Whether it’s his music collaborations or alluring Las Vegas sets, English DJ BURNS prefers to take life as it comes.
BURNS is an expert at taking what artists do best and combining it into one song. The English DJ and producer has made a career, a successful one at that, on, as he puts it, “pushing the envelope a little bit.” He describes his newest single, which he calls “Energy,” as one of the most organic and easygoing experiences he’s ever had as a producer. The choices of adjectives also make sense in this context because both can be used to describe the English mastermind perfectly.
“Energy,” which combines the talents of musical aficionado A$AP Rocky and the wonderfully poetic Sabrina Claudio, intertwines house music, hip-hop and soul into a triumvirate of exploration and beauty. The new single released in late April and blew by one million plays weeks ago. “It’s a credit to both of those guys for being able to sort of adapt themselves over something like that,” humbly asserts BURNS. Despite his worldly success, such as being a producer for innumerable names in the music industry from Britney Spears to Rae Sremmurd, and DJing a permanent show in Las Vegas’ OMNIA nightclub, which, by the way, resides in the world-renowned Caesar’s Palace, the British DJ could not have been more laid-back in conversation.
The craziest thing about the song isn’t the Cabana laid-back nuance or that A$AP Rocky is singing rather than rapping, it was that the song felt destined to be done by these three people even before they met each other. A venture BURNS oversaw last year, the hit single, “Hands On Me” with Colombian singer Maluma and the young brothers of Rae Sremmurd, also followed a similar way of production.
“Maluma and Rae Sremmurd was a weird combo when you look at it on paper but it worked perfectly,” BURNS adds. “Sabrina was the first on my list of people I knew could kill the record, and I was a fan of hers from way back when she put out her first stuff, and I ended up playing the record to a good friend named Jason Joshua, who’s a mix engineer and eventually by transfer he was working in the studio with Sabrina, and without any prompting from me, I didn’t even know he was going to be playing it for her, apparently she just fell in love with it instantly and wrote to it.”
BURNS’ attention to detail is sharp like his music is. He never misses a mark or minor detail that brings together what he is saying, and yet he was not monotonous or self-absorbed. “Sabrina’s part was done within a day of her hearing the instrumental,” he says with an, ‘I’m not bullshitting’ kind of tone.
What’s even crazier than Claudio getting brought on by happenstance was that Rocky got on board through a very similar scenario. Not in a literal sense, but pretty close. “I sent a bunch of records over to him to see if he liked the vibe of my project, and heard (Energy) and it was the same situation, I think. He just jumped on it. It was a really organic song, in the end, just sort of falling together.” I could almost hear his satisfaction. “That’s why I’m trying to do with the project as a whole, bring artists together that you wouldn’t normally see on the same record and pull them away from what they’re typically known for doing,” he adds.
“That’s why I’m trying to do with the project as a whole, bring artists together that you wouldn’t normally see on the same record and pull them away from what they’re typically known for doing.”
BURNS is a measured man whose unfamiliarity with routine, something he is trying to work on, does not really allow him a pause from creating with artists and making new sounds. As he phrases it, he takes it, meaning life, “as it comes.” The only brief intermissions he allows from work are seen through limited activities. “When you’re in this business it’s very easy to never shut off, ”he says. “It’s not like a 9-5 job where you leave work in the evening and forget about work until you got back in again.” He’s a painter by passion, using another form of artistic expression to disconnect from his familiar DJing, but one of the calmer things he does is he walks his dog every morning; “you need those things to just take your mind away.”
BURNS’ life outside of the studio is especially interesting because he has the normal retinue of a successful DJ living in California and producing giant records but also has a permanent show, or what they call a residency in the nightlife circuit, in Las Vegas. Not many people’s commutes cover the 400 plus kilometres from Los Angeles, a city he grounded himself in a few years ago, to Las Vegas, but for BURNS it’s a part of the job. “Things just come up,” he says.
And, as he argues, while music moves into a climate where people are more open-minded, both DJs and the Vegas crowds can separate away from a more generic EDM sound. Electronic producers get caught in what he calls a bracket, or a “typical commercial, brash sounding sound,” that can bog down any set. Instead, BURNS formats his original take in music into his Vegas shows as a mini experiment in which he tests what his music does to the crowd. “With Vegas, you just have to be able to integrate the sound that people are familiar with but also integrate it with new sounds.” The reaction from the crowd is the meter used by BURNS to gauge how people react to his experiment on the dance floor. “I use Vegas as a learning thing for myself. I can bring what I learn there into the studio. So if I’m making a record I can see what is going to make people move because I can test stuff when I play.”
The allure of Vegas and its endless stars on display every week does not go unnoticed by BURNS, either. While Vegas can perhaps be an augmented experience for its visitors, one that is precisely the exact opposite of the organic nature of BURNS’ recent accomplishments, his full-bodied humour reassures me that he is not going to let his residency be the defining part of his career, nor will he become obsessed with the reaction to his music through his nightly experiments with the crowd. “By all means,” he laughs, “I’m not playing some avant-garde DJ set.” After a brief pause and moment of reflection, he does, however, decide that some eccentric acts would be allowed at his shows. “I’m all up for some Chris Angel, floating over the top of the set.”
As appealing as it would be for the Mind Freak to descend from the rafters and shock the crowd with illusions, the ultimate Vegas show has to include other notable Vegas staples to play alongside him. “Bring everybody out! All the Vegas legends,” he exclaims. “Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Elton John, they’re all in Vegas.” If anyone is deserving of such a feat of awesome star power, it could not happen to a more humbling figure, a person of dexterity and wonder, than Englishman BURNS. Still, he reassures, “I’ve got to make that happen. I’ve got to be the first one with flying Chris Angel.”
Words by Sam Farrell – Listen to BURNS’ latest track “Energy” with A$AP ROCKY and Sabrina Claudio on Spotify and Apple Music.