You'll probably know Danny Berman best for last year's world beating "Wonky Bassline Disco Banger," which is one of those records that manages to slide itself effortlessly into pretty much every decent set going. It took Berman a quarter of a century to make it big, and now he's ready to reap the rewards.
This month sees the release of Self Portrait, the first full length release on his own Bergerac imprint under his Red Rack'em guise. The record, which features the likes of Rick Wade—is a kaleidoscopic run through an unabashedly pleasure-focused musical landscape, sort of an aural companion to the bright and oddly-delicious environments that Super Mario finds himself hopping about in.
THUMP contributor and wonky house aficionado Scott Oliver had a chat with big Red himself, so check out the fantastic album and that interview in full below. Don't say we never treat you...
THUMP: We have to start with "Wonky Bassline Disco Banger". When did you get an inkling it might take off? And what have been the weirdest and most pleasant moments in the track's 'journey'?
Red Rack'em: Well, the funny thing about that track is I made it after being awake for at least 48 hours during a typically crazy Berlin weekend in September 2014. I played it to my good friend Chris Tubbs amongst many other demo tracks while on tour in New Zealand in November 2014 and he was like, "That's the big one right there". He said the same thing about the demo for "In Love Again" in 2009 and he was right then, too. Being a dour Scot and not exactly filled with inspiration by the current lack of meritocracy within the dance scene, I wasn't convinced. But it's been played on Radio 1 about 40 times now and is still being hammered every weekend a year after it was released, so I had to eat my words.
Weirdest moment? Probably hearing that Elton John played it on his Beats 1 radio show. Most pleasant moment is a tie between finding out that it was officially the biggest selling record of 2016 at Juno and then one week later being awarded Record of the Year by Phonica. A little birdie telling me that Moodymann bought a copy in Phonica was pretty sweet as well!
It must have felt like the culmination of a lot of hard worK?
Absolutely. I've been DJing since 1994 and making music since 1990, so it's been a long and eventful journey to get to this stage. I devoted many years 'training' myself in the underground dance music lifestyle and I count myself very lucky to have had some amazing musical highlights along the way. This 'living for the music' experience has always been my mantra and guiding force. During my 20s, I spent many years as an institutionalized, unemployed person living on the fringes of society. Through a long process of Prince's Trust grants, music journalism, college and learning everything through trial and error, I slowly managed to build up my skills and experience. I couldn't even afford new records when I started regularly DJing in bars around 2000, so I had to borrow some of my flatmate Tom's collection just to get started. I had previously only played sporadic club gigs. A couple of years later I was on 350 quid a week just from bar gigs in Nottingham spending most of it on building up my record collection. Happy days!
Is there a temptation, when you've just made such a big hit, to try and replicate the formula?
I have never made music with anyone else in mind apart from myself. I simply can't make the same record twice. I find it hard to motivate myself to produce sometimes as it's very time consuming and requires a lot of concentration and discipline. I had a love/hate relationship with Wonky as it took me a year to finish off after I made the initial demo. That's why the track is so long—there were so many cool different sections and I didn't want to drop them, so I had to somehow make the arrangement work despite there being loads of changes. It was just languishing on my hard drive as 'the tune': the one you know you have to finish but just can't face working on. I would love to make another Wonky, as it's really changed everything for me and brought some fantastic opportunities my way and will continue to do so. However, the whole reason I made that track was because I didn't give a fuck. Trying to do it again would be insane. I can't make a track like that to order as several remix commissioners have since discovered!
Do you ever have to fight the urge to go too far with the wonk? Is this a sort of point of creative tension that you have to keep an eye on, to make sure you don't go too far off piste, or does each track just develop according its own 'logic'?
Well, the limit is my creativity level and that's often defined by the samples I'm using or my lack of knowledge or skill with the software. I think developing certain techniques, like crude pitchshifting, and gaining the confidence to use them more in the forefront of my music has enabled me to be more blatant with the wonk. Look at what Dilla and Madlib did with hip hop. Why can't we do that with other forms of dance music? Hip hop is at the forefront of my influences. Doing a straight boring disco house tune that 'works' would send me to sleep. The wonky stuff is just me trying to make it more interesting for me.
What was the worst thing about making the album?
I had a really tough 2015 as I undertook some big lifestyle changes, which had a destabilizing effect on my emotions. At the same time, I was falling in love and trying to work out how to be in a relationship after being single for most of my time in Berlin. I was going out to deepest darkest Marzahn in East Berlin to finish off my album. Marzahn is a super-bleak neighborhood which got flattened by the Russians when they were coming into Berlin at the end of the war. My friends Falscher Bart have a nice room in an old GDR office building which has over 100 studios in it. Although it was a great place to go and work, it was a 40-minute cycle each way and the weather was pretty awful most days. Often I couldn't motivate myself to go to the studio until 3pm, so it was a real struggle to make it to there.
And the best?
Getting the test pressings and hearing the whole thing in one go instead of just seeing it as a collection of tracks. It was also great to work with so many talented people putting the whole thing together. They know who they are.
Lastly, what are your deepest hopes for the LP? What do you want it to do: for you, for DJs, for dancers, for home listeners?
I just want to express myself and my taste in music. To share what 25 years of being a musician and experimenting with many different forms of music can sound like. I know to some people it's just a house album. But for me it's got my whole life story wrapped up in there.
Self-Portrait by Red Rack'em is out on Bergerac on the 17th of February.