Interview with Danny Howells (2009)
Mathias Haegglund caught up with him to find out the secrets of being dance music premier pace-setter, his plans for next year, and what he really wants for Christmas!
Dig Deeper boss Danny Howells has acquired a hard-earned reputation as one of dance music’s most reliable DJs and producers. Whereas for many the word 'reliable' can often signify a tendency to stick to one style and offer few surprises, Danny is different: he's maintained a fan-base through his consistent willingness to experiment and a taste for musical genres far beyond house & techno - as fans of his legendary Radio 1 Essential Selection mixes and Resident Advisor podcast this time last year can attest.
Saturday 19th December sees Howells return to matter for his second appearance at the venue this year, after his debut on Bedrock’s 11th Birthday in October. We caught up with him to find out the secrets of being dance musics' premier pace-setter, his plans for next year, and what he really wants for Christmas!
As is customary, everyone’s making their end of year lists - what’s stood out for you as your personal favorite moments of this year?
Off the top of my head I’ve got to say that a recent weekend I had in San Fran will go down in history for me – I did the LoveFest which was unreal, plus the craziest, most remote venue called The Compound, a daytime gig at the End Up with Lee Burridge, Craig Richards, etc, as well as an afterparty at Vessel followed by another afterparty. That particular weekend is now known by all that were there as The Epic!
There was another incredible weekend in Japan which I loved, two amazing gigs at Panorama Bar in Berlin, a gig in Beirut which knocked my socks off, and most recently a party in Pristina which I won’t forget. As far as home territory goes, Dig Deeper moved to the intimate Notting Hill Arts Club which is something I’m really looking forward to developing next year, and of course, the Bedrock night at matter was incredible!
What are your plans for next year, as a DJ and label boss?
As a DJ, I think I’ll carry on as I have been. I’ve slowed down on the relentless touring – I find I enjoy myself and play better and more confidently when I’m not wiping myself out for the sake of wiping myself out. I think I will be spending a bit more time in the States though, as it’s always been such an enjoyable experience for me, plus I always miss New York when I’m away from there for too long.
As a label boss? Well, part of the reason I was able to produce so much music this year was that I did make a real effort not to be away from home too much. I can occasionally get stuck into making music when I’m away, but normally I’m much more inspired when I’m in my own comfort zone.
I have no grand scheme other than to try and improve my production, and to try my hand in areas I haven’t gone before. I’m frequently getting drum and bass mixes done because I love that style so much, maybe one day soon I’ll get to do my own drum and bass track. Whether or not anyone will get to hear it though … we’ll have to wait and see!
You’ve built yourself a rep for being one of the best warm-up DJs in the business – what would you consider the most important things to building an atmosphere in a club. How does warming up for Digweed at Bedrock at matter in October differ from a Dig Deeper all-night session?
I think the most important part of building an atmosphere is letting go of your ego. You have to accept the fact that you’re not the main reason why people are there, and accept your place in the night and realize that the warm-up slot is actually one of the most enjoyable, exciting and fulfilling jobs there is. it’s one area where you can really get creative, dig out all those amazing deep gems that won’t work at peak time and utilize them to very slowly suck people in. There’s always a point during the warm-up when suddenly you realize that it’s all starting to click beautifully – and that’s an amazing moment.
Warming up for Digweed will always be very important to me, because that’s how I learnt to do it. There were a few occasions back in 91/92 where maybe I did step into more peak-time territory, but I realized then that that was the case as the energy flow to the whole night would be disrupted as a result. That’s a very important thing – making sure the night flows from start to close, so that right through to the end, people are always going to be wondering what else is going to be coming. You can’t burn everybody out in the first few hours!
It’s hard to tell you the difference between warming up for someone like Digweed, or doing a Dig Deeper – I’ll apply the same principles to the opening set regardless of whether I’m warming up for myself or somebody else.
What artists have been exciting you the most recently? And how would you rate 2009 as a year in general, musically?
It’s been a return to the funk – artists like Okain, Yakine, Niggeman, Tanzmann, etc have filled my box this year. And the techy stuff, in my opinion, just got better and better. Not so much the stuff you see in top tens of download sites, but the trippier, quirkier stuff. Tempos came right down, giving the music some space to groove out. It’s so hard now to pin genres on DJs and producers, which is something I find very exciting.
And finally… What do you want for Xmas?
Fuck, I’ve been wanting to get myself a 1960s/70s jukebox for so many years now, but I always tell myself I shouldn’t. They’ve large so space would be an issue, plus I’d feel very guilty about splashing out that amount of money on a luxury item. But, if someone decided to surprise me with a beautifully restored Seeburg or Rock-Ola, then … bring it on!!