Three images from the hip hop musical The Concrete Jungle Book.

Q&A with DJ / Producer Duncan Burton from The Concrete Jungle Book

| Wed 2 Aug 2017

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

When I was 12 years old I taught myself how to play the drums, electric guitar and bass guitar and played in a few bands before discovering dance music and deciding I wanted to be DJ when I was 14.  I realised that many of the big name DJs made their names producing their own music, so I knew I needed to learn how to produce electronic music in order to have a chance at a DJ career.  A few years later I went to Leeds College of Music to do a degree in Music Production and once I'd graduated, one of my best friends, trance DJ and producer Ilan Bluestone, helped me develop my technical knowledge and skills. 

I enjoy making music because it gives me a creative outlet and keeps my DJ sets unique and original as I have songs in my set no other DJ has.  My main music project at the moment is a garage/house alias called 'Soulecta', which is just over a year old now and has already had tracks and remixes played on Kiss 100, Rinse FM, BBC 1Extra, BBC Introducing. A remix I did was also recently featured on the latest instalment of the Pure Garage CD series, which got to No.2 in the UK Dance Album Charts. When I'm not in the studio making music I work as a studio technician and teacher one day a week at a music college called Soundskool in Enfield. I also run a successful DJ business playing at private and corporate events.

How did you approach composing the score for The Concrete Jungle Book?

First, I asked Dom to prepare a list of reference tracks for each song so I could listen and take inspiration for the play's score.  We then sat down in the studio, played a reference track and discussed the tempo. I would then open up a virtual piano and either play or draw in some chords in Ableton (music software), or find an instrument/sound I liked and work on the lead melody first.  The key was to get the musicality of each track down first before programming or playing in the drums, bass and accompaniment instruments.

Dom and I wanted to use musical styles appropriate for each individual character, but also taking into account the urban setting of the play.  Mo and Bagheera's tracks have a 90's hip hop influence drum and tempo-wise, but I made sure the tracks were emotional musically to reflect the struggle and tough choices they have to make throughout the play. For Baloo, we wanted a strong reggae influence in the music to complement his persona.  To achieve this I used off beat stabs for the chords and chose reggae organs, electric guitars and clavinets for the lead instruments. For the drums in Mi Cassa Tu Cassa I used a one-drop pattern typically heard in reggae songs.  For Kaa's character, I used musical influences from the Indian sub-continent, but combined it with a hip hop beats to create an urban snake charmer feel.  Grime and trap influences were prominent for the Band of No Law songs, I wanted to use aggressive and bass heavy sounds to help emphasise their abrasive and criminal behaviour.

Once the core musical and rhythmic elements of each song had been composed, Dom and I sat down and arranged it so it would fit the lyrics and to make sure there was a clear distinction between the verse and choruses and also that the songs were the correct length.

What was the most challenging / enjoyable aspects of composing the music?

As primarily a dance/electronic music producer it was nice to get out of my comfort zone by writing more hip hop and reggae and using sounds I normally wouldn't use (organs, clavinets, electric bass guitar and sitars).  Music production technology has come on in leaps and bounds in the past 10 years so I have some great realistic virtual emulations of those instruments.  I think one of the most challenging aspects is getting the mix down of each track optimised for the space.  I always listen to my own productions in the car as a benchmark test to hear whether the mix is good, but in this scenario the songs are being played in a theatre space, so getting them optimised for that space is more challenging when mixing in a small music studio.

Finally, do you have a favourite track in The Concrete Jungle Book and if so, why?

For me it's got to be Band of No Law. I love hard hitting music and the punchy drums alongside the gliding bass I used make it a powerful grime/trap beat. It also sounds fat when played on a big sound-system and as a DJ that's always a bonus.

The Concrete Jungle Book is on at Edinburgh Fringe from Friday 4 – Monday 14 August at ZOO. Book tickets here.

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