We’ve been following Danny Berman (aka Red Rack’em, but here in his Hot Coins guise) since he was championed by Gilles Peterson back in the late 2000s and rose to prominence with house tracks on Tirk, Ramp and his own Bergerac label, plus BnB recommends his regular Smugglers Inn podcasts for lovers of upfront sounds.
But if you think that means you know what Danny Berman is capable of, well, you’d be wrong. Embarrassingly, gapingly wrong, as the debut Hot Coins album for Sonar Kollektiv proves, with its involving blend of punk-funk, electro & disco. Still, even a cursory listen to ‘The Damage Is Done’ will tell you that it’s not an easy listening experience. This is some pretty sketchy territory we’re in here; the paranoia of excess, the seedy side of clubland we all know exists but never talk about and the dubious relationships and emotional woes that come when partying is something you do, recover from, then do again ad nauseum…
As we chatted, it became clear that Mr Berman’s had his share of excessive moments – and indeed his share of more personal woes, as well as many very funny moments, BnB loves a DJ who can mock themselves – and all of these have combined to make him the well-rounded, thought-provoking artist he is today.
So how did you get into electronic music, Danny? Especially the kind of 70s/80s music you’re referencing on the new album?
Well, my exposure to dance music began because my older sister was a massive raver in, I guess, the early 90s, so would have been when I was 16… so ‘89/’90. I went to a party she held in St Andrews in Scotland when I was about 14. And it was a mix of the hardest football casual guys and friendly student types, because you have to remember that dance scene in Scotland in those days was very much linked to the football casual guys, so basically at this party was these really hard Scottish guys all saying (does Scottish tough guy accent – this will be a recurring factor, when Danny tells a story he will slip into a different voice)
‘I’m fucking sledging man…’ and these very sexy girls with hardly any clothes on sweating and dancing. All the girls were all like, ‘Oh, Danny, you’re so cute’ and fussing over me…. I remember being cocooned in the corner, with my hooded top’s drawstrings pulled tight! (laughs very hard at the memory)
That was like my dance music epiphany, that party. Because my musical background at that time was STRICTLY American hip-hop from the East Coast like Black Moon or Leaders of the New School, you know, all the underground East Coast stuff. And I also liked a lot of the alternative rock stuff, kind of what you’d call grunge: Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney. My friends would buy punk 45s. It was stuff that I wasn’t necessarily into, but I really enjoyed being around it.
Dance music was kind of seen as (sounding a bit worried) a bit chavvy, to be honest with you. I mean where I came from it was kind of hard men going to Rezerection and doing 20 pills while listening to Tom Wilson’s ‘Bouncy Techno’ set. Tom Wilson, by the way, was this DJ whose neighbours used to write letters to the papers because obviously the after parties from his show got quite interesting. He had this show called (slips into Scottish burr again) Tom Wilson’s Bouncy Techno Sounds and it was all stuff like DER DER DER DER DER DER DER. That, you know? I think he died of a heart attack when he was about 30!
But anyway, I grew up in a Scottish fishing village where basically the only place you could buy music was Our Price [a now-defunct UK music store chain] in Dundee which was 30 miles away. I used to have to ask my mum to buy certain hip-hop albums because they had that Parental Advisory sticker on them and it was actually enforced! So I discovered dance music really because I had a friend in Bath and I used to go down there to see him. There was this radio station called Ragga FM, so my first influence in that sense was jungle, which I guess made more sense to me because it was British and it was influenced by hip-hop.
So if you listened to something like the early Trouble On Vinyl stuff or DJ Red stuff and it was sampling off the latest Tribe Called Quest album that I’d just bought. I loved that about drum and bass, the fact that it was so immediate and so influenced by hip-hop. Dance music wise, when I lived in Edinburgh around 1995-1996, I had this housemate called Fraser Saunderson who is like this musical oracle – he was listening to Juan Atkins, Dr Rockit, I mean our stereo within one hour would be Roni Size, ‘Bug In A Bassbin’, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry…. That period for me was just one long musical orgasm and to be honest I’m still recovering. I don’t think I’ll ever get it again. I mean, having a turntable in your living room, having access to amazing records, Jockey Slut [much-missed UK dance music mag] being ace…
I was an intern at Jockey Slut, one of the last…
Everything that they gave a good review to was really good! It was real. I guess it was an indicator of the fact that (a) the quality of dance music back then was so high and (b) there was actually some kind of ethics left in music journalism.
