Feature: Red Rack'em

Picture of Red Rack'em

Interview by Marc Kets

Danny Berman aka Red Rack’em is well known for his naughty pirate soul remixes and disco edits which have been supported by the likes of the Unabombers, Todd Terje, Swag, Yam Who, Prins Thomas as well as institutions such as Fat City and Piccadilly Records. But this is only one small part of Dannys musical voyage. As a DJ he is known for his club rocking, genre busting eclectic sets and this diversity is reflected in his broad output as a producer. He makes cutting edge detroit 2 step as Marlinspike, wonky disco and cosmic boogie as Hot Coins plus beatdown house and glitchy hip hop as Red Rack’em. His work is respected by heroes such as Carl Craig, the Idjut Boys, the Rush Hour crew and Domu. The biggest supporter though, has been Gilles Peterson who has played several tracks on Radio 1 and recently commissioned a Red Rack’em guest mix for his Worldwide International Show. He has also been invited to play at the 2009 Worldwide awards alongside his heroes Jazzanova.
Danny recently returned to the Hot Coins disco project with the Laissez Faire EP on Society Records which was awarded record of the week by Piccadilly and was well supported by Prins Thomas, Chris Duckenfield, Soul Mekanik and Bill Brewster. The lead track Norway Man was licensed to Fred Deakins ‘Nu Balearica’ comp on Ministry Of Sound. This led to him signing an album deal with the mighty Tirk Recordings who have just released the Valiant Truth EP which has also been well received. Danny’s unique take on beatdown has also been making waves,, with EPs on Untracked and Autodiscoteque pushing a distinctly housey sound. He is currently hard at work on the Loose Change album for Tirk which should be out by summer 2009. (Taken directly from his bio on

You record under various pseudonyms, what differentiates between the various projects?
The different names came through necessity really. Hot Coins is the disco/electro/cosmic kind of stuff - stuff which has a live drums feel usually. Red Rack'em is the hip hop/beats kind of stuff and now also the Detroit beatdown house stuff too I reckon. Marlinspike is my Detroit techno meets 2 step garage stuff. There are a couple more projects in the pipeline but I am waiting for a bit before I fully develop them.

You're influenced and play everything from house to hip hop in your sets with an ear for the leftfield and your mixes are incredibly adventurous. What sort of records catch your ears, and are there particular producers that pop up in your sets regularly?
Well like everyone, I go through stages. And when things blow up, I generally go off them pretty quickly! I really like scenes when they are emerging - like broken beat, dubstep and the wonky hip hop stuff (now dubbed 'beat generation') were really exciting to me a few years ago. But I often find that as soon as the sound become 'defined', loads of people start making the same tracks and the quality seems to drop off - even from the people who pioneered it. So I find it really hard to buy a style of music for more than 6 months, as I get bored when things stop moving. I just try to buy whatever is good that week. It's as simple as that.  But the common thread running through my taste is stuff generally sounding a bit off kilter. Mad offbeat untight drums, deep Detroit synths, heavy but funky bass, deep hypnotic cerebral stuff. But then I also love spiky 80's post punk stuff. I love badly played punk funk kind of stuff. I don't really like tight music - apart from Prince.  Producer wise - Pepe Bradock, KDJ, Dilla, Theo, I:Cube, Rick Wade, Madlib, Fulton, Move D, Dego, Kaidi, Afronaught, Reggie Dokes, Just One, Juju and Jordash, Red Nose Distrikt, old Lindstrom. They are the people who I generally credit with developing a certain sound - but I will play anything by anyone that sounds like a good version of a track made by them.

