He’s Back: Tonight’s W.I.P. DJ Aaron James

A Welcome Back Jack party is a must-attend. Jack refers to Aaron James. Aaron returns from abroad (and maybe a broad), has honed his skills, and is ready to take on the town. He is a great DJ, landing in a town that has accepted mediocrity in that job. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. There are probably more fantastic DJs than ever, but we are in a time where there are more venues than ever. Every Tom, Dickwad, and hairy-assed Jerk is now a DJ… err, including me. The loosening of restrictions on dancing in non-cabaret licensed joints has every restaurant, lounge, and hole in the world with a DJ booth. Most DJs use computers to ply their trade so the need for a space-consuming DJ booth is no longer a concern. A table in the back of the room works just fine. W.I.P., just about the best joint in town for a crowd that doesn’t want the same old mash-up sounds and black card weilding suits is getting their Wednesday night party together. Tonight, it’s DJ Spooky joining DJ Aaron James who returns from a long hiatus. Aaron used to work with me back in the day and I’m gonna come by and give a hug.

Where have you been?
I left the States in late 2008 following the Rock The Vote Tour (RTV), an epic experience which saw me collaborating with the likes of The Beastie Boys, Sheryl Crow, Eve, TV On The Radio, Santigold, Talib Kwele, Jack Johnson, Bootsy Collins, Santigold, on and on. The City was under the hammer of the Recession, and I had been in a rut for quite some time … too much monkeying around, not taking things seriously, squandering a lot of opportunities. RTV was a huge wake-up call as to what could be achieved if I put my heart and soul into it. Following the Tour, I manifested an opportunity to serve as creative director of a new venue in New Delhi through an old friend. We went on to win the Best Club in the city that first year, and it became one of the transformative experiences of my life. I could not have imagined then that I’d spend the next three years of my life in India, but the fun kept coming, and it was as if I was aging in reverse. And so I stayed, rocked every major city in the country, got ranked in the Top 10 DJs living there, and most recently toured with Pitbull on his first-ever India tour. The last year or so I have had a concerted focus to travel and play outside that country, and slowly I’ve been crossing cities off the list … Columbo (Sri Lanka), Kathmandu, Shanghai, and Ho Chi Minh.  When I get back there, I plan to hit the SE Asia circuit hard … the region is so alive, the economy’s cash is rich and eager for Western entertainment … and I am ready for bigger, more exhilarating markets.
What type of music are you offering up?
My repertoire has expanded ten-fold. Schooled in the NYC lounge scene, I have never been a single-genre DJ … and now even less so. In my last few weeks in India, I rocked a reggae party, a Latin party, commercial house, progressive/tech house, dubstep, breaks, and glitch. I’m all over the map really, but I obviously tailor the set for the particular venue and audience. It keeps it fun, and keeps me fresh.  I’ve learned over the years that if I’m bored, it can only mean one thing … I am boring.  I intend to keep mixing things up going forward, take risks, be daring.  And I will never again allow myself to be lazy, otherwise this job, not to mention my life as a whole, becomes meaningless.
Aaron James in Magazine resized
What do you fear about NYC nightlife these days? What are you hoping for?
Hahaha, fabulous question. Happy to say, all my expectations would just be hearsay, drawn from the input from friends who’ve been here this whole while and remain disillusioned with what’s going on here. I’m gonna give NYC a chance to surprise me, and find out for myself where the scene is at these days. I want to be startled. I hope to find a thriving, vibrant, diverse, sexy … more organic, and loving kind of energy than when I left. I still do miss the old-school New York vibe, when it was less about the posing, and more about the dancing and the loving. Is it impossible for us now to go forward by going back to that, I wonder? Let’s see. As for any personal fears, I suppose in the back of my mind I fear falling into the same color-by-numbers rut I was in before, musically speaking. But I’m determined not to let that happen. I’m sure it all boils down to the choices we make, so I’m looking to make only good ones. I’m confident there is a role for me to play here where I can bring my own personality to the tables, I just need to find it. Certainly making my "debut" at W.I.P. tonight (Wed) is a damn good place to start. There’s been synergy from the get-go. Andrew Lockhart of projekt:nyc roped me in. An old friend, he’s been on the cutting-edge for years. And I knew from the moment I sat down with Stuart Braunstein it was a perfect fit. I asked him what he expected of me musically, and he said for me to be myself and do "Me." Now that’s music to my ears.  
Tell my readers about your NYC DJ experience and why you are back?
I started out DJing in NYC back in 1997, two years after moving here. My first-ever gig was at Match Downtown for $60 and dinner for a six-hour set. Through Match, I met someone who hooked up a fashion event in the Sullivan Room at Life, more like a photo shoot with background music. The dullest gig imaginable, but that’s where I met Mark Baker who commented that I had played his favorite song that day … and the next thing I knew I was the regular Friday resident in the Sullivan Room for the hottest club that New York had seen arguably since Studio 54, and certainly ever since. In fact, you gave me many of my early breaks, Steve, and I’m happy to give credit where credit is due. Those were memorable years, and I went on to spin in most of the major venues across the city, including a two-year residency at Crobar.  Shortly after Crobar, I became disillusioned somewhat with the scene and put the bulk of my energy into private events, which at the end of the day were more lucrative and less taxing. Truth be told, I have to acknowledge as well that the scene may have become disillusioned with me. One of the biggest promoters in the game at the time once said that I didn’t take my job seriously. Though it hit me with the force of a battleaxe, he was right, and those words have been an inspiring force in my professional life ever since. I’m back now, primarily because my business visa expired, and to refuel my energy reserves that have always been deeply rooted in this city. I may have left New York, but New York never left me. The city itself, and not the nightlife scene, is what excited me most about coming back.  Just walking the streets again makes me feel so damn alive. I can’t say how long I will stay here before again heading abroad, for now it remains indefinite, but while here I definitely feel excited about the opportunity to shine. 
Aaron James resized
What’s still in your set from the last time you were here?
Virtually nothing, I presume. I’ve got a whole new bag of tricks. For the most part, I was caught up in the Top 40 sing-a-long karaoke machinery that had become NYC nightlife. One of the reasons I ventured out was out of boredom, and likewise, to prevent myself from becoming boring. I’m not against commercial music per se; I just needed a break from it. I needed a game-changer. Playing abroad, people were more tolerant and let me flex my creative muscle. If you don’t flex your muscles ever, you can’t build them.
Were you so much older then and younger than that now? Or are you now wise beyond your years?
Brilliant, thought-provoking, and particularly relevant question. It wraps my brain into a pretzel. Let me say this: it feels BIG to be back. There is nothing like reinventing oneself that is more challenging, and thus more exciting. I’ve always been wise beyond my years, but I haven’t always been smart, and I’ve made some unwise decisions along the way.  Not to say I’ll never make another mistake, but I don’t know that person anymore. I am not the same "Me," both personally and professionally.  I wouldn’t call this defining moment a disconnect at all, more like a seismic reconnect. For the past three years, I have been through an intense period of growth, a tsunami of change. Now in the calm after, I have a chance to truly reflect and feel it all catch up to me somehow. It’s as if there is this seamless fusion going on where my Past is pouring into my Present, assimilating and bridging the two worlds … and I am becoming more and more whole. At the end of the day, I am more happy than I have ever been, and I am more healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. What else matters really.
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