It was a hugely interesting time in my life, I have to say.
I’m sure it was, it was an amazing magazine.
But I’m glad we’re on to drum and bass actually, because you said to Bearded magazine that you DJ in quite a D&B style…
Well, I moved to Bristol in 1997 and it was literally for drum and bass. I moved into a house in Ralph Road in Ashley Down. We were known as the Ralph Road Boys and we had a studio, which was basically an extra room in the house with loads of good equipment and my friends ran a club night called Apex, which used to book loads of good DJs. There would always be about 5 a night, so there would be DJ Ron, Randall, Roni Size maybe Zinc? And the really good thing about D&B then was that every label had their own dubplates and you’d maybe hear one tune twice in the night, something big, but everyone had their own big tunes. I remember once going to see Randall and he was playing something like ‘Beach Ball’ by Optical, things that I’d never heard before, and I knew what they were when they came out a year and a half later. Things like ‘Viper’ by Johnny L and Optical, I’d heard those tunes when I was at a 1000-people rave with Yardies smoking crack in a corner. And for me to come from a Scottish fishing village and to be experiencing that was such an amazing experience. Still to this day if I hear an ‘Amen’ track then I am intrinsically, chemically and emotionally altered by those memories…
Things like getting a taxi in Bristol and hearing jungle on the stereo, seeing blue Rizla paper on the floor and knowing that the driver’s been smoking weed… it was such an amazing time, it was raw, it was gritty, it was urban… it was a kind of street soul that has never happened again. ‘African Chant’ by DJ Ron was the sound of poor people struggling, but the soulful reaction of that experience which we don’t have in this day and age. Everyone who’s ‘poor’ in the UK still has an iPhone, has nice sneakers, has nice shit, basically. I mean, we had nothing: we’d go to a rave and spend £30 on partying and that would be your money for two weeks gone. I mean, we had nothing but it was an amazing time in my life.
I moved around the UK a lot, I lived in four cities in three years: I lived in Edinburgh, then I moved to Bristol, then I moved to Liverpool, then I moved to Nottingham and this was all between 1996 and 1999. And when I moved to Liverpool I got in with a drum and bass crew in Liverpool, but the drum and bass clubs there were nowhere near as good as the drum and bass clubs in Bristol, they just weren’t. So I went to Bugged Out, I went to Voodoo [infamous Liverpool techno event], I went to the clubs that I felt were part of the best scene, with the most interesting music.
So why were you moving around so much?
Well basically I moved to Bristol because I was unemployed in Edinburgh and had no prospects, so I moved to Bristol and was basically in the same position, but it had a much better music scene. I moved to Bristol on the train. I literally put my Technics and my record collection in the guard’s van and every station I would look out of the window hoping not to see someone running down the platform with my Technics (laughing). But I’d done work experience in Edinburgh in TV editing and I’d taught myself how to use Avid, which is a basically a precursor to Final Cut. This was when I was 19 or 20, so around 1995, I think. So when I was in Bristol, they offered me a job in Liverpool, even though I was totally unqualified to do it. Probably someone had left and they wanted to shave 5 grand off the salary… but they offered me this job so I moved to Liverpool and was a television editor for L!VE TV in 1998 – my motto was ‘98, going straight’ but it didn’t work. Imagine going from getting £80 every two weeks to £350 a week! My rent was £250 a month including bills and it was amazing; after a year of working there, my overdraft was the same as what I got paid every month, so I managed to spend my salary twice over the course of a year! But I had a great time; I used to be on the guestlist for all the clubs and any sporting event I wanted to go to as I was the main sports editor. So I could go and see Liverpool, Everton, all the rugby. I mean my friend knew a famous football manager really well and he hadn’t turned up for training for days, but that was because he was on Southport beach with empty bottles of vodka all around him and we had to go and get him…
(I start laughing here, Danny just continues…)
Honestly, I saw so many things… like XXXXX, the sports promoter and reputed gangster, my friend interviewed him and he could hear someone banging from inside his car boot at the time! And the Crosby gym murders, when this guy went into a gym on a scrambler bike, went into the back of the gym and was pulling weights with a motorcycle helmet on and then shot this guy in the gym. I’ve always wondered how you’d get away with being in a gym and wearing a motorcycle helmet, but there you are…
I believe that’s how the London gangs take care of business – a guy on the back of a bike will shoot someone then zoom off into traffic…
I know, but actually going into a gym in the helmet? And then they found the helmet, but it was literally covered in brains. The picture of it was pretty grim. And there was two perv scoutmaster stories. And because you have to be very careful if you’re using someone’s image, we had them saved on the desktop as ‘Perv Scoutmaster 1’ and ‘Perv Scoutmaster 2’. You might say that I became quite de-sensitised to a lot of stuff. This is actually quite bad ( sounding more sombre) a guy was killed in a notorious cruising spot and so it came out that he’d been living this double life and his family had to find out this very intimate thing about his life via the press. Lots of heavy shit, you know, for a guy who was only 19 or 20. So this was the backdrop to me going out and having massive weekends.
