Text and Interview by Rob Schenk
Photos courtesy of Joe Burns. Cover Image by Tracy Harrison
Following his recent Clash EP release on Dub-Stuy Records, Schenk sits down with Joe Burns, aka Blind Prophet, to talk about his musical journey, his love for roots, and the Portland music scene.
Joe Burns, also known as Blind Prophet, is relaxed over the phone. The Long Island, New York-born producer has been seriously collecting and listening to music since he was 10 years old. “I got my first guitar in high school but I didn’t develop chops until my freshman year in college,” Burns said. “That was my primary musical focus until I started producing in 2008.”
Although Burns has been producing music for more than 10 years, the guitar is still something he returns to when he’s in the studio. “If I’m stuck, I might pick it up and just play along with the tune,” Burns chuckled. In high school, he listened to a lot of alternative music, Radiohead especially. It was through a Radiohead message board that Burns was introduced to UK dubstep through artists like Burial, Digital Mystikz, and Headhunter. “That was what inspired my first productions. In the beginning, I was making a lot of house, garage, and dubstep inspired music.” Burns was hooked, and he started looking for events to go to in New York, a two and a half hour train ride away from where he lived on Long Island.
“When I first started going to see shows, Dubstepforum was pretty big (an online dubstep message forum). That was the place to find out where the parties were in your city. That’s how I found out what was happening in New York, and the first few times I went there I met up with people I met through the message board,” he said. “It’s how I met some of my first friends in the NYC scene, and there’s a handful of people I’m still close with.”
These events would change Burns’ production style completely, especially the bass music event reconstrvct. “I went to a party in 2012 and Carter Van Pelt (a stalwart in the NYC Reggae scene) was on warm-up duties playing roots,” Burns explained. “That was one of the first times I heard roots reggae on a proper sound system. From that point on I was hooked. I remember they uploaded Van Pelt’s set on SoundCloud and I shazamed the whole thing. That’s what sparked me to really dive into roots and dub.”
Burns started researching the artists he heard, working backwards and discovering more and more new music. “Producers like King Tubby, Scientist, and Junjo Lawes really inspired me. From there I got into the stuff being made in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s: Vibronics, The Disciples, and Iration Steppas; and that combination of traditional reggae and UK steppers is what continues to inspire me.”
From 2012 onward, Burns’ productions shifted from house and garage to roots and dub-inspired tunes, and he debuted with the record Formation / Horizon on ZamZam Sounds, out of Portland, Oregon.
Burns’ unique and polished style led him to more and more releases, working with labels like Moonshine Records, Green King Cuts, and Natural Selectas out of the UK. With his popularity growing and a new track with Tenor Youthman, Burns was looking for other labels to work with. It was Doctor Jeep that led him to Dub-Stuy.
“After I finished ‘Marijuana Burns Capitalism,’ I was looking for labels to send it to and thought it might be a good fit for Dub-Stuy. I hit up Andre (Doctor Jeep), who’s worked with Dub-Stuy before, and we started talking. I asked if he could link me with someone from the label, and I was put in contact with Damian Ashton who connected me with Quoc Pham, the owner of Dub-Stuy. I basically send everything I make to Q now so I can get his feedback,” Burns laughs.
Not only was the track a good fit, it opened the door for further collaborations between Joe and the Brooklyn label, leading to the next single “Rastaman Chat” featuring Ras Demo on vocals. When an Iration Steppas dubplate remix of Rastaman Chat began surfacing on social media, it cemented Blind Prophet’s status as a top ranking dub producer.
Burns eventually landed a headlining DJ spot at Signal PDX, a monthly bass and electronic music event. He then became a resident DJ for Signal after moving to Portland in 2018. “I visited Portland three times before, once on vacation and twice while on tour, and each time I came I liked it more and more. Signal is a pretty laid back vibe. There’s no pressure, it’s nice to just kick back and play some records with your homies,” Burns said.
When asked about the local music scene, his voice turns enthusiastic. “Portland has a very healthy and supportive dub and bass music scene. There’s multiple events: Pull Up PDX, Wake The Town, Sublimate, FWD PDX, and of course Signal PDX just to name a few.”
When he’s not producing, Joe loves the access to nature Portland provides him. “It’s a great way to reset and get away from all the music,” he laughs. “You can drive 40 minutes outside of the city and be in some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country. It’s one of the reasons I love living in the Pacific Northwest.”
Hiking, reading, and buying records keeps him motivated and ensures his Signal DJ nights are filled with fresh tunes. “Roots is my favorite of all the genres, most of the records I buy are roots reggae, but lately I’ve been buying more UK Steppers-style stuff.” The fact that Signal PDX is vinyl-only is one of his favorite aspects of the night. “My record collection isn’t crazy, and for a long time I didn’t have much room so I had to pick and choose what I was buying. Now I’m buying records every month so that I’m always playing new tunes.”
When it comes to his production style, Joe is straightforward and honest; his goal is to make every track sound different from the last. In addition to his latest Clash EP, Burns also released an ambient project with Ed Zeringue (also known as Saltfeend) under the moniker via dekum.
“I actually met Ed the first time I played Signal,” Burns explained. “I love ambient music, it’s been one of my favorite genres over the years, and I always wanted to do a project in that sphere but it never materialized. Ed and I ended up having great chemistry in the studio and from there the via dekum project was born”
Burns also likes ambient music because it gives him the freedom to switch up his production style: “When I hit a wall on a dub track, I can do a complete 180 and work on ambient stuff instead. It’s a nice reset and it really helps prevent writer’s block.”
For the Clash EP, Burns didn’t originally set out to make an EP at all. “Clash came together organically over a period of two years.” he said. “ I sent tracks to Q as I finished them, Q picked the ones he liked the most and then he decided to put them together in an EP. The collaborations happened through both our efforts; there’s some Dub-Stuy regulars like Tenor Youthman and Rider Shafique on the record, but artists like Tailored Sound, GREAZUS, Redders, and Titus 12 are making their debuts on the label, which is exciting.”
For Burns, this EP represents the depth of his production and his ability to vary dramatically between styles. “To date, this is the release that I’m most proud of,” Burns explained, “because of the wide range of genres and styles that are represented.”
When I asked him to pick his favorite song off the release, Joe was modest. “I can’t pick a favorite track from the EP, but I am most proud of ‘Conquer Yuhself’ and ‘Delay the Storm;’ these two tracks are drastically different from the tunes I usually make, and I have to big up Rider Shafique and Titus 12 for their contributions!”
It’s Burns’ drive and dedication to creating new and unique songs that make him a powerful, versatile producer. His use of space and minimalist touches combined with pulsating bass and catchy melodies are the reasons his tracks are so exceptional. When asked about this, Joe’s answer was emblematic of who he is: honest, straightforward, and simple. “I stick with dub as the main factor, but I try and do something different with every track.”
Clash EP is out now on vinyl and digital formats and available to purchase via Dub-Stuy’s Bandcamp.