Turhan James is a young musician and DJ, who grew up between Pakistan and Canada. He recently set the stage ablaze at the Solis Festival that was held in Karachi, where he created a variety of electronic dance music, ranging from deep house to dance-pop, truly proving that Turhan is one talented DJ.
When did you start DJ-ing and what or who were your early passions and influences?
Turhan James: I started DJ-ing at the age of 14 in 10th grade when I would primarily just DJ at my school dances. My early influences were definitely three DJs – Sound Remedy, 3LAU and Martin Garrix. These three really caught my attention with the music they played and produced. I genuinely just wanted to be like them.
What kind of style of music do you spin?
TJ: So my DJ sets are catered to the type of event it is. If I am playing at Solis, I am going to be playing a loud and energetic set with a lot of g-house, deep house and a bunch of my own music in there as well. I always look to open my set with a really cool, trendy thing of what’s going on in the market. For my first Solis, I started with a Stranger Things opening, and for my second, I started with a Games of Thrones opening because the new season had just come out. In the latest Solis Festival, I opened with Money Heist because the third season had just come out and the hype was unreal. However, if I am playing in a smaller, more intimate setting, I will be playing a very tech house or deep house set.
What genre of music inspires your own?
TJ: I don’t like to be restrained to the type of music I produce. I actually produce so many different types of sub-genres within the electronic dance music (EDM) genre. My production is inspired by whatever emotion I am feeling in the moment. For example, when I produced the song L.A, I was sad I was leaving L.A. and happy because I got to experience whatever I did in the time I spent there. I also have this song that I’ve finished now, but I was sitting on it for two years. Then I have this base house song that I am producing with a friend of mine; his name is Sidd. I also have a bunch of house music that I have been producing that’s inspired by artists like Nora En Pure and DJ Yavo, and a bunch of chill music that is inspired by artists like Petit Biscuit.
When you show up at a nightclub, what elements make it enjoyable and fun to play?
TJ: I haven’t played at a night club as yet but if were to play, the elements that would make it fun and enjoyable to play include the crowd’s energy before I get on the stage, the production elements of the set, the lighting, the lasers, and the set up of the venue – all that really makes it fun to play.
How do you feel when you’re DJ-ing?
TJ: It’s a surreal feeling that I cannot even put into words. At first I am scared, intimidated, very nervous and anxious because I want to perform the best that I can for everybody. I want to have a good time and the way I am going to have a good time is to see that everybody else is having a good time. You’ll see that I always wear glasses on the stage because I am frightened to look at the crowd. A big challenge for me is to take off my glasses mid-set to interact with the crowd more. I don’t know how to say it; I feel so happy and so energetic – it’s such an unreal high. I have never experienced that kind of feeling anywhere other than on stage.
What is your philosophy behind DJ-ing?
TJ: It’s the purist form of peace that one person can bring towards the world because in my opinion music is something that brings so many people with different opinions – whether it’s religion, race, or ethnicity – together. It’s such a powerful thing where all these powerful differing opinions can be brought together for one purpose of listening to the same song together. And just being able to hear so many different people sing the same song together (which is very hard to do because the only time you will hear people chanting something together is at a political rally or at a football game) is so great in the sense that everyone is collectively together.
You travel constantly for your gigs, and it’s quite different from playing in your hometown. What do you usually carry with you when you travel?
TJ: Usually when I am travelling for a gig I take a bunch of my USBs, my hard drive, my laptop, my headphones, and my glasses. Those are my necessities.
What is a good way to get local gigs?
TJ: A good way to get a local gig would be to constantly message event planners and anyone who’s hosting these sorts of events and offer to do shows for free. If you aren’t a name that can pull people to an event, booking agents wouldn’t want to book you for an event and pay you because there’s no value that you bring to them so you need to offer them value, which is you playing for them for free.
What are your main challenges as a DJ? What is it about DJ-ing compared to producing your own music that makes it interesting for you?
TJ: The biggest challenge for me being a DJ would be getting the people in my life that are closet to me to accept the profession. What makes DJ-ing interesting to me as apposed to producing music is that it’s more of a in-the-moment kind of a thing because I am playing for people who have come to hear me play unlike producing music, which is a long process where I have to sit in front of my laptop and make a song for hours on end and then put it on streaming platforms for people who I don’t get to see. DJ-ing is a lot more interactive.
How do you prepare for a set?
TJ: When I start making my set I first look at what kind of an event it is. If it’s a small, intimate set, I’ll be playing something quiet and chilled out as apposed to a thousand people gathering where I’ll play a very different kind of set.
One of the particularities of DJ-ing is that listeners don’t have the option of switching channels or changing the song according to their own tastes and preferences. How do you, as a DJ, make use of this freedom?
TJ: I’ll make use of the freedom by taking advantage of the fact that people are hear to listen to whatever I want to play, and I’ll actively promote, prior to the event, what kind of a set it’s going to be. For instance, for a small, intimate affair such as Salt Arts all the promo included the kind of music I would be playing (house set) but for a big festival I have the freedom to play whatever I want that I think will resonate with the people. I curate huge playlists with my favourite songs and at bigger events such as music festivals, I take that as a chance to lay those favourites for people.
What are some of the most unique tracks you’ve played that have rock the dance floor?
TJ: Some of the unique songs that I’ve played that have absolutely killed it include my own song L.A. Of course, I wasn’t expecting it but people were singing along and going crazy dancing and then when I opened at the three Asian Solis Festivals with the theme songs from Game of Thrones, Money Heist, and Stranger Things.
You recently played at the Solis Festival in Pakistan leaving the crowd in a trance. How was that experience ?
TJ: Solis was really fun; it’s unreal to think something that big could happen in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. It was definitely the greatest experience I’ve ever had.
What’s next for you?
TJ: Next in line is that I want to produce and release all of the music that I have since I now have time to do so, having moved back to Karachi. I also want to collaborate with a few Pakistani artists beacuase I want to get into that market as well.
INTERVIEW: MEHR KASSIM
PHOTOGRAPHER: COURTESY TURHAN JAMES