So how did you end up in Nottingham?
Well, I got a job at this company that were basically used by the likes of Boots and Morgan Stanley to make motivational videos. It was very corporate, as you might expect, and I was fired in a month, because I think at the time I thought it was ok to get stoned on the way to work and then wonder why I couldn’t get my head around the new way of working? I was from television, where you could tell your boss to fuck off, basically. I mean, the TV station was somewhere we’d go to hang out during a night out in town. Then I went to Nottingham, it was a small company, I didn’t really know anyone there and they all hated me…the guy actually said, ‘It’s not your ability to do the job, it’s just more of a personal thing.’
(We both laugh)
So I moved there knowing no one and within one month I was totally fucked… but it meant that I had to re-consider what I was going to do. I totally lost my confidence as an editor, there was no training, had no experience of being with clients. At the end of the day it was very naive of them to think that I would just be able to do it. I was from television, which was fun… so anyway, I went to a local college and did a sound engineering course.
And when was this?
Oh, this was in 1999. But you see the good thing about my editing was that I’d done things like do some camera work, which I had no background in whatsoever, and my editing also became a huge influence in how I make music. I was using a timeline based sequencer; I mean I was so poor I didn’t even have a computer, but Avid is Mac-based so I was using Macs back in 1996 when I had no money. So I had access to really high-end technology early on. I used to edit music on the audio channels of Avid, which is probably one of the reasons I got fired, because I got caught producing on the Avid a couple of times. So, that’s my background, anyway… (laughs).
So did you go to The Bomb in Nottingham them?
Yes I did and I have to say, The Bomb in Nottingham was probably the most important club I’ve ever attended in my life. In terms of day in, day out, like reliably good quality dance music. The main thing for me about The Bomb was that you could get kind of behind the DJ booth, because there was a shot bar behind the decks, so there was this little bit behind the booth, with a bit of cloth, like a temporary barrier and you could be really about three people’s distance behind the DJ with this view of him rocking the club. The freedom, the respect, I knew all the staff there – there’s people whom I know that I don’t remember meeting and it’s from The Bomb. It was all about where you danced there so I always danced by this one speaker, so I knew everyone who was always around there. But I’ll meet someone about ten years on and they’ll be all, ‘I used to be over the other side.’ I saw Kenny Dope, Goldie, Maseo from De La Soul…
I didn’t realise just how wide-ranging The Bomb was in its bookings, just talking to you and to (Bomb resident and now London-based DJ ) Dave Congreve has really opened my eyes to it. James Baillie (the club’s promoter) has always been very switched-on, hasn’t he?
I think what James Baillie did there was find the young, hot people of the time – he was the A&R, he was the muscle behind it. He was the one who could get the corporate branding, all that shit. He was like the A&R for the label and the DJs were the artists, if we use that analogy. I mean you could go in that place with your eyes closed and have the best night ever. The toilets were legendary. I mean you could tell if it has been a good night because the floor would be awash with piss by 11! And you’d see one of the poor, unfortunate staff members with a pair of gloves on poking away at a river of piss. The Bomb was awesome – just experiencing that level of quality and seeing that kind of DJ culture first hand, I mean seeing a certain infamous British DJ so off it he couldn’t even fucking see, but still getting away with it; it felt kind of private in there, I don’t know how?
