James Brooke: In trance we trust

by Taran M

James Brooke - Photo by Thomm BrookeI’m fortunate enough to know a few people who apart from being amazing, have dream jobs in the music industry. The first person to have career envy with was the head of A ‘n” R for Shock Records when I worked there. He was always meeting Millencolin or Pennywise, had an expense account and was a complete wanker. James Brooke is a self made man and very much not a wanker. He pretty much has every wannabe dance music aficionado’s dream job. He runs a label, enjoys coffee, is an uber famous DJ and loves long walks by the oceans and games of table tennis. The big thing is he runs himself. He didn’t fall into these positions, he did his time, worked his ass off and has become one of the most prolific and affluent members of a scene very much back on the way in. So just in time for Prognosis this Saturday we were able to coax this local hero into lending his ears and then even more so, his story and opinions. There are many words you could use to describe James and Pineapple, aloof or pregnant are not applicable. However diligent, honest and driven are definitely more applicable. So set your trance pants to five and enjoy the read as we get our chance to get to know the talented Mr. Brooke.

So James you’re the quiet achiever of the EDM, how did the love for electronic music evolve?

Hahaha yeah I guess you could call me that as a fair bit of my involvement in the scene has mostly been behind the curtain so to speak. Wow my love of electronic music starts back many many years ago to a time when I was just starting high school, when my older sister was buying up loads of CD’s and listening to new music. Some of which was dance music, and for some reason I became hooked, I’ll go into more on the start of my passion later in the interview.

But from there it just slowly grew and grew, to a point where I decided that playing the bass guitar in a band wasn’t the direction I wanted and purchased decks and started spending all my cash and time on records and mixing them. Naturally the love just kept growing and growing to a point now where I am now one of the lucky few who have actually managed to make EDM my full time job. So you could say that the love was love at first listen, and over the years it’s just evolved into being almost 100% of my life…

I didn’t mean it to be a detraction, you kick major goals without  making a ruckus about yourself. How did your spot Element’s start and what first inspired you to get on the air, your secret idol is Pete Tong isn’t it… It’s ok you can tell us?

You could say Elements came together back in July of 2010 when the Midnite Sleaze boys asked me to fill in for their radio show on KissFM whilst they went overseas for a 3 week tour. I had done radio before on JoyFM and Kiss as well but never on a weekly basis and found out that I really enjoyed doing it. The funny thing was the slot after them was completely empty, and being a Saturday night slot I though it was rather odd so I filled that slot during those 3 weeks and after that time I approached Timmy from KissFM with the concept, the show started in August the rest you can say is history. The main reasons I started the show was that firstly I love playing records, secondly I wasn’t getting many gigs around town to fulfill my passion, and lastly I had so many damn good records that needed to be heard, and lastly what DJ wouldn’t want a weekly show?

Hahaha I have actually stolen I few one-liners from Pete Tong, and I have massive respect for the essential mix, but I wouldn’t say he is my idol lol!

You’ve had a swagger of releases on 405 recordings, your own label. Including some big name festival compilations and some sweet Australian talents. What’s it like to be running a record label in the digital sphere? What are the major challenges that affect you? How did you come to mix those CD’S?

Running the label in the current age is great in many ways, the advancements in technology in the last 10 years has made most of what a label does easier and it requires a lot less staff as well. Things like promo systems, digital distribution, Ableton, fast internet connections, anti piracy company’s etc etc.

But that said there are quite a few things that make running a label at the moment quite stressful and downright near impossible at times… Piracy is the age old whinge from labels and artists, but you know what we can try and stop it as much as we like but its not going away until the culture changes. Also the margins are now quite small so contrary to popular belief we don’t make millions of dollars. The declining CD market also makes it hard to secure numbers into retail stores as well, I could sit here and complain or highlight the issues but at the end of the day its heaps of fun and we are actually doing well!

The CD’s I have mixed, well in short I was in the right place at the right time for the first one which was Godskitchen Summer Rush, this was before 405 and when I was working in the same office as the A&R of Central Station Records, he knew I liked trance and progressive music and when it came time to put together that years CD he came to me and asked if I would like to. That is also how the story of 405 starts, but that’s for another interview. The rest of the Gods CD’s that I have done came from how successful that first one was. The others all came about through 405 recordings, and my knowledge and skill in putting together mixes quickly using Ableton (most of the time having to bash out 2cds in only a weekend). Fast forward to 2012 and I’m mixing and putting together a total of 9 releases which totals just over 20 individual mixes/CD’s… so yeah that’s a lot of warping & Ableton screens hahaha

What do you make of the current stocks of the EDM industry as a whole, compared to where it was 10 years ago?

The industry has increased to a size in which its almost impossible to comprehend, there are so many new genres and sub-genres, so many new labels and even more bloody DJ’s . I heard a stat a while ago that decks were out selling guitars 2 to 1, I’m not sure how true it is or where I heard it but it does give you an idea of just how big the EDM beast has become. I mean clearly its cooler to be a DJ than a rock star!!