You're obviously influenced by Pepe Bradock, who is one of my own personal heroes, what is your favourite records of his and how does it influence your own particular mindset when producing records, if at all?
Gosh - I would love to do a degree in Pepe Braddocks work. To me he IS house. As simple as that. I have been massively influenced by the subliminal, subtle and downright bonkers elements of what he does. I think there are massive similarities between his filtered rhodes kind of melodies and stuff that Dilla and Quest were doing years ago. For me it's all about a magical, halcyon almost majestic feeling that you get with certain Pepe tunes - that's what influences me. But he's also totally dark which I love as well - I can totally relate to the almost apocalyptic feeling in some of his tracks. Things like Ghost (on the flip of the much more famous Life) are so emotional to me - the pride and sadness in the horn sample. This tune contains my favourite house moment ever  - he does a kind of weird flourish with a vocal sample and a synth part  - it kind of goes - 'ah ee ah ee ah ohh'  - I think it does it once or twice just before he changes the horn sample to the second refrain. That bit to me sums up everything I love in the kind of house I love. I can't commit to having 1 fave track though so it's a shortlist from - his remix of For Your Love by Kemeticjust on Silver Network - unbelievably dark, wrong house with a flapping birds in the belfry breakdown - prob my fave backwards rhodes riff by Pepe in this tune, both remixes of Morning Sun by Block 16, Ghost, Love Is Instrumental, Mouth Remix, Mandragore... I like them all the same in some ways!

How did the album deal with Tirk come into being?
I put out the first Hot Coins EP with Society Recordings, which is a label run by Solid State in Sheffield. The EP (Laissez Faire) was well received and this helped bring me to Tirks attention. They were interested in putting out the next EP (Valiant Truth) and when I sent them more stuff they offered me an album deal. I am working hard on the album, which will be called Loose Change. It's going to be a mixture of electro, boogie, cosmic, disco, house and punk funk style stuff. I am reading loads of books on the New York new wave scene to get my head in the right place. The album should be out by the summer.

You've stated in interviews that while you were living in Edinburgh in the mid-90s that you were introduced to Theo Parrish records by your friend. What other records from this time period were you introduced to, and how do they influence your sets/sound today?
Well - the record that influenced me the most in many ways was the first East Coast Project album on Natural Response. - www.discogs.com/Various-East-Coast-Project-A-Journey-Through-the-Sound-of-Edinburgh/release/69761 - me and my mates were all living in fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife (next county to where Edinburgh is) and were playing a lot of live funk stuff influenced by Parliament and The Meters. I started Djing hip hop and doing scratching which led to us all hearing new records such as this one which we couldn't believe had come out of Edinburgh. It prompted us to start making more hip hop influenced stuff and when everyone moved to Edinburgh we did a kind of pilgrimage to the studio where a lot of it was made (Unkle Jacks 6T4K Studio in Balfour Street). The album was put together by Joseph Malik (who later found fame on Compost with Demus) and featured everyone from the then breathtakingly prodigious Edinburgh hip hop/jazz scene. It's an amazing album of deep, jazzy stuff which really takes me back. Edinburgh was ace in those days - you could go to Negotiants for a pint at 2am on a Sunday night and hear 3 Bag Brew playing amazing music - this was revolutionary for 18 year olds from fishing villages! This album reminds me of how exciting, jazzy and fresh music felt to me as a late teens escapist waster. The sides of the album are called different street names and the street that I moved to is actually on the street map on the labels. Blacka'nized were making amazing stuff at the time - really deep instrumental stuff. In those days I was pretty mellow most of the time so I was really into downtempo stuff like Luke Vibert and early Mo Wax stuff - Palmskin - Like Brothers -  things like that. Me and my mates ended up being produced by Unkle Jack and ended up getting a track to the second East Coast Project album. A year or so later on the dance music tip it was thing like Bug in a Bassbin by Carl Craig, Dr Rockitt, Metroplex stuff, Moodymann. The French House thing was massive for me. I can remember the excitement in Edinburgh when Foxy Lady came out. Daphreefunkateerz, Motorbass Pansoul was mindblowing for me!

