#008: red rack’em

The eighth edition of our podcast series is mixed by Danny Berman aka Red Rack’em, one of our favourite selectors and a longtime avid music junkie. On Saturday the 25th of May he will be headlining our PEYOTE night at BAR and for those who are not yet aware of this maestro’s musical endeavors we’ve asked him to record this super juicy podcast and introduce himself to you by means of this interview. Enjoy listening and reading and we hope to see you next weekend at PEYOTE!

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came in contact with electronic music?

I grew up in a remote Scottish fishing village and I was heavily into hip hop from around 1988. My parents are into really good music. I was brought up listening to jazz, blues, rock, fusion, reggae and 60s psychedelic music. Music was totally respected and loved in our house and I owe my musical outlook and belief to my parents. The closest place to buy music was Our Price in Dundee which was 30 miles away. I used to buy hip hop albums on cassette and sometimes they enforced the parental advisory sticker so I had to get my mum to buy things like ‘Sex Packets’ by Digital Underground for me. She wasn’t very impressed by the adult themes in some of the hip hop I listened to when I was 13 though. I loved the fact that the music I liked was made by sampling old records. This led me to start experimenting with my Sharp Back2Back ghetto blaster which could do overdubs. I began doing ‘pause tapes’ where you repeat the same loop over and over on a tape machine. I also began scratching and doing needle drop loops (like Q Tip) on a lightweight suitcase turntable with tracks like ‘You Can’t Touch This’ by MC Hammer. I guess this was around 1990. I didn’t have Flash playing at the local basketball court so all these experimentations were inspired from listening to hip hop and using my imagination.

My sister was a total raver so she used to disappear every weekend and come back sleep a lot afterwards. I used to hear her rave tapes and occasionally she would tell me some stories about a party she had been to. Eventually she allowed me to come to one of her parties which was in St Andrews around 1992. I remember it being hot, sweaty and full of hard football casual guys mixed with long haired friendly students and older girls dancing with not many clothes on. As a 16 year old young lad who had led a fairly sheltered life in a small village, this was quite exciting! I was also playing drums and bass guitar in various bands around this time so I was heavily into live music as well. We used to hire out church halls in our local villages and put on live concerts. This was about the closest we came to doing our own raves when we were about 16.

Dance music came later really for me, around 1994 when I started to go on holiday to Bath and Norwich to see my mate Robin who was a lot closer to the rave scene than me. I also remember really enjoying Shut Up and Dance and Ragga Twins in the early 90s as they were like the ravey arm of UK hip hop. Also stuff like Hardnoise and Gunshot was basically hardcore breakbeat stuff with rapping. When I heard It’s A Jazz Thing playing on Ragga FM in Bath around 1994 I never looked back. The ‘raveyness’ of drum and bass was something that immediately captured my imagination and I moved to Bristol in 1997 solely to experience the drum and bass scene there firsthand. Before I left Scotland, I also spent a lot of time in Edinburgh around 1996 volunteering for a drugs awareness youth project called ‘Tangents’ and going to hard techno clubs like Pure, Lift and Purple Moon. Meeting a large groups of likeminded people who liked to party was a key part of me discovering my love of electronic music. I was so lucky to experience those scenes as I did and it’s definitely where my party and musical ethos comes from.

Like many of your peers you decided to trade your hometown for Berlin. How was it to make this step and is Berlin still the magic place that it is said to be? What would you advise to artists who are considering a change of scenery?

Leaving the UK was incredibly traumatic. I had come to the end of a long, painful relationship and I was sick of my life there. It wasn’t easy to leave as I was haunted by fears of failing and having to come back penniless. I only knew two people when I moved here so it was very nerve wracking to come here on my own even at my age. Thank god I met so many nice people here and my career continued to progress. I am so glad that I made the effort to change my life and even if I do move back to the UK in the future, my perspective has be permanently altered by my time here.

