Tapped Interview - Danny Berman aka Red Rack ‘em
Our man KMG caught up with one of the hardest working gents in the biz, Danny Berman aka Red Rack ‘em for a chat… make a cuppa’ and take in what was said….
1) What gets you up in the morning Danny?
I am equally proud and sorry to say that my workload (or perceived workload) gets me out of bed in the morning. I try not to switch the macbook on before I open my curtains but sometimes I’m sat in bed with the curtains closed working on stuff in bed when it’s blazing sunshine outside at 11am. Heroin chic eh. I live opposite a beautiful park so I should probably start the day with a run or something. If only!
2) …. and your ideal breakfast?
My ideal breakfast would be a posh full English with gourmet black pudding and stuff like that but it’s really not good for you is it. Fruit would be good for health reasons…I am eating raspberries and blackberries today on the way to the airport. Honest!
3) I recall picking up a copy of Hot Coins ‘Valiant Truth EP’ in Phonica round about 2008, when you guys put out a few EP’s if I recall… why such a long break from then till ‘Geek Emotions’ ? a conscious decision, or purely circumstance?
A bit of both. I didn’t want to be part of the Nu Disco boom as I thought the quality control was really bad with a lot of the music being released and I got tired of having to be so ‘musical’ within my productions. There’s quite a lot of melody in the early Hot Coins stuff and I wasn’t sure if I could sustain that kind of sound without repeating myself and making the things which made me stand out clichés in the end. I am always influenced by the records that I buy so if you trace my musical path you can work out what was floating my boat over the last few years. It’s only 5 years since I put out the first Hot Coins EP on Society Records but my taste has been through so many changes since then. I made most of the music on the new Hot Coins album quite some time ago but it took me ages to mix it down. Then I was going to self release it and Sonar Kollektiv were interested but it took a year to finally get released due to artwork and finalizing delays. I think the album came out when it was meant to, as I formed a band to perform it live with amazing musicians which I couldn’t have done while living in the UK. There’s been 3 singles and the album on Sonar Kollektiv to add to the 2 singles and 3 remixes by Hot Coins before the SK stuff so the discography has expanded quite a bit since 2008.
I am really happy with the new Hot Coins album ‘The Damage Is Done’. It showcases my take on disco, punk funk, EBM and electro music. It has a house undercurrent which has translated really well with the live shows. Our third ever live performance was on the main stage at the Garden Festival in Croatia on the saturday night so I am really excited about the future of Hot Coins!
4) You’ve obviously released on your own as Red Rack ‘em… which style of making music do you prefer; working on your own personal material, or jamming as part of a band?
It’s hard to say really as there are pluses and minuses with both situations. It’s really nice working with the band as we all get on really well and there’s a good bond. But I’m not used to being in charge of a project with more than myself involved so it’s hard not to feel the pressure and responsibility sometimes. The guys all speak to each other in German quite a lot which can make me feel a bit isolated. Mein deutsch ist nicht so shlecht aber es ist nicht prima und mein verstehen ist nicht so gut. More motivation fuer deutsch lernen. But overall it’s been a breath of fresh air, and it’s been rewarding to hear the songs I wrote in the studio being played live by amazing musicians.
I was really de-motivated with the Red Rack’em productions over the last year or so. I just wanted to DJ and have fun. I still do!… but I realized that you have to keep releasing stuff to remain relevant so it’s back to the studio for me, sigh… I’m not one of these nerdy producers who’s in the studio all the time. It’s not always the best job if you’re a social person. My focus has been on the Hot Coins album for most of last year so I found it hard to work on stuff in the studio. Prior to the album release, there was loads of work to do to prepare it for mastering. Then there was the cover photos, choosing remixers, design, press campaign and all that. Even though it was released on Sonar Kollektiv, I had a very hands on approach which meant I created as much work as if I had released it myself. Probably more because I had to consult plenty of other people in the process.
Getting the band together was 6 months of hard work preparing for the album launch party in February and I really enjoyed the change of direction and working with the guys in the band. However, I wasn’t expressing my studio side much and now that the band is ready to play and the album is out, I feel really motivated to make music again on my own. Which is a great feeling. So I am hard at work finishing off several tracks right now and enjoying the feeling of making music again. I am back!
