Behind The Rhythm 015 | Tim Burnett
“At the beginning it was just about throwing a good party and enjoying ourselves. It wasn’t about making money and I think that’s why the parties were so good. We did it from the heart, were fully involved and loved it as much as everyone who came.”
Tim Burnett is one of the directors and founders of MN2S, an agency with an internationally renowned roster of DJs, producers and live artists unrivalled by anyone in the industry. The company has come a long way since their first event at Vauxhall’s Channel club in 1995, and over the past 3 decades Tim, alongside co-owners Sharron Elkabas and David Elkabas, have become particularly astute at running MN2S as a fully integrated business.
It was their knack for sourcing quality house that propelled the UK label into the big leagues, though as dance music has evolved they have managed to spectacularly adapt and grow as key figureheads in the industry. There are few agencies out there that have as diverse a roster as MN2S; right through from underground to commercial from urban to pop, their client base stretches around the globe. Reading through the list of names on www.mn2s.com, the plethora of talent they work with is really quite staggering. Artful Dodger, Chez Damier, Kerri Chandler, DJ Wild, DJ Yoda, Todd Terry, Big Boi, Slum Village, De La Soul etc have taken the agency down several paths, but they all lead back to the same place: a seamless breed of soulful music.
As such, MN2S has deservedly earned a global reputation for nurturing and guiding a leading crop of international talent across a diverse spectrum of musical genres. In addition to their deep know-how for many musical genres is their distribution network. Currently they distribute over a 100 record labels – via vinyl, CDS and to online retailers – with their distribution model forming an integral proponent of their business.
No one personifies the energy and exemplifies the passion of the company better than Tim, and together with partners Sharron and David, the three have been able to successfully transcend their nous for good music into a formidable business proposition. There is an assured pragmatism to their approach to MN2S, and a key facet to the agency sustaining longevity in a seemingly fickle industry is being able to possess a thorough understanding into the marketability of different music.
We caught up with Tim Burnett to talk more about his journey with MN2S, as well as his early party days in London and some of his key musical influences. Tim has also provided the 15th instalment of the Mi Casa Series with a “mix that is easy to listen to, including old and new records whilst keeping it groovy and danceable without getting too heavy.”
Can you tell us how MN2S came to be?
MN2S started as a club night back in ’95. A group of friends decided to throw a party called Milk’n’2 sugars and the first party was a huge success, so we decided to do another and another and they got bigger and better each party. Things escalated from there with The Cross Club in Kings Cross inviting us to do a monthly residency which turned into a bi-weekly residency in the summer with our infamous summer sessions. We stayed at The Cross for about 3 years before moving to The Annexe where we held a weekly residency for nearly a year. Finally we were approached by The End Club and held a 10 year residency there until it shut in 2009.
What does your role entail?
I’m a co director and owner with my partners Sharron and David Elkabas. I run operations, keep the office running smoothly, try and keep all staff happy, deal with HR as well as credit control and also overseeing the social media side of things.
What’s behind the name, do you all enjoy a good brew?
Haha yes we do all enjoy a brew. However the name actually came from Sharron after a night out when he was asked how he wanted his tea…Milk’n’2 Sugars was his answer and that was it. We did actually all take our tea this way but now we are getting older and more health conscious, we have cut out the sugar and I’ve also cut out the milk!
What was the aim at the beginning for MN2S, was there a vision or did things just progress naturally?
At the beginning it was just about throwing a good party and enjoying ourselves. It wasn’t about making money and I think that’s why the parties were so good. We did it from the heart and were fully involved and loved it as much as everyone who came. At the start a lot of the people that came were friends who bought their friends and so on, and it spread this way so there was always a great atmosphere and unified feeling at the events.
Myself and Sharron were running the events full time and then decided we needed to earn more money somehow, and he came up with the idea of starting the Artist Agency. I was actually dubious about it as I didn’t think there was a market for us to fit in (how wrong I was!) and we started the record label with David while he was still at university.
Our first release was actually a release by David and Tom Dinsdale, our resident at the time, who then went on to become part of the duo Audio Bullys. The first release was one of our biggest releases, we had around 15 licence requests for CD compilations and those were the days when you would get up to £1000 to licence to a compilation so it was a great start for the record business. The agency continued to grow with artists constantly approaching us to be on the roster.
From humble beginnings to major industry prominence and influence, how has MN2S been able to both sustain success and continue to grow over such a long period of time in an ever-changing industry?
Back in the day, we were known for flying in big US DJs to our parties. That for us was House Music, having the originators come over was our niche at the time. However as times change, so did the music and we had to move with the times – I believe that’s integral to us still being here 20 years later as we had to constantly evolve. We still kept to our roots by having our US boys come over and play for us as that was our true love. The End was perfect for this as we had two rooms so could have one room which focused more on the US Soulful side of things and could mix it up in the main room with some more current names to appeal to the younger folk.
A look through your roster reveals a plethora of high profile, talented artists – have you ever been starstruck by anyone?
There are many artists on the roster I have been starstruck by and in awe of. As time goes on, less so as it’s my job and how I earn a living so it becomes the norm but booking out people like Public Enemy, De la Soul, Jazzy Jeff, Grandmaster Flash to name a few is a trip as I used to listen to these guys as a kid. Also I am massive house head so having my idols play at our events was an amazing feeling, and I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think of some of the people we have had play for us as they are absolute legends and I grew up buying their records and still do!