What it does confirm is how accessible EDM has become, these days anyone can become a DJ or try their hand at production. As long as you have the money to buy the equipment (which by the way is extremely cheap compared to what it cost 10 or even 5 years ago) and given you have enough talent and/or know the right people BAM you could be the next Armin or Guetta in no time… hahaha its nowhere near that simple at all but that’s what’s selling the decks and wav files… the dream.

This is a subject I can talk a lot about, but in short I think its changed in a very good way, and whilst the purists will argue until they are blue in the face that its all gone Pete Tong I completely disagree! There is just so much great music out there, and just as many amazing DJ’s across so many genres that its too hard to see it any other way. I mean just have a look around town at any one time, we are spoilt for choice… The only thing I think that is currently changing which I don’t like is that a lot of smaller clubs and venues are disappearing, and the focus is becoming more and more around festivals… Don’t get me wrong I love a good festival, but not at the cost of being in a dark club with 300 people rocking out to some of the best DJ’s from both overseas and locally… that shit is where its at! And please don’t get me started on the promoter DJ…… fffffff

Do you even have a genre anymore? Explain how you’ve created your style. Where has it come from?

Hahaha no I don’t think I do have the one genre anymore hey! I think it comes from my extremely varied taste in music, and the amount of genres I have explored over the years… I don’t like the idea of being locked down to one style or being put into a box. I go by the motto “if it sounds good I’ll play it”, my genre depends on the gig I’m booked for, the crowd I’m in front of, and of course what I’m feeling at that point in time…

What is the most bizarre thing that has happened/ seen out whilst playing?

Oh god I have seen some pretty whacked things happen whilst playing, the best was probably the girl who fell off the front of the DJ booth mid sentence at Room680 only to reappear 5 seconds later covered in her split drink telling me she loved me. The other I witnessed whilst out, was a punter go running up to the decks, yell something about the music being shit and then proceed to pull every cord out of the mixer.

But probably the worst thing was a DJ (who shall remain nameless) killing the tunes to yell out to his mate to get him a drink, this happened 3 times…

Playing for free, is it good to freelance for the start?

Yes it can be a good idea to kick things off playing for free, but it can become a tricky situation after awhile of doing free gigs. As if there is a cover charge the promoter and the bar are making money from your hard work (well if you’re doing a good job people will be dancing, and buying drinks). I mean think about it, you paid money for those tunes, cds, usb stick, headphones, the time spent practicing, securing the gig, preparing for the gig, promoting it to your mates etc etc. Why shouldn’t you get some of the pie?

It’s a good way to get your foot in the door, but don’t ever sell yourself short, if everyone else is making money then at then end of the day you’re the one getting dicked. That said use your best judgment, a few gigs to show off what you can do and get people talking is great, and there are some gigs I do for free because it’s a mate, it’s a free party or a favour… so in short yes, but be careful…

James playing at Armada Nights in Sydney - Photo by Luke Davids

When you take the DJ out of James Brooke, what’s left, what else does he do?

After you take out the label, the radio show and the DJing, there really isn’t too much left over as I really have made my life all about music… But I really like chilling out on the couch and watching movies and TV series. I’m also a massive fan of long brunches on the weekends, coffee and hanging out with mates. I also like to read (yes I’m old fashioned) and the occasional computer game or laps of the local pool…

Explain your sisters influence on your career…

Is there a word limit? Hahaha. Well to be perfectly honest I’m not sure I would be where I am today without my sisters influence and help over the years. From the point of actually introducing me to EDM many many years ago, to helping me buy my first decks and records, and then to sneaking me into clubs when I was underage and introducing me to all my fav DJ’s (who ended up teaching me so much about the industry and the craft of mixing records and playing to a crowd).

It actually goes further as well, as she introduced me to my first boss Derrick whilst I was underage at Private Function gig, I gave him a few ciggies and that ended up being the reason why he hired me a few years later. And if I didn’t get that job then I would never have met my current boss years after, and 405 Recordings would never have come into being.

And to this day Sara is still involved, quite regularly I will send her my mixes before they go out to the public, and will also seek her advice on certain tracks before a gig. For example she has already approved about 5 tracks for my gig at Prognosis on Saturday night hahaha!

Upcoming gigs?

Yes im playing this Saturday night at Prognosis alongside one of my fav DJ/Producers who was an early influence, PQM. I have just been booked for a massive warm up set in Sydney in September. There is also a national tour in the works for the same time of year, I have my weekly radio show Elements which airs every weekend around Australia and there is also something special planned for the 100th show in November so keep an eye out for that.

Finally you’re a big fan of the photobomb, a hobby we both share. Best photo bomb you have done?

Bahahaha yeah I must admit that is a fav club activity, my god there have been so many over the years! I think I recall un-tagging myself from most of them a year ago, but there was one with Jed that was pretty damn awesome, I think we managed to perfectly get just our eyes showing between peoples arms or something…
Another fav was completely ruining a fans photo with Carl Cox a few years back, was so good, I think the person might have cried when they got home!

You can catch James @ Prognosis this saturday the 16th of June 2012.

Brooke related links:
Elements FB Page

Interview by Taran M