5) The smugglers inn podcast is one of our favourites, primarily because of the diversity of the music on offer, but also because you’re clearly very passionate about it too…. how on earth do you find the time to listen to everything? and also, what do you look for in a “good” track?
Well firstly I want to apologize for my regular Facebook rants about the terrible music which people send me every day. However in my defense, I often feel like I work at the audio equivalent of a sewage treatment works, sifting through peoples musical waste to present palatable music for people who have real jobs! I know most people would think I shouldn’t be complaining about getting sent loads of free music, but believe me when you have 400 promos to check every fortnight and you know that about 390 of them will be garbage, you don’t feel so lucky. So I have to say that making the radio show doesn’t feel as easy or exciting as it used to but I still get a feeling of pride when I listen back to the podcast. I can hear how my presenting has improved and people often compliment me on the sound of my voice which is really flattering. It seems to be quite popular with the ladies! I primarily listen to the show as a consumer to hear the music that I chose as I don’t really have time to sit down and enjoy music anymore. Boo hoo… In terms of finding time to listen to everything, these days I simply don’t have the time. I have to do some pretty savage deleting sessions in my email every few weeks.
The effect of the radio show can be pretty severe. It’s hard to work out what a good track is anymore when you have listened to 300 tracks which are at best ‘ok’. I find the best stuff always comes direct from the producers and labels. Most of the music I play is made by people who I am personally friends with. I am not playing it because we’re mates. We’re friends because of the style/quality of their music. There’s a big difference. When there’s a pr company involved I would say there’s only about a 20% chance the music is good. When you look at the reality of the overall of quality of most hyped dance music today, it soon becomes obvious that the stuff which has money invested in the promotion is generally lacking in real artistic merit. The music is just a carrier for marketing the artists so they can get performance work. I think the music which seems to be getting all the attention right now can at best be described as ‘grey’. I personally find this quite depressing as I hear so much amazing music being made by artists who can’t get a decent outlet because they are not interested in kissing ass on the internet to get a record deal or a gig.
The internet has definitely enabled ambitious people with pretty much zero musical skills to become successful by manufacturing interest in themselves through stats. The audience look at the play counts on youtube and soundcloud and say ‘oh it must be good then’. Imagine a world without the playcounts. All we would have is the music….I don’t write my music with stats and I don’t go and see people DJ because of stats but sadly there’s a lot of people out there who ‘don’t have the time’ to explore music enough to find the good stuff. I regularly get hassled for playlists because people ‘don’t have the time’ to listen to my mixes or find the music themselves. It’s pretty fucking lame I think. If you don’t have time to find the music yourself then don’t try to be a DJ.
It’s hard to say what I am looking for in a track really. I would say some kind of jazzyness, musical innovation or a roughness in the sound which is part of the production aesthetic. Atonalism, idiosyncratic rhythms, soul, halcyon vibes, musicality… I can only really use descriptive words really – tracks have either got ‘it’ or they don’t. My background is very UK based I would say. Hip hop, broken beat, jazz funk, drum and bass, garage, bass music, reggae, real deep house music etc – so being exposed to high quality, loose, swing based atmospheric music has given me certain expectations which I guess are the building blocks for the sound of the Smugglers Inn radio show.
I hear tons of well produced bland dance music which sounds ‘ok’ to a lot of people but I personally can’t play stuff which just ‘works’ anymore as there’s too much of it about. I find it far more interesting to play weird, challenging music which makes a difference. I often find the tracks I worry about playing because I think they are too weird are often the ones which people respond to best.
I feel incredibly lucky to be sent stuff by up and coming artists and labels when it’s good music of course. It means a lot that they choose me as the person to offer their music early support. When I DJ, I try to play as much unreleased music as possible and I often play things which aren’t even finished yet and let the artists know how the mixdown is sounding and if the crowd react to it.
6) You recently took the ‘Coins on tour to the Garden Festival in Croatia, how did it go?
