ENiGMA Dubz, real name James Vine, has been the worst kept secret in the global bass music scene for more than a decade. The dexterous producer is equally adept at unleashing the weightiest bass-heavy drops as crafting expansive cinematic electronic soundscapes.
Initially making garage and house from his Birmingham bedroom under the name DJ V, aged 20 his 2008 bootleg of Faithless’ We Come One was Kissy Sell Out’s track of the month on BBC Radio 1. The ENiGMA Dubz alias was born that year, after James experienced the cream of UK dubstep at SubDub’s legendary Exodus night – including Skream, Plastician & Digital Mystiks. High profile support from Laidback Luke, Chase & Status and regular YouTube features on MrSuicideSheep, Majestic Casual and Ganja Music led to 2015’s double album The Journey so Far.
Recently released on Morii Records, Awakening is a phenomenal accomplishment. Even if you think you know ENiGMA Dubz the sheer scope of musical ideas is likely to take your breath away. And if you’re a newcomer to his music, prepare to be blown away.
Thanks for talking to us James. We know the last couple of years haven’t been the best in terms of travel, but have you discovered any new locations that you’ve enjoyed visiting?
Great to talk to you guys, and yes it’s certainly held back a lot of travel plans. In saying that, my family and I have discovered more of the UK as a result and had some really lovely trips to Scotland the last two October breaks. The colours in the autumn, the vast lochs and the open space made a very welcome retreat and we are definitely going to make it a regular country to explore moving forwards. No doubt some of those experiences and memories will be seeping through into my music, too.
Is travel a big part of your life under normal circumstances?
It is yeah, my wife has a travel blog and to be honest, it’s her passion for travel and adventure which gave me the bug too. Before having kids, we did a few big backpacking trips in Asia and travel became such an important part of life. Once we had kids, we found a lot of people told us how these bigger trips would stop etc, however this only made my wife, in particular, more hungry to travel and prove how having kids doesn’t have to hold you back. We’ve since been on some really amazing trips, like staying with a Maasai tribe in Kenya, Island hopping in Malaysia and a self-drive trip around Sri Lanka.
Do you have any bits of tech or home comforts you never hit the road without?
The main items I have are my MacBook Pro, audio interface (RME Babyface Pro), closed back studio headphones (Beyerdynamic DT 770s) and my travel midi keyboard (AKAI LPF25). With these bits of kit, I can keep my producing/engineering work going on the move and also throw any ideas down wherever I am. Just now I’m having flashbacks to sitting outside our mud hut in the Maasai Mara, watching my wife and daughter sit round the fire whilst I worked on a remix for an artist I co-write for. It ended up as an official remix on a major label too and I wrote it all sitting right there, with my travel studio setup.
Where in the world are you currently based?
I’m based in Birmingham, UK. I’ve lived in Birmingham my whole life but in various spots over the years.
Does it feel like it’s pretty much back to normal in terms of restrictions/lockdowns?
I’d say so yeah, life seems normal again, whatever you class as normal post lockdowns etc.
For my ENiGMA Dubz DJ sets, I’ve now been on two US tours since lockdown lifted, and played some UK shows, too – so that’s been awesome to get out playing my music again.
On the production side for other artists, I still do a fair amount of my work remotely since the restrictions stopped people coming in for studio sessions, but I do prefer it at times as I have a better workflow. Obviously nothing changes for my original music – that fire will always be burning away, and lockdown actually facilitated starting my lofi alias, Itona.
You started off your music career making garage… what was it about this style of music that appealed to you?
Something about the darker garage sound really grabbed me, I can’t really explain why it did, but after discovering that side of the garage sound, back in 2004 ish, I had a real passion for the stripped back, raw sounding productions and the moody basslines. Before discovering those sounds, I was listening to lots of house, trance and drum n bass on various compilations, but it was the garage sound that really got under my skin.
Your new album Awakening has just landed – how long did it take to produce, and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced during its creation?
The span of the tracks on the album was over around three years. Most of the tracks were produced in 2020, but two were in the unreleased vault, waiting for the right time to release them. I’d honestly say I didn’t find any of the tracks a challenge on the album, as is with most of the music I produce under my ENiGMA Dubz alias. I think it’s mainly due to the fact it’s all from the heart and what I’m passionate about, the challenges usually come when I’m writing music for other artists and co-writing. Through releasing Awakening, I’ve learned such a lot by releasing it on my own label, organizing my first ever vinyl run and also merchandise too. My manager and I run ‘Morii Records’ and we’ve really worked hard to put the album campaign together and roll it out.
Do you have to be in a different mindset when you’re making a track like Out of My Mind, compared to say something more aggressive in the vein of Lost Souls?
Yeah totally, I approach most of my music depending on the mood I’m in, rather than trying to force a vibe I’m not feeling. With Out Of My Mind, I created it specifically with the liquid DnB vibe in mind, it wasn’t a session where I just went down any route that cropped up and it just seemed to fall into place pretty effortlessly. Lost Souls on the other hand came about after being stuck in Munich airport during a snowstorm and, after finding a deserted room in the terminal, I set myself up for 4 hours and made pretty much the finished track in that single session.
How does it feel to be back on the road touring the album?
It feels amazing, I can’t get over the difference it makes sharing music with people in person again. I also really missed the sound systems, it can totally transform a track hearing it on a big, weighty sound system. Having my US visa back in place feels great, and I recently signed with Sub.Mission agency for North America bookings. My manager is also working hard to lock in a solid UK/Europe booking agent so I can hit these areas harder too. It’s an exciting time!
You produced a huge number of genres, even at ENiGMA Dubz but also via your other aliases. Does that come natural to you?
It does and to be honest, it’s what keeps my mind fresh and open too. I found that a few years ago, I weas engineering and co-writing a lot of house music and also writing my own house music too. After a few months I started to hit constant creative blocks and I began to realise I needed to switch things up more often. Making a large variety of genres and styles makes each track something fresh and exciting, rather than starting to go through the motions falling into a cycle of similarities.
Will we be seeing new Itona music this year?
Absolutely! I’m sitting on an album’s worth of material and I’m genuinely so excited to release the next EP. I wanted to focus purely on the Awakening album for a few months, as it takes up a lot of time and energy, especially with all the social media and promotional endeavors. Watch this space though for sure.
Finally, if you could play at any club in the world, for any party, where would you pick?
That’s a tough one, I’d probably say Infrasound festival is a serious goal of mine. I’d also love to play a super chilled and vibey set somewhere soon, incorporating some of the Itona tracks, alongside the chill side of ENiGMA Dubz too.
Awakening is out now on Morii Records – listen & buy here