Chris & James Interview
Chris & James are up there with the most prolific DJ's/remixers in the UK. With hundreds of pieces of work under their belt. We catch up with Chris to ask what when and how. And why the hell did they stop!
Hi Chris - let's chat about Chris and James, how did the tag team come about?
I knew James's twin brother, Ian, really well and he mentioned James was a budding dj as well, although neither of us could actually mix properly at this point! We all used to hang out at The Gardening Club in Covent Garden (next to the rock garden) around 1991 at Yellow Book and then Ophelia, plus we'd go to Sign of the Times, Flying and Puscha parties.
The guy in James's local pub in Romford offered us a Monday night slot, hoping we'd bring all our clubbing mates with us - no pay but a chance at some real, rather than bedroom djing! Ian printed up some flyers and put dj's CHRIS + JAMES, and the name stuck from then on.
We did this Monday night thing for about 3 months at which point we'd learnt the basics of djing and decided to put a tape together. We knew Shelley Boswell who ran The Gardening Club and also Glenn Gunner (one of the Flying dj's) and gave them a tape each. I can still remember the tracklisting - Bruce Hornsby, some deep US garage, Italian house, and Paradiso's 'here we go again' with ABC's 'Millionaire' acapella over the top......considering it was mixed on decks with dodgy varispeed it was very technically proficient and quite different from anyone else around at the time. Because we did 2 records each we had accidentally developed the C+J tag team style.
Shelley and Glenn both loved the tape and we got a few warm ups for Glenn at the odd London gig and at The Gardening Club.....we used to do a proper warm up job - starting around 90bpm and working up to around 120bpm ready for the next dj.
Shelley was looking for someone to be resident at a new Tuesday night she was starting called The Pinch and offered it to us. Having a residency was really the making of us as dj's - you suddenly had the ability to try out different styles and really work records - often we'd play from 9pm until 2am. Gradually the night got more popular and Shelley started to bring guests in - people like Billy Nasty, Fabi Paras and Darren Emerson giving the night a harder slant than most London clubs at the time. We were residents at the Pinch for around 5 years I think which is quite amazing.
About a year in Shelley let us know she was starting a new Saturday night called Club 4 Life and she wanted us to be residents alongside Jeremy Healy who was starting to make a name for himself. This was to be more of a party night , and the first week was us, Sasha then Healy. It was roadblocked and the night took off and established our reputation leading to guest slots etc.
What was your first ever release?
The first C+J record was 'Play that rock n roll rhythm' on MFF, a label I'd started for Cherry Red, the famous indie label.
I'd signed a couple of records and figured this studio lark must be pretty easy. We found ourselves an engineer and I had a couple of samples I wanted to use - the guitar was from Hipsway 'the honeythief' and the speech was Little Richard. It got reasonable reviews , and I persuaded a couple of friends to do the flip. As we were all living near Delorme street in Fulham they came up with the Delorme name.
The record was put out as The Guitar Dance ep and got the odd review. Martin and Jason (later to be one half of Phats + Small) of The Delorme were pretty impressed with what we'd done in the studio and asked me to join The Delorme after that. We did another release for MFF and then pressed up a white called 'Beatniks' which was our take on Together's 'Hardcore Uproar' really, plus a Jack Kerouac sample I'd found on an old cassette in Camden market.
I knew Billy Nasty pretty well and took the white to him at Zoom and they signed it on the spot. Off the back of that we got offered a remix for Stress of Lost Tribe's 'Gimme a smile' and then Kathy Brown's 'Turn me out', plus some DMC stuff like the now legendary River Ocean mix. Jason had brought along a young engineer called James Wiltshire from Brighton to help out and we hit it off straight away. Nick Gordon Brown had suggested doing a C+J record for Stress as our profile by that point was on the rise - I persuaded James Wiltshire to engineer it and the rest is history. Unfortunately Martin + Jason decided I was being a bit greedy by doing so much studio work and basically ousted me from The Delorme after the Suzi Carr 'All over me' remix.
Thankfully the C+J studio work then took off and our first record for Stress was 'Club 4 Life'.......unfortunately I never spoke to Martin again and it took Jason and myself 6 years to make up! A real shame, as some of those Delorme records are exceptional.
After making so many tracks for so many years did you find it hard thinking of fresh ideas?
Not really - I had a box full of records waiting to be sampled, plus DAT tapes full of drum sounds, fills, loops, speeches etc.
The essence of C+J records was their ability to work the dancefloor, with a very musical edge. That combination of DJ or DJ's and a good engineer is a tried and tested one, and that's a sound bit of advice for any budding dj/producers - go find yourself a good engineer.
You and James must have spent a lot of time together over the years. Any fisticuffs?
The odd minor bust up, but we worked well together because we were very different people. James is far more sociable than I am, and his social networking and love of the more recreational side of the music biz paid off in gigs and even remixes. I was never happier than sitting in a cold studio in slough drinking endless tea and fannying around with sounds. Unfortunately James lived in Romford still when we were doing endless mixes and productions whilst I had moved to Windsor...essentially this meant I was 5 minutes from the studio whereas James was about 90 minutes away - round the nightmare M25.
The upshot was that more than a few C+J records and remixes were actually myself and James Wiltshire, but the situation worked well for us and nobody was any the wiser! From a djing point of view we always both played - if you booked C+J you got C+J...unlike people like Luvdup who would only send one of them to a gig whilst the other one played somewhere else. I can even remember them having another 2 guys who they would send out on Luvdup bookings. Shocking really, and their reputation suffered off the back of it.
What piece of work are you proudest about and which one gives you nightmares?
From a musical and technical viewpoint the C+J mix of Spirits 'Don't bring me down' was our best work......
