Nottingham (UK) Producer and DJ Danny Berman aka Red Rack’em/Hot Coins had a pretty hectic 2009 with appearances at Gilles Petersons Worldwide Awards, Snowbombing, Matter, Glastonbury and Big Chill as well as releasing many records on several different labels including Tirk, Deep Freeze, Untracked and Autodiscoteque. He’s an acclaimed remixer for artists such as Tricky, The Revenge, Ron Basejam, The Joubert Singers and is no slouch behind the turntables either.
Danny is also a respected radio broadcaster and his fortnightly Smugglers Inn podcasts (available at http://www.redrackem.com or search itunes for ‘smugglers inn’) are eagerly downloaded by leftfield beat heads from across the globe. You can tune in live every second Wednesday @ http://www.myhouse-yourhouse.net from 7-9pm GMT. The show is also syndicated to the Big Chill radio station Purple Radio.
We’ve had a look through your blog and read your interviews, you are a very busy man Mr Berman.
Thank you. I try. I still feel like I don’t do enough tbh. I wish I was as productive at releasing music as I am at making it.
How do you juggle it all?
With difficulty! I am pretty happy with the standard of music that I make and my djing but I have been finding it hard to know exactly what to do sometimes. It’s all the strategic stuff that I find hard. Do I focus on singles? Do I work on the bloody albums? Do I push my radio show more? Do I try to do more mixes? Do I try to do more networking? Or do I just fuck it all off and do it tomorrow?
I find the organisation the toughest challenge – I honestly think I have made too much music. I have lost many tracks through forgetting that I even made them. But it’s been good training. It’s good to be able to make something and then lose it forever in some ways.
Run us through what a day in the life of Red Rack’em is like, a sort of day out your diary.
Well there’s no such thing as a typical day of course. I could be writing more unfinished tracks (groan), in the gym (not that you would tell), doing a mix, doing more soul destroying networking on the net, recording my radio show, doing a remix, updating my website, updating my facebook group, downloading millions of crap tunes to sift through for my radio show, traveling to or from a gig, writing lyrics, down in London working in studios. Or I could be sat in town all day drinking coffee and moaning to my mates about how hard it is working in the music industry.
You DJ, produce under a few different aliases for different genre’s, host a radio show, put on events and run your blog/website. What do you do other than this music stuff, do you have any other hobbies, what do you do in your spare time… if you have any?
Well the downside with being self employed as I am sure many people can relate to, is the fact that you don’t feel like you have ANY spare time. You’re either doing the stuff you have to do. Or worrying about not doing it. But conversely you also have loads of spare time as you can pretty much drop anything if you want to. I should be working on loads of stuff right now.
My spare time is spent trying to go to the gym to reverse the last 15 years of not going to the gym. I go out for lunch quite a lot which is obviously not helping at the gym. I see my girlfriend when I can. We’re both pretty busy which is handy sometimes and annoying too on occasions. I think I have gone past the point of having any spare time from music. My idea of taking time off from music is putting records away from gigs and stuff like that. No wonder I am bored.
As is stated in your bio, 2009 was a big year… your turning point where it all started happening for you, even though it seems you’ve been doing this for a long long time.
Yeah – it was a great year. 2009 was ace. I got to play at loads of festivals. Had some well received records out and best of all I fell in love.
Yeah. I have been at it for years but the skills I picked up along the way have stood me in good stead. Years of robot djing for money have made me a lot more professional on the decks and years of robot producing have taught me a lot and given me the opportunity to make many different types of music, with pretty consistent results.
Run us through the timeline. What years did you first start DJing, producing, your first signing, your first remix, your first gig, your first gig abroad, your first interview/podcast.
Gosh… Well, I am a musician first and foremost so I have been playing/making music since I was put on lead glockenspiel in primary school aged 6. My obsession with Hip Hop began in the late 80s so by 1990 I was making pause tapes on my sharp ghetto blaster that could do overdubs and began trying to scratch on a variety of turntables from around 1992. The band that I was in at the time (The Wizards Of The Spinal Church) was based in the East Neuk Of Fife and we were totally lost in music. We made music in morning break, at lunch, after school, all weekend.. It truly was our saviour, as the area of Scotland we grew up in was culturally bleak to say the least. We were making primitive hip hop and experimental music using 4 tracks, records and synths from around 1992. This was after a couple of years of playing standard band funk/rock/psych kind of stuff. We were heavily influenced by Parliament/Funkadelic, early Red Hot Chili Peppers/Faith No More, quality underground Hip Hop, 60’s psychedelic music and skate rock.
