Protagonists is a series of interviews about life, identity, and pursuing passions…
Recent weeks have seen the battle lines drawn – and traced over in heavy black marker –between the guardians of Sydney’s nightlife and those who would see it strangled for the sake of corporate interests. It’s creatives versus casinos. And the 15,000 strong crowd at the Keep Sydney Open rally suggests the former won’t roll over lightly.
James McInnes is a DJ and record label owner who, like many, is dismayed at the downturn of Sydney’s social scene. But he hasn’t lost hope for a better outcome.
When did music become a key focus for you?
I think it’s always just been a huge part of my life. My parents were always playing jazz and pop music to me or in the background when I was growing up, most of the time through radio. My dad used to sing Sweet Baby James to me on guitar from the day I came home from hospital! Must have rubbed off on me.
How did you get involved with FBi?
You know I think it all began because I had a crush on a girl that liked listening to FBi and a few friends were also listening to it. They told me to listen and it was just a huge light bulb moment for me, finding this source of incredible music that I’d never heard before with all kinds of different artists, genres, styles, sounds…everything. Prior to FBi I was typing shit like ‘indie’ or ‘hip hop’ into LimeWire or Soulseek and downloading complete garbage.
I was totally sucked into FBi and I started listening to it all the time, following shows I liked and raiding playlists. I think in 2005 they put a call out for radio presenters to join and I signed up, answered a few questions and they let me into the program! I was totally blown away. A 17 year-old getting to host a radio show that broadcasts across all of Sydney, where do I sign?
But I worked my butt off on all-nighters, picked up a lunch slot, started DJ-ing, found a spot on Saturdays playing dance music, got involved with Future Classic and yeah, rest is history really.
Future Classic is a well-established name in the local scene now. They’ve unearthed some super successful artists. Where are things at with them?
They are indeed – guys like Flume, Flight Facilities, Chet Faker, and Panama are ruling the Australian music charts – and they’re independent! That’s probably the most important and exciting thing about it all, it’s not just some cashed up major label.
They’ve been punching at this for more than 10 years and have well and truly broken through. Originally I was in the office with the Nathan, Jay, and Chad – they’re now the directors of the company – so it was a really small team. They’re now up to maybe 15 or more people I think. Huge accomplishment and I’ll always tip my hat to them and the way they’ve evolved.
At the moment I’m just DJ-ing and hosting the radio show with the guys and gals there (so doing all the fun bits, ha!).
How would you describe your style, sound-wise and in terms of stage presence? Any signature flourishes?
A charming mess. I’m probably not the most gifted at mixing but I’ll definitely make you crack a smile and/or shake your bum. At the very least I’ll give you a moment where you go, “Ohhh…what’s this song again?”
I love rinsing the high pass filter and teasing the crowd with volumes too.
Which tracks are guaranteed winners to drop into any set?
Guaranteed dance floor burners…any popular 90s hip hop, really. Come to think of it, that only really works on people over 25. I think I’m old now.
Tell me about Plastic World.
It’s a record label I started with my friend Vic. Our goal is to uncover incredible Australian music and give it a platform around the rest of the world. All genres, styles, sounds and more. We also have a really big focus on vinyl and putting all of our releases to wax.
Who are some acts currently under the radar that we should be checking out?
Too many to choose from. But keep an eye out for Retiree, Donny Benet, The Posse, Average Rap Band, Silent Jay & Jace XL, and Winston Surfshirt.
How are you finding your day job?
I’m a digital marketing manager for a popular coffee brand in Sydney. I like it! Client side is very different to agency side. More relaxed, leaving on time, no drinking, and lots of young families; versus rushing, deadlines, working late, drinking with staff all the time and lots of pressure.
What are the golden rules for effective social?
I think you can’t go wrong if you create brilliant content, nurture, and are active in your online community. You also need to be able to put down some media dollars and have some personality.
Your take on the Sydney lockout laws and nanny state fiasco?
I could talk about it for days, really. I think it’s one of the saddest things to happen to Sydney. The amount of misinformation, corruption, lack of foresight, and just about everything else makes me so angry I can’t even think about.
What makes me happy is that just a few weeks ago when we were throwing our Plastic World 2nd birthday we had hundreds of people out during the day partying and drinking and listening to music. Not one issue. Not one!
There were day parties and warehouse parties all over the city and they were all huge successes. The state government has set the rules and we’re pushing them as hard as possible. Often the tightest limitations produce the most creativity.
I’m holding onto the idea that Sydney will use the laws as a way to evolve into some something new – somewhere that parties all day and breaks the rules at night. After seeing the turn out for the Keep Sydney Open rally and how powerful social media is at calling bullshit on anything (including big media), I’ve got a little more hope.
What are your favourite venues, either still running or those which have regrettably closed?
Goodgod (RIP), The Civic, Fredas, Gladstone, Cake Wines Cellar (coming soon!), The Flinders (RIP).
Would you ever be interested in opening a club/space of your own?
I’d love to open a space one day. I would need so much money and free time to make it work. But I tell you what, it’d be fucking epic! Booze companies, give me a call.
What were your formative music influences?
Again too many to pick. But gotta tip the hat to FBi Radio, J Dilla, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Fleetwood Mac, Channel V, Boiler Room, Soundcloud, Discogs and of course all my friends and family.
Keep up with with music and events from Plastic World. Elsewhere, James DJs as McInnes or part of the Future Classic DJs. The entrepreneurial audiophiles among you should also read his guide for running your own label.