I was extremely pleased to hear that you were also a fan of the seminal deep house compilation 'High In A Basement' that came out on Heavenly and pretty much charted the halcyon days of deep house to a certain extent. A number of the artists on the comp such as Faze Action and the Idjuts have had a renaissance of sorts in recent years, what do you attribute this to?
Well I found that in those days there was a common thread in all the stuff I was into - be it Black Science Orchestra, Nuphonic, Juan Atkins, Dr Rockitt, Luke Vibert - the stuff was way more musical then in my book. It wasn't so mechanical. The samples were from good records. The quality of vinyl was generally a lot better. Records had nice sleeves. The engineering seemed a lot better. Things were jazzy. Whether is was Peshay doing drum and bass, Paper releasing house or the Ballistic Brothers doing proto instrumental hip hop. Jockey Slut was an amazing magazine in those days. People were making money from releasing GOOD music. Good heavens. Imagine that eh? I reckon that the shift back to live music in the masses has helped people like the Idjuts and Faze Action - they have got strong live musical roots - in both originals and edits and I think their status as scene 'daddies' means a lot of the new jacks today want to rightfully give them props, by booking them and commissioning remixes etc. I don't think Nu Disco would have happened without Nuphonic, The Idjuts, Faze Action, Mudd and Steve Kotey and all those guys.

You've live in Nottingham, what sort of influence does the city have on you and have you ever considered moving to London or abroad?
I have lived in Nottingham for years and I probably should have moved away a long time ago but to be honest it's a good place to not work much (cheap rent) and focus on your music. I often get frustrated at the lack of musical opportunities offered by the city, however if I moved somewhere like London I would have to earn a lot more money which would prevent me from making music. I would love to live abroad but I think I need to establish myself a bit more in the UK before I leave. I have seen all sorts happen in Nottingham in the last ten years. The Bomb was an amazing club during its heyday. Nottingham is a very urban place, which definitely influences my music. I was unemployed for many years and spent a lot of time being poor and pretty unhappy.  I always hoped that things would work out in the end. It's been described as the murder capital of the UK, which is a load of crap - the media have got an agenda in the way that the place is portrayed both locally and nationally. Having said that, it is pretty impoverished in parts and I would like to live somewhere 'nice' one day. The biggest influence on me in Nottingham has definitely been Funky Monkey Records and my peers. People like Alex Traska who started www.myhouse-yourhouse.net have given me support and Dave Smith and Rick Donohue who used to work at Funky Monkey passed me so many good records around 2001-2003, which helped a lot! Even seeing Charles Webster in Tescos buying spinach helps a bit. If he's still here it can't be too bad I guess.

Was there a moment where you knew that you wanted to pursue making music?
Not really - it's something I have always done. Be it playing drums, trying to scratch on my dads hi fi with a paper slipmat, farting into a Casio SK1 as a child (we used to play farts on the lowest key - very funny sound when you're 10), doing re-edits on an avid suite when I was supposed to be editing the news. Music has always been a haven for me. I don't want to live in the real world!

Tell us more about your online radio show.
The radio show is called The Smugglers Inn and is broadcast every second Wednesday @ www.myhouse-yourhouse.net from 7-9pm GMT. It's also available on demand as a podcast @ www.redrackem.com and on itunes - search for 'Smugglers Inn'. It's all down to my mate Alex Traska who started of MyhouseYourhouse - I used to be a regular guest on his show and he asked me to do my own show. I have really enjoyed learning new skills in putting the show together, marketing it and building up an audience. My main reason for doing it is that I really believe in the music that I play - so I want to help the artists as they have massively improved the quality of my life through their musical endeavours. The shows been going for 2 years now and although it's a lot of work putting it together, I feel it's made me a better DJ and helped me appreciate the more musical records in my collection.

