Interview / James Bright

To be honest, the first I heard of James Bright, was his remix of Max Manetti`s Henley – turning the Italian`s percussive cosmic voudoo into a warm, chugging journey through Mr Roland`s little silver box. I was totally unaware of James` back catalogue, his pedigree, and Cafe del Mar connections. Since then he’s had releases on Eclectics and Higher Love Recordings – both characterized by a rich, uncluttered downtempo sound – bass-lines quite possibly inspired by deep house, and often featuring an elegant, unhurried dose of acid. James now has a new 6 track E.P. out on Quattro. Acoustic guitars performing aural acrobatics on Andaman. An electric riff driving the dub-disco Groves – a clipped funk that could be a vamp on Chic`s Good Times, or perhaps Queen`s vamp on that. Flying Tigers lets loose the loon birds – furthering the fauna found in a hot, humid tropic of Mediterranean whispers and tribal chants. Shinrinyoku`s bongos, congas, tumbling chimes, and fruity 303 has Chris & Cosey`s Dancing Ghosts on holiday on The White Isle. The title track, Betamax, seems to pay tribute – as its name might suggest – to the early days of MTV – glancing over its shoulder to `80s pop dance classics by Arthur Baker and John “Jellybean” Benitez. 

Where are you from and where are you based?

I was born in Kent but moved to Macclesfield in Cheshire when I was about 2 years old and am still based there.  It’s about a 30 minute drive from Manchester

When did you start making music

I guess I started making music in my early teens when I took up the guitar. I bought myself a Shure SM58 mic and a Tascam 4-Track and was constantly writing little hooks. I tried the whole teen band thing but unfortunately I always fell to pieces when it came time to play on stage. I started producing properly around 2000.

Were You DJing before you started making music.

No, I guess I was the other way round from a lot of producers as I was making music first. It’s funny as I’ve never really considered myself to be a DJ as such.  The first sets I did were to promote things I had coming out at the time.  In fact I seem to remember the first time I played I’d never used decks and a mixer before – looking back it probably sounded pretty terrible. Some memorable places have been Café Mambo in Ibiza and the Supperclub in Amsterdam.  I’ve put on a few small nights around the North west  but mainly I just enjoy the chance to play and listen to music.

What kind of sets do you play? Could you give me a few examples of tunes you’d play if you had a gig tomorrow? 

The sets I play are always pretty eclectic to be honest. I’m a  big fan of building a set and like to start things off laid back and get more upbeat as the night goes on. I might start off with something like Apiento`s Things You Do For Love, I’d definitely be playing stuff off the new Cantoma album Into Daylight or might even play something like King Tubby`s Jah Jah Dub.  Something older – but still fresh sounding – like Maze`s Twilight. I’ve always liked playing Hubbabubbaklubb by Mopedbart, it gets people moving. I always seem to end up playing The Clash`s Mustapha Dance at some point. If I’m playing around Manchester or the Northwest, Dropping something like Happy Monday’s Bobs Yer Uncle always goes down well. I must admit it’s been a couple of years since I last played anywhere. I played Todd Terje`s Strandbar a lot.

How did you hook up with Eclectics. Higher Love and Quattro Music?

For a couple of years producing took a bit of a back seat when I started a family. Being creative and lack of sleep because of a baby certainly doesn’t  go hand in hand.  I was still writing and licensing tracks though – in fact over that period I wrote an album that was all ready to go but when the time came to release, it just didn’t sound right to me anymore. So I decided to shelve it and start a fresh. It was quite a cathartic experience.  I wrote four brand new  songs  pretty quickly and sent them over to Grant Williams at Eclectics. I loved the stuff he was putting out on the label and thought they would work well there. They were released as the Pacific Bright E.P. Then early this year I released a second E.P. with Eclectics – World So High. Mike Bradbury got in touch to say they were starting Higher Love Recordings and would I like to release something with them. It was perfect timing as I’d written the track Shimmer and was looking for a home for it. I’d worked with Mark Lusty at Reverb Records on my last album Little Things and when he told me about his new label Quattro Music it just seemed like the perfect fit for the new E.P.

How did you come to record with Melanie Williams – of SUB SUB fame. Have you worked with any other vocalists. Do you plan to – Would you like to?

I’ve known Mel for a number of years. We met when she moved to Macclesfield. The town has a quite a buzzing little musical community. I`d been doing a few remixes for the label NANG and was asked to write an original track for them. I had this backing track that I thought would be perfect for Mel so sent it over. I’ve worked with a few vocalists over the years. Rachel Lloyd featured heavily on my album Little Things, I’ve written quite a lot with Cathy Battistessa and produced a couple of tracks with Alexandra Hamnede of Bliss fame. I’m not currently working with any vocalists but am always interested in collaborating.

Can you tell me more about Lux – the collaboration with “Chill out” veteran Steve Miller? How did you meet and how does it work?

