Joshua James: “I’m Never Missing a Party Again”

We catch up with Phantasy Sound mainstay and London queer club hero Joshua James, who provides an hour of “balls-to-the-wall” rave-ready music.

14 min
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May 18, 2021
Cameron Holbrook

When it comes to clubbing in London, DJ-producer Joshua James knows what makes a great party. A beloved resident at Rinse FM, XOYO, and the hot and wild underground queer party Savage, he has spent the past 11 years working his way up in the scene and has become a staple of the British capital’s LGBTQ+ dance music community.

In 2019, Joshua James first linked up with Erol Alken to release his first single on the artist’s storied Phantasy Sound label, “Coarse.” He has since become an integral member of the Phantasy family and released two additional tracks on the imprint, “Journey’s In Love” and “Marlene,” that have been remixed by the likes of Justin Cudmore, Joe Goddard, and Deetron.

For a man who spent the majority of the past decade living on dance floors, the reality of 2020 was a tough pill to swallow. But with the light appearing at the end of the COVID tunnel, Joshua James is teeming with energy and more than ready to make the crowds sweat and dance harder and longer than they ever have before.

We caught up with James to learn more about his year away from the clubs, the up-and-coming projects been working on in the interim, and what he has planned for later this year. In addition, he’s compiled an exclusive mix composed of the new music he’s been hoarding over the past 15 months. Listen to the mix in the player above and check out the interview below.

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Thanks for joining us, Joshua! How’s your 2021 been so far, and how have you been keeping yourself occupied throughout the pandemic?

Hiya! Thanks for having me. So… 2021… ummm, well it’s getting better, there’s a rave on the horizon?!?!? I’m so beyond ready to get inside a nightclub, I feel like I’ve lost a bit of myself. I’ve been out about five nights a week since I was 18 and now I’ve been going to bed at 9 pm and waking up at 7 am. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Other than getting blackout drunk on Zoom it’s music that has kept me sane. I’ve been in the studio a load and I’ve been working on some really exciting projects, which I’m itching to get out and share! (Insert meme about a DJ “Watch this space, big things to come, etc.).

Tell us a bit about your background and how you first became interested in club culture? Who were some of your early heroes that you modeled yourself after when first entering the studio and stepping up behind the decks?

I moved to London when I was 18 for university. I grew up in the south of England and I was that weird queer kid looking for a space to exist and to find my community. I quickly discovered the queer scene in east London and it took over my life. It was the peak of nu-rave and electroclash and I was going out a minimum of five nights a week. I was a gobby 19-year-old club kid and someone asked me if I was a DJ, and I just said yes. I got my first gig at this little bar called Trash Palace in Chinatown. I was obviously terrible, but it never stopped me and I soldiered on. The haircut was worse but the records got better.

These clubs were more than just a party, they were a community. I got my musical education from every club I went to, from Trailer Trash, Wet Yourself, Circus, and The End, each of them pushing boundaries and spawning amazing musical talent like Cormac and Hannah Holland. I mean Erol started Trash, one of the most prolific club nights in London’s history, from which Phantasy was born and loads of the artists involved in the label can link back to the party.

These guys are my early clubland heroes, the promoters and DJs who took me under their wings and nurtured me. It was actually my best mate and producer KDA who got me into the studio for the first time. He used to book me at Circus and Love Box and probably said something encouraging like “You’re not going to get laid in those shoes, want to come hang out at the studio?”

You’ve held major residences at London parties and clubs like Savage and XOXO. Tell us a bit about those residencies. Do you think the dynamic of club residencies may change in a post-pandemic world once people can finally start getting back to the dance floor?

Savage was a total dream. If you add sleazy disco with a five-story strip club, double-height stripper poles, amazing dancers, and 600 sweaty gays you get one hell of a party. I really cut my teeth playing here, before the refurb the booth would sway as a drag queen squatted over the mixer. Think you’re a real DJ? Try doing it here.