Berlin is what you make it. It’s a bit like living on a festival site sometimes. I would love to be in the studio all the time making music but it feels quite hard sometimes as there’s so many distractions. It’s all about your own discipline but I have to say that I have really enjoyed feeling closer to the music again through going out and playing a lot here. The DJ side of things can be really rewarding here with open minded crowds and early Sunday morning set times to die for. I have played here at 7-9am on Sunday mornings after people like Kyle Hall or Soulfiction to a really appreciative and open minded crowd. I think this is a unique privilege which I am really grateful for. I think my DJ style has changed from being here too. I discovered my love of banging music again a bit. I have also got back into using vinyl as I can do a good gig only a few kilometres from my house. It’s awesome to not risk losing your bag like when you fly although I have come close here a few times for other reasons.

Aside from it being the epicentre of electronic music (for better or for worse), it’s also a beautiful European capital city so I love cycling round the quiet back streets at night or across Warschauer Strasse on a lovely sunny day. Being in the park opposite my house drinking a pint in 25 degrees sun like today. Exploring the streets at night with a bottle of beer from the ‘spaetty’. A game of tisch tennis between two apartment blocks on a metal table.. seeing the genuine remnants of former Soviet occupation as an outsider. There’s so much history here. It’s not just techno!

I would advise anyone who moves here to make sure you don’t fully sacrifice yourself to the clubscene as it can seem like a very alluring world for the first year or so. Unless you’re superman/woman or your musical expectations are very low, you will see an effect on your output if you play hard here. I know people who say they are too busy to have a job so remember it’s all about balance. Hello cognitive behaviour therapy and meditation….

Beside DJ’ing you also run your own labels, host a radioshow and front the live formation Hot Coins with whom you just released the album ‘The Damage is Done’ on Sonar Kollektiv. What inspired you to make this album?

I played in a lot of live bands when I was a teenager and although I was always pretty ropey as a musician, I miss those formative years of being in a band and creating music on the spot. After years sat on my arse in front of Logic, I guess I wanted to do something with a more live feel and I felt able to express my love of more than just house and techno on the Hot Coins album. It’s about my love of disco, punk funk, krautrock, new wave, post punk, EBM, electro and stuff like that. Acts like ESG, Konk, James White and The Blacks, Heaven 17, Blondie, Eurhythmics, The Clash and the early New York block party scene. The Hot Coins album is really just the first step in my exploration of live music and band structures after 15 years immersed in computer based dance music.

It’s an exciting time as I am now working with 3 really world class musicians so I am looking forward to recording the next album. We’re already working on new tracks and some of the lyrics are in German which is pretty cool. I can be as sleazy as I like in German and I can be a lot more crude and basic. If you want to hear how the band sounds please check out this documentary about the album launch here.

Our next gig is the main stage of the Garden Festival in Croatia in July which will be our third ever performance so I am a unique mixture of incredibly excited and more than a little bit nervous. The gigs have been awesome so far so I can’t wait to play on the same bill as so many of my heroes.

I think after several years of making house and techno tracks, I wanted a fresh challenge and I needed to express myself creatively in a different way. The backbone of the Hot Coins sound is still somehow house music in the end so who knows how it might all cross over in the future. My choice of remixers for the singles was still very Red Rack’em in the end – Gerry Read, Ajukaja, Jacob Korn, Ron Basejam and Iron Curtis. The next single ‘New Beat’ is out soon with a remix from Ron Basejam and an Iron Curtis remix of Freestyle Lover which might be on this podcast 😉

The majority of the tracks featured on your podcast are still unreleased, the same thing often goes for the tracks that you drop on your Smugglers Inn radioshow. Where do you find those hidden gems before they surface?

