James Zabiela at the Vagabond, July 1

James Zabiela

The Vagabond

Friday, July 1, 2011

Better Than: A lumberjack convention. But also kinda like one, as you will find out below.

It was a wet, steamy night, the kind you might think the Miami nightlife set would enjoy. But it seemed to keep the crowd thinner than we would have suspected for mega-famous UK DJ-producer James Zabiela's performance at the Vagabond last night.

Fine by us. With the peppy crowd divided among the venue's three main areas, there was enough room for us to really let go on the dance floor for the grinning DJ's techno/house/breaks/trippy electronica blend. Check out this video shot and edited by filmmaker Aiden Dillard (creator of Death Print, Hell Glades, and Meat Weed Madness) to see for yourself.

Zabiela's head maintained a continuous bounce while he kept the crowd engaged and guessing with his ADHD-friendly mix. He's got an uncanny ability to craft new moods, pulling us into dark, fleshy, echoic caverns, busting us out like bunny rabbits onto sunny open fields, and pulling back to the present with escalating house beats that let you know you are definitely in the middle of a sweaty dance floor.

We could easily pick out the DJs in the room, because they would periodically stop their dancing to crane their necks and drool at the sight of Zabiela's "deckadent" collection of DJ toys. He effortlessly created and layered loops, somehow using an iPad and his own body movements to do so. Basically, he'd shake his fist or wave his hand, and a new loop would be breathed to life. He also used more "traditional" methods, like the Pioneer DJM-2000 or CDJ-2000, for the same purpose, plus Ableton Live software and a little black MIDI controller he swears only cost "fifty quid." We hope Zabiela had some serious bodyguards to escort him out the back after his set -- between the envious electronic musicians inside, and scads of begging crackheads out on the street, he wouldn't get too far on his own with all that beautiful junk.

Whether he was bending time with a web of synthesizers in symphony, or spinning a remix of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," the crowd was eating it up. Speaking of "the crowd," that reminds us ... Did we miss the memo that flannels are now requisite attire for Friday nights on the town? Check out this picture featuring at least five people, numbered for your convenience (and since it's a shitty phone pic), wearing flannels.

We realize this has nothing to do with James Zabiela or house music. But it does seem like a cultural phenomenon worth mentioning.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Roughly 66.666% male, 35% flannel-wearing (I saw at least one woman in flannel, in addition to nearly half the men), 56% PBR drinkers, 5% under 21 (with XXs on the backs of their hands), 87% hipster. Meet people from "the crowd" in the embedded video taken at the event.

Random Detail: A brunette with a pixie cut danced behind the DJ booth for most of the set with a British flag wrapped around her body.

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.