The 24HPP Interview: Hugo Burnham (Gang Of Four)

Last week the news came in that there was going to be a very special guest performing with Pylon, Supercluster and The New Sound Of Numbers tonight at Athens’ 40 Watt Club.

Billed as “Gang Of One” will be DJ Hugo Burnham who is much better known as the drummer for and founding member of Gang Of Four (The current touring version of Gang Of Four is minus Burnham). After being alerted that he was playing I quickly sent around some emails and hunted, if you will, Burnham down and he graciously agreed to be interviewed for 24 Hour Party Pooper.

Needless to say I was, and am, completely psyched to have had the opportunity to speak with him about his DJ-ing, music in general and his thoughts on Athens. Many thanks go out to Vanessa Hay (Pylon) who put us in touch with each other and Patrick Ferguson (Five-Eight, Music Hates You) who facilitated a wonderful night of conversation and camaraderie last night here in Athens.

24 Hour Party Pooper: How long have you been Dj-ing? What prompted your start?
Hugo Burnham: I first started when I was at University many years ago. Punk, R & B, Reggae, Glam, etc but once the band got going I didn’t really keep it up. [It’s] easier to play drunk than to drop a needle in the right place. Plus, we got kind of busy…

24HPP: I generally feel that dance music is a pretty populist medium and given that Gang Of Four is a socialist-leaning/populist-themed band it seems like a natural extension that you would start DJ-ing. (I feel the same way about the Norman Cook/Housemartins relation to Dj-ing, too.) Would you agree?

HB: Populist/popular = tomato/to-mah-to: it’s all about access and fun. Going to a disco always cost less than going to a concert and was easier to do on a regular basis. It could happen anywhere. In Europe there was always a deeper, more committed dance scene than I felt ever really existed in the US with some serious genre scenes (Northern Soul comes to mind) but [also] a lot of blending of styles has always gone on there. That was quite a ‘punk’ ethic.

Incidentally, Punk rockers always loved Reggae and Dub music and gigs featuring Punks and Rastas were frequent. And once the ‘leaders’ came out as lovers of Bowie, Mott The Hoople (The Clash’s Mick Jones was Mott’s fan club president!), Can, The Who, etc. everybody else was able to delve back into their old record collection without fear of censure!

24HPP: Can you describe your particular style of DJ-ing?
HB: A mixture of Punk, Funk, Reggae and junk with helpings of pumping gay disco music if the feel is right. A smattering of ancient, anglo-eclectica rears its strange head now and again. Loud.

24HPP: Do you have any format preferences (i.e. LPs, Cds, MP3s, etc)?

HB: I wish I had enough vinyl left to use it but I lost so much incredible stuff to a London basement flood and to a Brooklyn basement attack of damp/mold! I make Cd’s up for specific gigs, relying on a collection of favorite from my collection, but adding new songs for each occasion.

I also make ‘runs’ (i.e. 3 or 4 song mixes that have themes or the same tempos).
I know people who DJ with just an iPod. [Now] I’m no master mixer, no top turntablist I, but that really seems like cheating!

24HPP: How often are you playing gigs as a DJ and how does this fit into the current Gang Of Four schedule?

HB: Not often enough but looking to change it up as much as a Punk Rock college professor is able to. I’ll go anywhere that’s fun. I last played with Gang Of Four on a Saturday night in December 2006. The next night they played in Dublin with a new drummer. They and their manager are moving on without me. Gang Of Three plus One.

24HPP: Can you talk a little about your impressions of Athens, GA over the years? If I’m not mistaken, I think you first played here with Gang Of Four in 1979 or 1980.

HB: 1980-our second US tour, I think. [Athens was/is] always a blast. Pylon found and bought me my first bottle of Rebel Yell Bourbon. God bless them. it’s the only hard liquor I still drink. Good friends in Athens. R.E.M. and Pylon were frequent tour partners with G4 back in the early ’80’s. Maureen McLaughlin made the best cocktails we ever drank outside of New York City.

When I was doing A & R for a major label I looked hard at 5-8 and Tigger [Patrick] Ferguson is still a dear friend. I managed (and loved) Little Red Rocket. The record store Low Yo-Yo Stuff at the 40 Watt was one of my favorite places in the world.

24HPP: Anything else you’d like to add? Please do!

HB: I love my wife and daughter madly. I miss my dad terribly. Too much loss of things that defined me this past year.
Roll on 2008!!
Gang of Four Live At Hurrah’s (New York City) December 31, 1980

Track Listing:
Damaged Goods
In The Ditch
It’s Her Factory
Armalite Rifle
Wait For My Elevator
He’d Send In The Army

Download whole show ZIP file HERE.

(Note: Hugo told me that this bill also included Delta 5, The Au Pairs, and The Mekons. I…can’t…even…imagine!)

(From the ‘just because’ file:
Dig this G4 + Pylon flier from
Montreal in 1981.)

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4 Responses to The 24HPP Interview: Hugo Burnham (Gang Of Four)

  1. kiana says:

    WHY WAS I NOT THERE????!!! ps great interview!

  2. LadyAudio says:

    WHY I NOT THERE TOO! Luv ya Hugo, your ex-student and rabid fan

  3. patrick says:

    Mr. Burnham looks so relaxed…

    Perhaps he should move to Athens?

  4. mike says:

    I saw GOF at Hurrah’s around that time, but I suspect it was a different tour–I believe the Bush Tetras warmed up for them and by then they were already all the songs from Entertainment! The crowd was so hungry for more, they had to repeat songs! Do you know when that concert was?

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