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James Holden

British DJ, producer, and label founder James Holden has constantly defied expectations throughout his unpredictable, genre-spanning career. Though the success of early tracks like 1999's "Horizons" propelled him to the top of the progressive house and trance scene, eventually leading to remixes for stars like Britney Spears and Madonna, he soon began producing less commercially minded work, moving closer to tech-house and experimental techno with releases on his Border Community label and groundbreaking DJ mixes such as 2003's Balance 005. His debut album, 2006's The Idiots Are Winning, was a more challenging, abstract release that earned critical acclaim but alienated his earlier audience, and 2013's The Inheritors was an even more ambitious work that drew from Krautrock, IDM, and ambient as well as dance music. Holden went on to explore Moroccan Gnawa music, jazz improvisation, and new age/progressive electronic on releases such as 2017's The Animal Spirits and 2023's Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities. James Holden learned to play piano and violin as a child, and studied mathematics at Oxford University as a teenager. Inspired by DJs and producers like Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, and Carl Cox, he began making trance music using a freeware program. "Horizons," a euphoric track composed when Holden was 19, became a runaway hit when DJs like Pete Tong and John Digweed began playing it, and it was given a full release by Silver Planet Recordings. The wunderkind released additional tracks under the names Pulse State and Ariane and as part of the projects Mainline and Ogenki Clinic. His first mix CD, Fear of a Silver Planet, appeared in 2001, and he remained busy with additional singles as well as remixes for New Order, Timo Maas, Kirsty Hawkshaw, and others. He also co-produced a track on Sasha's 2002 studio album, Airdrawndagger, and reached the U.K. singles chart with "Nothing," a 2003 track with vocalist Julie Thompson. Holden founded Border Community in 2003 and launched the label with his single "A Break in the Clouds," which edged his sound away from progressive trance and closer to microhouse and minimal techno. The DJ's double-CD mix Balance 005 showcased the work of many other artists who would become mainstays of Border Community, including Nathan Fake, the MFA, and Avus. The release earned major acclaim and remains one of the most well-regarded DJ mixes of all time. His remix of Fake's 2004 single "The Sky Was Pink" was another club smash, while remixes for Britney Spears and eventually Madonna and Depeche Mode helped Holden's music reach more-mainstream audiences. "Come to Me," a second single with Thompson, appeared in 2005. Holden's music turned a corner in 2006. He released another ambitious double-CD mix, At the Controls, which blended IDM, ambient, indie rock, and techno. The Idiots Are Winning, his much-anticipated debut album, reflected these influences and demonstrated Holden's disinterest in conforming to commercial expectations. Apart from remixes for Mercury Rev, Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, and others, Holden was largely quiet until his DJ-Kicks mix appeared on !K7 in 2010. Holden remixed Caribou's song "Bowls" and performed modular synth as part of the Caribou Vibration Ensemble in 2011. The Inheritors, Holden's third album, appeared in 2013, featuring guest contributions by Etienne Jaumet (Zombie Zombie) and Border Community artist Luke Abbott. Drawing from Krautrock, noise, and early electronic experiments, the record earned exceptional reviews and was named Album of the Year by Resident Advisor. Additionally, Thom Yorke of Radiohead asked Holden to open for his band Atoms for Peace. Holden performed modular synthesizer along with drummer Tom Page (Rocketnumbernine, the Memory Band), and the two continued working together. Focusing on live performance caused Holden to move away from DJ'ing. Holden traveled to Morocco to study with Gnawa master Maalem Mahmoud Guinia in 2014. The two recorded material together that saw release on an EP titled Marhaba, which also featured Floating Points. The EP appeared on Border Community in 2015, months before Guinia's death after a long illness. Holden collaborated with tabla player Camilo Tirado on a 47-minute minimalist piece inspired by Terry Riley and titled Outdoor Museum of Fractals, which was issued as part of a split release with Abbott in 2016. The Animal Spirits, a full-length featuring a band of the same name, appeared in 2017. Inspired by Holden's live performances with Page and his trip to Morocco, the album blended spiritual jazz, folk, new age, and prog rock. Three Live Takes, a collaboration with Maalem Houssam Guinia, youngest son of the late Mahmoud Guinia, was released in 2018. Holden's first soundtrack, a modular synth score for the documentary A Cambodian Spring, appeared in early 2019. The following year, Holden and Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel released the EP Long Weekend. Holden also worked with Marcus Hamblett (electric guitar, cornet) and Mark Holub (drums), resulting in the EP BBC Sessions: Live at Maida Vale. Following remixes for jazz group GoGo Penguin and progressive synth act XAM Duo, Holden released his fourth studio album, Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities, in 2023. Featuring returning musicians Page, Tirado, and Hamblett as well as XAM Duo saxophonist Christopher Duffin, the album shaded the improvisational approach and spiritual leanings of Holden's later work with nostalgia for the rave culture of his formative years.
© Paul Simpson /TiVo


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