We’ve had some chats about music before and you have mentioned to me about how one mix was inspired by times that you had in London back in the 90’s – is it the same city where you first came to for electronic music, what impact did London have on you in your formative years?
London has changed a lot since I started going out. The early nineties was an amazing time for house music and clubbing. There were tracks that were making it into the charts obviously, but it felt different with producers experimenting and putting their mark on ‘house music’. It was always smiling faces and people out to have a good time, and all being together enjoying the music as one.
I started off going to illegal parties/raves in fields and warehouses and there was that buzz that we were all there together to enjoy this sound; it was personal and made it feel more special. You didn’t even know where you would be going and would head to phone boxes, car parks and listened to pirate stations to find out where the next meeting point was before you eventually made it to the venue/space or field.
Nowadays there are very few clubs and events that capture the feeling that we used to have going out. Don’t get me wrong there are still great parties out there but unfortunately there are a lot of shit ones that have lost the spirit of what it was about. At these events people don’t seem to be going out for the music, it’s more fashion, looking cool and going with trends. They are there because the DJ is meant to be cool but they probably couldn’t even name one of his productions. Luckily this isn’t the case everywhere though for me, it’s not the same, but then again I am getting old and it will always seem like it was better back in the day!
Throwing parties was the start for MN2S and hugely important. There’s an up rise to stop London gentrification at the moment and you certainly do notice it with a lot clubs and spaces coming to an end, what does the future hold for music and Nightlife in London?
It seems that more and more clubs are shutting down but I don’t think this will impact the future of music. If anything it may drive things more underground which is probably a good thing as there will be a better quality of music. However it won’t affect music in general as London is always evolving musically, and we have such a diverse range of music available to us.
What can you tell us about ‘The Cross’ in Kings Cross?
The Cross was an institution for many people. Billy and Johnnie had an amazing thing going there with some great events and we were lucky enough to be one of them and to be part of its legacy. They gave us an opportunity which we grabbed and it definitely elevated Milkn2sugars into being a serious clubbing brand. For anyone that went to The Cross I’m sure it’s a venue that will always be missed and never forgotten.
How big of an impact did releasing music under Milk ‘n’ 2 Sugars Recordings have on the booking agency and the brand of MN2S?
It definitely helped us as an agency and brand. It meant we could do three single deals with artists on the roster and not only handle their bookings but also release their music. We actually had a risky model at the time where we would make records happen, hook up artists with their favourite vocalists and then get them in the studio. Luckily for us we managed to pull it off and had some great releases come through this model. Having the parties, the agency and label all helped us as a brand as it meant artists could both play at our events and release on the label. It was a win win all sides.
How has your taste in music developed over the years? Has working with so many different artists had any influence on the music you like?
Most definitely. I was first influenced by my parents and what I would hear at home and in the car. My father was a big Jazz fan and my mother was a big Motown fan. I used to listen to a lot of reggae and particularly Bob Marley, I even named my daughter Ziggy. My first taste of ‘electronic music’ was in my early raving days which back then was hardcore/jungle, early Chicago House and techno, artists like Andrew Weatherall, Sabres of Paradise, Two Lone Swordsman etc. and bits from Sven Vaths labels Eye Q and Harthouse which were pretty much Tech trance! I then progressed more to the New Jersey sound and the MAW Dubs / Mood II Swing dubs which was a great time for house and loved US Soulful and Deep House/Garage, whatever you want to call it. I was also a massive Todd Terry fan and pretty much bought everything he made at the beginning. The UK also had some great labels like Paper Recordings, Shaboom, Slip n Slide which were releasing some fantastic music and was also feeling what was coming out of France in the late nighties Cassius, Daft Punk etc. with labels like Roule, Versatile, Distance.
I was a big fan of the Chicago Jacking scene as well and we booked a lot of this sound at the time with Mark Farina, Derrick Carter, Johnny Fiasco playing our parties which was a great buzz for me. I guess now though I’m predominantly a house head for Djing, partying. I like proper Deep House (not your Hot Natured or what the media and television have coined as deep house, the original shit!). As I get older I need to hear more instruments and music in my tracks rather than bleeps and clicks, but I’m partial to a bit of techno on the occasion when the mood is right.
I’m always listening to new music at the office so I do get influenced by this, and I’m always on the lookout for new artists to check out. I have a whole new younger generation working in the office as well who have been bought up on different sounds so it’s good as it keeps me in the loop as to what is going on and what is current.
Where and when was the mix recorded, and on what?
The mix was recorded about 3 weeks ago before I went away for my honeymoon on two technics 1210’s pimped out by Ryan and Tristan at Mastersounds with Rega straight tone arms and my custom rotary E&S DJR400 mixer lovingly made by Jerome in Paris.
What is the aim with the mix? Does it differ to a DJ set of yours?
I tried to make a mix that was easy to listen to, deep but also musical including old and new records whilst keeping it groovy and danceable without getting too heavy. Something that you can relax and listen to in the car / sunshine or get down to in the early morn. I don’t really DJ anymore and only really played for friends events. However if I were to play out again I would want to play similar to this mix rather than having to conform and play bangers/crowd pleasers.
What do you like to do outside of the music industry?
I like to eat good food and check out different restaurants with my wife and also enjoy her delicious home cooking. I still like to go to the occasional party and hear new music and socialise. I also like to hang out with my daughter, chill at home watching movies, play records with mates and love to travel.
Big thanks to Tim for providing an insightful interview and delivering a top mix – a fine addition to the Mi Casa Mix Series. Be sure to check out more of Tim’s mixes on his Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/timmn2s