by Lily Williams
We recently got in touch with Sheffield DJ Leo Burrell, aka Leroy, to find out more about him and his journey to becoming a big name locally and playing sets all over the city.
How long have you been DJing for?
My first proper gig was on January 30th 2014 at SoulJam, so I guess 3/4 years.
What got you into it in the first place?
I think I always had my eye on it. I asked my parents for decks for my 18th birthday but my mum said she “didn’t want me getting into that scene”, so I got another guitar instead. Sounds like something out of the 1950s! So yeah it was only when I got to uni/Sheffield that I got properly into it. Seeing Floating Points at Fez/Tuesday Club in first year was definitely a big moment when I realised all the different things I loved about music could be combined into the amazing thing that DJing can be.
What are those different things?
Well I’d only really been to high energy nights at that point, like house, drum ’n’ bass and dubstep, so I just thought of DJing as this tool to make people go batshit crazy, which is great and a lot of fun. But I hadn’t realised it could touch on so much of the human experience. Flo Po is one of my idols for that; he really can make you feel anything. And Hunee.
How long did it take you to start getting gigs?
Depends what you count as a gig! I was playing house parties within a few months, doing free gigs like SoulJam within a year or so and then the king of Sheffield’s bar DJing Jimmy the Gent got me my first paid bar gigs at The Wick at Both Ends after I booked him for my club night Lunar. Big up Jimmy May!
Once you started DJing around Sheffield, was it fairly easy to get established or was it more of a difficult ride to where you are now?
If I’m honest it was the Lunar thing that got me the most gigs at first; people always want to book you if you’re running a club night, probably ‘cos they think you’ll share their event through your social media channels! But yeah it’s taken a while and there’s been a load of random ups and downs, like venues getting shut down or changing hands. Doing a guest mix for Dark Sky’s NTS radio show was definitely a stepping stone.
Sick! How did that come about?
They saw me playing to about three people in the basement at The Night Kitchen and asked me afterwards if I wanted to do it. I genuinely thought not a single person had seen my set. Lesson: always play like the room is full!
Why Sheffield? Have you ever moved/thought of moving anywhere else?
It’s taken me years to build up the contacts and residencies I’ve got here – if I left I’d almost certainly have to get a real job to pay the bills before I could make a living out of it again. It still doesn’t feel like I’m anywhere near reaching as far as it could go here though. I’m enjoying it more than ever.
How long have you worked at Spinning Discs, and what drew you to it originally?
About a year now. I moved into those ends around that time so it made sense. Record Collector in Broomhill didn’t have quite the same charm! (Apologies if you’re reading this RC).
There’s an impressive selection of 7”s disco/funk there! Your PPG mix exudes disco/funk vibes. Is this your preferred genre, and have your tastes been consistent or changed at all over the years?
I’ve always enjoyed all kinds of music, I wouldn’t say that Spinning Discs is a funk/soul shop though. We stock EVERYTHING. From the new Liam Gallagher album to the new Bjørn Torske and Prins Thomas album – which is great by the way. So it suits me well. I had my time in indie and jazz bands, I write for Exposed Magazine and also do a lot of commercial DJing, so it’s good to keep a wide overview of everything new that’s happening.
Having seen you play at various venues all the way from Peddler to Hope Works, what is your favourite place to DJ, and what would you say makes a good crowd?
Peddler Market is definitely up there! I love it when I’m completely free to create an atmosphere and that’s a perfect example. People aren’t there to dance necessarily, it’s just about trying to complement the collective consciousness that Peddler is a good thing, supporting independent, local businesses, and broadening culinary horizons so to speak. So I try to play a lot of world music there, and stuff that has a bit of meaning to it. Sometimes you gotta just follow what’s happened before you though… When it comes to club nights the Nice Like Rice crowd is definitely my favourite to play to. They’re always listening, so to speak, but they’re also there to party!
How long have you been hosting the monthly NLR show on UK Mondo?
About a year now. Their studio got shut down for the summer so it’s been a hot minute but we’re back!
How does this compare to playing gigs? Does the absence of a crowd and their reaction affect your track selection and/or enjoyment?
Yeah of course, but I still like to put myself in the shoes of the listener on radio. I try to cover as much ground as possible in two hours, not just in terms of styles but with energy and emotion, which is sometimes hard to do when playing in front of a crowd. But that’s what makes it so fun to play out … you feel like you’re being led by them rather than the other way around.
Which is your favourite ever gig that you’ve played, and which was the worst?
Tough one! Most memorable was probably in the small room at Hope Works on New Years Eve in 2015. I ended up playing for 3.5 hours ‘cos of various DJs’ laptops not working etc. Always pack more music than you need! Worst gig has to be a b2b set, I won’t say who or where! The way I tend to describe it is “musical politics”. It can be worse than Brexit conversations. And it’s not necessarily about repertoire. I’ve had b2bs where the other person has the same records as I do and it’s still a disaster. Saying that playing b2b with someone can also be so engaging; music is best when shared, just like anything.
Do you have a favourite DJ, or someone you aspire to be as good as?
Ooh that’s a tough one … DJ Harvey is definitely up there when it comes to getting in the groove… but then there’s always Floating Points and Theo Parrish who can fly around a lot more. I’ll throw in a curveball just ‘cos I’ve said the most obvious ones, there’s always Volcov or Bjørn Torske.
If your house caught fire, which one record would you take with you and why?
The obvious choice would probably be my most valuable record, ‘Black Gold Disco Moving Machine’ by Joe and Lee, a Spinning Discs find no less! But if my whole house burnt down I’d be losing a lot of stuff so I’d probably take Leroy Hutson “II” for sentimental value.
If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Bob Dylan (1960s Bob though, not 2017 Bob), Larry Levan and Georgia Pink! Not sure if Bob and Larry would get on but I’m sure Georgia would create some common ground for all of us.
What do you hope the future has in store for you and your career as a DJ?
I hope I can keep playing in places where I feel good and so does the crowd. That’s all I need!
Listen to a past NLR show on UK Mondo at https://soundcloud.com/ukmondo/uk-mondo-podcast-nice-like-rice-wednesday-8th-february-2017
Check out one of Leroy’s recent live sets at https://www.mixcloud.com/leoburrell/tramlines-sunday-2017-foundry-after-crazy-p/
Catch him in action at the following events:
October 18th: Deep Sea Disco – Immersive Opening Party @ The Harley (https://www.facebook.com/events/470899429947912/)
October 27th: NLR’s Interactive Halloween Party w. Marcellus Pittman @ Yellow Arch Studios (https://www.facebook.com/events/1846860502310203/)
November 21st: TTC with Horse Meat Disco @ The Tuesday Club (tickets not yet available but keep an eye on https://www.facebook.com/tuesdayclub.sheffield/)
Liam Taylor Photography – https://www.facebook.com/LiamTImagery/?ref=br_rs
Cosmic Disco – https://www.facebook.com/cosmicdisco/