I got my first set of decks in 1994 and played my first gig in 1995 as support for The Wizards in Anstruther Church hall. Our gigs were legendary for the bad behaviour of our crowds as we were basically providing an indoor space in a draconian fishing village for teenage wasters to get high in. We got banned from every single church hall in the area, gig by gig. I blew the soundsystem they had hired before the gig though so I was popular that night as you can imagine. I was playing Brooklyn Zoo by ODB in a remote Scottish fishing village though so I think those kind of cultural services give me an automatic pardon for my system blowing antics. Then my next gig was playing in Edinburgh at a techno night at Moray House in Edinburgh – these were the days when I saw DJing as something I fitted around getting wrecked so my early gigs were pretty dire I reckon. I played a fair bit in Edinburgh after I moved there in 1995. Mainly messy nights where no one cared about the tunes or the mixing. I was hanging around with a bunch of techno crusties at the time so the music was awful but the parties went on for days.
My band was recording in proper studios in Edinburgh by this point and we got on a compilation album called ‘Blunted 2’ which was the second album in a series which featured Edinburgh hip hop/dance groups (you can hear me on the drums aged 19 here – http://www.discogs.com/Various-Blunted-2/release/21997 – it’s track 5). So I guess I was producing then – but more as a musician than on the desk. We incorporated a lot of sampling aesthetics into our tracks. Moving to Bristol in 1997 was a turning point as I moved into a house with a studio and began making skunked out drum and bass and getting to grips with Cubase and some synths.
I didn’t get my own computer until 2000 and that was thanks to a Princes Trust loan. So I guess that was kind of year zero for me as I am now. I was pretty poor all the way through my 20’s as I didn’t really agree with mainstream employment but looking back it’s kind of been worth it. I got to absorb a lot of good music and parties.
I think my first gig abroad was in Sarajevo as the tour DJ for my friends band Skinny Sumo in 2004. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. We played at a festival in the United Nations peace keeper area of the city for loads of students and it was my first experience of Eastern European bohemian culture. I loved it. We flew to Salzberg and were met by our driver, a massive Bosnian ex soldier who spoke no English but drove us for about 14 hours in a people carrier South through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. It was an amazing way to see the countryside and we all got leathered all the way there. When things got too rowdy he would subdue us by playing Bosnian ethno trance music full blast on the stereo. I also played a gig on a radio station which was in the national television centre – which was an amazing soviet concrete monolith. I think that was my first ever radio gig too. When I got back to the place where the gigs were on, they had tuned into the show and played it through big speakers so everyone had heard me play! I could write a book about that trip. Memories.
From when you started making music, how long was it before you were truly happy with a song? Was it signed?
I don’t think I have ever been happy with a song tbh. I find that 2-3 years later, I grow to accept them but I usually have issues with them for at least a year after they are complete. That’s before we have even got to the pressing stage. That’s a whole new world of pain for me. I guess I must have been happy with the Smugglers Inn hip hop remix series I produced from 2004 to 2006 as I felt confident enough to release them myself. So I guess that must have been the point when I felt like I had something worth putting out. I am really proud of the first Hot Coins EP for Society as I think it’s a really strong set of tracks. I can’t really find many faults with them nowadays.
How did you go about getting your first release signed?
Solid State signed my first tracks to his then label Society Records. I left a CD round his house one day and about 2 years later he said he wanted to put the tracks out. This was in the middle of 2007. I wrote most of the Hot Coins stuff around 2004 when I was enjoying the re-emergence of Disco. So he picked 4 tracks from the CD and asked me to finish them off. I am really proud of that record as I said before. I think it’s the most densely ‘musical’ record I have released so far. The second Hot Coins EP on Tirk is quite similar in style and density and I am warming to the Hot Coins project again after the last 2 years of total House obsession.
How do you get releases signed now?
Well to my fault I guess I have never sent much stuff out. I have never sent anything to labels that I probably should have like Planet E, Philpot, Quintessentials or Real Soon. So nearly everything which has been released so far has come from people approaching me. Probably not the most strategic way to go about things but I like working with people that I can communicate with. I have known Tubbs from Untracked/Heads Down for years. I have known Solid State for years. I have known the Home Taping lot for years. A lot of it’s come from people close to me wanting to releases my stuff. Simple as that really.
I am really looking forward to running my own label so that I can have more control over the way things are done. But with the volume and range of music I have got to release, I am still going to have to release on other labels. I guess I should start sending some stuff out really…
What is your process in making beats, do you just fuck around for hours and see what comes out? Or do you have a clear idea of what you’re going to do when you start making something?
