Interview: ORIGINALS… Lee Burridge
For someone that first plied his trade as a mobile DJ back in the mid-80s, Lee Burridge is showing no signs of running out of steam.
Over the past three decades, the Dorset native has been at the forefront of countless musical movements – launching the underground club scene in Hong Kong, helping to bring electronic music to Thailand’s infamous ‘Full Moon’ parties, and rocking the dancefloor at Fabric in its formative years.
As the nineties made way for the ‘noughties’, Burridge became one of the most sought after DJs on the international circuit, forming an enviable partnership with Craig Richards (and for a period, Sasha) as part of Tyrant Soundsystem; releasing seminal mixes such as Nubreed and 24:7 for Global Underground (among others); and hitting a high of #9 in DJ Magazine’s prestigious annual Top 100 list.
He even found time to embark on an ambitious two-year residency-based tour, 365, which took in destinations such as Ibiza, Florence, Buenos Aires, Sydney, New York, San Francisco, Denver and Hong Kong.
Today, Burridge continues to push the boundaries with his All Day I Dream parties and record label, close to ten years on from its foundation. Last summer, he released what remarkably was his first studio album, Melt, alongside Belgian producer Lost Desert.
Here’s the title track from the album:
In keeping with the theme of All Day I Dream, the album drifts effortlessly between genres – from stripped-back acoustic guitar to hypnotic house music – and was inspired by his musical journey to date.
For the latest in our ORIGINALS series of interview, 909originals caught up with Lee as he looks ahead to a an exciting decade.
Q. Lee, thanks for speaking to us. As you may have seen, the ORIGINALS interviews series focus on the music, places and people that brought you to where you are today. So let’s start at the beginning. What was the music scene like in Dorset growing up?
Ha ha…umm, well, there was a whole lot of nothing to be honest. However, there were artists that lived in the area that left and went on succeed in the music industry. DJ Harvey, Tom Middleton, Mark Pritchard, Nick Warren, Charlie May and Duncan Forbes, to name a few, were all from the South West.
There really wasn’t much of a scene until the raves began around London and found their way to the countryside.
Q. What prompted you to get a set of decks and decide to become a ‘mobile DJ’ – it wasn’t exactly a career move back then?
My parents ran a pub and hired a local DJ, Steve Smith, a year before I played at my first ever mobile disco. I remember standing in my first DJ booth the Christmas before and was enthralled by the equipment, the process of blending music and the volume of the party.
But you’re right, it wasn’t a career move at all. Back then, DJ’s literally stood in the corner and no one spoke to them unless they wanted to make a request or to ask someone to move their car on the mic.
But I had always loved music, ever since I was really young. I just felt compelled to be a DJ.
Q. When did you notice things starting to change in the world of DJing – that the art of mixing and track selection became more important?
When I played in the second nightclub in the area. A local DJ, Wayne Rideout was mixing disco and 80’s 12” versions of the more synth/dance pop end of pop music.
The club had Technics 1200 turntables. It was the first time I saw a pitch slider; it was very different to the weird twisting knob with no real range on the belt drive turntables I previously used.
Wayne had a couple of mixes he did every weekend that blew my mind. The tracks almost spoke to each other. I became really interested in the ‘third’ record – the place where the other two tracks met and what they then formed.
Track selection and storytelling with music came later on, when I moved to Asia. Previously, it had been about simply maintaining an energy with the tracks.
When I started buying music that was less noisy and ‘ravey’, I started focusing on a set as if it were a rollercoaster ride. Building up to moments and taking things back down.
I guess it was around 1992 or 1993 when I started thinking about my set as a whole thing rather than just going track to track.
Q. You were 19 when the ‘summer of love’ hit in 1988. How aware were you of what was going on?
I was blown away, seeing how people of all ages, ethnicities, gay, straight, etc had this bond and a shared experience at parties. Everyone was so open with each other.
I mean, at 19 it’s hard to truly comprehend the impact it had, but I felt it. I came from the countryside where it wasn’t diverse at all. Getting to meet so many different types of people who all shared some sort of common thread made me feel very open and optimistic about that world.
I feel it allowed me to leave and travel with a certain confidence and openness. Even though I doubt I attributed it to the Summer of Love, at that point it had a profound effect on me.
Q. How did you come to be headhunted to go to Hong Kong, back in 1991?
It was a ‘tipping point’ moment in my life. I was handed a business card for a bar in Hong Kong. Their DJ had left, and the general manager’s daughter randomly lived somewhere in the countryside, near the nightclub I was playing in.
