Danny Rampling Interview: The Relevant

Danny Rampling caught up with Martin Guttridge-Hewitt to discuss modern classics, the industry and sub-genres.

Becca Frankland

Date published: 10th Mar 2016

These are fickle times, filled with short-lived success stories, rapid rises and even quicker falls. But then maybe that’s always been the case. 

The idea of a one hit wonder is nothing new, after all, and wasn’t invented in the modern era of pop, rock, and electronica. Or even recorded music. Classical sheets are filled with references to fly by night composers who made an impact in their day, only to fade into obscurity the following morning. Give or take a few years perhaps. 

When it comes to dance music, this potential predicament might be even more pronounced. Thanks to the way things are, with press and marketing machines constantly trying to sell that next big name, and a democratic process of production and distribution, there are enough aspiring artists for listeners to hear a different track from a different face every day of the year, and still not get through each new release.

By the time you’re done with all that, it’s not surprising if DJ Whatever, who you discovered last March, has dropped off the list of those you remember. Conversely, though, this also means that when people achieve real longevity they deserve real recognition.

As one of the original pioneers of the U.K. acid house scene in the late-1980s, esteemed importer of whatever the hell was in the Ibizan water at that time - Danny Rampling is a name that needs no introduction. Other than to state he firmly belongs in the been there, done that, and still coming back for more camp (check out his Essential Mix from the nineties above).

But when so much attention is focused on what’s yet to blow up, how can decade-spanning names and faces avoid being pigeonholed as yesteryear’s icons? We gave the man in question a call whilst he was out on a rural ramble in southern England to find out what his thoughts are on the matter.  

This weekend you’re playing Cream Birmingham - about as established a brand as you get in clubbing. How does something like that stay relevant do you think? 

I think one thing that’s important to understand with something like Cream is that it was there at the front end of the scene. Back in the early-nineties, so they built a core fan-base and a reputation over a long period of time. They always put on quality events, they’re never half-baked. 

The whole market has shifted in recent years too. People are a lot more picky about choosing certain events. They cherry-pick more. That’s largely due to the economics of Britain, and the clubbing landscape. So whether it’s a festival or small start up club, I think people pick their nights out a lot more than they used to. That makes it special for everyone - the clubbers, DJs playing the events, promoters, anyone involved.

So are you expecting this to be quite an old school event then? 

No, I’ll be playing new music. There’s a whole wave of classics parties across the UK, a bit of a renaissance, and that’s aimed mainly at the generation that was there in the nineties.

Now they have settled down and their kids have got a bit older, they’ve made a good life for themselves but want to go out a few times a year to something that reminds them of that period. I play some of these, but my focus and role has always been on new music - new music cannot become classic unless it gets played. 

Even if it’s 80% fresh tunes, 20% classics, I’ll play modern versions of those classics. It’s about keeping me interested as much as anything else. But also from a dancefloor point of view, how many times can you listen to the same records. You go to some parties and this or that will be played four times in the night by different DJs.

So I try and steer away as much as I can, especially from the more obvious classics, and look at stuff that maybe isn’t as recognisable but still sounds as good.

Do you think younger clubbers might pigeonhole DJs that have been on the circuit for so many years, and presume what they hear won’t necessarily be all that fresh? 

That I don’t know. But I always play fresh music, I spend a lot of money on music and that’s what keeps me inspired. Fortunately I’m still here 25 years later - and I’m very grateful of that. 

Whether people’s perception is that you’re the hot ticket, or still doing the same as you were in the nineties, that’s really just down to their individual perception. The industry itself is driven by PR and the media, so every five minutes there’s a new sub-genre or whatever popping up that we should all be interested in. 

The latest one I saw was ‘tropical house’. In my opinion it has nothing to do with house. Frankie Knuckles would have the same opinion if he were here today. It’s not house, it’s just commercial pop with a kind of deeper vibe than EDM.

That’s not house music - just because it’s at 125BPM doesn’t mean you can call it house. It should be called ‘tropical pop’. And that’s just one example from the other day- I read about it and thought ‘I should have a listen to this’. Then I did and realised what it was.

So what’s the deal? I think it’s just people branding themselves, stepping up with a PR campaign that say’s there’s this exciting new genre here. Half the time it’s not. But that’s the creative industry we work in.

People are always excited about new things when they arrive. But DJing for 25 years comes with a lot of experience, and anyone who has been DJing that long knows how to rock a dancefloor, and knows how to read the dancefloor. I’m not saying someone who has been DJing for a year doesn’t, but with experience comes a high level of professionalism, musical heritage, knowledge and taste.” 

When you first started out, dance was barely an industry, certainly in comparison to today. How do you find the modern PR-led model? 

It is an enormous business, from one way of looking at it, but then this is a business we’ve all created. Like any business it has to evolve. Here in the UK we should be grateful - we have amazing festivals, an amazing club scene, and there’s always something going on in the underground, or what’s perceived to be the underground.

People are breaking new ground, there are new nights starting, new labels setting up, new DJs and artists breaking into the market. It’s great that people still enjoy and feel so passionately about this music. Yes, it’s become a mainstream business, but people are still loving this music every week.

‘A business you’ve created’ suggests you think artists and punters have ownership over the industry itself? Do you think this could change at any point? 

Electronic music, ownership-wise, there are quarters of the scene that are owned and dominated by certain organisations. But then there are cottage industries alongside that, where people are doing their thing and getting on with it, refusing to be dominated by larger companies. 

But let’s not forget that some larger companies were also startups at one point. Cream, for example, didn’t set up as a multi-million pound enterprise. It began with a few hundred people in Liverpool and evolved over many years to become a major player like a major label would do. Then there are some brands that have gone under the umbrella of bigger companies, like Cream with Live Nation.

And what have you got coming up new-music wise then? 

I’m in the studio at the moment working with Sybil, along with the old chief writer and engineer from PWL, the Hit Factory. So we’ll be back on that directly after the Cream party. That’s being A&Rd by Eddie Gordon, who used to be my producer at Radio 1. 

I’ve started work on a track with Robert Owens and Steve Mac, a vocal song, so we’re waiting to get back in and mix that down in May- Steve is pretty busy with his Rhythm Masters project. I’m also about to have a co-production with Phil Mison, called Claudio’s Theme, named after my son. That’s more of a chill-out tune, and it’s on Cantoma’s new album, which is being released in May.

Then there’s the Sankeys 88/89 event, which is about the heritage of the scene. David Vincent’s vision is to have that vibe of that time with the music from the time played, so I’m looking forward to playing that, I’m at the opening party with Nicky Holloway, Mr. C and Matthew B. That’s on May 23rd in Ibiza. 

We imagine you’ll be out in Ibiza a lot after that this summer (check out a set from last year above)? 

I’ll be over there a few times I expect. Also I’ve just donated a track to a charity project, which is called The Global Party Album. They help worthy causes across the world, and there are a load of other artists that have done the same, like Gary Numan - it’s just been released this week.

How did you get involved in that? 

Through a friend, basically, who set up the charity. He’s one of the heads. We’d been talking for a few months and then he mentioned the album, gave me some information about the project and  I liked what I heard so I donated the track, which is 'Life Is A Celebration'. It’s the Acid Dub Mix, which was never released and a lot of people have been after it for a while.

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