Red Rack'em interview: Wonky Bassline Disco Berman

Ahead of his Alfresco Festival appearance, Marko Kutlesa quizzed the Berlin resident about George Clinton, that bass sound, and early 80s TV detective Jim Bergerac.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 17th Feb 2017.
Originally published: 20th Dec 2016

Photo: Red Rack'em

Danny Berman aka Red Rack'em has been a DJ for over 20 years, but first came to the attention of the record buying public in the mid 2000s through a series of re-edits and bootleg mixes. Until that point he'd journeyed from Scotland to the UK, trying his hand at DJing drum'n bass, but it was when he arrived in Nottingham that things began to take shape.

It was from there that he issued his first records and started his The Smuggler's Inn radio show and, although he had received support for the music he was making, it was there he decided to embark upon a career of original music production.

Since that time he has worked under the alias Hot Coins, releasing a disco influenced album containing live musicians on Sonar Kollektiv and a remix of the Joubert Singers classic 'Stand on The Word' for Tirk. He's also briefly recorded as Marlinspike, remixing Tricky.

But it's his original alias Red Rack'em for which he's best known and it's under that name that he released tracks on Wolf Music, Innervisions and the selected works compilation The Early Years on his own Bergerac label. It was on the latter that he scored his biggest hit to date, 2016's 'Wonky Bassline Disco Banger', a track which has now been re-released on the hugely influential Classic imprint. 

Prior to playing at Alfresco Festival 2017 between Friday 26th and Sunday 28th May, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Danny in Berlin, where he now lives, for a chat about the journey so far.

Can I get your timeline right, because you seem to have lived in a small fishing village in Fife, Edinburgh, Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham and Berlin?

That's correct. Edinburgh was quite formative for me.

Did you move to Bristol for university?

No, I couldn't go to university. I didn't have sufficient qualifications. I was a drop out, to be honest. I moved to Bristol because I used to go on holiday in the area, I had a friend in Bath and I went there when I was 16 or 17, I guess around '94, so it was the time of the emerging hardcore into jungle scene.

I was really into hip hop, I wasn't really so much into the harder dance music you could hear in Scotland at the time. When I heard 'It's A Jazz Thing' by Roni Size and DJ Die, with the Lonnie Liston Smith 'Expansions' sample, that absolutely blew my mind. To hear sampling in dance music like that, rather than just some cheesy disco loop, it was so much cooler. I just fell in love with drum n' bass.

I went to Metalheadz at The Venue in Edinburgh in '95 or '96 and it was amazing. I didn't have a ticket, someone sold me one in the queue. Someone also sold me a pill in the queue. I got in and it was Doc Scott, J Majik, Peshay, Ed Rush, the full works. I'd never been to a real drum n' bass night before that.

Hearing 'Unofficial Ghost' by Doc Scott in a club just down the road in Edinburgh was mind blowing. And that was why I moved to Bristol, really. I loved being in England and going to outdoor raves. Was such a great vibe. I came from a Scottish fishing village where, if you bought Rizla in the shops, they'd tell your parents.

You first played in Berlin for the launch of your The Early Years album in 2010. What were your first thoughts about the city, when did you decide you would move there and what was it about the city that made you want to move there?

It was the aesthetic. I fell in love with the aesthetic. The things I loved about Berlin I now hate about Berlin. When I was in the UK, the familiarity of it, that everyone knew your business, there didn't feel like there was much there for me.

I was in Nottingham, I'd been there for 11 years, I'd just come out of a long relationship, so I was broken hearted. When I DJ'd in Berlin I was so taken with the fashion, everyone had scarves! Berlin was a lot cooler back then and probably more so before 2010, but I was late. It was cold, so monochrome.

In Hardwax they were frighteningly moody. I loved how in Berlin nobody gave a shit about you. You were worthless. But, after about five years of that, it's like, please.... just say something. It appealed back then because I wanted to get lost and Berlin's perfect for that.

Was the name of your label inspired by the French commune in the Dordogne, Cyrano de Bergerac, the French wine or, as the name of sub label Nettles suggests, by the TV detective?

I wanted to choose a word for the label name that was already in people's consciousness. That was important to me. I wanted it to be something that people of a certain age would get and when I was really young I used to watch Bergerac. I loved that it was such a cliché, he had the vintage sports car, the rolled up sleeves on the leather jacket.

There was always a bit of a vibe if he went round to a rich person's house, the trophy wife who wasn't really getting what she wanted from her husband was always a bit flirty with him. I liked the whole idea of the German, Smallville, kinda nerdy deep house thing. I definitely didn't want anything macho as a name. I wanted it to sound like it was unconfident guy house. I wanted to be able to be weird and sketchy.

