Artist Spotlight

Devon James

United States

Devon James is full of stories from his colorful musical past. He picked out his first concert at the age of seven, Maxi Priest and Shaggy—an obvious choice for a boy whose father was the guitarist for Jamaican band, the Skatalites. He spent four hours in a basement studio with Lee Scratch Perry. It was part of an album he recorded with legendary house producer Felix Da Housecat. He’s traveled the world as the tour manager for Nicole Moudaber and stage-managed for major festivals. He’s the consummate dot connector. A Swiss army knife of music industry skills that he started honing as a child. Industry know-how aside, James is also an accomplished producer. With a style that touches funk, breaks, disco, tech house, and weird and filthy bass house he’s released on a wide range of lauded labels that continue to come back for more. Box Of Cats, We Jack, Founders of Filth, and Farris Wheel have all tagged James for his diversity of style.

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James was groomed for a career in the music industry early on. At 12, while his father was in Europe on tour, he was enlisted to help with admin work, faxing documents to agents when his father couldn’t. The observations he made as his dad navigated a career as a musician and band manager helped inform the industry knowledge he needed to break his way into music. James is, as some might say, industry AF. “I knew how to talk to people,” James tells me. “It was just really always easy for me to reach out to people and ask for an opportunity.” It’s a skill that many in music don’t develop early enough, he explains. “I think that's one of the biggest things that I see with people is like, they sit back and wait for things to come to them. But I've just always been a go getter. I've never really been intimidated to talk to people.”

Those that get the furthest the fastest in music know that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t shoot. James is a master of shooting his shot, even when it may seem he’s in uncharted territory. Just after graduating from Syracuse University, he moved to New York City. He’d picked up DJing in college and had some expertise in DJ controllers and software, namely Traktor—software manufacturer Native Instrument’s DJ suite. At the time, most DJs in dance music were exclusively using CDJs, digital DJing was not common practice.

He went to work for now-defunct New York DJ and production school Dubspot. His colleague and Traktor expert Mike Henderson, aka DJ Endo, connected James to Felix Da Housecat who was a Traktor novice and needed an expert to go on tour with him. James gravitated to the bubbly and hilarious spirit that Felix exudes. Felix gave James the nickname Devon Dazzler after his 2004 album, Devin Dazzle & the Neon Fever, on their very first call. “Felix had a show at the Hilton or something around Halloween. [He] calls me the day he's supposed to play and he's like, ‘What's up Devin Dazzle? What's up Dazzler?’ Felix thinks I'm like Devin Dazzle incarnate. That was like delivered to his doorstep at his hotel.” Their fast friendship strengthed the working relationship, and James became his go-to guy. They toured Europe together, and Felix encouraged James to continue producing. He even invited him to work on music. And then at an afterparty in Brooklyn, Felix was offered a record deal. James and Felix moved into an old monastery on 16th street in Manhattan, apparently the former home of Ashley Simpson. And for four months, worked on the album Narrative Of Thee Blast Illusion.

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The James and Felix relationship has also resulted in a new collaborative song called “Dazzler,” a quirky house track that features Felix’s glamorous vocals. The inane lyrics were pulled from voice notes sent to James on an old phone. It’s a hilarious look at the relationship the two have built over the last decade. To say that Felix was instrumental in James’ career would be an understatement. However, the industry know-how and skills as a relationship builder were the things he trained his whole life for. And James has continued to be the consummate dot connector in the house music community. He went on to be the label manager for Golf Clap’s Country Club Disco imprint, and now manages Ghettoblaster’s We Jack record label.

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Devon also throws his events in New York. Radioactive is dedicated to social responsibility. The multi-disciplinary artist collective started in 2012 as a way for a group of graphic designers, filmmakers, and musicians to support each other’s work. It grew into a covertly activist action network. Instead of insisting on donations for causes, Radioactive supports marginalized communities by giving them real-life opportunities. “I think the, the biggest way to prove something, or to do something is just do it. One of the biggest things that we did was this thing called the Tunnel Project, where we went and interviewed different musicians that we saw in the subway station… we started to talk to these people. And, you know, we just started to tell their stories.” James is an amalgamation of the cornucopia of experiences he’s had in music. He overflows with positivity and love for the culture and spirit of dance music. So when I ask him what excites him about the future of dance music, his answer is 100% what I’d expect. “I think what we're seeing right now is like a lot of a lot of like cross-pollination… I think we're seeing a lot more of that stuff, pop music producers, like, Sophie Tucker working with John Summit. I think that dance music is becoming popular music. And I hope that it keeps expanding like that. I hope it definitely includes a little bit more diversity and inclusion."

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