What Makes DJ Chris Burns Burn

by CHRIS BURNS · September 2, 2010

    My name is Chris Burns and I am a full-time DJ, promoter and music producer in Washington, D.C. In the coming months, I will be writing a weekly column on GofG that details the trials, tribulations, quirks and music that drives my professional passion and the underground music nightlife industry in D.C.

    I thought the first column should be a bit autobiographical, so I can show how one becomes a "DJ". My experience is comprised of traits and trends that are both unique to me and common among DJs.  The aim in pointing this out is to illustrate the ongoing, ten-year process that has been the pursuit of developing my craft. DJing is definitely not something I picked up overnight, nor thought I would be doing full-time.

    The story of how I was introduced to DJing is not out of the ordinary, especially as far as my D.C. area colleagues are concerned. Music has always been a huge part of my life and my upbringing in Silver Spring, Maryland reinforced this. After being involved with small-time punk and hardcore bands throughout my teenage years, I bought a crappy DJ-in-a-box setup because I wanted to try something different.

    I was 17 when I quickly immersed myself in the culture of vinyl shops that was bustling in D.C. in the early '00s:


    12 Inch Dance/DJ Hut

    and Capitol City Records.

    I didn't have a clue what I was buying, but those solo expeditions on the Metro into D.C. ignited a desire for record hunting that still burns today. I was fortunate enough to experience the big room phenomena of Buzz and a handful of raves in Baltimore, but only got to those spots a few times before shipping off to college in upstate New York.

    In college, I continued to hone my craft by throwing small parties and ordering records by mail from New York City. It didn't hurt that I ran a school-based organization that funded my budding vinyl addiction and provided me with the evolving technology and records that would have been otherwise out of my financial reach. These four undergrad years provided the time and space to gain confidence in and develop my abilities.  Through this process of buying records and familiarizing myself with certain producers and labels, I became pretty obsessed with house music. This love affair was cemented when I went to the Shelter in New York City for the first time to experience the resident DJ Timmy Regisford.

    I will always remember that exact moment on 39th Street in Manhattan, when it clicked that playing records was much more than just making pretty blends between two different songs. It was about the delivery of a well-told story, with peaks and valleys, punctuations and exclamations, juxtaposed by lulls and calm. This was a serious ritual for a significant amount of people; the intense sound and light propelling the dancing for hours at a time when the rest of the city was fast asleep. It superseded the drug and drink-filled notions provided by my previous encounters with nightclubs and it really changed my life. I wanted to be the storyteller that provided the tale people sought out every week. Venturing to New York to catch Regisford in action is still a regular habit of mine and always provides inspiration to keep pushing on.

    Four years ago, I moved back to Washington, D.C. I got a job, but wasted working time on relentlessly pushing my first DJ night, Disco City at Cosmo. Back then, I took any DJ gig I could get my hands on.  This was the time during which I met many of my current friends and collaborators, when DJing was in the hands of a select few who had built record collections and Serato was still in its budding stages. I did everything I could to throw parties where the music and vibe would be on my terms: warehouses, galleries, dingy restaurant basements, lofts, shitty clubs, etc. Throwing parties at the Warehouse/Loft and the Trinidad & Tobago Association gave me crash courses on how to (from the ground-up) market and successfully throw safe and fun events . More importantly, these parties provided an opportunity to book my own personal DJ/producer heroes and play alongside these veterans of the industry.

    Quite a bit has changed in these past four years, and dance music in D.C. is more popular than ever. Like a lot of people, I was laid off in the height of the recession 18 months ago and this blessing in disguise allowed me to refocus my priorities on what I really wanted to do with my life. I've done quite a bit of maturing and have learned a ton while evolving my own sound and approach to the business. I am fortunate to regularly play at great clubs in this city and am proud to be a part of a small but significant group of D.C. DJs who have been making their own tunes in the past few years. I am more excited than ever for what the futures holds as this fraternity continues to push its own sounds and gets the world to take notice.

    This week I'll be DJing my new weekly party at Sweet Spot tonight, battling D.C. House legend Sam Burns at U Street Music Hall on Friday, and laying down balearic sunset grooves with the Beautiful Swimmers on Sunday afternoon at the Beacon Hotel's Coolout party.

    See you on the dance floor and enjoy the weekly picks:

    Antoine Dodson - Bed Intruder (Chris Burns remix)

    [Direct download]

    Gregor Salto & DJ GREGORY featuring Dama Pancha & DJ Mankila - "Vem Rebola (We Love Angola Mix)"

    All of this clean, rigid tribal-ish stuff from DJ Gregory has been killing this summer. When the Afro-Portugese dude comes in with the non-stop chanting, the game is over. Also check out "Canoa" and "Con Alegria"

    Black Coffee - Crazy (Quentin Harris remix)

    Quentin is easily one of my favorite deep house producers and his minimalist approach strips the best parts of the original and lets this sublime vocal hit pretty hard. Check him out at my favorite house party, Deep Sugar in Baltimore next weekend.