In Conversation with: Red Rack’em
Written by James Zaremba on 28th November 2017
“Music is all about atmosphere…atmosphere can traverse good drum&bass, good house music, any genre really. The problem with music today is that a lot of people are copying a template for perceived success, they don’t have any atmosphere in their tracks. If you have no atmosphere, if you’ve had no life experience, then it will show in your music.”
Having released music as Red Rack’em for just under ten years, Berlin-based producer and DJ, Daniel Berman, speaks from a colourful history as a determinedly eclectic musician. Growing up on a diet of Bristolian club culture in the mid-to-late 90s, it is unsurprising that Daniel finds himself motivated by an endless desire to evolve his sound, on stage and in the studio. With the success of 2016’s ‘Wonky Bassline Disco Banger’ earning him a spot in everyone’s record bags this summer, Daniel has garnered praise from the likes of The Black Madonna, Moodymann and even Elton John. In 2017, Daniel has built upon this with the release of his second LP, Self Portrait, with an accompanying tour taking him as far as New Zealand and Bali. Amid this hectic schedule, Melodic Distraction’s James Zaremba caught up with the man known as Red Rack’em to talk wonky basslines, internet radio and life on the road…
Daniel, I’ve been checking out your touring schedule on Resident Advisor, you’ve had an incredibly busy year! Where are you now and what have your last few months been like?
I’ve been very busy so I’m currently having a very much needed bit of home time, I’ve been playing pretty much every weekend since the end of August. Most weekends I have two gigs so it’s been hectic and I’ve lost so much sleep. It’s not a case of having a late night or two and then feeling better a few days later; it’s week-after-week and it does eventually take its toll! But it’s something that I’ve always been working towards; I’m a touring DJ and I love playing across the world. It’s kind of the thing I dreamed of when I was younger. There will always be pitfalls with anything in life but at the end of the day, getting to travel and meet new people is an amazing experience.
You just came back from South East Asia and Australia right? How’s that part of the world treating you these days?
I just did that leg of my ‘Self-Portrait’ album tour. I played in Bali, Australia and New Zealand. It was amazing to get out there again. The Melbourne party I did in September for Novel is up there with the best gigs I’ve ever done in Australia. It was day-time, in a warehouse and I played super underground house, disco, EBM, techno, broken beat and garagey stuff for three hours and I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. It’s gigs like that I wish I could play every weekend. In the end, what I’ve learnt from touring is that you can play your ‘best’ everywhere but in the end, it’s all about the crowd and their reaction. If they love you then great. If they don’t then maybe next time…
Life as a promoter can be quite hard out there. I’ve read that they need to book in big tours to justify all the overheads. I suppose it’s quite an accolade to get booked in Australia and New Zealand these days…
Exactly, it’s not that easy to just hop on a plane to Australia so I feel really grateful to have played there so many times since my first tour in 2011. I love going to the other side of the world because you can really feel how connected the music is, internationally, especially when people out there know about your different records. It also really provides a good sense of perspective to what’s going on in Europe – when you’re away for over a month you can get a great feeling of space.
You obviously had a huge year last year with ‘Wonky Bassline Disco Banger’ but now you’ve got a new album out, you’ve been included in a few Fabriclive mixes, plus you’re getting support from Elton John and Moodymann…How’s 2017 been?
To be honest, I haven’t really been able to follow what’s been going on in 2017 because it’s all been moving so fast. When you live in the eye of the storm, weekend-to-weekend, it can be hard to keep track.
It’s definitely been the best year for me as a DJ in terms of consistently playing every weekend and getting to play some really cool places. I played twice at XOYO which was amazing, they’re really supportive of all the people I look up to and respect in underground dance music. Getting to play at a place that books the likes of Pender Street Steppers, The Black Madonna, Beautiful Swimmers, Motor City Drum Ensemble felt quite important. Playing at Love International and Melt Festival in the summer was also a fantastic opportunity. I also really enjoyed my first time ever in Beirut at Decks On The Beach. It was so great to feel the result of having such a successful 2016; WBDB went completely crazy and it feels like that momentum hasn’t stopped since it came out.
Once I get home, my attention has to go straight to my production work. I have done eight remixes this year, which is way too many! I did 5 or 6 in February and March alone because I stupidly agreed to a load of them at the same time…
Does touring give you inspiration to get into the studio at all? I suppose there could be an energy or mood from a party you’d want to capture, then there’s always the road testing of new tracks and all that jazz?
