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James Dela Cruz is shaking off his The Avalanches past as he takes over Belleville

“At the end of the day, this was never mine, I was only part of it, so I kind of have no control.”

Former Avalanches member James Dela Cruz is shuffling through his Sydney office to find somewhere quiet to talk. It’s an incongruous setting for the DJ, whose work with his former band should theoretically have left him a canonical Oz music hero.

Perhaps The Avalanches’ messy legacy has been too much of a PR weight for Dela Cruz to bear. In 2000, the Melbourne seven-piece released the plunderphonic masterwork Since I Left You to stunning international acclaim and commercial success. Its patchwork of nearly 3500 samples was such a heady work, the band didn’t release another album for 16 years. In the interim, band members splintered away in a series of false starts and rumour, leaving founding duo Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi. 2016’s Wildflower was seen by many as a miracle, though by then, Dela Cruz had built himself a new life.

"In life you need to move and learn. Robbie and the band are really lucky that they’ve never had to have a job. Even though it’s not an ideal situation right, I work in a bank. I’m still moving on in life," he says.

Dela Cruz’s parents immigrated from the Philippines to the Western suburbs of Melbourne where he was born and grew up with four musically hyperactive siblings. His older brother Jerome weaned James on his record collection, sparking a wax obsession with post-disco, R&B, and ‘80s funk.

“I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand Australian rock music. The beat was very straight. The funk and R&B comes from jazz, which swings. Australian Crawl and Cold Chisel were all very foreign to me.”

DJ’ing was initially an opportunity to make some extra cash, as Dela Cruz and his brother Jerome teamed up to take weddings, sweet sixteenths, and school discos.

“My brother Jerome had twisted my parents’ arms to buy him a turntable and a mixer. My dad purchased him a belt drive turntable, a really cheap one. You’d have to push the record at the right speeds to get the mixing right. It was an excellent practising ground to get the right touch.”

When Dela Cruz met future fellow Avalancher Dexter Fabay and his brother, he discovered collaborative DJ’ing. They started the short lived project 2 Minute Needles, before meeting the idiosyncratic Avalanches.

“I’d never met that type of people in my life – really crazy, enthusiastic, with a totally different slant on music. Growing up in the western suburbs, I did have Australian friends, but not this type of Australian friend. It goes back to being Filipino. You’re thrilled when you meet white people who accept you, because you’ve never had that kind of acceptance before. Me and those guys, everyday something amazing would happen.”

The Avalanches live shows in these early years were notoriously anarchic, as Dela Cruz describes each gig as having seven sub-plots to be pieced together after their sampledelic carnage concluded. Retrospectively perhaps, the beautiful chaos was never destined to last. Dela Cruz is initially hesitant to speak about his fracturing with the band but is quickly forthcoming when asked about his near involvement in 2016’s Wildflower. Dela Cruz appeared in promotional material for the record and was listed as a touring member in 2015, but disappeared the following year.

“It was a disagreement. And I made every effort to correct it. But you know, one of the guys just couldn’t agree. At the end of the day, this was never mine, I was only part of it, so I kind of have no control,” he explains.

The end of his involvement with The Avalanches has meant Dela Cruz had to rebuild his own brand and life, something he struggled with after moving to Sydney. Dela Cruz’s upcoming set at the Belleville is billed as something of a homecoming after years of sporadic shows, now unbridled by the baggage of his former band. He doesn’t wish to reveal many details, but hints UK garage has altered his signature vinyl orthodoxy.

“I always have in my mind, that if I do this, people are just going to compare it to Since I Left You. Since I Left You is a good album, but that can be matched. It’s not the be all and end all.”

Catch James Dela Cruz’s DJ set at Belleville Melbourne on Friday July 13.