Eclecticism is at the heart of all great DJs, and one man who embodies this simple but often overlooked fact is Birdee. A DJ and producer of considerable repute, his breezy, good-time jams are the perfect sound to a day on the beach. From disco to house to soul, Birdee is a man whose sound manages to perfectly straddle the line between discerning and accessible.
As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s found favour with everyone from Pete Tong to Purple Disco Machine, with the latter in particular someone who adopts a similar sound. Based out of Los Angeles, Birdee’s far-reaching sound is winning him fans around the globe and is sure to do so for some time yet if his purple patch continues.
Indeed, his latest release (the brilliant Can’t Get Enough) is sure to prove a hit over the coming months, while also in the pipeline are releases featuring the likes of Barbara Tucker. A ringing endorsement if ever there was one! We got in touch with Birdee over email recently, and here’s what he had to say on a wide range of topics…
I wanted to start by talking about the unfortunate passing of Andrew Weatherall. As someone who adopts a similarly eclectic sound, is he someone who’s had a big influence on you? What do you think it was about him that made him such an inspirational figure?
Yeah I woke up the other day and saw Ed from the Chemical Brothers’ post on Instagram – I got to the end of the post until it really sank in that he was talking about Andrew Weatherall’s passing. I just couldn’t believe it. He definitely had a big influence on me, my friend who taught me the basics of djing was a huge fan of his and we would listen to Two Lone Swordsmen all the time. As much as it sounds like a cliche’, the most inspirational thing to me was his work with Primal Scream – since I have a rock background and didn’t really get dance music in my teens/early twenties.
Screamadelica changed everything! I think what made him so inspirational is the fact that he chose to forge his own path and refused to go down the superstar dj route, playing only the events he wanted to play, working only with the people he wanted to work with. He was in the music business for the pure love of music, and that should be the main reason to be in it.
So the winter in Europe is finally coming to an end and we can all start looking forward to warmer climes! How has the winter been? And what are you most looking forward to about the months ahead?
I haven’t really had much of a winter luckily since I am based in LA these days and just came back from a tour of Australia. So my winter has been great so far haha. But now it’s actually a little chilly in LA so I’m spending a lot of time in the studio…for the months ahead I am looking forward to a lot of new music being released and being back in Europe to tour – the next gig is at Oslo in London on March 7, then Shindig Festival at the end of May.
So tell us a bit about how you prepare for a set these days. Do you generally pick tracks on the fly or will you spend hours preparing tracks that go well together etc?
Usually what I will do is make a playlist of 50/60 tracks and then play it by ear on the night. I do spend quite a bit of time prepping my sets, but that’s so that I can be comfortable picking tracks on the fly. But if I get to a certain point in my set – I will have maybe a group of 3 or 4 tracks that I know go well together.
Do you consciously choose between old and new music? Or is that irrelevant to you?
I don’t really think about that when I prep for a set, so I would say it’s not very relevant to me.
As something of a disco connoisseur, what’s your take on where the sound is at right now? What modern artists, labels and parties should we be looking out for?
I always end up playing a lot of stuff by Yuksek, Mighty Mouse, Qwestlife, Kapote, J Kriv, Mousse T, Hifi Sean, Mark Lower – these are names who are trying, to my ears at least, to innovate the disco game rather than relying on familiar samples. This is what we need more of today – if we don’t come up with new music the scene will eventually stagnate, but there are a lot of ways to keep it interesting.
Of course there are also people doing excellent remixes and edits of classics and do them really well – Dr, Packer, Late Nite Tuff Guy and Young Pulse are all excellent, and Joey Negro is untouchable – not forgetting Seamus Haji who has been in the game for a long time. Chewy Rubs and Fingerman are also two names who consistently impress, as well as Yam Who who runs Midnight Riot. Faze Action are always inspirational. Also need to send a shout out to Body Heat in Italy, an excellent label run by my good friend Rocoe.
