The All Day I Dream and desert sounds maestro muses on the art of DJing and his long and storied career as a DJ.
As a DJ it seems, Lee Burridge has lived many lives. There were his beginnings on the early rave scene on the south coast of the UK. His time living in Hong Kong where he established himself as the go-to tour DJ for UK club brands making inroads to Asia. His part in building up the nascent scene in Thailand’s Full Moon party capital of Kho Pha Ngan.
In the late 90s, a return home nestled him into the centre of the UK’s superclub boom. An alliance with Craig Richards and Sasha as leftfield breakbeat outfit Tyrant provided a career zenith in the 2000s. And then his most recent run of success followed with the emergence of his All Day I Dream party brand in the mid 2010s.
Along the way he’s experienced the excesses and tribulations that only decades of touring as a DJ can bring. His hard partying lifestyle lead to a bout of intense anxiety that instigated a new healthier, approach to life. It coincided with a whole new chapter of his career that has allowed him to take his All Day I Dream from a rooftop party in New York in 2011 to one of the world’s best loved touring brands and one that has made him synonymous with another key dance music trend he helped shape. This time, the Burning man inspired desert sound.
Some people aim to bash it out, some aim to hypnotise, some to crowd please, others to play music the crowd is certain to have not heard. What motivates you as a DJ when you play?
Lee Burridge: I’m motivated to create a musical rollercoaster each time I play. I like building the awareness and popularity of new tracks and artists I’ve found. I don’t like to move on really fast from music week to week as I’m not playing the same club or crowd week to week. I also think it’s important to think of the night or day as a whole experience and not just about one artist.
When I program my own events, I always encourage people to come early. The whole thing makes sense to me as a musical experience. I was told last year [by a guy] that Yokoo totally outplayed me at the closing of All Day I Dream. I laughed as I’d chosen to put him on last as, first off, he’s a great DJ who can rock a crowd or equally bring them to that place for the next artist to rock. I played a really musical set. More dreamy and not so hands in the air. More eyes closed swaying. I was super happy with my set and it set Yokoo up to close out the season in the wonderful way he did.
I wasn’t offended but it’s funny the perception of what my set should have been or actually was. The guy didn’t get that ‘All Day I Dream’ isn’t just about waving your hands in the air and screaming. It’s a musical journey. It’s a trip. I’m motivated by the bigger picture and also to be able to create a ride whatever time I’m playing.
There is a lot of talk currently about the psychological challenges of DJing, can you describe the ways in which you find the DJing game challenging?
I’ve stopped drinking mostly and my partying days are behind me. I exercise regularly and mediate. I actually suffered terrible anxiety for a long time but these changes brought me through it. The travel can be tiring but I am grateful daily for the opportunity to lead the life I chose.
I never really felt too much envy of the success of other artists. Comparing oneself to someone you perceive as more successful is a waste of time. You simply have to work on your own growth. Right now, things are the best they’ve ever been for me. I will continue to work hard and enjoy this run. How long it lasts isn’t fully in my hands and if things change I have to accept that and simply adapt. Finally finding the sound that makes me happy and I’m able to make other people happy with kind of cancels out the other stuff. The only thing I wish I was better at is social media but that in itself can be a blackhole and/or an illusion. What you think is out there on the other end of your posts isn’t necessarily real or true either.
Where do you get your music from?
I spend an enormous amount of time digging and listening to new music. Most of the digging is on either Juno or Beatport. On Juno I tend to go through the vinyl releases. To go to the expense of putting music out on vinyl is somewhat of a filter in itself. I think it’s important to update the labels and artists you follow every six to 12 months to see if they are still releasing music that’s on your wavelength. I like to go off exploring and listening to back catalogue tracks from labels and artists I find. You can find some gems and wonder where you’ve been missing out on this music.
How do you prepare for a set?
I have numerous music folders I put together over a six month period and a rolling one of new music. I go back into them and create a fresh one for each event. Sometimes the day before or on the flight. I usually pick around one hundred tracks per show to give some range and, obviously, I can always dip into other folders if I think of something particular during a set. I found having limits numbers wise makes it more focussed. I always have a few options for first track of the set too which gives me a jumping off point. Obviously this is dependant on what’s being played before though.
Some DJs like to not plan and mix in the moment, some prepare for eventualities and have combinations of tracks that they return to if needed. How do you approach your sets?
I’m pretty fluid. Knowing the first track eases me into the night. I always watch the crowd and try to vibe off them so preplanning is a little alien to me. If I’ve mixed two tracks together and remember the mix I will do it again. I tend to forget though mostly.
How do you organise your music in preparation for the gig?
I use the comments box in iTunes and write things like “wonky, dreamy early house” or “awesome, play a lot!”. When I sort out a digital folder, I’ll try to split it into three sections roughly. Earlier, middle, end. I don’t always stick to this as you don’t know where the energy of the party might need to be but it gives some sort of order to the chaos of just reading track titles. I’ve always been fairly good at remembering tracks but the descriptions really help especially when the music is new to me.
What lessons have you learned over time that have made you a better DJ?
