James Fox writes house music that boldly nods to the innovators of the past but is taking distinct forward strides into newer, warmer territory. Whether it’s the sumptuous grooves of ‘New Jack Swing’ released on the Well Rounded Housing Project, or the glimmering vibe of the sun-soaked ‘Close Your Eyes’, given away in October on XLR8R (after running into some sample clearing issues), it’s clear to see that 2012 is looking fruitful for Mr Fox.
Josh Thomas headed down to St. Pauls (battling through the ‘Occupy St Pauls’ protests) to sit down and have a chat with James Fox. Whilst sipping on a coffee in a quiet corner of a cafe they discussed working in the legal sector, cycles in music and taking Altern-8 tape packs into primary school.
To kick off just wanted to talk about your route into music?
I guess it’s being obsessed with music from a really, really early age. I think the first thing I ever bought was when I was about 11 years old. I took an Altern-8 tape pack into my primary school graduation [laughs] and made them play it – it didn’t go down that well, but there you go. For years and years I was just buying all kinds of music, some of it, looking back in retrospect, was probably pretty bad but I guess we’ve all got these skeletons in our closets. Going way back, if I trace it through like jungle, drum and bass, hardcore, guitar stuff, Nirvana, grunge, dub.
I guess in terms of dance music I used to be really into this band called Leftfield, they were my favourite electronic band of all time. The sound they did – doing loads of different genres of music and doing it quite easily, it never sounds forced from them. That’s what they do and it comes naturally to them, it’s something I’ve always been quite into. After that, well I’m from Manchester originally, well just north of Manchester actually, it was around the age of 22 when I got sucked into the raving there, to all sorts of stuff. Then had a few slightly lost, hazy years…
As you do.
As you do, it’s always the way. I had a lot of fun, started getting into djing a bit but didn’t take it too seriously, I guess. I moved to London about 4 years ago and began to take it a bit more seriously, and started listening to a lot of different stuff. When I first moved here I was listening to a lot of house and techno, stuff like Border Community, all that kind of thing. Down here, the only working electrical item in my house in Hackney was a radio in my kitchen, so I was listening to Rinse FM whilst doing the washing up and all that stuff, and began to become more submerged in the house thing.
So it’s the last few years that have influenced the house sound you are known for producing today?
Yeah I’d say so. I guess it’s just turned out to be deep bass-driven house music. I’ve been influenced a little by European house and techno and a bit of US house maybe, garage and the UK sound-system/pirate radio a little bit. It kind of seems as though each on of those influences comes to the fore at different times if you know what I mean, depends on what I’m listening to at the time.
Aside from the obvious house direction in your music, I can also hear a hip-hop aesthetic in your production.
Hip-hop was a major influence on me going quite a long way back. I brought my first pair of decks to play hip-hop records on, although I think I was the worst scratch DJ to have ever lived. It didn’t really work so I thought I’d try something else. But going back I was into all that Tribe stuff, Slum Village, Wu-Tang all that sort of thing. Not too gangster, but nothing too back-packer either [laughs]. You know, authentic stuff, somewhere between the two…
Sounds like there’s a lot of Dilla in there?
Yeah definitely. I do quite a lot of sampling, which has become a bit of an obstacle and gotten me into some hot water!
What’s your take on the UK bass music scene?
It’s kind of weird because it seems as if these things go in cycles. You get things that are house music essentially, then like dubstep or whatever becomes big, and gradually all the guys who are leading the way on that scene go back to the authentic house music stuff. Then the cycle begins again, the next thing comes out and it just goes round and round and round…
Something people wouldn’t have dared associate themselves with 5 years ago suddenly becomes cool or fashionable.
Yeah it’s bizarre, this seems to happen quite often I think. In some ways it’s a real shame because you get these guys come along who are doing really interesting things that aren’t four-to-the-floor. A lot of it house influenced, but it’s like ‘wow’ this is something quite fresh sounding, and then they start making fairly – I don’t want to say throwback – but quite authentic… I mean it’s good, I enjoy it, I enjoy playing it. I’m not putting it down because it’s kind of what I make myself as well, but, I guess it kind of feels like some things have been done before and have been done again, if you get what I mean?
Completely. So whose productions and what labels are you enjoying at the moment?
