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Sound of the Pirate

Delving into the treasure trove of Red Rack'em

Berlin-based Red Rack'em, AKA Danny Berman, might have started his career in the UK as part of the pirate soul movement, creating new tracks around hip-hop and r&b acapellas, but his own Bergerac label now cranks out techy bass shot through with classic house and disco while his Hot Coins project reveals a love of punk-funk and new wave. With albums forthcoming both as Red Rack'em and Hot Coins, plus a fortnightly Smugglers Inn radio show, we caught up with Danny to find out more.

Read our full piece on Red Rack'em in the March issue of DJ Mag available in shops or via DJmag.com/shop

Are we to assume that you’re a Tintin fan from the Red Rack’Em moniker?

“Yes, I am a massive Tintin fan. Still not seen the film yet though, how bad is that? My childhood reading remains a big inspiration as it was so meditative. A big shout to Asterix, Hardy Boys, Secret Seven, Famous Five, Adrian Mole, Charlies War, Commando, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side. I had such an appetite for reading that I got addicted to speed reading when I was about 10. I used to skim read so I could easily read a whole book in an hour or two. I even read my sister's Nancy Drew books sometimes but that’s a secret. My all time favourite is Tintin though – I loved the way it operates on so many levels and the way that Hergé captured so much spirit of the times in his images is astounding.”

Can you explain what the pirate soul movement was and what it was that led you into it? It seems like it helped re-launch the whole disco re-edit craze.

“Pirate soul was, I believe, coined by Piccadilly Records in Manchester and it referred to the illicit nature of the music being releases on labels such as Gamm and from artists such as Yam Who, Red Astaire and Blackbeard. After years of working with other people, I bought a G4 in 2001 with a Princes Trust loan. After a couple of years of getting my head round Logic, I began to take my fledgling productions down Funky Monkey Records (RIP) in Nottingham and testing them over the shop system. This was a very nerve wracking experience as they weren’t the types to beat around the bush and sometimes the tracks were taken off after less than a minute. I was making a lot of hip-hop circa 2004 as I was inspired by acts such as Sa-Ra, Spacek and Red Nose Distrikt. The guys at the shop gave me a stack of well-chosen hip hop and r&b acapellas and suggested I have a go at remixing them. My attitude at the time was that I was getting to work with some of the worlds greatest vocalists just without asking their permission. The response to the remixes was great with both Piccadilly and Fat City awarding me record of the week a few times over different titles. I did some disco edits as well – it’s all on Discogs for anyone who wants to find my soulful background. I quickly grew bored of edit culture though and began to focus more on original productions in 2006.”

Your press release describes ‘How I Program’ which launched your label Bergerac as ‘wonked out bass heavy nihilism’. What happened from the early days of Red Rack’ Em to get you into this darker techno territory?

“I actually come from a pretty banging background, even though my early releases might not reflect this. My earliest clubbing experiences were house and techno clubs in Edinburgh in 1995 and drum and bass nights in Bristol in 1997. I began DJing in 1994 and although my first few purchases were Mo' Wax stuff once I moved to Edinburgh I was buying records like ‘Magneze’ by Surgeon and stuff on DJax. I was fortunate to live with a guy called Fraser Saunderson in 1995 and his musical taste was light years ahead of everyone else. We listened to northern soul, deep dub, Ultramagnetic MCs, Metroplex, Herbert, Roni Size, disco, Latin, heavy funk, electro and downtempo stuff side by side every day. It seemed boring to play two house records back to back.

“I have always loved all types of music and my productions tend to be inspired by the records I am playing so my musical evolution is mainly driven by a desire to be constantly surprised and excited. In terms of what’s led me to a darker direction, I guess it’s because I feel that I have done all I can in a lot of the styles I made in the past. Deep house? ‘Picnic’. Beatdown house? ‘You Can’t Pray For Your Soul’. Wonky hip-hop house? ‘Christmas Day’. Euphoric slo-mo? ‘In Love Again’. Nu disco? ‘Valiant Truth’. Cosmic disco? ‘Norway Man’. Post dubstep 2-step? My remix of ‘Slow’ by Tricky.