My residency at Savage is how I got involved with XOYO. We started a party there a few years back called Gloria’s which took some of the elements of Savage and put it in a mega room with a stage and a kicking system. From Gloria’s, I took over room two for The Blessed Madonna’s residency and then moved to Saturday night’s main resident playing all night long. It was a dream, to be honest, having a club like XOYO put their trust in you to play start to finish. You got to go on a journey and interact with the crowd, they put the booth right in it and got to be surrounded by dancers. I’m welling up writing this, GET ME TO A CLUB STAT.

There are millions of people ready to rave, how many people have turned 18 since the pandemic kicked off? More than a club-full I reckon. I think that the club residency will be even more important than it was before, not having to rely on a big-name DJ to fill a club. It will be a renaissance (strong words), talent which wouldn’t have had the limelight before will have more chances to perform and a new world of ravers to experience it. I’m ready.

Do you remember your first Phantasy Record? Throughout your musical journey, what has Phantasy Sound represented to you?

The first record I can remember buying on Phantasy was probably “Lemonade” by Erol Alkan and Boys Noize. It’s a proper wonky pumper and it’s also on a really sick picture disc so always pops into my head. Strongly followed by Daniel Avery’s Drone Logic.

Phantasy has become one of the most respected labels in electronic music, I’m a proper superfan and honoured I get to release on it. So many go-to records in my bag, and I always want my records to be that for other DJs.

Erol and the guys at the label are really hands-on and really provide a platform that pushes you as an artist. Get ready for the next releases.

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How did you first get linked up with Phantasy Sound for your 2019 debut with the label, “Coarse?”

Well. It was through my residencies, we were doing Savage in Room 2 for Erol’s XOYO residency. I’d seen Erol play over the years but we’d never met until then. I think the gobby club kid of years past popped up and I got his email off him and sent him some records I’d just finished up. Erol signed all three over a coffee and we got to it.

You’ve had three records come out on Phantasy Sound, all of which have been remixed by three massively talented artists — Joe Goddard, Deetron, and Justin Cudmore. Can you tell us a bit about the sound and production process behind these three tracks, how they differ, and the remix recruitment process? Do you have a favorite?

Each of the records sit in different spaces. “Coarse” is that hard, peak-time acid pumper and we went through a number of remix options to find the right person to push it and the name on both of our lists was Justin Cudmore’s. He really delivered and the track got great support, there are two photos of papa Sven [Väth] holding the record. TWO.

The next release was “Journeys in Love”, which is super dreamy and melodic but still slaps. HAAi played it at Pikes Hotel and I think I cried, not sure if that was the record though. The remix for this was by Joe Goddard. He was one of my early supporters and booked me to play with the 2 Bears — what that man can do with a synth is next to godliness.

Then we have “Marlene”, a proper gnarly chugger. I’ve been obsessed with old Marlene [Dietrich] movies (kooky queer kid) and I discovered these old interviews with her and I built the record around the sample. I’ve always been a big Deetron fan and his DJ Kicks comp came on my shuffle and I texted Erol immediately and he delivered two stompers.

Tell us about your weekly show on Rinse FM.

I’ve been at Rinse now for three years, that’s more than 156 hours of shows if you’re in the mood. I started to connect to artists all over the world and I launched Back to the Floor, where I wanted to showcase new artists and resident DJs who might not have had a platform to share their music.

What can fans expect to see from Joshua James in 2021?

To start with you will be seeing me out everywhere. I’m never missing a party again.

A load of new music! Starting off with my next release due out in the middle of summer, I’ve really pushed myself musically and it is dead good. Spicy remix as well.

Also, there’s a project I’ve been working on really closely with Phantasy which we’ve been trying to make happen for a while and we’ve pulled it off. Think queer punk techno. A new residency. Oooooo.

Can you tell us a little bit about the mix you’ve put together for us?

I sat down with hours and hours of new music I’ve hoarded over the last 15 months and tried to whittle it down. Some of the best tracks I’ve heard in years came out in a time with no traditional places to hear them. I felt like I was stockpiling them like toilet roll in 2020 and that’s just a little selfish. So it’s a balls-to-the-wall, stomper hour, which reflects my excitement and need to get out and RAVE and I hope you enjoy it.

Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s Assistant Editor. Find him on Twitter.