Hitting the right notes – DMU grad James West on his music career so far

For De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate James West, music is a gift not to be mistreated. It’s enough to drive home the emotional impact of films, reinforce feelings and seduce the mind. Having won awards for his musical score in a short independent film called Rêverie, the 24-year-old from Market Harborough is hoping to forge his career producing music for just about anything.

From producing pop ballads in French to dedicating a song to his dog, we caught up with James to discuss his love for music and how his time at DMU shaped his influence.

 James West 1

“For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to feel,” James said. “I was obviously proud when I heard about the awards but Rêverie hadn’t been released publicly yet. It was sent to a host of small independent film festivals before people could watch it.

“Friends would ask how I felt, and all I could ever say was ‘I don’t know, you can’t watch it’. As much as it was really cool that my music was winning awards, I’d much rather people be able to watch the thing to understand why.”

Rêverie is a 15-minute silent movie set in 1960s France and follows Antionette as she escapes into fantasy from her monotonous life after her father forces her to turn down an art scholarship.

For much of the sixties, young people in France were still facing social and sexual repression, entrenched by a deeply conservative society led by President Charles de Gaulle. For many women of the time, particularly those in the working class, their desire to study and work in the arts was snuffed out.

A generation of students resented the patriarchal ways of their elders and yearned for greater freedom. In true French fashion, that came to a head in the spring of 1968 when student protests in Paris quickly turned violent.

Directed by fellow DMU graduate Cameron Lalor, Antionette’s story explores escapism through cinematography inspired by new-wave cinema and James’ melodic score.

And for his hard work, his music secured a hattrick of awards, scooping the Best Indie Score at the Prodigy Film Festival and winning Best Sound Design at the Malta Film Festival and Your Way Film Festival respectively.


James said: “In films, music drives the emotion we’re supposed to feel but for Rêverie, I found I could create my own emotions utilising the visuals. I had so much freedom, I could simply let my ideas guide me.

“The only direction I got was when Cameron first approached me and explained the setting. He asked me to write some ‘60s pop songs and, I mean I studied French at school, but I had to shove ideas into Google Translate to set our initial lyrics before sending them to someone more fluent in French to tweak it.

“Only one of those songs got used –  Le Fantôme Blanc – for the dance scene and I wrote it before we started filming. I knew I needed to get inside the character’s head and then I could snowball ideas. It’s not really a love song, it has more to do with loneliness. It’s not mournful loneliness, I feel it’s warmer than that.”

Rêverie has won, or been nominated for, more than 10 awards, including three prizes last December at the 2023 Prodigy Film Awards.

You can watch the film here.

With fingers in pies across independent cinema, gaming and commercial pop music, James’ influences bounce around. The likes of acclaimed film composers such as Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman have their place alongside electric pop duo Disclosure, or Jacob Collier, Jon Bellion and Flume. 

From an early age, James was creative. Encouraged by his parents, he would spend his early childhood drawing, writing songs and recording videos on his parents’ camcorder. But it was the keyboard lessons at age 10 that first caught James’ imagination and unlocked a lifelong love of music.

Having taken a shine to rap music in primary school, he would go on to perform in school talent shows. By secondary school, he was producing his own music on GarageBand and then Reaper, taking inspiration from his two loves, pop music and cinema, and mixing them together.

“I can’t remember exactly what my first track was. I was trying to do my own version of John Newman’s ‘Love Me Again’ and remixing it with the ‘Force’ theme from Star Wars.

“I don’t think I’d have the balls to even release it now.”

While learning his craft, his neighbour, who happened to be Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy MSc at DMU, Tim Harrison, approached him and suggested enrolling on the university’s Music Technology and Performance BA Hons course.

“DMU was my only choice when applying for uni,” James said. “Had I not gone to DMU, I wouldn’t have met the people that I have. They have shaped my music career as much as I shaped it myself.”

Studying in Leicester enabled James to expand his musical horizons and collaborate with students to help create his own brand of electronic pop. He created his alias, simply JamesWest, to stand out on streaming platforms and released his first works on Spotify during his first year.  

Working closely with his tutors Professor Bret Battey, Dr Peter Batchelor and James Andean, James was able to hone his skills and graduate with first-class honours in 2021. However, it was when James took a step back from music and enjoyed the social aspects of student life that his appreciation of music grew stronger.

“I was very social and active during my DMU days. I knew I had to branch away from music to come back to it with a stronger understanding. I found Demon Theatre and enjoyed going out. I could go back to the studio with a freshness.

“I’d say the people really made DMU what it was for me. They are there for you in any aspect of music or life and I was very fortunate enough to be close to all of my lecturers.

“I would present the mixes from my course and James would send me very long emails with very specific feedback and timestamped notes, which was nice of him because he took the time to listen.

“That’s true for my friends also. A lot of my DMU friends actually feature in my work. I wouldn’t have anything to offer them other than the opportunity to feature in my work but they were very supportive. I even sent one of my close friends, Yasine Patel, my work and he would come back with very specific feedback to help me really improve.

“Collaboration has become a vital part of seeing a project through because the most important thing art needs is for people to resonate with it. The more collaborative you can be with other people, the more you know what you’re producing will resonate with people.

“The friends I have now from DMU are the same friends I will have for life.”

Following university, James was inducted into Bitter Oyster, the company that produced Rêverie and was set up by his former flatmates and fellow DMU alumni Cameron Lalor and Alice Diamond.

He aspires to work as a freelance music producer, working on projects across film, TV, gaming and music. Having tasted success with Rêverie, he is back working with the Bitter Oyster team on a more ambitious feature-length film, Tithebanner/ Code Duello, which James loosely describes as “Game of Thrones meets Avatar meets Prometheus.”

Alongside his work in independent cinema, James is still producing his own music and has seen 13 of his singles featured on BBC Introducing, the same platform that has helped push the likes of Ed Sheeran, Florence and the Machine and The 1975.

His single ‘The Ocean’ was also featured as BBC Leicester’s Track of the Week in the summer of 2022 and he is currently working on his next album, The Fire, which is set to be released later this year.

But his favourite work?

“It’s probably a song I released last year called Your Mojo. It’s a song about my dog. He’s a spaniel called Mojo and he’s the best thing I have in my life. He is just a box of frogs and I decided to release a song about him.

“It’s from my new album. I have been working on The Fire for three years and it’s going to be released this year whether it kills me.”

Listen to Your Mojo here.

James West - Mojo
James' dog, Mojo, who is the subject of his song Your Mojo

James’ music is available to stream on Spotify and YouTube. For more information about hiring James, visit www.jameswestmusic.co.uk.

Posted on Thursday 1 February 2024

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