“I can’t be bothered to make music unless it’s something that excites me and making big room dark bass music seems to be floating my boat right now. Also I love playing in big rooms on powerful sound systems and this has been a massive influence over the past few years. I have only released a fraction of the music I have made so I guess one good thing about it is that I have got a fair few albums lying dormant. There’s stuff on the list for 2013 already!”

Red Rack'em - If Only The Past EP - Bergerac 003 Soundclips by Red Rack'em

‘If Only The Past’ heads even further into the same territory – has living in Berlin, where techno is so popular, influenced your direction? How is it living there compared to where you were before?

“I was really unhappy before I left the UK due to a number of issues and I would say my darker direction is influenced by looking back from a much better place and being saddened by how crap things were at that time. My music is totally inspired by my personal situations – ‘If Only The Past’ is about not being able to correct your mistakes.

“Moving to Berlin has inspired me on so many levels and I am so grateful to everyone here who’s made it such a special experience. Getting my stuff moved over was an unbelievably arduous journey – massive weekend of gigs and goodbye parties before I left, leaving all my mates behind, emotional heartache of the highest order, my friend's work telling him he couldn’t take the van out of the UK the day before we were due to drive all my stuff to Berlin, somehow managing to get my mate from Berlin to take half of my records as he was miraculously in the UK with a Mercedes sprinter on the Friday we left, borrowing my mate's parent's car for rest of my stuff, 16 hour non-stop drive to Berlin, a triple murder arson attack in the rear building of the first apartment I lived in the morning before I arrived (I didn’t tell my parents about it for ages so they wouldn’t be worried), single-handedly carrying all my records into the flat from miles away due to the area being shut down by the police, then playing from six till nine am on the Sunday morning after being up since Friday morning. I could write a book about that trip.

“It’s really hard to say if the musical side of things has been affected by the sounds I hear in the city. I have had some pretty epic weekends here so I do tend to think twice about going out these days. When someone I know is in town to play I often go out for the meal before the gig and go home before the club just to save myself from the inevitable three day marathon ahead. Sometimes they get me drunk at the meal and kidnap me. When I can’t work for the next week though I sometimes feel a bit remorseful.”

You have another moniker as Hot Coins. What’s the distinction between the two guises and what is next for Hot Coins? What’s the album going to be like and what form will the live band take?

“Hot Coins is my disco/new wave/punk-funk/electro/EBM type of project. I released a couple of Hot Coins EPs in 2008 for Society and Tirk and I also remixed ‘Stand On The Word’ by the Joubert Singers in the same year which ended up being a pretty massive track. I didn’t want to be lumped in with all of the bland nu-disco that’s been released since then so I focussed more on the Red Rack’em stuff. Hot Coins started out as a colourful cosmic disco type of thing but nowadays it’s a lot more influenced No Wave type stuff like ESG, James White and the Blacks and industrial tinged stuff like DAF and Nitzer Ebb. I wanted to make more ‘musical’ music under a different name as Red Rack’em is the more clubby, banging stuff so Hot Coins is a lot more rooted in live playing. The main thing in the pipeline is the debut album, which should be coming out in Autumn 2012 on a good German label. I am really proud of the album as I played nearly all of the instruments on all of the tracks. I am by no means an expert but it was nice to re-visit my musical past as I was in a lot of bands in my teen years and I really miss playing live.