You've recently bravely and incredibly successfully taken on the Joubert Singers' classic 'Stand on The Word' for Tirk, something which greatly impressed me was that you made a record as recognizable as that sound like a Hot Coins track, and one that I personally can't wait to play out and something that has been greatly supported n Radio 1. Were you apprehensive when taking on the project and were you happy with the results?
Thanks for your kind words. I have always found edits an instinctive thing to do. I used to be a non-linear television editor so I am used to painstakingly cutting things up on a timeline. I started off by doing edits in 2004 as the Funky Monkey guys pushed me to do them to be honest. It seemed like a good way to improve my production at the time. The Yvette Michelle remix and the New York Community Choir edit were very well received back in the day, especially in Manchester which was a real boost for me as an unknown. But I didn't want to keep doing edits. I want to be taken seriously as an artist in my own right rather than just by extending a load of records that even my dad thinks are wack. So when I was asked to do the Joubert Singers thing I did my usual technique of not listening to it at all. I didn't know the original that well as I generally don't play much vocal disco so things like Stand On The Word aren't massively on my radar. I didn't want to just cut it up and bung some delays on it so I tried to write a new track and just use elements of the original. I was actually pleased to get asked as I do love cutting up samples and I didn't feel like I had anything to lose. If I had made a crap track then no one would ever hear it anyway! I actually wrote most of it sat in my living room with my housemates eating their dinner and chatting to me. It wasn't written in a studio environment so to speak. I sometimes like to sit downstairs and write through hifi speakers, as my monitors have virtually no bass so it's not always nice to write through them.  I am very happy with the results as I know how much that track means to some people. So if they like it - then it was worth doing.

What else can we expect from you in the months to come?
Well I have got a fair few things coming out soon  - my remix of Cantonese Man by Rui Maia is out on Untracked at the end of Jan, Joubert remix is out in Feb, Valiant Truth is on the next Tirk compilation Tirk 02 which is out in Feb/March, Next Hot Coins EP should be out on Tirk in April/May, Hot Coins Album should be out on Tirk in June/July, I should have another beatdown EP out on Untracked sometime in the next few months soon. Got some edits coming out on Autodiscoteque in June. I will be looking at the Marlinspike stuff towards the end of the summer  - that will be another album project. Also got shedloads of beatdown house to put out too.

You described a moment when opening for Flying Lotus where once he got on the mic and endorsed you that everyone started getting down to your sounds. Does it frustrate you that sometimes you need this sort of thing to happen for people to accept what you're playing?
Well I do feel like not having a defined sound can often make it hard for people to subscribe to what you to as you're never 'in' a particular scene. Every scene has its own hierarchy and tastemakers and it's just a fact of life that until you get endorsed by someone that everyone respects, not many people will be interested in your music. People often like to be fed stuff rather than hunt it out for themselves. I like stuff from many scenes but I also don't like a lot of stuff which gets hype - I do think that's the problem for people tied to one sound - you HAVE to like all the records that come out or you won't be able to play anything. Scenes are incredibly small and clicky so you often have to prove yourself many times before people will take you seriously. I wish we lived in a meritocracy but we don't :(  I feel incredibly lucky that someone like Gilles Peterson has picked up on what I am doing as it's not easy trying to get somewhere in about 10 different scenes.

You describe Kaidi Tatham as a legend, what sets the man apart?
Well everything he's involved with is amazing -  2000 Black, Da One Away, Afro Force, DKD, Neon Fusion, Likwid Biskit, Agent K, Miss Negra. He's made so much spiritual jazzy raw music. Now obviously a lot of those projects also involved other people (mainly Dego, IG and the Bugz) but his name is the constant in SO many amazing records. He's produced, co-produced and/or played on just about all of my favourite broken beat records. And don't forget the house output too. Tracks like Goza, Spiritual Vibes, The All New Ummm and Betcha Did are some of the most amazing records to come out of the UK experimental dance/jazz scene in my book. They have a warm, organic earthy feeling, which to me is quintessentially part of UK black music heritage. I wish that feeling was still in UK music. He is an amazing producer, virtuoso keyboard player and a great lyricist.

