Im doing the magazine, DJing, writing music, organising the Heavy Industries parties for the rest of the year, putting together a mix CD for Four/Twenty and also planning to start my own record label at the end of the year so yeah theres a lot going on.
Sitting in a rooftop bar on a sunny spring day in London, Mixmag managing editor, Four:Twenty producer and Heavy Industries party promoter James Mowbray admits hes adept at multi-tasking with his protestant work ethic making sure he does all the rest.
Its all about good time management, I suppose, he muses, I get up very early, work long hours and go to bed late, basically. Im really passionate about what I do and I enjoy it.
Increasingly devoting more energy to his music related activities, he takes a different approach to DJing, however, valuing spontaneity over precision.
I dont practise DJing anymore, I just listen to the music I get and work out what Im going to play; I dont even have decks or CDJs at home anymore, he admits.
I spend a lot of time listening to music and working out the bits that go together and you develop an ear for what works and I enjoy having a certain randomness when Im playing- a spontaneity. Usually when Im Djing I havent got any idea what Im playing next until half way through the next record. I find its more fun and more stimulating like that. I know some DJs plan it at home and print out sets and stick to their set religiously, I dont like doing that.
A happy laptop DJ (Serato) convert (you can save a set, it lists the order of the tracks you played so you can go back and see which tracks worked well together) he favours a fairly stripped down tech-minimal style of music, though hes canny enough to avoid labels.
I wouldnt say I play a bit of everything, I listen to it all but I have a very clear idea of what I do and dont like, says James,
Theres all kinds of electro, techno and house in my sets these days whereas in the past I used to play a lot of hip hop and drum & bass as well.
For Mixmag matters though hes happier naming names, including trance god Paul Van Dyk and his place in the magazine as a superstar DJ.
I know what I like and I wouldnt sit and listen to a Paul Van Dyk album in a million years, I think its crap, but thats not to say other people cant enjoy it, he laughs.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Why are you calling your new series of parties Heavy Industries, it seems an odd name?
James Mowbray: I wanted something that was a contrast to what I was doing. I started a company called Mobray Industries Ltd which was mainly to legitimise my DJing income, so I could run it through the company. I set that up and had a plan to set up some events and wanted to choose a name that was opposite; given that were not a heavy industrial company, its slightly ironic. I set it up so I could have complete control over what I do. So rather than running around playing gigs at other peoples parties and being dictated to by the promoters, I could decide where and when I do parties and who plays. By setting up your own thing and staring from the beginning youre able to have it exactly as you want.
Skrufff: Youre Mixmags managing editor, what exactly does the role entail?
James Mowbray: I basically produce the magazine so I make sure its all done when its meant to be done, I keep on top of everything and shout at people when they dont do what theyre meant to do. I also write the house reviews spread at the back.
Skrufff: Dave Seaman and Chris Coco were both magazine editors before becoming DJs full time, is that a path youre considering?
James Mowbray: Yeah. Though I guess it depends how the next couple of years unfold. I really enjoy doing Mixmag and Im proud of it, its a great magazine and its a lot better than it was when it was at EMAP. At the same time Im really enjoying DJing and writing and its gone well for me over the last couple of years as Ive put more effort into it. Im going with the flow.
Skrufff: How did you start DJing?
James Mowbray: I was obsessed with hip hop when I was 16 in the early 90s, listening to Erik B and Rakim, Public Enemy, NWA, and I immersed myself in that, obsessively listening to Tim Westwoods show on Friday night. Id write down the names of all the songs and try and track them down. I was in Essex at that point. I bought some decks and started DJing playing hip hop and drum & bass, everything really, all mixed in. Then I got into journalism, I worked at the News Of The World for a couple of years, on the production side. When I was working there I got offered a job to go and set up an English language newspaper in Bahrain. So I did that for a year, then went to Dubai and ended up staying there for five years. When I left London I stopped DJing for a while and concentrated on the media side of things.
Skrufff: How did you first get involved in journalism?
James Mowbray: I went to University and did Media Studies focusing on print journalism. One of the guys who came and taught some of the practical sides of the job, worked at News Of The World so I got to know him and he invited me to go in to do some work experience there. I ended up going in more and more and for the last year of my degree I was pretty much working there all the time.
Skrufff: Damian Lazurus worked for News International and talked recently about some of the horrible articles he had to do . . .
James Mowbray: Yeah, door-stepping (standing outside peoples doors, harassing them for quotes). Youve got to get the story havent you, and I suppose if youre not up to it, you shouldnt be there. I suppose he decided he didnt want to do that and moved on to something else. Its a pretty harsh thing to do; you need to be a certain type of character. I wasnt writing for them I was more on the production side. When I went to Bahrain I was the production editor then in Dubai I became the editor of a local magazine. And also did art direction for a womens magazine set up and launched by a Saudi guy. I was also writing features for a business magazine. I was still into my music though and used to spend a fortune buying CDs mail order.
Skrufff: How did you end up at Mixmag?
James Mowbray: Id have enough of Dubai and decided I was going to move to Australia then I met my wife in Dubai. I was sharing a villa near the beach with a group of friends and one guys girlfriend was visited by an old school friend, which was her. I fell in love and we decided to come back to London together. I got here, needed a job and Mixmag were advertising, I applied and got the job- that was it. That was four years ago.
Skrufff: What do you make of superstar DJs, the likes of Tiesto making fortunes, what sets these people apart?
James Mowbray: Thats the $64,000 dollar question, whats the secret? Im not too sure.
Skrufff: Are these DJs better than others in some specific way?
James Mowbray: No, Im not sure if theyre better, they must be doing something right if theyve got that mass appeal. I guess what theyre doing is more commercial. There are plenty of people I know whove made fantastic, amazing records but theyve only sold on a small scale because theyre quite niche in style. Theres room for everyone.
Skrufff: Judge Jules said a while ago that DJing these days in 49% about the image and performing and 51% about the music, do you agree with that?
James Mowbray: Maybe it is in his world and the kind of music he plays. I guess he might have been referring to Eddie Halliwell whos a showman. Im not into the music he does but for him I guess it is. For other genres I think its still about playing great records in the right order. It depends what area; for bigger arenas I guess they want to be entertained more and to have a link with the personality of the DJ. When youre a teenager you like to be a fan, to be into a particular band, I was the same. I would obsessively follow every single record KRS-1 brought out.
Skrufff: Have you ever encountered angry DJs or promoters who hate Mixmag and blame you?
James Mowbray: Sure, from time to time. When youre doing a magazine and putting opinions in there of course youre going to upset people from time and time. If somebodys running a club and putting a lot of energy and passion into setting it up and youre saying actually, we think its crap, theyre obviously going to be a little annoyed. You have to have a thick skin, sure, some people do take it personally. We were laughing in the office the other day about a review we did of an Adam F album a few years ago, the one he did with all the rappers. We slated it and said it was rubbish. The problem was that at time the office was next to the Kiss FM studios where he had a show and he came in and spat the dummy. He said you wankers, blah blah blah, who do you think you are? and there was a big argument. People do get pissed off but thats par for the course.
Skrufff: Whats the worst thing thats happened?
James Mowbray: Ive never had anyone threatening to punch me or anything like that. That would be just pure immaturity.
James Mowbrays next Heavy Industries party is on Saturday June 30 @ the Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle (London).
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)