What kind of era was The Bomb?
Well, I moved to Nottingham in 1999 and I think I definitely caught the high point of it. The Bomb was over by 2003 I think. 1999, 2000, 2001, I don’t know what it was like before I went there, but I definitely think I got the high point. Fridays was drum and bass & hip-hop and Saturdays was always house. And Saturday was always, well, people who liked house they had to work on Saturdays, some of them, or they had families; it was so set up for that – like, house was over 30s so you know, you might want to play with little Johnny down the park, but Sundays you know, you can get away with being a bit of a state. It was really funny that drum and bass & hip-hop was on Fridays, because that’s for students and they don’t give a fuck, you know? (laughs)
You know, we did a drum and bass night in the top floor of The Bomb which was called Barrios and then was called Auto, on a Tuesday night we’d go out into town and round people up and get them to go. Literally just tell them, ‘Oh, it’s great, it’s great, come on, come on…’ And it worked! People that I played with at that night are now doing really well – Dynamic [aka Nottingham’s Steve Lang] is releasing stuff for Bukem and, imagine, in those days he was just playing Bukem’s records!
It’s amazing to see what the people who have stuck at it, what they’re achieving now. The Elementz are a kind of hip-hop/grime/bass music crew who have a production stable… these are guys I was working with back in ’99…Karizma from Out Da Ville is now rapping for Starkey who is a hot US guy…
I’m glad we got onto D&B and the Midlands actually, because of course James Priestley of secretsundaze ran a night there called Bassic, didn’t he?
Oh yes! I used to go… which is the funny thing, because now people mention secretsundaze to me and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I knew James when he was DJ Priest!’ (laughs fondly). You know, we actually booked him to play at that Tuesday night… and I sidled up to him and said, you know, like it was a dirty secret or something (in furtive voice) ‘So, you dig house? I dig house too. So… Moodymann?’ (much laughter from both of us).
I mean, I was going to parties where there were nice people and there were also… well, I used to know a few grimey crews in Nottingham. They would turn up and ‘crash the party’, as they put it. And I used to go to these things and there was some pretty edgy shit going down. I mean, I was alright as I was a DJ, but still… I used to hang out with someone in the Radford tower blocks who was a bit of a gangster. I used to go and hang out with him on a Sunday night, when things were getting a bit much for both of us, to be honest. But at the same time, you couldn’t really mix that world with house and disco, it just didn’t mix. So I guess I’ve always had the cake, you know, on Monopoly – all the different squares – that’s my life!
I didn’t realise The Bomb was scheduled like that – because to me, that sounds like fabric’s programming; looking back, it was probably an influence.
The Bomb was the smallest superclub that has ever been. It was fucking awesome! People go on about Venus [James Baillie’s first club of that era, said to be the first one to bring the Balearic Network to the Midlands] and I wasn’t there, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed the music so much. But The Bomb was just fucking awesome music – Jazzanova, Underground Resistance, Laurent Garnier… I remember going to Bugged Out in Liverpool, it was the first one at Nation [later famously CREAM’s home] and I remember the line-up to this day: Laurent Garnier, Dave Clarke, Richie Hawtin (dex’n’fx) Cassius, Roger Sanchez, Jon Carter… I mean, what the fuck, you know? I LOVED going to that kind of thing…
Well, I’m glad we’ve got onto other genres, because that’s been a huge influence on the Hot Coins project, hasn’t it?
Now the thing with that is that I’d got really sick of dance music, but I didn’t even know I was. It’s interesting because my take on dance music really revolves around my partying, or my lack of partying. You get into that kind of robot mode (slips into robot voice) ‘I will dance to a kick-drum!’ Just a drum robot. But you know, there are times where I never want to go out again and that’s when I don’t want to listen to house and techno. Because that’s the soundtrack of sin, you know?
So anyway my friend Fraser Saunderson, the same guy I lived with, I went to stay with him and he was like, ‘Hey man, check this shit out…’ and he stuck on some ESG, A Certain Ratio, James White and the Blacks –and my background is playing bass and drums in funk and rock bands as a teenager and hip-hop. And look at hip-hop, look at the Wild Style soundtrack, that’s not hip-hop! It’s punk-funk isn’t it? Chris Stein from Blondie did the soundtrack for it. If you look at the roots of hip-hop, before the sampling, it was all funk, punk and disco really. And it’s interesting that punks were the first people to get into hip-hop from outside of the scene. I think a lot of that is social issues as the punks and the hip-hops guys lived in the same places, as they were both so poor.
