Experienced DJ and dance-floor rocker, Justin James has managed to carve out a name for himself in the National and International nightlife circuit. Justin is known for his eclectic and intelligent musical selections and open-format style of playing.
We caught up with Justin to learn more about his favourite residencies, tips for upcoming producers, and more.
Aditya – Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How’s 2021 been for you so far?
DJ Justin James – Thanks for having me. 2021 has been…fine. To be honest, not ideal, but then again not much seems to be these days haha. I’m alive and healthy, and these are the most important things, so everything is just fine! :)
Aditya – Where are you based currently? Could you tell us how is it to live outside your native country of The United States?
DJ Justin James – I am currently based in South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City, but have been on a small island in the southwest of the country called Phú Quốc chilling out and relaxing for the past few months :) I’ve been based in South Vietnam for the past 4yrs, but in Southeast Asia for the past 6yrs and…. I LOVE IT! There are plenty of things I miss about the US from time-to-time, but I don’t have any real desire to move back. The world is a big place and I intend on seeing and experiencing as much of it as possible. :)
Aditya – You’ve travelled extensively across the globe and held multiple notable residencies, could you tell us about some of your favorites?
DJ Justin James – Yeah, absolutely. Outside of the US, I’ve been fortunate to play shows all over Asia and in parts of Europe, Africa, etc.… I have a lot of love for all of my past partnerships, but two venues specifically come to mind; Illuzion Nightclub (Phuket, Thailand) and One Third Club (Beijing, China); #16 and 24#, respectively, on DJ Mag’s Top 100 Clubs List. Both clubs had/have fantastic sound/lighting/design concepts, and massive crowds (2-3000ppl) every night. But aside from the glitz and the glam, the most important thing about both places was the way that they were managed… Most people don’t know this, but the real key to success with any nightlife venue is the people that are running it and both of these places were run in a very high level/professional manner.
Aditya – Having said the above, which is your favorite country to play in and why?
DJ Justin James – All of them haha. The greatest aspect of my career is that it allows me to travel as often as I do and I definitely try to take advantage of that. Visiting/playing in major metropolitan cities is great, but my real favorite places to travel to are more of the “off the beaten path” locations around the world, like for example – Bahrain, Cairo, Cape Town, Luxembourg, Langkawi (Malaysia), Dali (China), Shillong (Northeast India), etc…
But maybe the coolest booking I have had in recent memory was a few years ago at a music festival that I co-headlined in a city called Swakopmund, which is a small (population – less than 50,000) city located on the coast of Namibia, which is a country in Southwest Africa. When I went to play that festival, I initially flew into a city called Windhoek and a driver took me on a 6hr journey through the desert to eventually get to Swakopmund. During that time we saw exactly one other car haha. Then we took a trip into the Namib desert, which is the oldest desert in the world (50-80mil years old), and then I played the festival the next day and left. These types of “once in a lifetime” trips are my favorite.
Aditya – You’ve had releases on some well-known labels – could you share some tips for our readers on the best way they should be approaching labels? If you have to choose, what is your favorite past release?
DJ Justin James – I actually get messages with this question fairly often on social media… The first thing any producer needs to do before approaching labels is research. I’ll say it again, but a little more loudly…RESEARCH. The person submitting needs to make sure that the style of their track is in-line with what that label is currently releasing. If it’s not, then don’t waste the labels or your time. There are a LOT of people producing (and submitting) music these days and the fastest way to basically get “blacklisted” by a label A&R person is submitting tracks that are: In the wrong style and not at a higher level of production quality.
A good label A&R person will normally give at least a response (“Accepted” or “Not accepted, but thank you for the submission” etc…) or if you are lucky – some constructive feedback. But, this will only happen if you a) have submitted to the correct style of label and b) have a track that has a higher level of production quality.
Two more suggestions… Get your tracks professionally mastered and make friends :)
My favorite release was in 2019 on DJ Chuckie’s Amsterdam-based label, Dirty Dutch. It’s my favorite track I’ve worked on, but also the one that had the least amount of sales, streams, and overall support haha. This is the way releases go sometimes.
Aditya – For any upcoming artists, what kind of support do you feel is important, that should be provided by a record label?
DJ Justin James – Good question! It really depends on the label in which you are looking to get on and the status of the submitting artist. Artists with good tracks and a strong social media presence have a better chance of getting on better labels. Smaller labels often have smaller budgets and less connections, while bigger labels (sometimes) have bigger promotional budgets, but usually have better connections in regards to Spotify playlisting, etc.
Smaller labels might put more effort into creating content for the artists and really trying to push new releases, while some bigger labels might not even necessarily make any effort past scheduling the release and creating the album artwork. No YouTube video, assistance with Spotify playlisting, or posts on the labels social media accounts… Nothing. It’s a bit of a “catch 22”, in the fact that with some labels, you get “clout” by association with that label, but sometimes not much more than that. Unfortunately, this is the way the industry seems to be working these days, in some cases.
Aditya – Your schedule looked quite hectic, how did you manage to tour & produce at the same time, before the lockdown?
DJ Justin James – Not very effectively lol. Actually, I’ve only had 5 releases to date. In 2020 I had 3 releases. This year, I have had none so far. I have a few originals and a few collabs waiting to be finished, but none that I feel need to be completed in a specific time frame. I try not to place too much pressure on myself, especially with travel (and the world at large) being so uncertain these days. As with anything in life, including music, I do as I feel. No rush :)
Aditya – Having toured extensively, what’s one thing you cannot leave your home without?
DJ Justin James – This might be a question aimed at the wrong person haha. I am pretty much a minimalist these days, so there really is not much in my life that I feel that I “need” besides the basics. But if I had to answer I would say my custom-made “DJ Justin James” jackets. Constantly being in new cities, playing at new nightclubs and being photographed all the time, a DJ needs to appear “different” in photos for press-related reasons – so three different jackets mixed with a few different shirts and 1-2 pairs of jeans can keep me on the road for a few months.
Aditya – Could you tell us about your favorite ‘non-dancefloor friendly’ tracks?
DJ Justin James – To be honest, all of my favorite tracks are exclusively “non-dancefloor friendly” haha. Here are 10 songs (in no specific order) that always get me hyped before a show:
1. Foreigner – Urgent
2. Siouxsie and The Banshees – Cities In Dust
3. Marilyn Manson – Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge
4. En Vogue – Don’t Let Go
5. Joy Division – Shadowplay
6. Achim Reichel – Aloha Heja He
7. KoЯn – Trash
8. Portugal. The Man – Tidal Wave
9. Brennan Savage – Far Away
10. Sade – Smooth Operator (I’m listening to this while I complete this interview)
Aditya – Turntables, CDJs, or Controllers? Could you tell us which one you prefer over the others and why?
DJ Justin James – When I was in the US – turntables 100%. I only really made the switch to CDJs when I moved to Asia in 2015. Now my preferred method of play is CDJs linked to Serato DJ via HID mode. As to controllers… Personal use/practice is fine – I actually have a small one that I use for scratch practice (as well as a Reloop portable turntable), but for club play; I would be very hesitant to have my management agree to play at venue that didn’t have CDJs or a fully-functional set of decks (turntables).
Aditya – Lastly, what’s on the shelf for the last quarter of the year?
DJ Justin James – Not much to be honest man. I’m currently in South Vietnam where access to vaccines is limited, so as soon as I can get vaccinated I will venture back into the world. But for now I am just relaxing, working on my health, and spending a lot of time at the beach :)
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