‘DJs are cultural barometers’ — Danny Berman on life in music

One part music producer and label owner, one part DJ, Danny Berman (or Red Rack’em and Hot Coins) leads an unconventional working life that largely involves travelling the world and making music. We wanted to know more about what goes on in this DJ’s world.

You’re based in Berlin – why did you choose to move there from the UK?

The last half of 2010 was a transitional time for me. I had lived in Nottingham for 11 years, was bored out of my mind and desperately needed a change. But at the same time, my music career was really booming – I started my own label Bergerac with a hit single ‘How I Program’ and launched my ‘Early Years’ album in Tokyo and then went on a world tour – so I guess seeing so much of the world made me realise that I needed a change. I played in Berlin in December 2010 and absolutely loved it – I loved the harsh fashion, the austere feeling matched my mood and I had never experienced the ‘Berlin vibe’ before.

It’s hard to put into words, but there’s a strange kind of joy in the coldness here – it’s not unfriendly but there’s always a distance. No one will ever speak to you unless you speak to them first. But if you do they’re usually quite friendly. Berlin was dark, exotic, sexy and I wanted more of it.

Tell us about some projects you’re working on right now …

Well my main artist project is Red Rack’em and it’s quite musically open – I play/make a lot of club tempo music. House, garage, techno, disco, electro, and broken beat all feature in my productions and in my DJ sets. This year looks set to be the year that I refocus on releasing my own music as I’ll have three different record labels on the go. I’m re-launching my Bergerac label with a single (by me) called ‘Wonky Bassline Disco Banger’ which does what it says on the tin really – an up-tempo disco house cut, which has a mad bass noise coming in after a couple of minutes and takes the tune to the next level. I also have a disco/punk funk project called Hot Coins. My Smugglers Inn radio show is still going from strength to strength – it’s now broadcast on a hot new radio station from Leeds.

You can check out the podcasts. The radio show is a really important part of what I do in terms of presenting exciting new music to the public, which is why I also have a Smugglers Inn record label. I am also starting a new label, Nettles, which will focus mainly on disco and house tracks with big samples in them. It’s going to be vinyl only and super limited.

Tell us about a day in the life of Danny Berman …

I usually cycle to the studio, which is in Marzahn (a pretty grim area of East Berlin), to work on music. If I’m not working on making music myself, I’ll be sourcing new music to release on my labels and giving mild advice to some artists to try to get their tracks in better shape if I’m interested in releasing them. My radio show is monthly and that means I have to stay on top of all the digital promos I get sent by labels and artists. So I’m often sat listening to loads of awful music trying to find enough quality stuff to put together my radio show.

At the weekend it’s a different story as I am often flying to another country to DJ. I tend to be a lot more productive when I’m not touring but I also miss the excitement if I’m not travelling regularly.

What do you love most about being a DJ?

I love being able to travel the world and perform as a guest DJ in clubs and on radio stations on the basis of my music taste. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. I love the fact that my love of music has taken me all over the world and introduced me to so many great people and places. There’s nothing quite like rocking up in a strange land after a long flight and being met at the airport by some really nice people and then taken to a posh hotel. Having a relaxed meal together and tasting some regional cuisine and then going to a club and playing together for hours into the night. This is often with people I have never met before, which adds something really fresh and exciting to the whole experience. I love exploring local cultures all over the world and I always ask people who book me to show me their favourite spots.

DJs are cultural barometers. Tastemakers. Connoisseurs. So if you want to eat the best local food, hear some great jazz, drink the best cocktails in town, see the best views, etc. – you should always ask a DJ.

Danny Berman

What genre of music do you most love?

I basically love anything that isn’t cheesy or clichéd. I really haven’t got any boundaries – I think there’s about five percent of most genres that is outstanding so I try to play that.

Is collaboration important in your work?

I mainly collaborate with visual artists and designers for the artwork on the releases. All the Bergerac singles have been designed by German illustrator and designer Silke Eiselt. I asked her to illustrate all of the buildings of significance in my life in chronological order for the artwork. So she’s drawn my family home, primary school, high school, the hospital I was born in, stuff like that.

I khoollect a few …

I collect records as that’s part of my job, so I have a couple of thousand here in Berlin and the same again back in the UK scattered across several friends’ houses. I have four turntables, so I would say that’s a bit of a collection too.

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

Go to bed. Get some sleep. You don’t have to go out again. You’ll regret this later …

Most memorable gig you’ve ever been to?

Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band in Berlin in 2012 with my parents. I grew up with Captain Beefheart being played a lot at home, so to get to see the original band with my parents was a lifetime dream fulfilled!

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WRITTEN BY:
Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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Danny Berman

Find out more

Discover Danny’s music on his website, and follow his travels on Facebook and Twitter.