So anyway, Fraser stuck all this stuff on. Fraser is like a shamanic figure to me – he’ll go through phases with his musical tastes and every time I see him, he just changes my boundaries every time. He’s probably listening to Brazilian pop music now, but he tries everything – he had the Sublime Frequencies phase, the Baile funk phase; I remember him listening to some kind of crack gangster in Sao Paulo just screaming down the mic…
Well, the Hot Coins album would not have happened without Fraser playing me stuff like Liasons Dangereuses, Los Ninos Del Parque and Peut Être … Pas. Kind of German anarchist punks shouting over the most amazing electro. I mean, come on, I grew up with electro, amazing electro made by real musicians. The thing that appeals to me about the EBM and the punk-funk is that some of it is pretty crude – it’s exactly the same with my taste in dance music. I want to hear some raw, nasty shit. It doesn’t have to be HARD…. but punk-funk appealed to be because it was raw, because it was edgy, because it had attitude. There’s no fucking attitude in dance music anymore. I mean, ok there’s dubstep and grime but they’re very self-contained. And house music is very ‘polite’. I really respect people like Weatherall because he has more of a punk ethos in what he does. I’d love to be like that but I have to say the thing that constrains me the most is the fact that it’s my job. If I had a private income, or if I could have coped with mainstream employment, I would be a fucking gobby bastard, I’d have far more attitude, I’d be telling people when they played a bad set, I’d be a nightmare, basically.
It’s true, in my game as well there’s a certain level of playing the game and being nice to people.
Well I am about to head off to play on the Boiler Room, which is amazing so I am really happy about that, so the industry can’t be all bad… (smiles)
Boiler Room has become very powerful, hasn’t it?
Yes, definitely. I used to watch it when it started, a few years ago, when it was in a pattern cutting factory in East London with Floating Points etc and it was like a big youth club, but then fairly recently it went woosh!
And they weren’t really playing house, were they, but then I remember they did one with secretsundaze and there we are…
Well, you say that but Floating Points and Tony Nwachukwu are both people who were there in the beginning…
I know of Tony through the CDR club night, the broken beat scene…
Yeah, it’s true, but he’s also released on Drumpoet, so… basically, I think the best house is made by people who don’t make house music. I’m sure most techno producers could make a fucking good house tune, because it’s so melodic. I mean, if you come to house from like the background of Martyn or 2562 or Domu they were making amazing house tracks because the demands of the scene that they came from were much greater than those of the one they are in now. So like 2562 / A Made Up Sound, he can just come into a scene and just fucking own it because he’s from a scene that expected higher things.
I hear so much bad music through doing my radio show, The Smugglers Inn. I listen to 200 odd promos to get to 20 odd tracks. Literally 80% of the tracks I get sent now I can barely listen to. Three years ago – and this is quite sad –I would probably have played that and thought it was alright. But now, I’m just blanded out – zoned out, with the blandness… but you know, let’s get positive!
Right, onto a more positive note and onto your radio show, the Smugglers Inn Podcast… you’ve just broadcast the second part of your interview with Detroit’s Rick Wade, which is a massive coup.
It’s not even about that. I think this is an illustration of my lack of networking. I’ve been doing the radio show for five years now, so I suddenly thought, Rick Wade is staying in my apartment for 5 days, maybe I should interview him for my show? Or like Spider from Plan B [Recordings out of NYC] He’s hotter than white platinum right now. I’ve never considered the close access I have had to these artists, who are my friends. I can get to such a level with them because I’m fully conversant with the specifics of their careers. The thing about a lot of musicians is that they want to talk about themselves, more than the music. So they want to talk about their lives – I mean, I’d rather talk about my life, because my music is a product of it. I mean, how many times can I say ‘It’s a bit Moodyman-y, then it goes a bit garage.’