Touring makes me think more about the type of music I want to play when I DJ, I don’t know if it really inspires me as a producer. The immediate gratification from an audience when DJing inspires me to want to play more and more and keep touring. I guess one thing which has definitely informed my productions is the way crowds respond to certain parts of tracks but I think that influence is quite subtle in my music.
What currently inspires me as a producer is listening to amazing music by the likes of; Minor Science, S.O.N.S. or Wajeed…I listen to that sort of stuff and sometimes think…”Damn, I suck…haha! I need to sort my game out!”
The thing that inspires me is just hearing really good music. I think of DJing and producing as very separate parts of my life. I find that my music as a producer seems to define what people expect of me as a DJ but I have made so many different styles of music I think that gives me a certain license to play what I want. Mr Scruff or Motor City Drum Ensemble are known for not playing the same type of music all night so I am inspired by their ethos, I don’t want to be known just for certain records or genres, I want to be thought of for what I represent. Good quality underground dance music.
Let’s chat about the new album – I was amazed that you had Rick Wade on there!?
It’s funny, I used to buy all Rick Wade’s records on Harmony Park and I really think that his early stuff, 96-02, had a big influence on me.
Rick wound up staying at my house for a few days while he was touring in Berlin. It was at the time I was doing my ‘Smugglers Inn’ radio show for myhouse-yourhouse.net. I was interviewing him and he told me all these amazing stories about Detroit. Proper, from the horse’s mouth stuff. Months later, I was listening back to it and he’s talking about music on it and how it made him feel as a child. I was making this house tune at the time and I just started using his vocals. He has such a rich, deep voice so it worked really well. I cut a bit where he says ‘the music’ out as a kind of chorus and then used different sections where he was describing how music made him feel. It fitted really well. It was never supposed to be a planned collaboration but he was totally cool with it. I think it’s the only track that Rick Wade has a vocal credit on!
I am super proud of ‘Self Portrait’ because it was a hell of a lot of work to put together and I really wanted to make something which was musically varied but without sounding disjointed. It’s a listening album as well as a DJ record. I wanted to make something people could listen to on the way to work as well as play in a club. I am also really happy I released it on my own label Bergerac as it gave me full creative control which is something you often lose with other labels.
Tracks on that album like ‘Madhouse’ really hold that old DnB and jungle vibes close to them. I know you used to DJ that stuff back in the day, does that sound still inform how you continue to make music today?
Yeah man, I moved to Bristol in 1995 from Edinburgh because I really loved DnB and jungle. I went from hard techno in Scotland that I wasn’t really feeling to going to see Roni Size and DJ Die regularly in Bristol…I loved it. I was a really serious junglist from about 94-01. People often make the mistake of just thinking of DnB as a really heavy genre, but listen to the intro to ‘Planet Dust’ by Bad Company and it’s much better than a lot of today’s Detroit influenced house music. It’s way more euphoric! Drum and bass took huge influence from Detroit techno and house and that in turn led me towards Moodymann and Theo Parrish. I am definitely influenced by 90s drum and bass with my sound design. It was jazzy as hell so that’s something which is in my DNA. Many days of raving which cannot be erased!
So if DJing doesn’t inspire you to produce you in a certain way, has going out to these spaces and having these experiences held any influence over you as a producer?
I know it sounds cliché but I honestly think that life, and living, is the best source of inspiration. I don’t think that success helps most musicians output at all. The danger with being successful is that it can take away the pressure to be innovative and replace it with a ‘team’ who need paying. This then leads to artistic compromises…if you want to make good music, keep ‘failing’!
Do you think in that light, that the success of WBDB put more pressure on you as a producer, DJ and even remixer? Have you since felt pressured to produce in a certain way?
Yeah, it was really, really hard. It was the biggest selling vinyl single of last year in dance music, the No.1 vinyl release on Juno. As a result, a lot of new people suddenly appeared, a lot of old people re-appeared too. It put a hell of a lot of pressure on me with people telling me what to do next, telling me how I can make more money. I had a few crossroads moments, for sure.
Without dropping the ball, I decided that I wasn’t so sure about jumping on that train. It’s the train of bigger clubs with less clued up crowds and a crazy lifestyle, I didn’t want to lose my underground values. I understand that I need to make a living; I want to play gigs and get offered remixes but I don’t want to have to change my music or integrity. WBDB was an anomaly because it was a really fucked up tune that somehow got popular. It felt like a lot of the people that liked WDBD didn’t know anything about my other music. I guess that’s the nature of a hit.