I used to just switch my mac on and go for it. But these days I do tend to stop and have a think about what mood I am in. Setting the BPM seems to have the most influence on what I make. A lot of my tracks have been 120 because that’s the default setting on Logic and I have never got round to changing it. I am more interested in raw writing most of the time rather than worrying about the style. It’s pretty compulsive. Most of the music I make it directly influenced by what I am listening to and playing out a lot at the time I make it. I hardly ever sit down and think ‘I have to make a house track today’. The idea of doing different projects was to create a filing system for the tracks. So I guess I sometimes think ‘this is a Hot Coins track’ but apart from that I have no idea before I start usually.
Do you have any musical training?
I don’t have any classical training but I taught myself how to play drums from the age of 12 and then bass guitar from 14 and spent many hours as a teenager jamming with a large group of musicians in and around Anstruther, Fife from 1990 – 1995. There was a floating bunch of us who were all in several bands (often shortlived) at the same time and I view those inspirational, improvisational and communal times as my true musical training. We used to go into the music department at Waid Academy (out high school) every lunch time and pick up whatever instrument took our fancy that day and give it a crack. I also view my 16 years as a DJ as musical training as I have absorbed so many styles of music which I feel has underpinned my own production values. You can learn so much from listening to music, good and bad.
Describe the first party you went to that played electronic/dance/rave music and how it made you feel.
I have very dim memories of going to a party at my sisters house in St Andrews in 1990 (or perhaps even earlier) and it being a full on rave session full of football casual blokes who were totally loved up and girls with not much on (it was pretty hot in there from what I remember). I am sure the music was probably pretty awful but I remember loving the atmosphere and thinking ‘this is for me’. I was 14 so it made an impression on me that’s for sure. That party was pivotal in me becoming involved in dance music.
We know you have loads going on at the moment, so please tell us all about what you have coming up.
Big news from me is that I am starting my own label ‘Bergerac’ with the first release ‘How I Program’ coming out in September. The label will initially be a platform for my own house releases. I was all set for release in June but I have got too much stuff coming out at the same time (see below) so I decided to wait (even longer) and do it in September. The Bergerac artwork is all hand drawn by German illustrator Silke Eiselt. I have asked her to draw pictures of all the houses I have lived in and these will appear chronologically on each release. You can’t get much more fucking house than that can you?
I am also putting together a compilation album of tracks selected from my releases so far called ‘Red Rack’em – The Early Years’ which should be out at the same time as the first single. That will be a CD with some exclusive tracks and a digital release as well. Just putting that together now and the artwork is going to be loads of old family photos as a metaphor for the early years of my music production.
I have got a single out right now on Shift Music. The tracks are ‘Undergroud’ and ‘Exhalt’. That’s just appeared in the shops. Underground is big room Detroit house/techno, Exhalt is a deeper house track. My Hot Coins remix of ‘Voices’ by Ron Basejam has just come out digitally on ISM and I am hoping it makes it on the vinyl EP too. I tried to follow on from my Joubert Singers remix on it and I think it’s one of my most accessible tracks to date. I am really proud of it.
At the end of June I have my debut EP on Hometaping Is Killing Music. The tracks are called ‘Pressure’ and ‘Back Home’. There’s a Kez YM remix of Pressure too. I have remixed a track by Chris Coco called ‘My Beach House’ in a soulful 2 step style and that’s coming out on Big Chill Recordings at the end of June.
My radio show has just been syndicated to Motion FM which is great – check http://www.motionfm.com/ for more details. I will be joining Charles Webster, Patrice Scott, Michael Ruetten and Fred P on there so I really pleased to get my show on there.
I am making my debut at the Garden Festival in Croatia too in July which I am excited about. I will be playing on the Basement Boogaloo Boat Party on 9th July and then at the Beach Club at the festival itself on the 10th July.
Still working on the Hot Coins and Marlinspike albums. Been adding vocals to them both – hopefully they will both be finished sometime this year.
1 – Wouda Boogie – The Hangout (Dopeness Galore)
2 – Boohgaloo Zoo – No Joke (Juju + Jordash Remix) (Lovemonk)
3 – James Duncan – You And Me (Real Soon)
4 – Lady Blacktronika – Another Man (Untitled And After)
5 – Ame – ToNite (Dub Version) (Recreation)
6 – Mark E – Special FX (MERC)
7 – Theo Parrish – JB’s Edit (Peacefrog)
8 – Red Rack’em – Back Home (Hometaping Is Killing Music)
9 – 77 Productions – Yeah (Optex)
10 – A Made Up Sound – Funkstation (Cdr)
11 – Leroy And Darnell – Drumsfelds Day Out (Sonar Kollectiv)
12 – Negghead – Gettin’ So (Wax On)
13 – Red Rack’em – Place For Me (Autodiscoteque)
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