James Ward: “We want to be a premiere platform for new music in the UK”

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

James Ward has been following the latest artists and acts in the British Indie music scene for years, working as a promoter, radio presenter and photographer.

James founded the community platform Pretend in 2018 while studying in Leeds, but later moved to London to continue looking for new talent. The platform has interviewed and documented acts such as Nix Northwest, Easy Life, and Andre Devine. Together with his colleague Maddi, he hosts a monthly Pretend show at London-based radio Threads, where they invite a new guest each show to share a mix. As a young photographer, James started taking pictures at the gigs he went to, but this soon led to shoots for BICEP, Jayda G, Resident Advisor, and many more.

We talked to James to find out more about his taste in music, the ever-growing Pretend platform, and the many more exciting projects he is working on. 

  • When did you first get interested in music?

Somewhere around 12 years old, I fancied a girl who was much cooler than me and we’d play this game where we’d win points if we named a band the other one didn’t know, and I sort of developed a love for finding new stuff from that. I wouldn’t say I was REALLY into music until I went to University though, I always wanted to go to live shows as a teenager but found it so hard to convince my friends from school to come with me. Moving out of home and gaining the confidence to go out on my own made a huge difference to me and helped me really get into music.

  • How has your music taste evolved over the years?

I started out thinking pop-punk was the only thing worth listening to, then emo, then I sort of settled on Indie music which is still the basis of what I listen to. I always think of it as my home that I discover new genres from, for example one of the first Jazz acts I truly fell in love with was a band called Melt Yourself Down and they just have these mad saxophone lines that feel like an electric guitar. I also remember hearing Erol Alkan’s rework of “Forever Dolphin Love” being a real-life changing moment for me, I definitely wouldn’t have started DJing if not for that song.

Everything else has always come from those around me who had far better taste, in particular in club music. Max Wallauer got me into House music, Charlie Tilley (Dubrunner) has taught me so much about breakbeats and baseline music and I literally always look to Andrew Devine for new stuff as he’s someone I feel has impeccable taste across so many genres.

  • Before moving to London, you studied and lived in Leeds. How does the music scene in Leeds compare to bigger cities in the UK such as London?

It’s just got more community. In Leeds there are probably 10-20 venues of note so if you’re on it you can basically know what’s going on every night of the week and you know that if you go, you’ll see someone you know either working on the bar or in the audience and that kind of connection to people allows you to really feel a part of a scene.

It’s also a great help that the city is smaller and cheaper because it allows you to be rubbish at what you do. In London as a teenager, it was terrifying to even think about being creative because you always knew someone who was already a prodigy so what was the point.

  • Who are your three favourite artists/bands/DJs from Leeds?

There are far too many but right now: B-awhe, Long Legged Creatures (+ Joshua Zero) and Mamilah.

James at We Out Here Jazz Festival
  • You are the founder of Pretend. Can you tell us a bit more about the project?

Pretend is a multimedia platform for alternative and underground looking to promote things pushing at the borders of the mainstream. We always look to bridge the gap between live and dance music in our shows and breakdown some of the awkwardness that can come to live crowds.

  • What are your future goals for the platform?

To be financially sustainable. It sounds sad, soulless, and boring but the amount of work that goes into what we do, the talent from our team and the artists we feature needs to be compensated at some point. It’s not about being rich but actually being a benefit to the communities we want to support. We need to stand on our own two feet to do that. If we can achieve this then we want to be one of the premiere platforms for new music in the UK. We’ve got a load of plans in the works for this so come back 22nd March and more will be revealed.

Jayda G at Village Underground 2019
  • You host a regular show at Threads Radio in London. How do you curate the track selection for each edition?

Maddi, my co-host, and I tend to start with thinking about guests and then we try to find new music that suits them. It’s always about digging through Bandcamp, asking for people to send music in and then keeping an eye out for new things on socials so we can beg for exclusives. I like to try and feature a charity compilation where possible to try and make sure there’s always a couple of bits you’re not going to find on Spotify.

James and Maddi
  • Which has been your favourite Pretend show to date?

Maddi and I just got to play a load of tracks from a mix of friends and people who got in touch to be featured which is always nice because it makes the show feel interactive. Both the interviews were great with two of the most exciting acts in the UK and then PVA smash out the mini-mix at the end. What more is there to love?

  • Who are your top three artists/bands/DJs from London?

This really isn’t fair but: PVA, BB Sway & Tugboat Captain

  • You have worked as a photographer for many years. Can you tell us a bit more about your work in this field?

It was all an accident. I just wanted some nice pictures and videos for my radio shows and now it’s all gone way too far and people like Jayda G and RA have had me doing photos for them and I don’t know what to do.

In all seriousness though, l bought a camera and just started taking it to every show, and eventually learnt to use the thing. It’s become a tool to open doors and gradually I started just shooting gigs whereas I would have done interviews with bands before. I really have some friends to thank for helping it come together, LUCE (one of the best DJs in Leeds, I think they now play under the name Hot Pink) had a Diggers Director feature in Stamp the Wax and asked me to do some shoots for them which led to stuff with RA and that really felt like a turning point for me. Since then, I’ve worked with the likes of Parklife, We Out Here, BICEP, Field Day and loads of clubs around London alongside continuing to do stuff with Pretend which sort of acts like a personal portfolio.

Paul Woolford for RA in 2019
  • What can we expect from you in the future?

Lots of plans made, maybe 10% delivered. I just want to continue supporting alternative and underground music and promoting underrepresented voices within those communities where possible.

We’ve got a big launch with Pretend on the 22nd of March which will be the next phase of what we’re doing, live shows are going to come back (both with Pretend and hopefully relaunching an old Jazz/Club thing), I’m doing a photography video series and I’ll probably continue to upset talented producers by badly mixing their records on radio shows.


Did you enjoy our interview with James? Which upcoming UK artists are on your radar right now? What did you think of James and Maddi’s Threads Radio show? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more on Pretend check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Follow James Ward on Twitter and Instagram.

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