Over the last 11 years Robert James has carved himself an esteemed reputation on the island of Ibiza, but the path there wasn’t exactly a smooth one. After serving in the army, Rob returned from a period in Iraq unsure of what the next chapter in his life would hold. The next two years were spent in and out of jobs spending the little cash he had on buying records, and so came the decision to up sticks and move to the White Isle. He sold his car for £100 and, with a bit of cash and a few clothes in his bag, he dropped everything and left. That move, he says, was the best thing to ever happen to him and where his path to DJing full time began.
Through building connections, he started picking up regular bookings at parties like Circoloco before landing himself a residency at Jamie Jones’ weekly Paradise parties. Seven years on and he’s still warming up the floor at DC10, hosting the weekly radio broadcast and one of the few still dedicated to spinning vinyl. A move back to the UK saw his focus shift on to building his own party and soon-to-be label Body Movement, continuing work on his own productions and, in recent years, become part of the regular crew playing at Gottwood and Houghton.
Alongside a vinyl-only mix for a Sunday afternoon that’s a world away from the club sets he’s known for, we chat to him about his label plans, a fantasy dig with John Peel, and how Ibiza has changed over the years.
Robert James plays Gottwood Festival (6th-9th June 2019).
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I got really into music through my dad. He would always be listening to music instead of watching TV. He’d cleared out his vinyl collection before I was born when they moved into the family house but he still had drawers and drawers of tape cassettes. I used to go through them and listen on my walkman. He had everything from Pink Floyd to Cameo. He introduced me to Daft Punk and first played me Coolio’s ‘Gangsters Paradise’ ha!
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Nothing beats a good collection of something you love! It’s just nice to have a home for all genres of music so depending what mood you’re in you can pick that out from your collection. The best thing about digging constantly is the love of finding new music all the time, you can’t beat it. Then down the line you find B-sides you didn’t even know existed…
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
Most of my records are in the living room by the decks. I’ve got the standard Ikea shelves along with some cupboards and record bags. All the House and Techno is pretty much together in no order. Then disco, boogie and funk in one place and then albums are all together. Not really much organisation going on to be honest, I quite like having to hunt through my own records.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
One of my favourites was Lucky Seven Records in Stoke Newington, unfortunately it’s closed down now. Their basement had stacks and stacks of records everywhere for so cheap! Sometimes I would pick up records without listening to them as I liked the artwork and found some absolute gems for 50p to £2. For more of the club stuff I always pop into Kristina Records which has just moved above the Cause in Tottenham. Jason has a good taste in music and I never leave with just a few records! Over in Berlin it’s the Ghost with Josh and James! I love that it’s always in different spots around Berlin, a bit like a record treasure hunt.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
There used to be a shop in Leeds called Waxwerks run by my mates Tristan Da Cunha and Frenchy. Both wicked DJ’s so it was just stocked wall to wall with the best house going! They had a bar in there with sofas so it was never an in and out thing. The club called the Garage was next door where Back to Basics used to be, I think I popped into the shop and left a few days later once ha! Jason from Kristina as well, always get some ace bits of him with a few beers whilst digging.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Ha yeah there are loads! Most of the time it’s watching someone like Craig Richards play. He’s a good mate so I will usually go and ask him, but I would either forget what he said or write the name down wrong with it being in a club with loud music. I’d spend the next few weeks trying to find it but sometimes have no joy and I can’t really ask him ‘hey mate what was that track you played?’ And so the search continues!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I always prefer to do it solo just so I can switch off and get in the zone. I’ve been with friends before like over at Rush Hour in Amsterdam; few beers, food, dig etc. We always end up buying pretty much the same records though as we usually have the same taste. If he was alive today I’d like to dig with John Peel. He was always ahead of the game in new music so it would be nice to pick some bits up with him and then get him to tell me about them with his lovely voice.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I usually have a good dig first and pick out some bits which I like. Then ask whoever is working in there to recommend me some similar bits to the ones I’ve picked out. If you’re in a good shop they will do a good job at picking stuff out for you.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Yeah like I said earlier, I’ve picked up records just because I loved the artwork. Even if the record is rubbish the art will look good in a nice frame, then take the record to a charity shop without the art. Obviously when the music and art are on point it’s the best. Some records I put in different sleeves so when I’m playing out I know the art is safe at home away from drinks and other bits you find in clubs.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
This is a mix for a sunny Sunday afternoon, mainly coming from my disco and boogie section. It’s the opposite to the club stuff I normally play out; another side to my collection.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
They all stand out in there own way. Gene Chandler – ‘That Funky Disco Rhythm’ was one of the records I bought for £2 in Lucky Seven without listening to it.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
I would say some of my favourite collectors are my friends who have a wide range of tastes. Once again Craig Richards is up there, I’ve seen him play disco and reggae sets to minimal and techno and most of the time I’ve never heard any of the tracks before. Adam Shelton, Tristan Da Cunha and Frenchy also.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Yeah a guy called Jack Michael who has a nice London UK garage and house vibe going on! He runs a label called Orbital.
You’ve been a resident at Jamie Jones’ weekly Ibiza party Paradise for seven years now. How has the scene changed on the island over the years?
It’s changed a lot since I first went over. It was all underground minimal techno when I first went. There doesn’t seem to be much of an underground scene over there anymore and pretty much every club is playing the same music. It’s always been a pricey place to go but you could do it on the cheap back then, now that’s impossible! For starters you can’t get a cheap flight anymore and the authorities have clamped down too hard. It used to be an island where you could go and party in the sun but that’s not the case now. There are hardly any day parties on the island and if there are they start at 4pm. There was nothing better than watching the sun come up at a party on a beach or club terrace.
You’re also running your own party, BODY MVMT, in London. How long has it been going and what’s the philosophy behind it?
Body Movement was always going to be a label at first but I put that on hold for a bit. I wanted to get the name and brand out there so I started doing some parties around London. I’m getting closer to the label and hopefully the first release will be out mid next year followed by lots more parties.
We’ve heard you’ve been working hard on new material recently too. Any releases in the pipeline we should know about?
At the moment I have around 20 plus tracks ready to go out to labels but I’m in two minds on what to keep for BODY MVMT and what to send elsewhere. So I’m still making more and more. I do have a remix on Decay Records coming out on Friday thats getting some nice attention.
Robert James plays Gottwood Festival (6th-9th June 2019).