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Phil K vs James Zabiela - 15.1.2005

Author: Cameron Adams
Friday, January 21, 2005
What was to be the return of the prodigal son to the halcyon dancefloor of Room was now going to be a world title fight. Melbourne's very own Punisher (of effect units) - Phil K - was about to go head to head with the Southampton Destroyer (of CDJs) - James Zabiela. The only thing certain to be there at the end of the night was a smoking pile of DJing debris, Pioneer equipment pushed to its limits and sent over the edge.

As I took my seat ringside, Jono Fernandez was getting into the swing of his sterling warm-up set. Having ditched the draconian turntables, he was playing material off his Apple Powerbook. From his own laptop Jono was free to assault us with plenty of his own material, edits and samples without skipping a beat. Indeed, it was probably one of the most seamless sets I've ever heard: not one hi-hat or kick drum out of place.

Jono's aggressive/progressive style let him drop quite a few big numbers on us - BT's ultra-classic "Remember" interwoven with "Airdrawndagger" material, a breaks remix of Destiny Child's "Lose my Breath", and the number that got the crowd well and truly pumped for the main act: The Prodigy's "Poison" mixed in with his own "Before You Beat My Box".

Crawling underneath Jono you could see Phil K getting entangled in a mass of cables as he checked the functionality of all the DJ toys collected on stage - more than I'd ever seen - then a cheer rose as some kid in a Storm Trooper t-shirt traipsed onstage - Grandmaster Zabiela.

He'd come this close to canceling the gig because of back pains, but as service to his fans and also to the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster - to whom he was donating his fees for the night - James soldiered on. Showing off the visual capabilities of the Pioneer DVJ, JZ opened up with his own version of the Star Wars opening credits - scrolling text featuring Jedi Zabiela and Phil K Kenobi which brought a grin to most people's faces, and as the text faded off into the distance, the speakers kicked in with the Plump DJs' "Get Kinky". Unfortunately, it was only the monitor speakers. After a minute or so the house speakers delivered it all, but sound problems were a bugbear throughout the night.

After the opening breaks track, the duo quickly headed into tech house territory, each of them taking turns on the turntables while the other delayed, chopped, phased and scratched their way through the effects unit. There were plenty of Zabiela-style breakdowns - sampled bleeps being repeated and pitched into oblivion, including a big cut-up of the Q-Tip's vocals on the Chemical Brother's "Galvanize" - but although impressed, I don't think the crowd were quite feeling the house groove and stilted breakdowns.

The most notable use of the DVJ was when James lined up a video sample of R2D2's head rotating and synched it with his scratching, sending the tiny robot into twisted contortions that perfectly matched Zabiela's deck wizardry. It's no replacement for a professional VJ, but it certainly adds its own spark.

Midway through the set, Phil K pulled out his showpiece, and I nearly had to find new ears. Using a conjoined video clip and guitar sample, an onscreen Jimmy Page played his guitar with a violin bow while Phil busied himself in looping and obliterating the screeching sounds, thus sending the fingers of the people around me to plug up their ears. Turn the volume down on that one, I think.

But after the torture came the release. Dropping the tech house of the first half, they launched into the breaks. Those big, big breaks. Remixes of Orbital's "Frenetic", N.E.R.D.'s "She Wants to Move" (who someone tipped me off was local boy Dan Mangan's work) and Depeche Mode's "World in Your Eyes" all took the energy level to where it should have been for the previous hour and a half. They kept the groove well and truly going, taking less "artistic" breaks than they had for the first half, and just letting the crowd go wild.

If you weren't watching the stage, the<