Lee Burridge Interview: The Child Of The Eighties
- Published on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 10:35
In the decade that has passed since Lee Burridge discovered acid house music, raided the local record shops of Bournemouth and took to the decks, his illustrious DJ career has spanned at least three continents and seen him work alongside some of the England's most revered DJ's. As he continues to explore the spectrum of electronic music, future projects already promise to launch Lee into the DJing stratosphere and confirm his position as a face to watch on the scene. Lee Burridge shares with MEOKO the path of his now well established position within the scene.
I’m not going to ask you to describe the music you play as we all know that your sets are never the same, that you often explore the peripheral, alternative edges of electronic music as well as peak time house cuts. But have you noticed an increase in the creativity of producers in this day and age? Are people seemingly willing to express their musicality more and to look outside of the box more willingly?
I've not really noticed an increase to be honest. I feel the dance music scene(s) require anyone who considers themselves a DJ to produce. I find a lot of 'dj/producers' are somewhat limited in their musical ability and (re)produce and/or replicate what's already out there. Many productions are familiar and simply their version of the current fashionable sound. Perhaps simply using the same tricks or, say, a current popular bass sound or pattern. I think only true musicians who call themselves producers over DJ's are the ones that are able to push outward creatively. I'd like to think this might actually inspire others to create more interesting sounding music but it seems a lot of them are more interested in simply landing gigs. Therefore, they tend to make music more in keeping with the current trend. Strangely, to me, the more interesting productions from artists are the kind of tracks that are either labor of love b-side pieces or ones that just came together in a few hours.
You started life as a mobile wedding DJ, and had a penchant for pop music (as if you would have played straight up 4-4 bangers at someone’s big day), but what musical influences have you carried with you throughout your career? What period of music or what favorites have you always kept close to you and why?
I'm a child of the eighties (wow, that used to not sound that long ago!) and love the fact the synthesizer really came to prominence during my time as a teenager. I was really in to all the obvious bands from that time. New Order, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Pet Shop boys, Duran Duran(this list is getting lamer by the second). I'd love to have been the cool kid at school who was in to Dub Reggae or Brian Eno or Folk or something but I lived in the deepest countryside of South West England. Our local record shop, my Dad's Jukebox and the radio all played pop music. That was what moved me. I did have a love of breakdancing (although I was actually pretty bad at it) so, luckily for my street cred, was also buying Electro Compilations, Grandmaster flash, Egyptian Lover, Shannon etc etc
You’re going to be playing the rather lovely titled Lightning in a Bottle Festival this year what makes a good boutique festival in your eyes and what’s so special about a bash such as this?
LIB is super cool. It's my fifth year in a row playing and it's still one of the festivals that flies somewhat under the radar. It feels quite local (to the West Coast of the USA) and more of a family affair. They support artists they believe in and don't simply go for the formula of booking obvious names. The festival is actually about more than just artists too. It encourages awareness, offers talks, yoga, food that's more health conscious but still delicious (no cardboard flavored vege burgers!) as well as integrating amazing architecture through it's structures and stages that the LIB team build themselves. I feel the more boutique nature of this and other similar festivals makes it more personal to the person attending. It's less of a corporate and more of a community affair.
You’ve also been a resident DJ at the infamous Burning Man festival do you remember the first time you were invited there to play a set? And what have you learnt over the years from your repeated visits? Has it changed the way you approach the crowd and approach playing to people?
Well, firstly I'm not really a resident DJ. Burning Man isn't like the rest of the worlds venues. I've played many times and have definitely built up a following out there but this was somewhat unintentional. The last few years the sound I've been playing for many years seems to have become pretty popular. When I started going the biggest events were soundtracked by trance, desert breaks and then changed to Electro house and Dubstep. I think with the growing popularity of the Robot Heart sound system and some extremely special, musical, etherial sunrise sets as well as all my other friends playing brilliantly at the party we've created a lot of hype.
In my years of going no one (at least in the beginning) invited well known DJ's to come out and play. You were simply another human being lucky enough to get to visit and enjoy this experience. BM is the great equalizer when you get out there. Everyone is the star! What you feel you wanted to give once out there was up to you. To this day we all buy our tickets each year. I love that. There's none of this 'you are so special and I'm going to treat you like a superstar' nonsense.
