Not many people can say they launched their L.A. DJ career opening for Bruno Mars. Adam Auburn can.
This was before the "Uptown Funk" singer was a superstar, and the 2008 gig at King King, which was also Auburn's birthday party, only drew about 100 people. Still, it's not a bad start for a DJ who had sold off his record collection to fund a cross-country move in an old Ford Taurus.
It may sound strange that Auburn sold off his vinyl to further his DJ career, but he had already moved on to CDJs. "They were like my babies," he says over a late afternoon snack downtown, with a twinge of remorse in his voice. "I hope they are being treated well and in the right hands."
Stranger still was that Auburn chose Los Angeles as the place to rise up the DJ ranks. He plays house, a genre of dance music better associated with cities like Chicago and New York. Moreover, he grew up in New Jersey and it was the legendary clubs of nearby New York, like Body & Soul, that influenced him.
But underrated though it may be, Los Angeles does have its own tight-knit scene of house devotees centered around venues like King King and club nights like Marques Wyatt's Deep. Auburn had played at a few L.A. parties before he lived in the city, which was a big factor in why he headed west with his dog and a girlfriend who broke up with him after the move.
It was a gamble, but one that ultimately worked out well for Auburn. In the six years that have passed, he's become a regular sight in the L.A. club scene. He's a resident at Exchange, where he is also the marketing director, and has played sets supporting major touring DJ/producers, like Benny Benassi and Knife Party, on their L.A. stops. (This Saturday, he'll join Dirtybird's Justin Martin at the mega-club.) He also throws monthly bashes at King King and promotes the summertime party Afternoon Delight at the Standard Rooftop. On any given week, you're likely to find Auburn's named attached to some must-attend event.
He is openly surprised that he has been asked for an interview. Auburn isn't a globe-trotter; he plays frequently, but the gigs are overwhelmingly in Southern California. Plus, he's more DJ than producer, with a SoundCloud feed centered around his sets and a few remixes rather than original productions. "The DJing skill is completely independent of producing skill, although some producers can make good DJs and some DJs can make good producers," he says.
Auburn isn't an anomaly; there are plenty of others who focus more on decks than the studio. But, in a dance music world obsessed with festival headliners and banger-makers, DJs like Auburn often work under the radar.
As a DJ, Auburn is incredibly versatile. Nowhere is that more obvious than at his Sunday evening gig at California Adventure's Mad T Party.
Auburn declines to discuss his work at the Disney theme park on the record, but on a recent Sunday, he could be found dressed like the White Rabbit behind the decks at this family-friendly dance party. His sets are short, bridging together other performances that mark the weekly event, and more mainstream than what you'll hear from him in a club. He'll drop some '90s jams that the parents in the crowd should recognize, along with current big pop hits for the teens. Even the little kids can't stay off the dance floor when Auburn plays. He's a crowd pleaser, but one whose house head roots show throughout the evening.
Auburn taught himself how to mix together records while he was a student at the University of Delaware and started playing the parties he threw. "I'm pretty sure if you asked any promoter, and they were honest about it, the reason they became a promoter at first — not now, but at first — was because it was the best way to get DJ gigs," says Auburn. "You throw the party yourself, then you can book yourself."
After a stint in Baltimore, Auburn relocated to Los Angeles and has done his part in keeping the 4/4 beats pulsating across the city. "I don't think house is one thing," he says. "I think the beauty of house music is that it has such a wide appeal when played in the right environment a certain way."
Auburn's DJ sets, as well as the parties he promotes, reflect that diversity within the genre. In general, King King attracts folks with classic house tastes, and Auburn reflects the heritage of the genre in his events there. That's where he has brought out DJs like San Francisco house icon Miguel Migs. He also brings in a few select locals who excel in this style. With Afternoon Delight, Auburn can venture into bassier terrain, like when he booked Shift K3y, the artist between last year's U.K. hit "Touch." He says that was the biggest party he has thrown this year. "He's an amazing DJ," says Auburn. "He read the room, he changed his sound. He played a little bit of everything and it was insane."
House takes a lot of different shapes in Auburn's work, but whether he's playing for a mainstream or underground crowd, one thing remains consistent. "House music is more than just music, it's a feeling," Auburn writes in a follow-up email. "And, in my opinion, that feeling can't be reproduced in just one song."
He adds, "It's more about the journey of gradually letting yourself go, through the course of the entire night. When done right, house music can be a very spiritual thing — which is why I fell in love with it, and have since been trying to do everything I can to help spread that love."
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Adam Auburn plays Exchange L.A. this Saturday, July 25, opening for Justin Martin and Ardalan. Tickets and more info.