I think I am very lucky in that I have a network of producers who I know all over the world who know my work as an artist, DJ and broadcaster so I get sent a lot of stuff to test when it’s not even finished. People often ask me for constructive criticism or feedback which can feel like a curse as much as an honour because I am well known for being super picky. It’s hard sometimes to tell someone that their melodies are predictable or their drum programming is boring. If somethings hyped, I generally run a mile so I usually have much closer connections with emerging artists. Once they make a couple of records and get more well known the quality usually drops off anyway so I am usually more interested in someone who’s not even had a record out yet as their output is generally uncorrupted and they aren’t being advised what to do by labels who cherry pick from the emerging hyped artists. I am always happy to play stuff by someone unknown and help promote them to a wider audience and support them with their progress. People like Atjazz, Crazy P, Move D and Mike Huckaby have been very supportive of my music over the years so I know how much it can help to have someone offering a helping hand and just being interested.

I get sent a lot of stuff by the labels as well and all I can say is – I get sent the same stuff as a lot of other people but I guess I don’t play a lot of the hyped stuff and find the bits that no one else notices. A lot of it’s from travelling as well as I often meet local producers when I play somewhere and keep in touch afterwards if we’re on the same tip. I think the Smugglers Inn radio show (and label) definitely has a sound and I was an early supporter of people like Floating Points, The Revenge, Lone, Mark E, Juju and Jordash, Vakula, Bullion, Chicago Damn, Frits Wentink, Lay-Far, Gerry Read, Iron Curtis and Ajukaja so it’s been rewarding to see them all go on to achieve great things after those first few tracks I initially picked up on.

As Red Rack’em you already released a string of dancefloor bombs on various labels. Now the Hot Coins album is out, are there any upcoming releases under your Red Rack’em alias that you would like to give a heads up about? Could you also tell us a bit about your production style and studio set up?

The next Red Rack’em single is I Trusted You/Converse which is out soon on Ramp Recordings. ‘I Trusted You’ is big room, raw wonky techno ish and ‘Converse’ is a bit like ‘Chirpsin’ which was out on Ramp last year – sort of like my attempt to continue UK funky with a bit of a soca beat vibe. I have also been working on my 2013 remix of ‘In Love Again’ which I sped up to 122 bpm and made a bit more garagey. That should be out soon but if you want a sneak preview, I played it last track on my recent Hot Coins DJ set on the Boiler Room. I recently remixed the Peace Division track ‘Club Therapy’ and that should be out on Dogmatik in a couple of months. There’s also some stuff in the pipeline for Bergerac – been working on a track called ‘Latin Techno’ for a while which is kind of a rough big room banger with a cool bossanova sample in it. ‘July Berlin Beat’ might be on the other side too – it’s similar but with a cool vocal sample that goes ‘do do do da do do do’ (honestly). I did a track last year in Melbourne at Inkswels studio called ‘Alone At Night’ with Charli James singing on it. That should be coming out soon once remixes are sorted. I also recently remixed a track by Ajukaja with Maria Minerva ‘CUAGAIN’ for his label Porridge Bullet – that should be out sometime after the summer. I am also working on my remix of ‘Barry Two’ by your very own Frits Wentink. I will deliver it soon honest 😉

I would describe my production style as a constant state of gradual refinement. I don’t really know what stuff is release quality these days. I have been hoarding loads of tunes again. It’s hard sometimes if you take a bit of a break between records. I am writing a lot of good drums and basslines but I am often searching for something melodic to make it really stand out and be worth releasing. The good news is I am back writing again and the vibe has been a little more summery. I have a zillion things to finish so I guess I am gonna have to get focussed and get to work. My studio set-up is pretty minimal. Put it that way. My ears are my best piece of equipment.

Next weekend you will be heading over to Rotterdam to join the Triphouse Rotterdam crew during the third edition of PEYOTE. What can the visitors expect from your set?

Firstly I just want to say how excited I am to be returning to Rotterdam. You guys have always made me feel really welcome both in your home town and here in Berlin. I can’t wait to meet everyone again and see how everyones getting on. Music wise, I would say this podcast is pretty representative of where I am at really. I am going to play an upfront, diverse set of dancefloor music which hopefully will twist and turn a bit and keep everyone on their toes. I have loads of unreleased stuff to test out so don’t expect to hear much stuff that you recognise. I would like to get a little bit freaky maybe. I know you guys know how to party!

For more info on Red Rack’em please check his website