It was without a doubt one of the most uplifting experiences of my life! There was something magical in the air at the Garden Festival this year, the main thing being the awesome mix of people working and partying at the festival. The whole trip was a dream. It was our first gig outside of Berlin and it definitely felt like a new chapter for me as I am used to travelling to gigs on my own, and I was with a large group of people from Berlin from the Wilden Renate crew, which was quite fitting as they had hosted our album launch party. It was awesome to be in a bit of a crew and I think it was a good bonding session for Hot Coins. Highlight has to be us all dancing in the DJ booth together at Barbarellas while Futureboogie and Crazy P dropped amazing tunes as the sun rose on the Monday morning. Dave Harvey played the Prince Language edit of ‘Up All Night’ by the Boomtown Rats and my little heart nearly burst with tearful joy. It was by far the ‘moment’ of the festival. No words for it.
I was really happy with our performance. It was the biggest stage we had played on so far and the guys played really well. The audience response was amazing. People really got into the music and I think I managed to do a good job of entertaining the crowd while singing. I was really pleased to see loads of my mates in the crowd including Toby Tobias, Crazy P, Cityfly, Tristan Da Cuhna and it really meant a lot to see them in the audience as I known them all for years and their support means a lot. Also on a personal level, I put the whole thing together last year in Berlin and wrote all the tracks, so it was amazing to hear it being played in such a beautiful location. Danielle from Crazy P was particularly positive about our performance and said some lovely things to me after the show. I had watched her perform a masterclass in front person skills the night before with Crazy P so once again, it means a lot to me!
7) One of our residents, Pat (slothboogie), was playing out there and he has nothing but love for the festival. What is it you think that makes it so special?
What can I say about the festival? Boat parties, secret island parties, an outdoor hacienda style venue where you can dance until dawn, beautiful girls and guys in swimwear everywhere, the friendliest most up for it crowd ever, caring artist liaison, amazing sound systems, awesome seafood… The people behind it are really lovely as well – it’s so refreshing to go somewhere and be treated like a friend and an artist rather than be on the guest DJ conveyor belt. The other brilliant thing for me was that about 70% of the line up were personal friends of mine who I don’t see so often so it was awesome to re-connect with people like Crazy P, Futureboogie, Brawther, Cityfly, PBR, Toby Tobias, Tristan Da Cuhna, James Holroyd, Andy Bicep and many more. So many laughs…so much fun…I also realized how much I miss the people from the UK. I love Berlin but I sometimes feel like I am at musical boarding school. I left all my mates behind and did something on my own which was awesome but you can’t beat the banter of good UK people. I hung out with so many amazing people there. So much love and kindness. Made me feel really lucky and I realized that my music has made a difference so I feel way more motivated from the trip. Thank you Garden Festival!
8) You’ve released under a whole host of monikers down the years… what do you have in store over the coming months?
Red Rack’em wise there’s quite a lot of stuff coming up. The next single is ‘I Trusted You’ on PTN/Ramp which is a total banger about my experiences with girls in Berlin. It’s pretty dark and heavy techno. The B side of that is ‘Converse’ which follows on from ‘Chirpsin’ last year as it’s more on the UK funky tip. I’ve got a single coming out on Cityfly in autumn and it’s a mixture of old and new. ‘Zoned’ is the A side and it’s something I did years ago for Bergerac which never came out. I guess it’s kind of afro techno deep house. It’s a bit out there hence the title. The other side is ‘Brazilian Nuts’ which is brand new. It’s rolling uk garage wobble house with latin samples in it. I am doing a lot of stuff with garagey style ‘wob’ bass and latin samples right now. It seems to be working. DJ Nature is remixing ‘Zoned’ for this record as well which is cool. I’ve also nearly completed my first single for my good friend Richard Zepezauers label N-SYDE. The tracks are ‘Alone At Night’ which is a proper soulful number featuring vocals from Charli James. I was supposed to be working on music with Inkswel (Charli’s boyfriend) in Melbourne and he was too tired so I wrote a beat in about 10 mins and then went out and got pissed with the Jenson twins while Charli recorded vocals and piano. If only it was this easy normally. The other side is ‘Love Beat’ which is pretty lovey dovey I think. It has a languid Rhodes lick being sliced and diced and is pretty hip hop, as I robbed most of the samples from a Madlib mix. The big one for me release wise is ‘In Love Again 2013’ which should be out soon. I have been tweaking the final mix as I want to get it right. I sped it up to 122 bpm and it has more swing now so should appeal to a few garage heads I think too. Remix wise I have some exciting stuff too. I remixed ‘Club Therapy’ by Peace Division for Dogmatik and it’s turned out into a right banger. I have also just about finished my remix of ‘Barry 2’ by Frits Wentink for Triphouse Rotterdam and I am really happy with it. I was an early supporter of the original track so it was great to get to remix it. I also remixed ‘CUAGAIN’ by Ajukaja and Maria Minerva and it should be coming out on Porridge Bullet’ pretty soon. I used a lot of the original track as the samples were so good. I am excited about this remix as it’s pretty wonky and out there.