This is going to be my tenth year attending and one of the best decisions I made in regards to BM was not to play the first year. I decided to simply go experience it. To understand what this place was. I feel there's a trend right now towards making BM a DJ's press story. It's currently super in vogue globally and the awareness of the festival is at an all time high. I get that but it's not and was never about DJ's or dance music. We are a small part of many wonderful things that make up that festival and I hope people who haven't been understand that. I've see a lack of awareness in the dance music community in certain people thinking it's a music festival and treating it accordingly. Some seem to only (and this is where I see a problem) have a schedule to go and see DJ's playing. This party agenda leaves them missing out on so many different, unique experiences that happen through spontaneity. In previous years people wouldn't have any sort of plan and simply stumble across all sorts of different things, including parties. To answer your original question the first time I went to BM I was invited to play and chose not to That was year one. The second year I played a day party at The Deep End. No one promoted it before and I didn't promote it in the press after. It was in the moment and it was excellent.There was a small sheet of paper on the booth with the days line up for anyone who cared to know. Mostly, people didn't. They just had a great time and that to my mind is perfect. There's no hype and you just like it or you don't. In answer to your other question, I've not really changed my approach musically. I simply play the music I love and that touches me.
You’ve been one of the UK’s forerunning underground exports for some years now, molding and adapting you’re sound and style over the years. As the trends come and go, what do you feel is the thread that binds them all together?
For me it's simple. The thread is, does this music make me want to dance. Does it evoke a reaction in me. I feel I've always gravitated towards the less obvious mostly. I've tended to avoid simply playing a set of music that relies solely on energy to achieve response. By that I mean I don't just bang it out. Technology has allowed anyone to do that so these days you don't even need the ability to mix neatly. My (DJ) life would be so much simper (and wealthier) if I only played energetic music or played an obvious coldplay remix here and there. It's a cheap and easy route in my opinion. Others chose it and that's totally cool with me as who am I to say what's right but I do like to push people a little bit in other directions. It's divided certain crowds at times but I've always felt that if everyone played the same style or music that the whole electronic movement would have been dead years ago.
Between 1991 – 97, you were literally considered the champion of Hong Kong, helping to put the Asian metropolis on the map during the British rule under governor Chris Patton. After the city was handed back to the Chinese, did you ever return to the Island? And what changes, if any, did you see taking place under the new leadership and rule?
I've been back several times but the HK I lived in could never be like that again. It was kind of wild and hedonistic but, as with most places, it's become more like everywhere else.The leadership didn't really cause the changes though. It was really down to the type of person living there. Sadly, at the time I lived in HK most people interested in the underground scene were expats. The local Chinese crowd tended to stay away at their own events. We tried to integrate locals (through advertising in cantonese) and expats for years but it took a long time until that happened. There were a lot of Europeans who had been out raving in the late eighties and early nineties who had then gone traveling and ended up in HK. This was our crowd and they were the ones who left the Island in 1997 when it was handed back to China to govern. That type of person never really returned en mass.
These days you’re based for a large part of the time in New York Cit, why did you decide to make the move stateside in the first place? And as someone looking in to the UK scene, do you feel that London is now a city to be reckoned with on the world stage?
Lucky me! I'm mostly still reside in London though. I move to the USA each Summer to host my All Day I Dream events in New York and LA. I actually lived in LA last Summer and New York the years before. It's easier travel wise to be honest. As I've been putting on my day time parties once a month in each city for the past four years they take a lot of organizing and it's so much easier to be there. I think London has always been a city to be reckoned with hasn't it? This isn't a recent thing in my experience. New York and London are my favorite cities in the world though. Both deeply inspire me and I love the inspiring creativity each presents. I feel super lucky to get to live in both each year.
That being said though, dance music’s popularity seems to be at a peak at the moment do you think this is, essentially, a good thing, or do you believe the scene is being saturated with non-descript music and sub standard DJs?
As someone who's been a DJ for thirty years I've seen dance music at it's peak a few times. It's a resilient movement isn't it! I feel it being at it's peak once again can only be beneficial for everyone working under the commercial top layer. The bleed down effect of a younger crowd moving on from their gateway sound(s) is going to be huge. Exploring and experiencing new music is the natural progression for many people. Also the established age limit where most people drop off to set forth on a more normal life path seems to have changed. There are so many other musical experiences out there for everyone now. It's no longer simply what 'kids' do. Sure, there's a saturation but I've always believed that the cream rises to the top. Just make sure you drink from the right container.
Alongside Dutch hero Matthew Dekay you run All Day I Dream, which began life as a series of rooftop parties. You’re brand of house music always focuses on the deep emotional connection to music has dance music become more ethereal and soaked with personality?