To believe in my own taste and not be swayed by trends or other DJ’s success. I’m just me. The story I tell is really honest and I think that honesty is felt by the crowd. The day I stopped caring about the one or two people that aren’t into what I do freed me.
When chatrooms were big, you’d have most people positively responding to the set. But, for some reason I’d always focus on the one person complaining. On occasion this was actually valid as I myself didn’t think I played my best but it happens. It’s better to centre and play your best at the next event. Getting to know the equipment really well definitely helps but sometimes the simplicity of mixing one record into another can be really special. Not everything needs an explosive dance floor reaction. Lastly, actually enjoying the tracks themselves while they are playing too. I love hearing and dancing to the music I play. Not only does it get you into the set but people react to a DJ having fun with them.
Do you obsess over what is and isn’t your sound?
I don’t really think about it. To some it’s techno. To others it’s house. To others it’s a pile of shit. You can’t control how people perceive your tracks. Also, the way you play them sometimes creates a feeling that isn’t any particular genre. The tracks are words and I tell my story in my way. What it’s called is up to you.
Finding a state of flow where you don’t have to think about what you’re doing and the music comes to you is critical for DJing. How do you reach this particular place while playing?
I guess I’m lucky. It just flows. I think it’s down to there being some sort of thread that holds the track selection together. A general vibe and sound. What that is exactly I can’t really articulate but I know when I hear a track that it’ll fit at some point into a set.
If you find yourself booked to play the wrong kind of crowd, are you happy to go down in flames playing music you believe in or are you open to the idea of compromise to keep a crowd happy?
It doesn’t really happen these days luckily. In the past when Craig Richards and I had Tyrant as our selling point, we were doing really well in the press. Seemingly people sometimes just book success. We were booked at a trance night in the UK. I think we got about 30 minutes in before the promoter gently took us off. We got to go home early. It was kind of funny. I have a certain range with my music and always want to entertain people and maybe even bring them onboard if it’s not their usual sound but I never try to be anything different than I am.
Dealing with an inebriated general public every weekend is an art in itself. When do fans or dancers cross the line?
I’m really happy to have people in the booth as I like that energy. It’s kind of difficult when you’re focussing on a mix when people are asking for selfies when you’re working though. I get why. I’ll do it as soon as I can but here’s some advice. Headphones on. Hands in mixer: I’m doing something. Headphones off: you can ask me for a selfie. I’ve had someone try to take out the USB from the CDJ before. That’s never good! People who are dancing in the middle where I’m standing and the elbows are precariously close to the pause button on the CDJ that’s playing Not good either!
And what about promoters crossing the line?
I’ve been through it all. These days it’s a little better though. I don’t really get put on line ups I’m not playing anymore. We get paid before the show so that’s not an issue. I guess promoters changing the agreed terms is difficult. Adding DJs to the line up or not reading the requirements for the equipment. To be honest it’s really trivial matters thankfully.
Have you ever found yourself under pressure to play every gig you were offered?
I’ve actually only had a manager for the first time the past eighteen months. He understands my needs and, therefore, I’m not under pressure to play every gig. You sometimes feel if you don’t do something it will impact your whole career and momentum but it’s not really true. It’s important for several reasons to actually take time for yourself.
One, the exhaustion of weekly travel. Also, you need to be in a certain headspace to work on music. Trying to squeeze it out of yourself on the off days isn’t the same as being inspired and being in the flow of the days you had nothing but time on your hands. It’s better to let your body and mind switch off and relax from the performance side of things. You’ll play better. You’ll feel better.
I’m not in my twenties anymore and actually the party, party behaviour of those times went into my early forties but the result was relentless panic attacks and feeling crap .I feel having a pretty healthy diet really kept me from going over the edge but as soon as I centred and treated myself better everything became much easier.
How do you handle negative comments from promoters/crowd?
Someone else’s opinion is really valid. To themselves. Sure, we all try to sway people to our own experience and everyone thinks they know best, but it’s pointless really. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Just be comfortable with that. I used to defend myself or feel bad but it’s just being insecure. If you yourself know you played well that’s really all that matters. It’s not egotistical. It’s just a feeling.
Promoters argue DJ fees are too high. What are your thoughts on this recurring argument?
As a promoter I like my artists to feel happy. I try to pay them well but it’s expensive to put an event on. What i don’t agree with though is a promoter that will pay a bigger name artists a huge fee and take a loss then try to make it back by paying smaller artists little to nothing.
Do you ever find yourself in situation where your music is very different to the other DJs on the lineup and how do you get through this?
Only really at festivals. The programming can be a little weird sometimes. The easiest way to overcome it is not to mix into the track. Let it run out. A little moment of silence that’s a little too long then the energy resets. If people want to see you play, they will come to the stage anyway. The ones that don’t, leave. Years ago I played after Andy C in Australia at a festival. It was definitely a d’n’b city and I hadn’t even played two minutes of the first silly little house track when pretty much 99% of the crowd left.
Lee Burridge’s ‘Elongi EP’ with Lost Desert and Junior Akwerty is out now on All Day I Dream