Hot Coins wise – the second single from the album ‘New Beat’ was out recently with a great remix from Ron Basejam and we’re hard at work writing the second album. I have got loads of ideas for tracks and it’s going to be more sleazy this time.
9) Much like myself, you cut your teeth on the clubbing scene in Edinburgh during the late 90’s, early 00’s…. how do you think that scene has helped shape who you are today?
I guess the hedonism was my main inspiration as I didn’t always hear great music in the clubs I went to. I was part of a crusty techno crew who went to Lift and Purple Moon and the emphasis was more on partying for 3 days than the music being fresh. I did go to nights like Pure, Sativa, Tribal Funktion and Manga where the music was a bit better but I always found the Edinburgh club scene to be lacking a certain something so I was glad to move to Bristol in 1997 to embrace the strong drum and bass scene there. I have always loved music of black origin, and I found the English club scene more in synch with my music tastes in the 90s. I know there are plenty of great DJs in Scotland these days but I didn’t come into contact with many of them when I was in Edinburgh sadly. I was much more impressed by the hip hop and jazz funk scene from when I first moved to Edinburgh in 1995. Groups like Blackanized, 3 Bag Brew and Freshly Squeezed were making amazing stoner beats and it was mindblowing to hear them play at places like Negotiants, The Venue or Café Graffiti when a year before I had been listening to Tribe Called Quest Tapes in my bedroom at my parents house in a small Scottish fishing village. I think my party attitude was certainly shaped by Edinburgh as it was pretty wild so I guess that’s been an influence in my music. The amazing hip hop scene was a real inspiration as well. You can hear all that stuff in my music today nearly 20 years later.
10) You’ve been in Berlin for a number of years now, do you harbour any ambition to return in the near future? or has the Berlin bug sunk its teeth deep?
I would love to come back to the UK but I would need a lot of money to have the same lifestyle so I don’t know how it’s possible unless I become a lot more commercially successful as an artist. I don’t want to change the way I make music and I quite like the mellow lifestyle in Berlin. I could do with shifting up a gear or 2 though so who knows. The band is based here and I am really excited about the prospect of working with them over the next few years so I think I will be in Berlin for a while. It does seem like the type of music I have been involved with for years suddenly became big in the UK around the time I left, which is a bit annoying but I really had to leave in 2011 so I try to keep that in mind. Berlin has been an amazing adventure and I am really grateful for all the great people I have met. But I do miss the UK. I’m actually writing this on the train back from Thurso in the North of Scotland where I’ve just enjoyed an amazing 5 day break in remote Caithness. I stayed in a bothy which had no power or water and climbed Ben Loyal which was over 2500 feet. My first mountain! It was a tough climb. We walked over 20k in 6 hours most of which was uphill. I had to make one move at about 2200 feet which wasn’t that hard for an experienced climber but I had no rope or anything and I would have died if I slipped. I did it but I really thought I was gonna die and got the fear for about 5 mins. Was pretty hardcore but I think I can do it again now I have done it once.
Berlin or London…It’s a tough one… Ideally I would spend more time in the UK but I only really visit when I have DJ bookings. I play way more in Berlin now than the UK which is a shame as I play more ‘UK’ music I think. Invite me back a bit more please folks ;)
Hot Coins Album Launch Documentary
Hot Coins Boiler Room Documentary
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