An Englishman In New York
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
Meet James Denman, record collector, strategist, creative person, owner of one very cute French Bulldog, Englishman, outdoor lager-drinker and all around clever person with a deep passion for music.Name: James Denman
Occupation: Ad Agency Strategist
Resides: New York City
Tell us a little bit about your mix, what is the mood you’re trying to set?
Well, the mix reflects a wide range of influences. There’s some Library Music from the UK, as well as some disco/boogie cuts and finally some Deep House. I wanted to reflect the connection points between all these different points of reference rather than just delve into one genre. Deep House especially has a strong New York history and I wanted the mix to feel like it captured the mood of downtown - my favorite part of the city.
You’re an Englishman in New York - how has your musical life and record collecting changed since you moved here?
My musical life hasn’t changed too much. I wish that I’d gone to more concerts since I moved here in all honesty, and in the seven years I’ve lived here a lot about nightlife has changed too. Not even counting what’s happening to venues right now due to CoVid-19. It’s going to be fascinating to see what and how people come back and what nightlife at large looks like.
My collecting has in some ways become more Discogs focussed than it was when I moved here, some of my favourite record stores have closed or moved. (RIP Other Music!) But I’ve spent my time burrowing deeper into a few genres - more jazz for sure. I relatively recently went deep into ECM and have been collecting British Jazz from the 60s as well. My first loves musically were around soundtracks and library music and Bossa Nova - so there’s been a massive expansion of collecting around there, as well as Brazillian music. Especially the revival of interest in Lincoln Olivetti that guys like Ed Motta spearheaded. I went to Sao Paulo for work in 2018 and spent a lot of time in the city digging for Som Livre albums. That was a real thrill.
You have been DJing in the UK and word on the street is that you still do when you go back, have you played anything here? Is that something you’d be interested in?
I’m open to offers! I would love to play out more in the US, but the music I’ve played has always fitted a certain niche that doesn’t lend itself to 2 AM in a sweaty club! Back in London, Spiritland has really pioneered that bar/cafe space where music is front and centre, and the length of time you play (5 hours plus) means you can really stretch out. It’s an idea that can work here in NYC - even in Manhattan!
What is it about NYC that lured you here? Can you describe how your relationship with the city has changed since moving here?
I was and remain a ‘yankophile’. I’d wanted to live in America since I went to LA in 1987 to visit family. We were exceptionally lucky to drive across America in the summer of 92 and it gave me a rounded sense of what the country was about. I first came to NYC in 2000 with my Dad and remember walking around Soho and all over just blown away by the city and the energy. In 2003, I came back to present my final degree show and after that… I was hooked. It took 4 attempts to move here (including a detour via SF) and that first weekend here, I went to a massive party at the Knockdown Center and just had the best time.
The differences between London and New York are small and vast. In London, I lived in Hackney and Dalston - the Brooklyn-esque parts of London. So when I moved here I wanted to indulge the fantasy a little bit. Live in SoHo, be in that downtown scene. The scenes here and the power dynamics that fueled them are more overt here. In London, back in 2006/7, East London had this incredible energy and edginess to it. I remember parties like Stunners International bought some of that NYC vibe, but this city still demands an element of performance that really sorts out if you sink or swim. My relationship with it is more comfortable and mellow than it was maybe ⅚ years ago - but equally it can
What is the difference between the nightlife in NYC compared to the nightlife in London, talking specifically about “music-first-type-parties”?
Nightlife in NYC has undergone such a transformation since I’ve been here. When I was visiting, it was Sway, Pauls’ Baby Grand etc. The parties and nightlife seem to have shifted. Output was a huge loss and is still missed. I also weirdly miss Cielo - it might not have been the coolest spot at the end of it’s run, but it was a great space and you’d like to think that those types of spaces can find their niche and heart again. Public Records definitely is cool and unique - looking forward to spending more time there. But for sheer chills, and those moments where you’re like “oh this is STILL NYC” I think Le Bain can’t be beat.
Is there any relationship between how you approach music and your profession as a Creative strategist? Has your job changed the way you approach it or does the music interest change how you think about your job maybe?
My job demands that I’m a magpie for information and able to make connections between seemingly random things, and I think that lends itself very well to music. Both the collecting of it and Djing of it. There are amazing weird connections between all of this, and those threads are what keep you coming back and opening new doors. It’s the same as being a strategist. The joy of discovery for an idea.
In your opinion piece on AdAge you make a case against sad piano music as the typecast of serious topics. If you had freedom to pick the music to the next serious piece of video, what would you suggest?
Ha! That piece came from a point of view that music can quickly become background music. And even some of the best background music can be amazing. One of my most influential albums is a compilation of British Library Music called ‘The Sound Gallery’. This was all designed for TV and film. The epitome of incidental music. But the skill passion and sheer verve that they conveyed meant that it transcended the label of muzak. I wish music in commercials and films was more expressive and evocative. If I was going to choose a pianist who can evoke beauty with the instrument it would have to Be Ryuichi Sakamoto. His ‘Playing The Piano’ album is a stunning achievement and shows the breadth of the instrument in the hands of a master.
Has your music research changed at all during the lockdown and/or have you found anything you’d like to recommend?
Not really! I’ve just been listening to more mellow tunes - especially the work of Greg Foat and Nev Cottee in the UK. I also picked up a very rare vinyl copy of one of my favourite albums, ‘Trueloves’s Gutter’ by Richard Hawley. It’s an ultimate late night album by a true master of his craft. That’s kept the quarantine blues away!