Was there ever a case where you were derided for your appreciation of disco?
Haha I don’t think so actually, I guess most of the people I hang around with are very open minded!
Do you think preparation or intuition is a more important trait as a DJ?
To me it’s a mix – it’s hard to have great intuition without the necessary preparation. I’m sure there are exceptions, but that’s how it works for me.
Tell us a bit about learning to read the crowd. Is this something you have picked up on a lot more over the years? What do you look out for?
Oh yea for sure, it comes with experience – I used to plan my sets a lot more when I started. I’m not sure exactly what I look out for – it’s kind of a magic art in a way, not that I want to make it sound too crazy haha. But really it’s about intuition, as mentioned above. It really depends – some nights you’re totally on form and you totally gel with the vibe of the place and the crowd and it’s totally magical, some nights it’s still good but not quite as magical. I remember reading a quote from Marcel Vogel talking about a specific night where he played and he said something like “the records were playing themselves”. If you ever had that feeling, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.
So let’s chat a bit about how you prepare for your gigs. Do you spend hours going through Beatport? Or Discogs? Do you create playlists etc? And how long was it before you settled on a certain method of prep?
I actually don’t use Beatport at all, I get most of my music on Traxsource – which is wonderfully curated and very easy to use for a dj like me. The rest is either promos or Bandcamp. From there I analyze tracks with Mixed In Key (which is helpful to just know which tracks will go together, although I have a classical music training so I can usually tell by ear) – then stick them in Rekordbox where I set up cues for different parts of the track. So it’s quite a long process actually but it seems to work…I’ve been doing it this way for at least 3 years I think.
When you’re DJing, are you conscious of the need to educate the crowd musically? Or do you more just go with the flow?
I wouldn’t say I ever consciously think about educating the crowd…I have to say most of the crowds I play for are already very educated. I guess I’ve been booked in the right places!
What are the key things to get right for you when making a tune – the drums, capturing an emotion, a synth line?
Oh it’s hard to say! Definitely capturing a vibe yes, but honestly every track starts differently – I don’t really have a formula. I could start playing a bassline, or finding a vocal snippet that inspires me, or messing around with a synth line…the main thing is the groove though. At the end of the day it’s dance music that has to work on a dancefloor, so the groove has to be tight.
You worked with Barbara Tucker recently which must have been something else! What’s next on the list of goals and what other vocalists would you love to work with?
Working with Barbara was amazing and definitely a dream come true! I have to thank Nick Reach Up who suggested we work with her, they have been friends for a long time. I actually just finished another track with one of my dream vocalists, but can’t say anything right now – you’ll find out soon though! And my next single Can’t Get Enough features Andre Espeut on vocals, who is also amazingly talented.
And how do you know when a track is finished from your side?
I never do haha! Usually I have to force myself to stop before I go crazy – or drive my girlfriend crazy playing the same 16 bars for 5 hours on loop.
Can you tell us a bit about your ideal DJ setup? What are the benefits of using this setup?
My setup is very simple really, two Cdj’s 2000 and a DJM mixer. The benefits of it is that it’s industry standard and very easy to use, so all I need are my two flash drives and I’m good to go. I would love to play more vinyl since I started off with that and still have a big collection – but it’s not too practical, which is why even dj’s with a huge vinyl background like Joey Negro also mostly use Flash Drives these days.
What is your ideal party, set time, location, crowd, crowd size, venue etc?
Ohhh that’s a tough one, I’m a libra! So I can never choose haha. I’m honestly just as happy playing a sweaty basement as I am playing a festival. I did a bit of both in Australia recently – and all the gigs were amazing in a different way.
Finally, can you let us in on a secret weapon of yours that you’ve been playing a lot recently?
My remix of Rainbow Team’s Dreaming – I played it out a lot and it’s always gone down very well! It should be out sometime in March.
Check out Birdee‘s recent mix from NYD at The Wild Campout in Perth below and enjoy!