Actually, All Day I Dream is my label and series of events. Matthew is front and centre with me though. We set out on this ship together but decided it's easier to have a single Captain. We're both working together on the project though and, without him, I really don't think where we are going to take it could happen in the way it's about to. When I dreamed up ADID I was really missing the emotional connection to music out at parties. I missed the response actual music evokes in people. There were some records around at the time I started the events that really touched me though and I'd already been collecting them for a few years. I guess the natural evolution was to find a place to play them or to release more of them. All Day I Dream was born (on a roof in Brooklyn). The events became so popular in the first year that we reluctantly had to move the next. We lost our amazing view of the Manhattan and it's skyline but gained the ability to hypnotize a few thousand more with the sound. ADID also expanded across to the West Coast to LA that second year. As it's really an outdoor daytime event it's been a little limited by the lack of venues but we focus a lot of our party production to create a certain mood. I feel this also ties in to your question about music becoming more etherial. The music has always been out there. More sometimes than others. In the past though, and I feel this might happen again, as soon as you add melody and emotion to music some producers get a little carried away. It goes from the more delicate dreamy melancholic sweetness to camp and totally over dramatic. I only want to create this certain mood right now and etherial is one of the words you could use to describe it.
You’re an extremely restless producer and musician, often partnering up with people for various projects over the years and maintaining a steady output. What is it about collaborating with others that works so well for you?
It's simple. I'm not a producer. My skill set in the studio is map reader and the other artists I've worked with are really the drivers. I'd love to sit back and take the credit for others work, as so many DJ/producers do today but it's only fair to credit the hardworking and deeply skilled producers who engineer or sometimes actually create the whole track. I get the ghost writer thing as some producers are happy to sit in the shadows and get paid to make music for the DJ's but I feel the artist putting out 'his' work should acknowledge the truly talented. In the past it used to be written on the back of the vinyl sleeve but today with digital only releases there's not enough info or none. Thanks for calling me a musician though. I'm a demon on the triangle.
What’s the latest with your Get Weird Project and imprint? What can we possibly look forward to from you on that tip?
I've decided to put this project on the back burner for now. I'd planned on GW being a home to release another part of my overall "sound" (more what I'd play at night) aside from what I'm doing with All Day I Dream. I think it's a little early though. There are big plans in motion for ADID and, until that's solidified this year, I want things to be clear. It's easy to misunderstand artists intentions and ADID has a clear musical message. There's a certain overlap with GW but I don't want the rest of GW's sound to become associated with ADID.
In a career that has spanned from the eighties to the present day, there must have been many highs and lows, many celebrations and many obstacles to overcome over your time as a DJ and producer. Has there ever been a dark period, when things seemed like a struggle?
No. It's been a breeze :) There are so many artists out there whining about other artists. Unless you're on top of the world there are always going to be DJ's earning more than you or getting more press. I've been so fortunate to maintain a career in this industry for thirty years. I've never forgotten that i'm one of the lucky few. I know there are so many people out there right now dreaming that this is the life they want. But, it's so hard to get there. I know many have the talent but it's not simply about that. There's timing, luck and also tireless effort in all sorts of ways. I don't think a dark period is possible for the ones' who managed to make it as far if you sit back and consider what you have. Saying that it's about time to become hooked on heroin (for creative purposes only) and then spiral downwards in to the darkness (i'm joking of course).
Finally in an age of instant mix technology and with a wealth of mixes available at our fingertips, do you think the compilation mix format is still viable? How do you approach the format these days, and what steps have you and Matthew taken to get around the problems facing the recorded music industry?
Matthew and I consider that music in many ways should actually be free. I'm speaking from a position of owning two record labels that still release vinyl (and digital at present). Obviously due to the cost of manufacturing it's difficult to not charge for the vinyl. I'm very interested in trying to reach the none DJ's out there with our music. Sure, I love DJ's playing my music and want that to continue but the existing business model for distributing music is outdated. It's not really the world we live in anymore. It's one of the things we're working towards so watch this space. As for compilations, I think there's a (small) place for them. Piracy changed sales numbers dramatically as it became easy with the digitalization of our world. And, with the advent of places like sound cloud who on earth actually needs anything tactile or to have to buy a mix? Well, some do and that's great. It's still quite nice to own something. To be able to digest the inlay card and own the artwork. Numbers will ever diminish (upside, that's good for the environment) but some will still have the collector mentality. To be able to have 'things' around you on shelves in your house. Hmmm, saying that now though I'm thinking that future people may have shelves full of external hard drives and will hand down their record collections to their sons and daughters via USB sticks. Future future people though will probably curse them though when everything information wise is sent up to the "cloud". OK, I'm losing it. Goodnight.
Catch Lee Burridge play at Lightning in a Bottle Festival this week in Bradley, California.