Danny Howells Talks Two Decades in the Game and the Possibility of Semi-Retirement
There's not a hell of a lot of electronic dance music DJs from the old school who remain hip with today's young underground cognoscenti. But the UK's Danny Howells is definitely one of them.
Maybe it's his boundless charisma behind the decks. Or his self-dubbed "deepsexyfuturistictechfunkhouse" sound, tasteful and eclectic enough to offer a little something for everyone on the floor. And as a DJ, Howells has a penchant for wildly winding marathon sets, lasting up to 12 hours and taking listeners on mind-bending odysseys.
Personally, we can't think of a better way to nurse our New Year's hangover than by letting Danny Howells revive us with a dose of deep sexy groovage. So if you want to kick off 2012 in style, go catch the man throwing down with SAFE and special guest Inxec at the Electric Pickle on Sunday.
Crossfade: What music did you grow up listening to? And how did you first get drawn to electronic dance music?
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Danny Howells: I was exposed to everything as a kid! From glam rock to '60s pop, Motown, Stax, etc. I was exposed to electronic music as a youngster. For some reason, my grandad gave me Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine on cassette when I was 9 or so. God knows why! But I really got into it when I was in my late teens and was exposed to big-name DJs for the first time.
You got your start DJing for John Digweed's Bedrock nights in the early '90s. What did the experience impart to you?
I learned so much from that residency, and especially about the art of warming up. Whereas many people would see it as the "graveyard" shift, I saw it as a chance to be really creative and it became a really exciting slot for me.
When did you first make the leap to producer? And what is your typical process in the studio?
The process varies every time! There's no formula. But I made my first leap into production in '94, when I got together with a local producer called Tim Cross. We made a few singles together, and our fourth became semi-big with the progressive guys of the era.
What was the concept behind Dig Deeper when you first launched the label? Has that concept evolved over the years?
Well, the label started as an outlet for my productions, as I was making so much! No real musical boundaries. The only criteria is do I like it, and would I be able to play it in one of my all-night Dig Deeper sets? The criteria remains the same, except now I'm releasing music by other artists, as I've been a bit slow recently!
What do you have going on with the label these days? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
I've just released an amazing album by Art Bleek called Tilt. There's a killer EP by Russ Gabriel coming up, along with an awesome single by Andreas Saag. There's a few more bits lined up too. So next year should be really exciting.
From your perspective, what have been the most radical changes in electronic dance music culture since you first started DJing? What has stayed the same?
I suppose the way that music is sourced and distributed and stored has been one of the biggest things. Being able to carry literally thousands of tracks everywhere I go is truly phenomenal. But there's something I miss about the days when you'd hear a tune, then you'd wait three weeks for a store to get it on import, then you'd drive two hours to go and pick it up! It used to make each record so cherished, unlike today where music seems more disposable, due to the sheer volume.
You've been DJing for decades now and you're especially known for your long marathon sets. So you must have one of the greatest record collections known to man! What are some of the essential classic cuts that have never left your bag? And which new artists or records from 2011 are you most digging at the moment?
I'm at the airport writing this, so it's tough to tell you what my all-time faves are. But there's things like AJ Sound's "Basemental," The Mole's "Accadian," several tracks by Mr. G, etc. These are things that have stayed with me for years, and just never seem to age. And, yes, I do have a rather marvelous collection! Although it's about 25,000-strong and utterly disorganized.
You've played all over the world. What are some of your all-time favorite spots and why?
I love small spots. And this year, I've had some amazing experiences in Australia, Japan, and North and South America. I did an amazing 100-capacity club in Barcelona, which was unreal. Plus places like Pristina where I played all night long.
In your personal experience, what is the secret to longevity as an EDM DJ? And on that token, what words of advice would you give this new generation of DJs clambering for the top slot on DJ Mag's Top 100?
I don't know what the secret to longevity is for the youngsters starting out now. I'm really curious to see where some of the current megastars will be in two years, let alone ten. But I've always felt it's down to being totally true to yourself, regardless of musical fashions, trying to do the best that you can do and never resting on your laurels!
After two decades in the DJ game, do you see yourself staying in it for much longer? What does the future have in store for Danny Howells?
I ask myself this a lot. I'm 41 and can't see myself traveling for much longer. I'll probably always DJ in some capacity, maybe locally -- as when it's good, it's the best experience in the world. But I'll probably do something else at some stage soon. I'd like to dip my toes into nursing again, or maybe doing work with animals!
Danny Howells with Inxec and SAFE residents. Sunday, January 1. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 9 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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