She was getting married, so he combined that trip with going to local nightclubs, looking for a new DJ he thought was suitable for the job in Hong Kong.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure where Hong Kong was at that point. I always joke that I said at the time, “That sounds exciting. I’ve never been to Japan”, but it’s not far off. I doubt I could have pointed it out on a map.
There was no Internet back then to research things, so I went to the library and checked out a few books. It sounded exciting to me so, after a few calls from the village phone box – yes, one of those cute red ones that smell like urine – I decided to go.
It was a huge step into the unknown. I was still living at my parents when I took the plunge. It completely changed my life.
Q. It’s been said that you helped change the perception of Thailand’s Full Moon parties – turning them from being relatively low-key affairs into electronic music odysseys. What was the Thai scene like when you started playing there in the early 90s?
I was lucky enough to discover Haad Rin very early on in the days of the full moon parties. I saw it transition from hippies playing drums on the beach to small dance parties that myself and some other wonderful DJs, such as Backyard Dave, DJ A and Christian Berentson played at each month.
At that point, the booths were pretty ramshackle. I remember being electrocuted by the equipment a few times each night due to the dampness and no earth on the mixer. Fun times!
Some of us used to also play a couple of times a week at the amazing Backyard club, which was formerly a snooker bar. It was a shack built of wood with a super bouncy floor and a lovely terrace that looked out over Koh Samui and the ocean.
I visited for months on end between 1991 and 2000. The wonderful locals provided a free bungalow, as myself and friends played music each week. It was cheap at that moment anyway – I think it was about a euro a night – but it was kind of them to give me a free place to stay.
Haad Rin really was an ‘in the know’ traveler secret for a long time, but as the years went by, more and more bars got soundsystems and held parties, and the whole village kept on growing. More and more people were coming.
For me, I felt that it changed so much that I decided to stop going. I have the best memories from there and never wanted to be the person moaning saying “it’s not like it used to be”.
Those were the sort of words I heard from drum circle hippies back in 1992, at a time when there was only two hours of electricity a day and one telephone in the village, at the post office.
Q. When you returned to the UK, you were a relative unknown again – we interviewed DJ Paulette recently, and she said the same thing after living in France for a long time. Was it a case of ‘back to square one’, or did your relationships with Craig Richards, Sasha etc help you get back on track more quickly?
I was lucky to form many friendships with people in the music industry, who promised, when I got back to London, that they’d help. Most were high and never returned my calls, but that’s ok! Party friends can’t always be relied upon.
Luckily Craig really helped me out as soon as he could. His generosity gave me a start at the great events he was throwing. After a year or so, he and Sasha started to work together on a project, and also brought me in.
Although the press focused on Sasha, Tyrant allowed Craig and I to also build a following and our own sound, which eventually took the front seat when Sasha left the project. It was another pivotal moment in my career and I’m forever grateful for Craig’s generosity and friendship.
I’m not sure it would have worked out without him.
Q. Tyrant Soundsystem was something of a phenomenon in the early 2000s; it really captured that merging of house, tech house and breaks at the time. You played all the big clubs, and had a residency at Fabric. That must have been a crazy time for you?
It was unbelievable, actually. Craig and I shared a certain, fairly diverse taste in music at that point that overlapped with each other.
Tyrant allowed us to explore those sounds and styles and knit them all together for a quirky and, at the time, unique ride. It really resonated with people and we built a great following.
Fabric took Tyrant to another level. Those nights over the first six years of the club will always be some of my favourite club memories. The same crowd came to every party so it became a community. We were all friends.
The magic at 8am when you looked out at those beautiful messy faces, all full of smiles will linger forever. Tyrant explored the world but it was never better than those nights and mornings at Fabric.
Q. All Day I Dream is closing in on a decade now (it started in the summer of 2011). Was it ever intended to be anything other than a series of one-off parties?
I truly believed I could create a place for melodic house and techno to live and breathe in. No one was playing this sound across a whole night or day of music back then, and I always intended to firstly build a home for it in New York then start to export it to other cities and countries.
It was all about building (another) community around the experience and, hopefully, inspiring others to explore the sound as well. I guess it worked, ha ha.
I felt I needed to enable tracks to grow and become important to people as well as also creating regular events and places for them to gather and fall in love or become friends.
The music is important, but the people are more important.
[Thanks to Lee for the interview. More information about tour dates and All Day I Dream label releases can be found at www.leeburridge.com]