I met Steve through a mutual friend around 1999 when I was in my early 20s.  As I said I`d always written music but it was Steve who introduced me to production.  I spent a lot of time in his studio and learnt all I could from him. Steve was and still is an amazing producer. After setting up my own studio, Steve suggested we collaborate on something and LUX was born. We always stuck to the same formula when writing, I would start tracks in my studio and pass them on to him and he would finish and master them. In fact we never wrote a LUX track in the same room together. We don’t write together anymore, as we’re both focused on our solo projects.

The Lux track – Northern Lights – featured on a Café  Del Mar Compilation. Have you ever been to Café Del Mar? Have you visted Ibiza, do you continue to visit the island? 

Northern Lights was the first track we track we wrote together. It came from an early guitar hook I`d written but Steve really brought it to life. Steve – as Afterlife – had tracks released on previous Cafe Del Mar compilations so he sent it off for Volume Siete and it was picked as the opening track. We went on to have a track on Volume Ocho and I`ve since had a few of my solo songs on the compilation`s various volumes. I’ve been to Ibiza a few times and have visited Café Del Mar – it’s a special place although I’ve never played a set there. I haven’t been out to the island for a few years now but definitely plan to get out there again soon.

Your productions  and remixes always stand out for me. They have an unfussy feel, and this really rich bass sound. I’ve likened a few of them to the late 80s releases of The Beloved. Would The Beloved be an influence? Are there any tricks to getting that sound? What equipment do you have? Are you working digitally or analogue?

Thank you. I’m definitely a fan of The Beloved but growing up where and when I did I think  the whole Manchester scene that was going on at the time had a bigger impact on me. I don’t think there`s any big trick to getting my sound. I know I’ve  developed my own sound over the years but it’s not really something I’ve consciously worked on. It’s just what happens when I produce, it just feels right to my ears. I’m quite methodical when it comes to layering sounds and try to get every element as strong as it can be on its own. There’s a tendency when writing for people to over complicate songs, I know I’ve been guilty of that, but I’m  big fan of space and letting things breath, that way your hooks will always stand out. I’m not a massive tech person to be honest. I work mostly digitally, mixing in the box, but I still love to use live guitar, bass and my lovely old Fender Rhodes when I can. A lot of melodies in my music will have been played on the guitar first.

Could you possibly name a few Manchester records that have – in particular – been an influence?

My early teens were spent listening to mainly the “Madchester Scene” and Manchester music. In particular The Stone Roses` first album, and Pill’s Thrills and Bellyaches by Happy Mondays. I think the latter definitely piqued my interest in electronic music. Especially W.F.L. and the Weatherall and Oakenfold remix of Hallelujah, and  although not a Manchester band Primal Scream’s Screamadelica was another record at the time that had a huge impact on me. Again Andrew Weatherall’s remix of Come Together was I song I’d say influenced me a lot and still does if I’m honest.

Since you’ve mentioned the Manchester scene, where would you have gone out dancing in Manchester? Prior to the pandemic did you still go out dancing ? If so, where?

To tell you the truth I was never a big clubber and I’m definitely no dancer. Manchester had and still has an amazing music scene – there is always something going on in the city. Moonboots and Jason Boardman – AKA Aficionado – do a lot of great nights. The last thing I went to was at The Soup Kitchen – Grant Williams, from Eclectics, was playing a few records in between great live sets by Antoine Kogut and Menage A Trois.

Your music is pretty chilled, but you often manage to squeeze some acid in there. Is that real 303?

Unfortunately it’s not a real 303 – but there are some great Vst’s out there, that with a bit of tweaking, get close to the sound. The 303 sound just does something to me.

Would you be able to give me your top three chill out tracks – that contain a 303 / acid line? 

That’s a tough one. The three that instantly spring to mind are:

40 Thieves (feat Qzen) – Don’t Turn It Off (Brennan Green remix)

Poolside – Do You Believe

Hardfloor presents Dadamnphreaknoizephunk

Do you ever make more banging tracks? 

I’ve dabbled, but only really half heartedly.

Would you describe your music as “balearic”? When would you have first come across the term “balearic” – what does it mean to you?

The “B” word…… Yes, technically I’d describe my music as Balearic as it has at times been written with Ibiza firmly in mind but I think the word or the description “Balearic” has come to mean something more than music influenced by the Islands. It’s more an “anything goes” thing for me. The DJs and artists that pioneered that whole sound set their boundaries wide enough to accept most things.

Betamax the title track of the new record has the feel – to me at least – of a classic 80s pop dance dub. I’m guessing that’s what the title is hinting at – the early days of MTV – so is this what you were aiming for? Stuff by say Arthur Baker, Jellybean?

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, although the title came long after the song was finished. Arthur Baker – say Freeez` I Dub U, was definitely an influence as was Wally Badarou – Chief Inspector, for example. 

Would you ever consider – once this crisis is over – playing live? 

Now my daughter is a little older and I can manage to stay up past 10PM. I’d love to start DJing again.

What’s in the pipeline for the near future?

I’ve got an another E.P. coming out on Eclectics later on this year with some great remixes. In the meantime I’m in the studio every day so there should be a few more releases coming this year.

james bright betamax

James Bright`s Betamax E.P. is released by Quattro Music on June 5th. You can pre-order a copy here. 

 

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