The first time local DJ Chris Burns visited India, he came back with a cricket obsession. The second time, he returned with disco fever.
“I studied in India in 2003 through Colgate [University]’s Study Abroad Program,” the 23-year-old Columbia Heights resident says. “I got hooked on cricket there, came back to Colgate with 200 pounds of equipment, and started the Colgate cricket club.” His newfound passion for the game aside, Burns—a DJ enthusiast since his teens—wanted to explore musical opportunities overseas, as well. “When I was [in India], the club scene was kind of emerging, and I thought they would be into what I was playing,” Burns says. “So [after graduation] I said, ‘Screw it,’ packed 200 records, and left.”
Burns’ second stint in India didn’t go exactly as planned. Due to international paperwork issues, he was unable to compete in official cricket matches; then a leg injury further hampered his ability to play. Though that might have freed up more time for music, his DJing experience was also a disappointment. “While playing [disco] classics or deep house all over India, I generally got zero response because people were nowhere near familiar with the music I was playing,” Burns says. “I got booed off in Calcutta.” Burns had already begun preparing to head home this April, he says, when a dance-music culture appreciative of his musical tastes and knowledge started to emerge. It’s a development that coincided with his own burgeoning love of old-school underground disco—and one he credits, in part, to his own efforts to spread the word. “I was told, ‘You are years beyond the curve of what India is ready for,’” Burns says.
Upon returning home, Burns saw in D.C. an informed dance scene that shared his musical interests—and an opportunity. Disco City premiered on Wednesday, July 26, at Cosmo Lounge above Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Adams Morgan. The flier for the show—which describes the event as “a night of disco classics, sleazy joints, boogie, and Chicago jack”—listed Burns as “3rd Degree Burns.” The DJ moniker didn’t last. “I mean, my name is Chris Burns,” he says. “That’s pretty good.”
Disco City, however, has shown staying power. Since opening night, the weekly event has repeatedly filled the small venue with throbbing crowds—no small feat for a Wednesday. “As the summer progressed…the place was packed. People were going apeshit,” Burns says. Fall has brought colder weather and a new season’s worth of popular Wednesday-night television shows, though, and Burns admits that the dance floor has become less crowded. “I got TV to battle with, not other [DJ] nights,” he says. “People need to TiVo that shit.”
Part of keeping people coming back each week is keeping things personal. “If you see someone at your party you don’t recognize…you go up and say hello, introduce yourself, and talk to them,” Burns says. Hunting down old-school records to play each week is also a necessity, if more of a challenge. The most important thing, Burns says, is to keep the emphasis on the classics—thus combating the clichés commonly associated with mainstream disco music.
“When you get to the root of all these dance nights, whether it be indie-dance rock, hip-hop—which samples tons of disco—or candy raver trance, it all goes back to disco,” Burns says. “Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage, Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse, the Continental Baths….Once people get past the stigma disco has garnered since that Comiskey Park riot in 1979, they really open up and enjoy it.”
“Plus, people love to have an excuse to get retarded drunk on a weeknight.”—Matthew Borlik