“Mixing it all up keeps things exciting for me…” 909originals chats to James Burnham about his latest INSTINCT release

While he may be better known for releasing quality house grooves under his Burnski moniker, UK-based producer James Burnham launched the INSTINCT identity in 2017 to join the dots between garage, dub, minimal, breakbeat and techno.

In the years since, INSTINCT has earned the young producer acclaim from artists such as Caribou, Enzo Siragusa, Ben UFO, Moxie, Four Tet and Ricardo Villalobos, with debut album Still Life making its way into the Phonica list of best albums for 2019.

Later this month (28 September to be exact), Burnham will release his second INSTINCT album, Point of View [you can pre-order it here], seeking to once again take UK garage and drum and bass to new levels.

909orginals caught up with him.

Hi James, thanks for talking to us. The year 2020 has been unlike any other, but behind every challenge is an opportunity. Has the COVID-19 situation taught you anything, musically or personally?

Great way of putting it – I would agree 100%. I have found in the past, when hit with adversity and challenging times, I have learnt so much about myself and also come away with a whole new level of gratitude towards things.

Until you have been knocked off your feet a bit, you just assume everyone is alright all the time. There’s always lessons and ways to grow out of challenging times I think.

The COVID situation has been a time for people to really go within and reflect on everything, I would say. I found myself doing that in a big way the whole previous year, before COVID hit. It is important to quieten the mind and take some time to stop thinking each day.

Start getting rid of all that racket rattling around in you that you didn’t even know was there. It’s like turning a fan off that you forgot was even on, and then you get the silence and you do a sigh of relief. There has been a lot of learning and growing on a personal level, that’s for sure.

Musically I have gone flat out since everything started. I’m always at it, though, so it was just more of the same really.

Later this month sees the release of Point of View, your second album in ten months. How would you describe the album?

It has a similar theme to the previous EPs, I think. It kind of misses the point for me when I start trying to break it all down into words though.

Kristan Caryl, who I would consider a great reviewer, put it like this, “another on-point garage offering that fuses just the right amount of UKG tradition with forward-thinking invention”. I’ll take that, son.

You developed the INSTINCT persona in 2017 – what were you seeking to do that was different to your Burnski output?

When I was in my 20s I would have loads of people, usually older ones, telling me what I should and shouldn’t be making. When I turned 30, I realised I was just as clueless about everything as they were and I started going my own way.

I started from scratch, did my own bookings out of the blue and just did everything the way I wanted from top to bottom. I stopped putting people on a pedestal in my head as well. It was then that loads of new things started coming out the studio, INSTINCT being one of them. I was just doing it, releasing it and not telling anyone about anything I was doing.

I think at the time I felt the need to start releasing music under a new alias to give it all the freshness again. You can go into autopilot when you have been doing the same thing for years. I wanted to get nervous before gigs and feel out my comfort zone. Sometimes, I was turning up to gigs not as excited as I used to be.

With some INSTINCT gigs, I’m going on after sets at 135-140 bpm. New and different environments get you excited and put you a bit on edge. It’s been great.

“I love surprises, so I go with what I am feeling on the day and see where that goes.” James Burnham, aka Burnski/INSTINCT

There’s a real sense of late 90s/early 2000s garage and drum n bass in many of your INSTINCT releases – did that period mean a lot for you?

If you listen to loads of different music over the years it probably will start creeping into your productions at some point, especially if you’re always exploring with different vibes and genres.

Both those genres speak to me as much as any, so it was just a progression to start bringing those sounds in. Mixing it all up keeps things exciting for me.

I remember speaking to another artist about UK Garage, and they were of the belief that the genre never properly got a chance to develop – that it got commercialised too quickly. Is INSTINCT your way of ‘resetting the narrative’ when it comes to UKG?

It was done just out of the fun of making it really, and wanting to be able to play gigs in new situations. There is no plan for it really. I love surprises, so I go with what I am feeling on the day and see where that goes. When you start trying to control it all, you can start getting in your own way.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work doing it that way, but I prefer to go the other way these days and just follow what’s coming out the speakers and how it makes me feel.

Everything can get so complicated when you’re always trying to work everything out. You start feeling confused and lost. When you stop trying to work everything out, you don’t feel confused at all. You’re not constantly assessing it all as you’re going along.

As well as INSTINCT, you’ve also released music under a myriad of other pseudonyms: James Solace, Daniel Akbar, James Infiltrate, Ladzinski. Is this a way of broadening your musical possibilities, and ensuring you don’t get pigeonholed?

I’m making music all the time and dabbling with loads of different stuff so it makes sense to break it all up when there’s loads of it.

Come November I will have released 15 eps and three albums in 12 months, so it’s a no brainer to break it all up into different projects, otherwise it’s too much.

You established the Constant Sound label in 2015. What were your aspirations when setting up the label, and how has this changed over time?

It was set up as a platform for my own music and to be able to give that platform to others to help get their music out. It’s the same formula for each label I start, I release my own music first then I get demos come in for it, and then start releasing other people too. There’s been lots of difficult challenges over the years to get where it is now.

Looking back, it was pretty ambitious trying to press five labels at the same time, doing a release each eight weeks for each label and then selling them direct to the shops, chasing money for months on end. But if I didn’t take matters into my own hands, I wouldn’t have been able to start the new labels and do what I was really passionate about. So i’m glad i did it.

I have lost lots of money on releases over the years, and nothing has been plain sailing – that’s for sure. There have been plenty of other tough challenges as well that have been big learning curves and have definitely stopped me in my tracks.

Through all those difficult times, I realised you have to keep moving forward because when you let it stop you, you just go stagnant and nothing gets done. I love getting stuff done.

I love finding new music, I love pushing new artists, I love checking demos and honestly, when a new release drops, I can’t even tell you how buzzing I get. I love speaking to people who are playing the music and love hearing it played when I’m out and about.

It’s all just feeding the fire in me even more and inspiring everything all the time.

I never imagined having so many labels though. If I was overanalysing it all, I would just talk myself out of doing that, but I’m just going along with it all. Whatever gets me excited, I’m doing it, and I’m not thinking too much about it really.

What artists are currently rocking your stereo – either from your own labels or further afield?

Pinder, Kepler, Yosh and Holloway are a few at the moment making some great stuff..

What sort of dance scene will emerge from the coronavirus period, do you think?

I have no idea how it will all pan out, if I am honest. We might lose big snare roll breakdowns though if the big crowds don’t happen anymore… who knows? 🙂

[Thanks James for talking to us. Photos by Max Cooper. INSTINCT – Point of View will be released on 28 September. ]

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