going and how we want to get there. Our musical taste is similar but we still have our own ideas of what tracks to play and that makes us a little competitive when we are mixing together. We both have our own favourite international djs and still worship some of the amazing local talent that provided the tracks at the first raves we met and danced at.
What was the first ever record you purchased with your own money? Have you still got it? Whats your record collection like? Still have them all? Must be some storage issues?
The first records I purchased were from many years prior in the early ’80s…. tracks like Grand Master Flash “The Message” and The Rock steady Crew “ Hey you” along with the hit albums like 1982 “Up In lights” and I still have every single record I ever purchased. So my first milk crate of vinyl was full by mid 89 when the sounds of black box and technotronic started pumping out in discos across the globe. I still have every single record I ever purchased so my family home is more like a shrine to my vinyl collecting history with record storage units scattered throughout almost every room. There was something very special about the tangible format of vinyl and the fact that the music I was buying sounded totally unique made it even more exciting.
Back on the Sydney tip as we love the to talk about the rave scene so much.. Who else is still playing from around your era and your regularly bumping into and bouncing laughs and good times of?
I just played a gig with djs Jumping Jack, Nik Fish and John Ferris who were on the lineup at the Welsh Embassy party Keli and I met at all those years ago. We still go out and party with many of the same faces that were at Sydney’s earliest rave parties too.In 2009 after 17 years working exclusively as a professional DJ I decided to return to weekday work and djing once again became a hobby rather than a means to support my family. The nightlife in Sydney began to suffer from poor government regulation and over Policing of licensed venues and festivals which changed the face of raves and clubbing forever. This continues to be a problem facing the music industry in many parts of Australia so holiday destinations like Bali have been able to prosper with events and venues where you can enjoy yourself listening to great music and DJ’s on the beach with a cocktail in hand.
Looking back on it all now did you think you would be playing chilled vibes at one of Bali’s most respectable beach clubs 20 years later or rocking out at rave parties in your wheelchair?
One thing I recommend you do in Bali is visit the southern end of the island which features some amazing bars and open-air venues situated on the beach or perched on the cliff sides with amazing views. It’s down here we discovered the Karma Kandara clifftop resort with its beachside bar and interrupted views of the beautiful clear waters of the Indian Ocean. We felt like we found a slice of heaven and I could not wait to play some music in this exclusive holiday destination. I have been back to play here almost ever year since and this July I am sharing the decks with my wife and partner in music Keli Aroha. Djing at this special tropical location inspires an Eclectic mix of chilled house, funky disco classics and downtempo gems from artists like Purple disco, Studioheist, MK, Jestofunk, Rufus, Soul ii Soul, St Germain, Massive Attack, and even Deep Forest. Music and djing is so ingrained in my life that I could never leave it, and with the new enthusiasm I join my wife on the decks and rock dance floors for a whole new generation.
Time flies when your having fun but the clubbing industry seems to be booming in Bali right now, how have you seen things change here over the years and all your visits? What do you think will be the next change for us out this way looking at it all from the outside and via the www?
I have been travelling to Bali for many years to soak up the culture and tropical atmosphere of this wonderful island and its people. It has always been a place to go and enjoy the hospitality and privacy of the Balinese style pool villas and get away from the hustle of life in a big Aussie city. During this time Bali has evolved into a destination that provides everything a visitor could want to enjoy. From tiny beachside bungalow bars to purpose built mega nightclubs and high end hotels and everything in between. I have always found the food and ambiance of venues to be excellent. It’s been exciting to see the island develop so much although it is now happening at an alarming rate. Bali has so many excellent bars, clubs and restaurants to visit that you need to return time and time again to visit even a fraction of them.
Your current Top 5 beachside tunes are?
My top 5 Tracks changes weekly because the last 30 years have given us so much goodness but I will always give a nod to those early days of buying records.
Here are 5 classics that will sit well in any beachside playlist:
1. Stetsasonic- Talking all that Jazz
2. Laurent Garnier- The man with the red face.
3. Groove Armada- My Friend
4. Hercules & Love affair- Blind ( Frankie Knuckles )
5. Dele Sosimi Afrobeat orchestra- Too much information.
On your downtime in Bali, what else do you plan to get up to you? What’s your must go to food experience every time you are here or cocktail experience??
If you’re looking for something yummy to eat in Bali I recommend hitting some of Seminyak’s restaurants. My favourites include Saigon street if you like Vietnamese and Sarong for a fusion of Asian and Indian flavours. I also recommend Di Mare at Karma Kandara. Other notable spots include Métis, Mama San, Meriah Putih and some of the big hotels like Allila and the W. There are also many delicious cheap beachside spots like 707 just near Tropicola on the beach and I always enjoy eating local food from one of the many Warungs scattered around Bali. Look for the locals and try to eat lunch early when it’s freshly prepared. We usually stay at a few different locations close to various events and restaurants when visiting Bali these days because navigating the islands roads and traffic is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more people discover the joy of visiting this magical destination.
If Andrew James wasn’t jet setting around the world Djs this August what would he be doing back home in the cold in Sydney?
When I’m not on the decks you will find me travelling somewhere up and down Australia’s east coast to go fishing for big kingfish and giant Tuna. Fishing is another passion of mine and has been my go-to hobby after the lights go out on the dance floor. Winter life in Sydney usually sees me sitting in front of my fire at home downloading music from one of many new release sites or chasing good digital copies of old records that featured in my sets back in the good old days. I am currently designing floor to ceiling record storage shelving so I can organise the tens of thousands of records I have at home which will make it easier for me to find tracks for the many vinyl gigs I still do.
Favourite time of the day in Bali? Why??
My favourite time in Bali has always been sunset. It’s always special to watch the sun disappear over the ocean horizon and the clouds glow in shades of pinks and purples. We call it golden hour and I recommend you take a camera and a good pair of sunnies so you can enjoy it.
Next up for Andrew James in 2019 is??
When I return to Sydney I’m playing at the next instalment of “Up For It” on August 10th. It’s an event featuring DJ’s that were popular in the mid 90’s and remain firmly entrenched in Sydney’s underground house music scene. We are all playing our Favourite tracks from the last 30 years and previous events which have been nights to remember.