If you ask James Young what his favorite part about being a DJ is, he’ll tell you that part of it is his passion for the music. He’ll tell you about how music makes people feel above all else, and the self-described “visceral” connection he experiences with electronic music. Listening to Young – best known on the Queen’s campus as Ale House’s resident Saturday night DJ – describe his passion is enough to make even the most skeptical house music adversaries second-guess their musical tastes. Meeting Young, who projects a classic, clean-cut aesthetic and humble demeanor (he still finds it “weird” when people respond positively to his music) would put to rest any preconceived notions of what a DJ is “supposed” to look or act like. Young’s candidness has certainly translated into his music and career choices. A prime example of this philosophy is his DJ moniker, which is simply his birth name, and perhaps an unconventional decision. “I didn’t really want to go with anything that wasn’t my own name. I felt it would be stereotypical, and I didn’t want to get caught up in the stereotype of being a DJ, or what people thought a DJ was”
Despite his label of being a progressive house music DJ, Young’s musical history is rooted in the timeless sounds of rock and roll. Born into a musical family and to an English father, Young was raised with British invasion bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Queen, citing one of his earliest musical memories as the Beatles’ 1968 “White” album; particularly the song “Back in the USSR.” “When you produce something, you try to emulate things that you like,” James says, explaining how rock and roll has influenced his own sound. “Rock music is definitely something that I’ve tried to emulate at times.”
It comes naturally that Young’s newly released single “Today,” has some “rock-ish” undertones to it. Produced, mixed and mastered by Young, the energetic, melodically driven song features dark, moody lyrics and hauntingly beautiful vocals by Julie James, which Young modestly proclaims are “better than his music in this song.”
“We figured no one had done the slightly ominous dark kind of stuff,” James says of the melancholic tone. “Progressive house is very uplifting with happy-feeling vocals and lyrics, but the vocals on this are very blues-y and empowering. Very kind of, “f*ck you,” he adds with a laugh.
The collaboration was prompted by Young’s desire to add lyrics and vocals to his tracks, and a mutual friend who sent Young a cover of James singing a Duffy song, which is “so, so good.” Young and James, both Vancouver natives, met up to discuss adding vocals to a track he had already finished, and quickly hit it off, co-writing the lyrics together, which feature James boldly declaring: “Not your drug anymore/Not the same person I was before.”
“I remember Julie and I joking about how depressing we sounded!” says Young when asked about the song-writing experience. “But writing is a creative process, so you kind of just go with what sounds good. Half the time I have no idea what I’m singing about, but at the same time I think: ‘Wow, this fits! It makes sense.’ There’s definitely some organization within the mess of the storm that is the song.”
Young’s involvement in “Today,” from his role as producer to his hand in penning the lyrics, is undoubtedly ambitious. But what’s even more impressive is his demure when asked if his dedication to this song has made it all the more personal for him. “From the moment Julie got involved, it wasn’t my song anymore. It was our song,” Young says without missing a beat. “That’s something that I’ve always stressed.”
It’s no surprise then, when Young divulges something else that drives his love of DJ’ing: “I love sharing this experience with my friends, and sharing some of the benefits that come with being a DJ,” Young says. “It’s the way to go.”
This pay-it-forward ethos applies not only to his friends, but also to those that have helped Young in his pursuit of music. “A lot of people did a lot of good things to get me to the position that I’m in today,” says Young, whose career, like most DJ’s, started in his bedroom using only computer software. “I’m very lucky that I have the spot that I have at Ale – and I’m there because people supported me. I’m always trying to pass that on. If I’m at a house party and there’s some kid DJ’ing, I’ll go talk to him. That’s my intuition.”
Young’s intuition seems to be paying off in sustaining and giving back to Kingston’s electronic scene, which he will no longer be a part of when he graduates in Spring 2014. “I have more faith in the DJ scene now than I did at the end of last year. Especially this past semester, there have been a lot of new names that have come up,” says Young, referring to his friends and up-and-coming DJ’s Eric Faulker (DJ What the Faulk) and Michael Oshell. “There are lots of good DJ’s in Kingston, so next year should be good.”
Supporting hopeful DJ’s in Kingston is a step in the right direction if Young wants to achieve his ultimate goal as a musician. When asked about leaving behind a “legacy” of some kind, Young laughs and brushes the question off as being self-indulgent. “I would love people to know my name after I graduate from Queen’s. But in the end, I would rather have there be a legacy of good music at the bars that I played at.”
For more of James’ music, check out his SoundCloud.
Abi Conners, Online Editor
Photography: Patrick RoDee
See more of Pat’s work here.