I really got my head inside that track and structured it like a real 'journey'...also the Everything But the Girl 'Missing' has chord sequences that are far better than either the original or Todd Terry's in my humble.
With The Delorme stuff the River Ocean DMC mix is very strong, but the funny thing is both that and 'Missing' were hated by the people who wrote the records, so what do I know.
As for nightmares, none really but the Rusty was pants!
Music wise who are your biggest influences?
DJ wise just one person - Danny Rampling. I simply cannot state how good this guy was from 1988 -1994ish....he used to play the best garage records, the best Italian records, the best Euro, the best trance. I can still remember him dropping Toxic Two's 'Rave Generator' at the Gardening Club and he was dancing more than anyone. His energy was infectious - technically he wasn't great, but that is not always what makes a great DJ. Lifelessly beat mixing for 2 hours bores most clubbers. I hope we took that spirit of playing the best of everything into our C+J sets - check out The Essential Mix we did in 1994 if you need proof - from 90bpm Balearic chuggers to deep US house to big vocal tracks to Hard trance to Fleetwood Mac and Steve Winwood all in 2 hours. Phew....
Production wise we both loved Brothers In Rhythm - I vividly remember Steve and Dave playing me there mix of Secret Life's 'Love so strong' about 10 minutes after they'd finished it..........simply awesome.
Who's the maddest DJ you have met who could out party anyone?
Zammo from The Rhumba Club. There parties were all weekend jobs and you needed to mentally prepare about a month in advance. Thankfully it was well known I was a lightweight in that department so was generally exempt from any shenanigans, although James was a fair match for them!
What other aliases have you recorded under over the years?
Ok, here goes!
Myself and James Bradley (my Dj partner) used Chris + James and we did a breaks record as Ace Face on Related
Myself, Jason Hayward and Martin Tyrell were The Delorme
Myself and James Wiltshire used Holy Trinity (mixes of Bedrock + Superstars Of Rock), Handbag Enthusiasts (DMC of Aztec Camera), plus James used the Jimmy Gomez moniker on his own, with me helping out now and again. James W is now one half of The Freemasons with Rusell Small from Phats + Small, doing very nicely with their Hed Kandi type stuff.
Whats the most bizzarre sample you have used in a track?
The 'let's just calm down, let's just take it easy' sample was pretty bizarre..taken from a live Richard Pryor album. I loved finding samples no one else had used - we were the first to use the Pamela Fernandez acapella, first to use the Pulp Fiction speech, first to use the Jazzi P 'bass keeps thumpin ' loop.....so many great records are out there to sample that no one else has spotted yet.........another bit of advice for all the budding producers - do your own thing!
Talizman - only you, it sounds at first like its going to be a bad karaoke attempt, but it develops into what is a beast of a track unlike any other out there. What was it like working on it?
We used to play the original mix years ago in warm up sets and it stood out as being incredibly different even then, but it was way too slow for peak time. Charlie Chester rang me up and asked if we'd be interested in doing it........we were dead keen but the vocals were so off key in places that it wouldn't be straight forward at all. Once the parts arrived it was almost painful to listen to the acapella! Anyway I had an idea for making the ultimate Balearic house track - utilising the Bocca Juniors 'raise' piano line and the Bassheads 'Is there anybody out there ' bassline.....thankfully James Wiltshire managed to work out some chord sequences and we had it nailed within a day and a half. Unfortunately James Bradley was absent for the making of this, first he heard was when I played the finished mix back to him.
It's not surprising that mix has stood the test of time - people have covered it and remixed it without even getting close to the C+J mix- a classic case of remixers bringing far more to the remix than just a few loops!
DJ'ing wise what gig can you remember that stands out for you most?
So many really - the first few years at Club 4 Life were amazing - I can remember once mixing out of 2 Bad Mice into 'Rain' by The Cult (try it at home - it works) and the whole place just shook when the guitar kicked in......moments like that will live with me forever. Some of the gigs up north were incredible - Renaissance, Gatecrasher and this mad Sunday thing in Birmingham called The Engine House.
What are you and James up to these days?
James has returned to his former life as a printer, and is married with 2 girls as am I, with another one on the way! We don't really keep in touch, but I'm still really good friends with his twin brother Ian.
The whole C+J got knocked on the head just after the Millennium gigs - I always saw myself dj'ing until I was 30 and that would be it. The truth is it's a young mans game - I think it's pathetic to see some of the big name jocks still believing they're 21 again with there groupies and failed marriages. I became increasingly frustrated at living my life in a bubble - it's funny but normality is what you actually crave after a while!
I'd just become a father at the end of 1998 and I felt it was unfair to make my family suffer because of my lifestyle. Luckily my wife's career had taken off and I decided to concentrate on being a decent father for my daughter and do something entirely different.
I then did a couple of years voluntarily working with young offenders and children with care issues.....in retrospect it was the best thing I could have done to go from the cossetted world of celebrity djing into the harsh reality of what life is like for a lot of people. A lot of people in the music industry were a bit shocked at my decision, as I'd run labels, A+R ed for years, done some journalism and could have walked into a cushy job but I felt like I needed to sever all ties with the music industry to make a clean break.
I've now dipped my toe back in a tiny bit as I run an Ebay business mainly selling cd's, with the odd bit of vinyl. I have djed twice in the last 7 years - once at my sisters wedding and once at a summer party we had in Brighton. I can't say I was struck by lightning to return to djing - I get offers every year to do stuff, but I like Gary Lineker's analogy for never playing football again once he'd retired - if you've won the Golden Boot at the World Cup why on earth would you need to go and play 5 a side at the local leisure centre?
I look back on the C+J days with very fond memories - the whole acid house era was an incredible youth movement to be a part of.
Many thanks to Chris for taking time out to answer these questions for us - certified legend!