At the moment I’m buying a lot of deeper house stuff on Rush Hour, Future Times, Philpot or by people like Floating Points, Nick Hoppner, Tornado Wallace, Axel Boman and Genius Of Time. There’s a few producers doing interesting things with house music that I think are going to have a really good year next year: Behling & Simpson, Leon, Colo, Jack Dixon & Rick Grant, Gerry Read…
And you hold down a full-time job?
Yeah I work for a software company that’s involved in the legal system. It is really demanding, like working for very demanding clients and law firms that have teams of people that can work 24 hours a day, coming in on shifts. We actually don’t as were a small team of people so it’s like having a baby! If they are awake then you have to be awake, and if they’re sleeping, that’s when you sleep. It’s hard, really hard, to balance the job and the music. Especially when the past couple of months I can work 60, 70, 80 or 90 hour weeks and then going out gigging on a Friday and Saturday night as well, just being completely exhausted behind the decks.
Where does production fall into this, do you find that your process has to become faster?
Yeah I suppose, now that I’ve only got a certain amount of time to write music. I do find myself trying to work quickly and I think that’s a good thing – well it’s good for certain aspects of writing a tune. Get the idea and get it down and then don’t dwell on it too much. If something’s not working then don’t spend two hours trying to fiddle with it and make it right, scrap it and just move on. Hence the whole I thing I was saying before that I do like sampling stuff, preparing a sample library and putting it all into Ableton Live, throwing bits at each other and eventually something will stick and then just work on that. So yeah, since I’ve had less time to produce I’ve actually been more productive because I’ve had to work more quickly which is kind of weird.
So just getting yourself into a different mind set?
Yeah definitely. All the big dance music hits are really simple, super simple and just effective. I guess that’s something I’m always trying to work towards, but it’s not always easy to get that simplicity in a track.
I understand you’ve just done a remix for Hackman and Bluto on Deadplate records, anything else forthcoming?
Actually that remix is the exact opposite of what I’ve just been talking about working quickly, it took me quite a long time to do it. I was trying to do it parallel with all these crazy hours at work. It was a case of doing 30-40 minutes here and there, which can mean it’s hard to get into the flow. It turned out really well though, very happy with it and many of the people I’ve shown it say it’s one of the best things I’ve done.
I’ve heard it and agree.
That’s cool man, thanks a lot. It’s quite difficult as I’m one of these people who lose all perspective on the stuff I write, I have no idea if it’s of any value or if it’s good and how people are going to react to it. So it’s always nice to hear positive feedback from people. Beyond that, I’m working on some stuff, nothing’s properly confirmed just yet. I’ve got a remix for Jack Dixon coming out. That’s cool because him and Rick Grant run Take Records, a label I’ve had a couple of releases on. They’ve got the next release on ManMakeMusic which is George Fitzgerald’s label, which is absolutely sick and it’s cool to see them getting a push to a wider audience because they are both really good guys. Beyond that, I’m working on a couple of EPs for next year – one for Take, one for Well-Rounded, another for a US label I can’t really talk about yet.
So what are your hopes for 2012?
I’m starting to get a lot more gigs and stuff, so I’ll sign up to a booking agency soon. I got married in March last year, so all in all 2011 was pretty crazy. I just want to release records that I like, I enjoy and other people enjoy. I want to play gigs that I enjoy. In terms of making money and making a living out of it, I’m not sure really, maybe. As I say I’m in this day job and that’s taking off as well. It’s one of those questions where if I abandon the day job and the music thing doesn’t work out, it’s going to be a real bitch. If it happens the other way around and I abandon music for the day job I’m going to be gutted about it.
Just go with the flow?
Yeah I think so…
To accompany our interview, James Fox has kindly compiled a top drawer Inspirations Mix.
Check it out below:
Mike Slott – ‘The Now’ (LuckyMe)
Slum Village – ‘Climax’ (Instrumental) [GoodVibe]
Dabrye – ‘With A Professional’ [Ghostly]
Newworldaquarium – ‘Star Power’ [Delsin]
Common – ‘The Light’ [MCA]
Andre 3000 – ‘Vibrate’ [Arista]
Slicker – ‘Knock Me Down Girl’ [Hefty]
Quiet Village – ‘Pillow Talk’ [!K7]
Super_Collider – ‘Gravity Rearrangin’ [Rise Robots Rise]
Portishead – ‘It Could Be Sweet’ [Go! Beat]
Shed – ‘ITHAW’ [Ostgut]
Midnight Star – ‘Midas Touch’ (Remixed by Hell Interface) [Unreleased]
CeCe Rogers – ‘Someday’ [Atlantic]