It’s true – that’s why I don’t write that many reviews, because there is a limit to how you can describe music. But the tapestries of someone’s life are a much more varied thing…
Exactly! Rick was saying that when he makes music, he wants the music to have the feeling he got when his dad relaxed when Rick was a kid. He was just enjoying the music so much. And I asked Rick if that was when he really felt close to his father and he said (in a not bad Rick Wade impression), ‘I don’t really say that kind of mushy stuff, man.’ And I realised that maybe I was trying too hard to crowbar some emotion into it (laughs) but it was awesome, we laughed about it. Rick, right, I’ve been buying Rick Wade records for years, I’ve seen him play all around the world – I owe a lot to him, to Theo Parrish, to Moodyman to Huck [Mike Huckaby]. I mean, friends with Mike now. He was obsessed with my track ‘How I Program’… and I’m from a fishing village in Scotland! I know it sounds a bit hippyish, but music really can transcend cultural boundaries…
… and generational ones…
Yeah, that’s true. I’ll never consider myself an equal to these guys, obviously, but they still paved the way for a lot of other people. And while they’re aware of that, they’re not bitter about seeing people do well; they’re just excited to see young producers making good tunes that they can play. Rick and Mike worked at Record Time, the big Detroit store in the 90s and they were the guys who would hook people up. But now I think it’s a big deal to get acknowledgement from people who are heroes of mine. It’s some kind of Karate Kid shit, kind of ‘Well done, Daniel-san.’
So how did you meet RickWade?
Well, it must have been in Japan – I’ve seen him twice in Japan… and I’ve only been to Japan twice, so it’s become a running joke between us, if he’s there, I’ve gotta be there too. I met him because I was over in Japan in October 2010 to launch my Early Years album and I played two DJ sets, one on Dommune, the Asian precursor to the Boiler Room and then I played an album launch party in a skyscraper in Nihonbashi, the financial district, it was amazing. But I met Rick Wade because he was playing the night after me at Dommune and I guess I wasn’t shy, I guess I just sent him a message as were both visiting artists…. We met up and it was also with Abul Haqq, who does all the design for the Underground Resistance material and that was it. That trip to Tokyo in 2010 was awesome, I saw Giles Peterson, I saw XDB, I saw Brawther… I remember when he was just starting out but now he’s hitting big after just the last year or so. So it gives me hope because I often worry that I’m a bit washed up as I’ve been out there for a while…and then I think, maybe I should just re-invent myself and try and get on Hotflush, something like that…(I laugh, but again, Danny just smiles).
But you look at someone like Huck, I mean Mike Huckaby has released more in the last three years than he has released in the last 10, same with Move D, who in my opinion made some of his strongest stuff in 2008, yet he blew up a couple of years later – it probably took people a while to get those records. It’s interesting when you look at the cycle of an artist.
I agree…. It’s interesting that you mention Lerato [Kathi – Süd Electronic co-founder and current boss of Uzuri Records / Booking agency]…
Oh, of course! No, I met Rick wade through Lerato booking him at Süd Electronic. It was 2007 or 2008, I had had a pretty big night, I mean were waiting outside St Pancras station the next morning, we were sitting against like a museum that was showing the new underground carriages for the forthcoming Olympics. And this guy opened the door against us, because we were sitting against this door and it was this massive Jamaican guy and he invited us into this museum and he gave us beers, it was a properly odd thing. I met Rick Wade at that and I gave him some records which he then left in the venue. But he admitted it, you know, he said on Facebook, ‘I’m really sorry Danny, I left the records in the venue, I didn’t take them with me….’ So that’s how I met Rick Wade.
Right, anyway, onto Hot Coins…
Yes indeed, what about the fact that I have a Ron Basejam remix and an Iron Curtis remix on my next Hot Coins single and they’re both amazing! I feel really lucky to be able to actually release the music in the first place. And I get to do stuff like the Boiler Room!
They’ve actually let you book the line-up, haven’t they?
