“Jack of all trades…”, but luckily for Monsieur Haskell, the finale to that particular popular phrase is somewhat flipped upside down in the same way David Pocock felt the full force of James’ trademark mauls during the 2016 tour of Australia. For one of the sport’s most outspoken personalities in recent years, the former flanker is proving “… Master of Many” in a post-Twickenham career, thanks to his best-selling book(s), accompanying podcast series, and life in the spotlight as a former ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ contestant.
Now, the ex-England rugby international – who can boast a Six Nations Grand Slam, and call-up to the iconic British & Irish Lions squad amongst the accolades of his double-decade career – is taking things up a notch via the true love of his life (sorry, Chloe!)… Dance music. Since spawning his Back Row Radio series, James’ gigs behind the wheels of steel have come – like an Ellis Genge & Jonny May combo – thick & fast. Making his debut on Toolroom Trax, the sibling label of Mark Knight‘s iconic Toolroom Records, we caught up with the always-sober public speaker, fresh from his nationwide ‘The Good, The Bad & The Rugby‘ tour, to discuss his ‘You Need It‘ EP…
Hask! Tell us about how you became involved with Toolroom…
“Well I’ve been a huge fan of Toolroom for a number of years, they’re leaders in their field and are such an iconic house music brand. I’ve always been a big fan and have been sending some tracks to the label for a while. I went in for a meeting with Sean and found him incredibly helpful and generous with his time, he gave me some really good guidance and introduced me to Mark Knight, the main man at the label. We got on like a house on fire, he’s obviously incredibly talented and a really good guy.”
Because of your sports career and media profile, you’re often labelled as a “celebrity DJ”. What challenges have you faced in overcoming this and letting the music do the talking, and how have you achieved this so far?
“This is always an obstacle I have to face, even though I would describe myself as a Z-list celebrity. I’ll still be seen as that for now, but every time there is an obstacle put in my way, I try to apply the same dedication and focus I had when playing. For example when I started out, people told me I was never going to be taken seriously unless I had my own radio show or regular podcast. So I created Backrow Radio which gets 60,000 listeners per month. Then they told me I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I didn’t make my own music, so I went away and did the Toolroom production course and started working with incredible producers, like Alex Grover and now the likes of James Hurr, Ellis Moss (Luke Hemmings) and Mark Knight, to make quality tunes that will do the talking. I’m always trying to perfect my art as a DJ and still try to find people to teach me new tricks and methods, I think it’s going to be an uphill climb but I love DJing more than anything and I won’t give up until I’m playing at the venues and in front of the crowds that I want to.”
Your ‘Back Row Radio’ show is full of a really diverse mix of tracks, focusing mainly on house and tech-house. How would you describe your sound genre-wise when it comes to DJing?
“It’s a tricky one really, because my personal tastes are very much towards tech-house and kinda almost delving into techno, but a lot of my gigs end up being commercial because that’s what the crowd wants to hear. Backrow Radio is a real reflection of the type of music that I like to use when I DJ.”
So at which point in your career did you really first get involved in music and start to see it as a realistic future step after your playing days ended?
“Well I started about 9 years ago, after doing a DJ course at a now closed school called Sub Base. When I got booked for my first DJ set at Harper Adams University, I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t stop smiling. I found it to be the perfect replacement for being a professional sportsman. It was the same level of nerves, adulation, excitement, focus and preparation, and I instantly fell in love with it and knew I would do whatever it took to make it work.”
Who would be your ideal b2b partner from the Twickenham changing room, and why? Eddie Jones would be pretty handy on the mic at a festival wouldn’t he?
“Personal favourite would be with Carl Cox, who I think would’ve made a good prop too! But if I had to choose a former team mate, I would choose my best mate, Paul Doran Jones. I’m not sure Eddie would be a big fan for my style of music to be honest… And I’m not sure I could afford to pay him to be on the mic!”
You’re now venturing out to some huge landmark moments, such as supporting Craig David at Ibiza Rocks this Summer. What’s next for you tour-wise and which venue would be your dream club/location to play?
“Yeah, I’m really excited! I’ve got 30 DJ gigs booked in the diary, and I have 2 dreams of where I would love to play… One is the Wild Corner in the toilets of Hi Ibiza, and the second would be Tomorrowland. In fact, I actually got to live my dream last Summer by going b2b with Simon Dunmore and Bob Sinclar at Cafe Mambo, which was pretty special!”
So if yourself, Tinds and Payno formed a DJ supergroup trio, what would you call yourselves?
“Hmmm… Maybe “The Good, The Beats and The Rugby” or actually, “The Kings Road Mafia!”
Finally… Which DJs and tracks are you really rating right now heading into this Summer 2022 season?
“Well I’m really loving ‘Piano Anthem’ by Ben Delay, but also ‘Big Deep’ by Low Steppa, and ‘Mercy Me’ by Darius Syrossian“
Graciously missing out his own tracks in his list of recommendations, James Haskell‘s ‘You Need It‘ is out now on Toolroom Trax. Showcasing slick tech-house inspired grooves and floor-ready basslines, you can listen to the former Wasps man’s rucking great new EP below: