The electrohouse survivor is ploughing a far deeper musical furrow these days...
The race, they say, is not always to the swift. Kaz James is a case in point.
Right now, the Australian producer is surfing a wave of club success with releases on labels like Glasgow Underground (Paradise, a deep house No 2 on Beatport), Nic Fanciulli's Saved and Dennis Ferrer's Objektivity. His next single, Life In Purple - signed to Yousef's Circus Recordings - doesn't look like doing his fast-growing reputation any harm, either.
The man born Christopher James Karyotakis is no newcomer to the scene, however. He first troubled the UK charts as one-half of electrohouse/rock duo Bodyrockers, who scored a major international hit with I Like The Way back in 2004. After that came a string of more commercially oriented singles for Sony BMG in the late 00s, not to mention 2014's David Guetta collab Blast Off. Lately, though, he's been returning to his house roots - and finding greater success than ever. Oh, and just incidentally running a successful chain of London coffee shops called Grind as well!
So with Life In Purple due to drop very soon, we got in touch with him to find out more...
Introduce yourself! Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got into (and into making) electronic music in the first place?
"My name is Kaz James, and I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. I was always fascinated by the art of DJing from a really young age. I did music at school and learned how to play the trumpet but I couldn't stand the music I was being taught and needed more from it.
"There was a lot of rave music coming out during my young teens which just seemed super exciting to me, and I desperately wanted to be part of it. So I was like 'Fuck school!' and I started DJing. Some of my first gigs were at the local underage disco where I played disco, retro and rare groove - which were mostly my auntie's 12-inch singles, because I couldn't afford to buy new records at the time. The money I made I spent buying house and techno cuts until I had a good enough collection so I could start mixing properly and play proper rooms."
You started out as resident at Onelove, which I'm told is Australia's biggest club night. For UK readers who aren't familiar with it, tell us about that club.
"I started playing there when I was 18. I was so excited when I was asked to play because they had this wicked rotary Vestax mixer which, at the time, was amazing! I was one of the original residents and played at Onelove for 10 years. It began in Melbourne but we had nights all across the country. The biggest DJs in the world all came to play. Onelove became the foundations for Stereosonic, which then became one of the biggest electronic festivals in Oz at the time."
Frankie Knuckles apparently hand-picked you to open for him in Ibiza - that must have felt like a massive honour AND been a big challenge?
"It was actually his tour manager John Brown that heard me play at the beginning. I was playing the side room for a Frankie Knuckles show in Melbourne, and I got to meet Frankie. We hung out for a few days after the show, and I told him that my dream was to come to Europe and play, and said he had a few shows I could open for.
"That same summer he introduced me to Danny Whittle from Pacha Ibiza. I remember we all had dinner at Frankie's place with the legend that is Judy Weinstein (Frankie and Def Mix's manager) in Ibiza. After that I started playing Pacha Ibiza, opening for the Def Mix nights and playing on the terrace for various others. It was an amazing and huge building block to my DJ career. Actually, most of the DJs and people I met at that time was on the terrace at Pacha."
You were also resident at Nic Fanciulli's We Are The Night parties in Ibiza. How did you and Nic first come to hook up?
"Nic was one of the first people I met when I came to London. We always got on and he has always been really supportive of me, not only musically but as a great friend."
I'm told you've produced tracks for Kelis and Macy Gray - how did that come about?
"Actually both are similar stories: I met them out on the town and then we ended up in the studio. I love working in the studio with people from all different genres. I've made hip-hop, indie rock, soul, disco... you name it, I've done it.
"I like writing records with everyone, I feel you can never stop learning in the studio and I find that I always learn something new working with different people. Whether it's Kelis or Macy, Chad Hugo from N.E.R.D or the guys from Limp Bizkit, it's always amazing fun. I've also done music for movies like American Pie and The Fast And The Furious."
Your own music is quite varied - some of it I'd call techno, some of it house. How do YOU describe it?
"I don't really know, to be honest - I usually just say my stuff is "house and techno". What I do know is that I like to make records that have unexpected moments, that are musically emotional, and that I always try to make slightly different from everything else around at that time."
Are you still doing the Sunday residency at Scorpios in Mykonos? If so, tell us about that… or if not, how come?
"Yes, I played every Sunday at Scorpios this year. This summer was amazing in Mykonos, the vibe there is so chilled, it's such a beautiful untapped island and we have some really cool new ideas for next year. So stay tuned."
In nearly 20 years of iDJ's existence, I'm pretty sure you're the first DJ we've ever interviewed who also owns a chain of coffee shops! So tell us about that?
"It was a happy accident, to be honest. I needed somewhere to put my studio when I was in London, and my business partner had a space in Shoreditch which also had a shop front. So we decided to build a studio upstairs, and a coffee shop downstairs. Good coffee is one of my passions so the idea was it would be a social hub for the heads. We now have 12 spots across London called Grind. We focus on coffee and cocktails - check them out if you can."
Your next release is Life In Purple, on Yousef's Circus label - how did you hook up with him?
"I actually met Yousef when I was 19 years old, DJing at a house party in Byron Bay, Australia. We talk about when we first met a lot actually, mainly because I was wearing a dress with fairy wings at the time. Trust me, it's not my usual get-up, but it was a dress-up party! I think the entire party was off their rocker on mushrooms and ecstasy, because the birthday boy had put it in the punch. Not me, of course…. I was just wearing a dress."
Finally, what else is going on in Kaz James' world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I have new records coming out every month and an album that I'm putting together right now. So I really should get back to work. The album will be available early next year at all good record stores (and some not so good ones as well). Thanks for the support and big love!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Life In Purple is out on Circus Recordings on 23 November. Pre-order it here.