Yes they have! I wanted to do some stuff in the UK to promote the album because despite the fact that I live in Berlin now I still consider myself a UK artist, so the Boiler Room said, ‘Can you put together a line-up representative of the Hot Coins sound?’ So just like I did for the album launch in Berlin, I put together a dream line up of DJs. I got Ashley Beedle, Toby Tobias and Jim Baron aka Ron Basejam of Crazy P. Toby is possibly the most edgy one out of them all. Ron Basejam is very much someone who straddles the disco / house divide and Ashley…. Well, Ashley’s the soulboy who has probably a great Two Tone collection! I am seriously excited and I think it’s a massive honour to curate something like this. It’s a progression from my radio show and my record label, Bergerac. I’d love to put a night together in Ibiza, because I can get these artists as they want to work with people that they like…
It’s huge you’ve got Ashley Beedle involved really…
I know – it’s his first time doing Boiler Room and he’s an elder statesman of dance music, he really is. I mean the Ballistic Brothers sound wasn’t just tracks like ‘Peckings’; there was some drum and bassy stuff too. I mean Black Science Orchestra, Ballistic Brothers, all that stuff – all that time in my first flat in Edinburgh with Fraser, I remember going to see Ashley Beedle playing at Colours in 1996 and I remember him wearing red sweatshirt and a red baseball cap and we had an amazing night. He was a massive hero then and he still is, so to be able to invite him to play with me on the Boiler Room is something very special. I’ve been really luck in that I can work with people who’ve meant a lot to me – back at the Worldwide awards in 2009 [Danny’s big break via Giles Peterson], Ashley looked after my parents! It’s great to be able to get Ashley involved.
But you mention still seeing yourself as a UK artist despite living in Berlin – how long have you been there now?
(Answers in very decent German, or so it sounds to me anyway, then switches back to English) Since March 2011. And Berlin has completely revolutionised my life. I cannot speak highly enough about it. The UK had felt like I had no place left to got there – it’s funny, because I feel the further I’ve got into Berlin, the more I feel I’ve become the musician I was in the UK, where even though I knew everyone well, but I feel like I’m becoming more private now. When I moved to Berlin, people were interested in me; I got ‘Album Of The Month’ in DeBug for the Red Rack’em album. I’m a still a very underground artist in Germany. When I look at the stats on the Soundcloud kind of thing, I’ll see that it’s generally Germany first, then the UK, then the USA. But you go through all the different stages, the whole ‘I’m not getting anywhere!’ and all that and then you come out the other side of it. But I think now is the time that I just disappear off into the ether, just talk with my productions and just be a professional again. Because I must have been, because I’ve said this before, but you have to work hard to be able to move to Berlin as a DJ and be respected to get to that level, so when you do get here after 10 years hard work; you feel like yeah, you’d like to just drop out for the year, which is what a lot of people do…
Berlin has been absolutely amazing but I did realise once more that you change where you are, but not who you are. And new friends do not replace old friends. I have loads of friends from Berlin who are amazing, but when I see someone I’ve known for 12 years, there’s a feeling of security that I get that’s amazing. That’s something I’m missing in Berlin. I’m slightly out of my comfort zone in fact. I’m definitely stick out in Berlin, but I that’s why I disappear every so often, because I need to hide away… but not all the time, I’ve also DJ’ed from 6-9 am in the morning at About: Blank after Kyle Hall which is a fairly public thing to do. I’ve had the best DJing experiences in Berlin, the best partying experiences, the best fun in Berlin…
And as we’re talking about London and Berlin, how has it gone with the album launches in both places?
The album launch party at Wilde Renate in Berlin was without doubt my finest hour to date. The venue is one of the best clubs in Berlin and the vibe was like a massive house party. I picked some of my favourite DJs to perform on the night so we had sets from Ron Basejam (Crazy P), JG Wilkes (Optimo), Toby Tobias, Hunee and Erdbeerschnitzel played a great live set. It was the debut of Hot Coins as a live band and the first time I had ever been the frontman of a band and I am pleased to say it went really well. It was the culmination of 6 months of hard work and I have to say a massive thanks to the guys in the band, Sonar Kollektiv, Daniel Best and all the guys at Wilde Renate for all the support and encouragement.
