Danny Berman aka Red Rack’em started his career as an aspiring scratch DJ in a remote Scottish fishing village. He rose from underground veteran to overnight success in 2016 with his cross genre smash ‘Wonky Bassline Disco Banger’ which picked up plays and support from just about everyone from Moodymann to Black Madonna.
His latest album ‘Self Portrait’ was released in February and has been extremely well received, garnereing attention from a host of key players including Gilles Peterson, who described it as Danny’s ‘opus’.
He has toured extensively across Europe and beyond, and is set to take the stage on ‘The Sleepless Floor’ at this year’s MELT! Festival.
We caught up with him for a chat ahead of the festival…
To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?
I guess to some people my sound is a bit all over the place. I try to play the 5 % which is good in most genres so it could be house, techno, hip hop, disco, electro, 2 step garage, broken beat, jazz, African music and soulful stuff all in the same set. I am from the UK and firmly flying the flag for playing garagey and ravey stuff but I also love old school US house from the the late 80s. In 3 words – music with soul.
What are the 5 albums that have influenced you the most?
De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising,
Motorbass – Pansoul,
Captain Beefheart – Shiny Beast,
Parliament – Osmium,
DAF – Alles Ist Gut
Which other artists are you into at the moment and why?
Simbad has been killing it recently – whenever I see him he makes me a folder full of awesome music and I try out all his new productions in club sets – his stuff always sounds great in a club! Maghreban is one of the hottest producers around – he can make many styles of music and all his stuff is awesome – check him out! Rimbaudian has been making some good stuff recently as well – a bit more melodic than I usually play but really enjoying playing his stuff as it always works.
Are there any key pieces of equipment that you are using to define your sound?
My brain definitely. I don’t have a massive studio – I am really influenced by hip hop sampling techniques for making house music. I am a strong believer in the only limit being the level of your creativity so I like to start with just a simple sample or 2 and then take those sounds to another level using creativity and production techniques. I love synths and drum machines but in the end, I feel most free when just writing with audio samples in Logic. Having said that, I used to use a lot more melodies in my music a few years ago because I was using a keyboard to write on rather than just focussing on the screen.
What would you say some of the challenges artists face today in the music industry?
If you’re a creative person who simply loves music and doesn’t want to compromise what you believe in, I think the biggest challenge today is to navigate your way through all the business people who are in the music scene. There’s a lot of really shit DJs and super dull music getting too much attention due to the massive agendas at work behind the scenes. So I would say the biggest challenge is to stay true to what you believe in and become successful. If you like swimming upstream then come and join me in the party! (possible sarcasm)
Where do you gather songwriting inspiration?
I try to make my music reflect the moods of life, be it sad, happy, introspective, ravey, romantic so I guess my biggest inspiration is paraphrasing things which I either live myself or see other people go through. I love the cinematic quality of life. Just watching the leaves blow in the wind is inspiring (man). If you listen to key tracks which I have made – they are all saying something completely different. In Love Again – being in love. How I Program – I am a mental bastard. Kalimba – I like shuffley African feelings in my house music. Wonky Bassline Disco Banger – I am a mad bastard who likes to fuck with people’s preconceptions of what the limit of disco/house is. I am inspired in the end by trying to make people think, feel, subvert and just feel free.
Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting your music together?
My mood is the biggest precursor in the end. If it’s late at night I will probably make something a bit spacey. If it’s during the day it will be a bit more mental and banging. My song writing process begins with writing some drums and then playing with samples over the top. Or playing a melody over the drums. I often work on something for an hour and then make a new loop and make a completely different track with the same sounds. If I do this 3 times in one arrangement, then I can put them all together and it’s maybe enough to make a track from. If you listen to most of my tracks, it’s not the same idea for 5 mins. I usually get bored pretty quickly which is why there’s often more than one style of music in each track and the arrangements move around quite a bit.
What’s the best gig you have ever done and why?
Decks On The Beach in Beirut. I played the opening party and they were expecting around 800 people – in the end they had 1800 throughout the night and it was like a festival! The location was a natural amphitheatre with the sea directly behind the stage and I played from 1-5am which was such a treat. It means so much to get to go somewhere new and play from the heart for a huge crowd of crazies. But I also really enjoy more intimate nights as well. I recently played at Le Mouton Noire in Fribourg in Switzerland and that was equally amazing – the club is in an tiny underground cave room in the oldest building in the city – the crowd were putting the plants which were decorating the DJ booth on their heads and running about the club – was such a good vibe. I have been touring my new album since February so there’s been loads of highlights this year already!
And the worst?
I used to play in a hotel restaurant in Nottingham called Chino Latino and it was my staple saturday night gig for 3-4 years before I started travelling around 2008. It was a great place to play as they wanted nothing vocal as it would interfere with the diners conversation so it was fine to play a load of deep house and broken beat every week. They used to have a lot of famous people staying there when they were on tour so I used to sometimes have people like Snoop Dogg, The Doors, Gordon Ramsey, etc asking me what I was playing which was kind of cool. It didn’t always go so well though – I nearly had a fight with Kelly from the Stereophonics because I wouldn’t play any ‘real music’. I would say the worst gig I ever did was in Chinos for the American WWE wrestlers (who were on tour) – they were like some proper Jersey Shore types – the girls took their tops off and were pole dancing on the bar and the guys were performing initiation ceremonies involving pouring beer on their hands and ‘bitchslapping’ each others chests. I never had requests normally and they were totally shouting ‘play some hip hop man’ and ‘what kind of VIP area is this’ – they genuinely believed this restaurant was their own VIP area which was hilarious. I had been out all night before I had got there so I wasn’t in the mood to comply with them. I put on ‘Witness The Fitness’ by Roots Manuva and they HATED it. They were shouting ‘fuck this techno shit – we want some hip hop’. I remember getting really drunk and trying to start a fight with them but fortunately for me the manager sent me home before I could get into any more trouble. They were literally the biggest people I had ever seen.
If you weren’t a musician what would you be?
I was a music teacher at two colleges in Nottingham for seven years until 2009 when I went full time with music. Since then I have done quite a lot of guest lecturing/masterclasses for St Andrews University, CDR, Apple, BPM in Tel Aviv, Mainz in Auckland – sometimes when I am on tour I still do workshops so I would say I would be a teacher I guess. I also like writing and have done quite a bit of journalism over the years interviewing the likes of Goldie, De La Soul etc and I have also recently written for Mixmag and Groove so I could also be a journalist too.
Do you have any particular gigs or festivals that you dream about playing?
I have always wanted to play at MELT! Festival….
If you could perform alongside any other band or artist, living or dead, who would it be?
B2B all night long with Awantoo 3 would be great.
Do you have any information regarding upcoming releases, projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?
I just released my new album Self Portrait on my label Bergerac so I am really excited about that! It’s a double album and it’s a journey through all my influences. I am currently on a tour to promote the album which will continue throughout the year. Should be hitting Australia and Asia toward the end of the year.
I have also been hard at work remixing this year as well so look out for remixes of Tensnake, Heartthrob, Doorly, CRS+BRG, Michael Candler as well as a really huge grime/pop act which I annoyingly can’t mention yet.
Catch Red Rack’em at this year’s Melt! Festival on Saturday 15th July on the ‘Sleepless Floor’ from 11am -2pm.
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