“The album has got a really authentic sound as it was mixed on the original SSL 4000 B series that was in Townhouse Studios in London in the '80s. It’s the desk that was used to mix ‘In The Air Tonight’ and PiL's Metal Box album so it’s really made a difference to the sound. It's funny how I ended up using the desk as well. When I played at the Garden Festival in 2010 I spent my last day there on a hidden beach swimming with a load of Austrians who I had never met before – I was there because my friend Andre Espuet from Masterman had sung for one of them on a track in the '90s so it was totally random. It turns out that one of the Austrians, Werner, has fully restored this SSL and has a full on studio in his basement in a rural Austrian village so I go there now to do mix downs. It’s an expensive way to mix but it’s totally worth it I think. It took them ages to even get me to see the studio though – they kept mentioning it to me and they booked me to play at this really cool arts festival called Parque Del Sol in St Polten in July last year and on the last day (must be something about last days eh?) they showed me the studio. I fell asleep on the journey there and it seemed really remote at the time but when I saw the desk I immediately fell in love with it. It’s about the same size as a small car and makes things sound so expensive.

“I am in the process of putting the live act together in Berlin so I have been auditioning a few musicians and looking into rehearsal spaces. I have a very specific concept so I need people who can play the album note for note and improvise without it being too wanky. As most of the tracks are quite raw, I am quite interested in working with musicians who are not so experienced or with people who can ‘underplay’. I doubt you will see any live performances until 2013 but it all depends on how quickly it comes together. “

There’s a Red Rack’Em album coming on RAMP, who traditionally have released predominantly bass heavy music. Is that an indication of the direction that you’re heading in? I saw you also did a guest spot on Rinse FM. How did you hook up with Tom and crew?

“Tom Kerridge from Ramp got in touch with me after he bought ‘Feel My Tears’ (second release on Bergerac). He loved the b-side track ‘Courting’ which was a bit of a UK bass/techno type of hybrid and he emailed me asking if I wanted to release a single with them. I was really pleased that he got in touch as I have always admired Ramp from afar and I would never have thought to send them any music. I am pretty bad at not bothering to send anyone my stuff unless I am promoting a single so it was great that he made the effort to contact me. The first single for Ramp is pretty bassy but I am not sure what the album is going to sound like yet as I haven’t finished all the tracks. I intend to make a club record though so there will be a fair bit of house tempo stuff in there. Some of the tracks are pretty banging but it’s not going to veer off into ethereal post-dubstep dreary house, don’t worry. I think it will be fairly mixed as I don’t make many tracks that sound similar.”

The Smugglers Inn Podcast-04_02_12 by Red Rack'em

How often is the Smuggler Inn radio show and where can we hear it? Who are some of the artists that you’ve bagged for the forthcoming label?

The Smugglers Inn show is broadcasted live myhouseyourhouse.net every two weeks on a Wednesday evening from 7-9pm UK time. It’s also re-broadcasted on a few other stations around the world. The podcast is hosted on my site redrackem.com and also on iTunes and Soundcloud. I love doing the show and quite a few labels use it as an a&r hub as I often play unsigned tracks by new acts. I try to support new producers as much as possible as I think that they are the people who need the most encouragement. The label will focus on new talent rather than releasing stuff by more well-known acts as that’s the best way to represent the show on vinyl. I think a lot of artists make their best music before they get their first record out so I am trying to get stuff from people who haven’t had many releases yet. I haven’t got my release schedule nailed yet but some of the people I am considering for release are Klic, Simon Weiss, Franklin De Costa, Ajukaja, Napier, Roman Rauch, Sherbe, Dragon and many more. It’s to see the development of a lot of the artists who I have supported on the show.

“If someone blows up after I played their first few tracks it’s really satisfying as I really believe in the music I feature on the show. I avoid playing anything hyped or popular as most of the stuff getting love these days is rubbish in my opinion. So much mediocre music being hyped and consequently believed in by the public – I know it’s the nature of the beast but I see my radio show as a very small island in a sea of bullshit.”

What else do you have coming up?

“Well 2012 is pretty full to be honest with the stuff I have outlined above but apart from all that I will be returning to Australia and Japan in April/May and hopefully stopping off in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on the way there. There’s loads more music to release - Bergerac 004, Marlinspike stuff and my secret project, really Shoreditch type stuff which no one believes is by me! I have also recently collaborated with Juju and Jordash, Iron Curtis and Franklin De Costa on some tracks so hopefully those will be released at some point as well. I guess I should start planning 2013 soon as well!”