Imagine standing up in front of a full club at 3.15 am to play your first ever gig at a massive party with loads of your favourite DJs performing and loads of your friends and family in the crowd. I felt massively under pressure and there were times in the run up to the gig where I doubted that I would be able to pull it off. It was amazing to get on stage and not feel nervous at all. I felt in control and really enjoyed interacting with the crowd. I have always enjoyed the performance aspect of DJing so it was a dream come true to stand up there and sing my heart out to a band of amazing musicians who were playing the songs from an album I didn’t think was ever going to get released. The feedback from the party was amazing. I left at 11am the next morning and it was still in full swing. I got the whole thing filmed so there will be a documentary appearing soon. Just working on the editing of that now. It’s a great reminder of the night and it’s crazy to think that last summer I didn’t even have a band! I feel really lucky that it all came together in the end. I had to work closely with the venue, Sonar Kollektiv and the guys in the band to put the whole thing together so it was such an amazing feeling at the party. My parents and some friends came over from the UK and that meant so much to me as it’s often been quite lonely out here – working away on high stakes stuff has been pretty challenging for me at times. But it’s all been worth it in the end!
The Boiler Room was pretty spectacular as well.. This was another classic day for me. Meeting everyone in the Pub On The Park by London Fields and listening to Ashley, Jim Baron (Ron Basejam) and Yam Who gossiping about music production before we all trooped down to the Boiler Room and got to play to thousands of people on the live stream. Those guys were all a big inspiration to me to start producing music so it was amazing to get to play with them on the Boiler Room. I told Ashley about going to see him play at Colours in Edinburgh in 1996 and he could remember the club perfectly. Everyone played really well and the highlight for me was when Ashley got on the mic and was doing shout outs ‘Lawd ‘ave Mercy’ etc. The Boiler Room billed it as ‘Red Rack’em Presents’ which was a real honour as I see myself as quite an underground artist so I really appreciated the support from one of the biggest brands in dance music today!
So finally, how’s it been working with the band – you’re not a singer by training, right? So how’s it been to perform with a full band as opposed to the usual DJ gigs? And what do you have coming up gig-wise?
I have to thank Lumberjack In Hell’s Marcel Vogel for helping put the whole band together. He introduced me to David Benjamin who is a multi-instrumentalist music producer and DJ back in July 2012 and David agreed to be the guitarist and help me put the band together. He asked Jens Dohle to play drums and I was familiar with Jens work as Ye:Solar as I bought several of his records on Vinyl Vibes in the early noughties so it’s rather fitting that I ended up being in a band with him. Jens is such a powerhouse on the drums and it’s amazing to hear my studio beats being interpreted by one of Germanys finest drummers. Jens brought in Steffen Illner who plays upright bass for Ye:Solar and thankfully he’s also a virtuoso on the electric bass as well. It’s great to have a rhythm section who really know each other inside out as drums and bass is the backbone of what I do as Red Rack’em and Hot Coins so it makes me immensely happy to listen to Jens and Steffen play. The hard work really began when we had to work out how to play the tracks live as we’re only a 4 piece so we had to really look at each track and decide who would play what in the tracks.
I have to say that David’s multi-instrumental skills have really come in handy as he also plays keys, percussion and sings backing vocals. We rehearsed throughout the winter in Jens’ studio at the historic Funkhaus Studios (former DDR national radio centre) in East Berlin and it was amazing watching the whole thing take shape.
I found the whole experience really inspiring as I have been bored of working on my own for a long time so this was just what I needed to feel inspired again. I had to learn so many new skills – converting my Logic synths onto Ableton, rehearsing with guys who I didn’t really know very well, working out what equipment we needed to play it live, adapting and re-arranging the songs for live performance, singing in public, telling the guys when I wasn’t happy about how they were playing stuff etc. The whole thing has been a massive learning curve for me. The most challenging part has definitely been singing and playing keyboards in a live scenario for me. It’s a big jump from recording vocal parts for house tracks and playing some one note keyboard stuff on the sampler to fronting a real band and playing live keyboard solos. But on the basis of the launch party, I think I can do it, which is a relief.
We have got some more gigs coming up which I am really excited about. We play at Chalet, Berlin on 28/04/13 at a Sonar Kollektiv night. Then it’s the Munich album launch party on 31/05/13 at Club Kong which is really cool as it will be our first gig outside of Berlin. The gig I am most excited about though is this year’s Garden Festival in Croatia. We are playing live on 06/07/13 which is a Saturday night and it’s amazing to be asked to play at a festival with so many great names playing. I had an amazing time there in 2010 so I am really looking forward to seeing the new site at Tisno.
Last but not least, favourite hip-hop track from your youth?
Oh, hang on, it’s (raps a few lines from Black Moons ‘Shit Iz Real’, the finds it on his laptop to play us out:)