On both 'How I Program', your Joubert Singers remix and 'Wonky Bassline Disco Banger' you have a low synth line that drags behind the rhythm, almost out of time. You do that again with some of the percussion on the If Only The Past E.P. Where did that idea come from? Any other records or artists you admire that have done something similar?

I was trying to be funky without, to be honest, having very good sounds. I don't have loads of synths, I'm not a big studio guy. I'm really quite lazy about equipment. So I was trying to make boring sounds more interesting. As I've said many times, it's not what you've got it's what you do with it.

The dynamic range of a track is really based on how loud the loudest thing is and how quiet the quietest thing is. I really like the idea of having a track running along, and everyone's dancing, but then some seriously loud thing comes in. I want my tunes to really stand out in the club. Everyone remembers the tune that doesn't sound right. Do you remember all the ones that sound perfect?

People who also do it? In no way, shape or form could I ever do what he does, but Isolee has incredible dynamic ranges. I think he knows a lot about compression. Amazing.

Your track 'Bill George' is obviously a remix of the Parliament and Funkadelic singer. What are your favourite Parliament and Funkadelic albums and tracks?

I really like the Music For My Mother – Funkadelic 45s compilation. I like things like 'Back In Our Minds'. I used to play that in Nottingham the next day, after we'd all been out the night before and I'd be DJing the next day in some bar, everyone seriously whacked out. I like 'Fish, Chips and Sweat'.

To be honest I now much prefer Funkadelic to Parliament. Parliament's been seriously over-sampled by hip hop, so it's been done, for me. I like things like Osmium, which was the first Parliament LP and the only one Ruth Copeland co-produced. Really early Funkadelic is where it's at, for me.

Detroit DJ Mike Huckaby named a synth patch on his Waldorf ‘Red Rack’em Bass’ in honour of your sound. Have you returned the favour by naming any hardware, home appliances or pets after him?

No. But we talk about it a bit. I told him the origins of that bass sound. Mike and I meet up occasionally, like when I DJ'd with him recently in London. We don't say a lot, but what we do say is always quite interesting. I have to say that that bass sound was probably invented by Juan Atkins, so it's kind of ironic that someone from Detroit is naming their synth patch after me.

When you first started doing re-edits and pirate soul mixes in the mid 2000s you got early support from Manchester record stores Piccadilly Records and Fat City and Manchester DJs The Unabombers, who are behind the End Of Year Riot you're playing at in December. At the time did you ever have a direct connection with the city or did you ever visit parties such as the Unabombers residency Electric Chair?

Yes. When I was doing those early hip hop experiments, Manchester was the most responsive place. I couldn't say I went to The Electric Chair much, but I did go to a few Electric Souls parties.

I remember the one in Frodsham, where Osunlade and Gilles Peterson played. I saw Henrik Schwarz live for the first time. I remember Osunlade playing this bongo voodoo house with a bone through his nose and Gilles Peterson played “Detriot” by Moonstarr and he absolutely nailed it that night.

It was in the days before he used to mix as well, so that proves selection is way more important that mixing. I went to another one in a mad dance studio with Mad Mats, Henrik Schwarz again and Kelvin Soul Mekanik. I've never played Manchester before so I am really looking forward to finally playing there!

Quite a lot of the material on your Red Rack'em The Early Years album was first released under the name Hot Coins. Are your Marlinspike and Hot Coins aliases still active concerns?

Marlinspike, I did one remix for Tricky, which was on Domino, then lots of other stuff that came out just on dubplate or not at all. I have 10 or 15 tracks so I was thinking of maybe putting some out but not saying who it is.

Hot Coins, the band that I did in 2013, I'm still in touch with them and we'd love to do something again. We started working on another album. Those guys are like the best musicians, they're so good. But the thing is, Red Rack'em's my day job. I want to get myself in a stronger position as an artist, then I can devote more time to the side projects.

How will your Self Portrait album, which is due early next year, differ, if at all, from material you've previously released? I ask that because you worked with Berlin based vocalist Misumami on your 2016 Nsyde release 'Nothing Without You'. Will the album feature any vocalists or guests?

I guess the album is an advancement of my sound, I'm in a much more settled and measured place in my life right now. There are guests on the album, but I'm not really allowed to talk too much about it until next year. If you listen to the recent Bergerac singles, 'Tomato Pope', 'Wonky Bassline Disco Banger', the album's all from the same sessions. They are a big indicator of what the album's going to be like stylistically.

More like this? Read Top Five Hacienda Tracks: Picked by the Residents

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