Check the man in action... http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=W4VJ23Nt3ac&feature=related

Last year saw Move D really come to the forefront after years of hard work and graft. Now obviously you're a huge fan of his music and DJ sets, what do you think it is that makes him stand above the precipice?
Well a lot of people don't realise the amount of amazing records that he had already made before they had heard of him recently. Kunstoff was a classic album released in 1995. He has made loads of techno that most people on the house scene have probably never heard. I think there are a number of reasons why David has had so much deserved success recently. He can make many styles of music, which gives his house an edge, which others don't have. He has never sold out and has stuck to his musical guns - this has probably allowed his music to develop in an organic way - you make better music when it's what you actually want to make! He is very skilled at making atmospheric ambient and techno music which are great things to feed into house. And he is the master of the wrong funk - this is a phrase I coined when we played together in Nottingham. Listen to Felix off the second Workshop EP or his track on Workshop 4 – he makes wrong funk. People want to hear some edgy stuff these days and he can do the weird wonky bumping stuff like Monsieur Bradock but with the added German melancholy techno thing too. I think it's funny how people who didn't used to make house are making some of the most exciting house - Motor City Drum Ensemble is a good example of that too.

I've noticed that recently a few Goth records by the likes of Bauhaus have started creeping in your sets. Who introduced you to them, and what is it that draws you to these sounds?
It's kind of been an extension of my post punk phase and partly through Emma my housemate who is a Welsh Goth. She listens to a lot of classic stuff like Bowie and Lou Reed and has lent me some cool 80's Goth/Futurist comps. I think it's down to trying to find dance music in other genres tbh - 'dance music not dance music' (sorry!) - I love the subtle disco influence in all music from the late 70's/early 80's. Goths went to clubs and danced to things like Planet Rock and Gary Numan, which sounds pretty cool to me. I love the monochrome feeling of stuff like John Foxx and early Ultravox. It's bleak music and I love the synths and drum machines and misery in the tracks. I would never play things like We Fade To Grey but I would love to go to a night that played that kind of stuff. I think there's definitely a voyeuristic element to getting into music you 'shouldn't be into' - you get an insight into their scene without actually having to wear make up and cry a lot.

You must be honoured that Gilles Peterson asked you to do a mix for his show.
That's one of the best things that happened last year. Gilles has been one of my heroes for years - not just for his music but the way he's an ambassador for so many different scenes. He really tries to take what he thinks is the best from so many different styles and presents it to the public in such a credible and accessible way. So when he started playing loads of different tracks from all my projects I was really happy. After his production company asked me to do the guestmix, I was so busy putting it together that I didn't really think about what it meant to be asked. When I saw it on the Giant Steps Jukebox and noticed that his last guest DJ was Skream it kind of sunk in. The guestmix is here - www.giantstep.net/releases/2242

What gigs do you have lined up for the coming months?
Well I am really pleased to be playing at the 2009 Worldwide Awards in London at the end of January along with Jazzanova, Dorian Concept and Quiet Village. I am also playing at Snowbombing in April with Greg Wilson and Kathy Diamond which will be cool. I am also playing at the Jazzindance Festival in Tenerife in May - it's a festival to promote jazz, which is funded by the Spanish government. I am really looking forward to that as I will get to play jazz and broken beat with the Jazzcotech Dancers dancing along to it all. I should be playing in London once a month from February on the second friday of each month at Vibe Bar in Shoreditch. I have also been booked to play a wonky hip hop and Detroit 2 step set with Lukid at the Pollen night in Bristol on March 15th. Am looking forward to that too. Apart from that, who knows - hopefully the festivals in the summer too.

Also, Shook Magazine are giving away a free track of Danny’s to coincide with the Worldwide Awards, which you can get from: www.shook.fm/content/2009/01/countdown-to-ww-awards-%C2%A6-free-red-rackem-tune

Marc Kets, Jan 2009

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