Do you think that through releasing WBDB on Bergerac, people will then go and dig back through the label?
I hope so. I’m really glad I released it on my own label. All those people that copped the record now have those two fucking weird tracks on the B-side, haha!
Having run your ‘Smugglers Inn’ radio show for a number of years, you’ve now migrated onto a regular slot on Rinse FM. Internet Radio is rising up in a big way at the moment, do you think that these stations have helped put underground electronic music on a higher platform in recent years?
After more then 10 years of producing my own radio show and podcast, it’s been great to be invited to contribute to Rinse. I have been a fan since the Dubstep heyday of 2006 and I never imagined I would end up with my own show 11 years later. I think that the freedom of internet radio has really brought back a sense of validity to artistry. At the end of the day, most of the ‘hot’ stations really are all about the music. They’re providing a platform for a really diverse range of music and now you get kids from Estonia listening to and making grime! I did the ‘Do! You!’ show with Charlie Bones on NTS earlier on this year and straight after we finished some goths turned up and played some really experimental music. There’s a real punk spirit to internet radio at the moment. They’re playing very fucked up music because that’s what they love and the hosts don’t seem to care what other people think. It has a very freeform vibe to it, and that’s maybe what’s missing in dance music! With the unprecedented amount of hate that there is on the internet right now, radio really feels like a safe haven.
Talk to us about the new release, ‘Place for Me / Exhalt.’ As I understand it, it’s an edit of a track you made a few years ago?
The cyclic nature of dance music means that there’s some stuff I made in the past that I really want to put out again. I originally made it in 2008 when it had a very, very small vinyl release. I remade ‘Place For Me’ for this record. It’s not radically different as I think the original was pretty good and I didn’t want to lose the vibe. The other side, ‘Exhalt,’ came out in 2009 on another label. The feedback on this one has been amazing, a lot of people don’t remember it and in my opinion, good music is timeless.
What was behind the decision behind adding the new bassline to ‘Place for Me?’
‘Place for Me’ was originally a cut up disco tune. I didn’t want to change it too much so I just put the wonky bass noise in it as a little signature. I want people to be bouncing to it and then hopefully hear that noise and think, “Oh, is that Red Rack’em?”
I just thought, “If I was making that now, what would I do?” I just wanted to add in a little reference to WBDB. This is something from 2008 so I think I kind of wanted to demonstrate the lineage towards that tune. There are plenty of pre-cursors if you look hard enough.
What is planned for 2018 and beyond?
I’m going to push forward with Bergerac. I’ve met loads of people on my travels and I’m getting more and more stuff sent through to my email. I’m really lucky that I’ve got a lot of stuff to release, from a lot of good people, the majority of whom are completely unknown. I don’t want to say who just yet because it’s not all complete and it can sometimes take people six to eight months to complete things. I’ve hopefully got about seven records coming out but it’s all at that tantalizing stage where nobody has quite sent in their final versions.
On a personal level, I’ve not been in the studio enough this year so I want to get out as many singles as I can. I want this new release to lead me into more music in 2018. I’m also planning to put out another LP. Of course, singles are less of a risk and less of an investment but I’ve got lots of tracks I want to put out on an album that wouldn’t necessarily fit an EP. An album really gives you the chance to test different moods.
Can I assume by this, that you’re going to be touring less next year?
The thing with touring is that it’s incredibly addictive. It’s like being in the mob and once you’re part of the family, you’re never truly ‘out’ are you? It’s bloody hard sometimes coming back after all those intensely validating experiences and then having to maintain your own sense of well being without all the excitement and adrenalin of touring. It makes normal life feel pretty grey sometimes. But on the other hand, it’s great to have the chance to rest and spend some time with my lovely, supportive wife who I have barely seen this year!
I’m going to buy a new MacBook so I can start producing on the road. I used to produce a lot on tour but I’ve become a bit complacent as the battery went in my old MacBook and I was too lazy to replace it. It was kind of liberating to get on the plane and just go to gigs with my iPhone but now is the time to get back into things. Otherwise, months just fall away and deadlines pass by. I want to start working on the move more…I don’t want to stop touring, my ambitions are getting higher and higher and now is the time to do bigger and better things!