House royalty and all round lovely chap Danny Howells has contributed the latest mix in the Waveform Mix Series. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight talks to Danny about the Dutch music scene, veganism, and Digging Deeper.
When it comes to obtaining legendary status in the world of electronic music, it is fair to say that Danny Howells has gone about it in exactly the right way. A very humble character, Danny has been playing an integral part in evolving the dance scene since he first cut his teeth as a DJ back in the early 90s.
Twenty seven years later, and Howells knows how to destroy a dancefloor better than most. His sets are meticulously crafted affairs. His expertise behind the decks are so in tune that he can hold a crowd in the palm of his hand for the entirety of his set, never letting them stop for air. We can testify to this first-hand.
With a shedload of releases under his belt, that cover remixes, mix compilations, and a raft of solo work, Danny has worked tirelessly to push himself to the limit, while gracing fans with consistently fantastic material. His label, Dig Deeper, which ran from 2009 to 2013, is testament to the fact.
Danny is one of those DJ’s that never stops. Aside from his globetrotting escapades, he also works to raise awareness of animal rights and espouses a vegan lifestyle. He talks more about this in the interview, below.
You surely don’t want to sit and read what we have to say, though. You’d rather hear it all from the horse’s mouth, right? OK! Here’s what Danny had to say when he spoke to our Ste Knight.
Waveform: Hi Danny. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with us. We may as well start with the ‘bread and butter’ of interviews. Give us a little rundown on how you got into DJing and production.
Danny Howells: To put it simply, it was a hobby, an addiction which basically became my career. I didn’t intend to be a full-time DJ, it seemed totally out of reach. I was merely obsessed with music and was (and still am!) on a never-ending quest to discover as much music during my life as I possibly can.
My first gig was with a friend, Andy Batsford, playing a Prince tribute party back in 1990/1991. From then I knew I had to get decks, so I immediately visited a local DJ equipment store where the owner, an amazing man called Terry Johns, allowed me to buy a pair of decks and a mixer on credit, as I was skint at the time.
From then I started doing tapes, at least a couple a month, which I’d give to friends. From these I ended up getting a residency at legendary Hastings club The Crypt, and soon after, I got a call from John Digweed asking me to warm up for him at a Bedrock party.
Waveform: So, you started your own label, Dig Deeper, back in 2009, which ran up until 2013 (correct us if we’re wrong, but were the last releases by Andreas Saag and MrCenzo?) How do you feel running a label impacted on your attitude to the music industry? Did it help in terms of being a DJ and producer?
Danny Howells: I think they were the final releases, along with an amazing album by Art Bleek called ‘Tilt’. I don’t know how it impacted on my attitude to the industry and don’t think it helped me too much in terms of my DJ career, as I wasn’t really producing “big tracks” as such and I wasn’t doing it for that purpose.
The label simply came to be because I had one of my “production spurts”, where I found myself producing a ton of music for the sole purpose of playing it out. After a short while I realised it would be better to set up my own label as an outlet, as I was too scared to approach labels for fear of rejection!
I really enjoyed it…I was producing a lot then and I probably will again at some point soon, but only when it feels right and when I feel I have something good to offer. I won’t do it for the sole purpose of trying to “push my career” or trying to get myself in the spotlight.
Waveform: Your career has seen you put out numerous mix CDs, including your own Nocturnal Frequencies series. How do you feel that putting these together differs from, say, performing a DJ set in a club?
Danny Howells: I haven’t done a CD in a while, but for me personally, a CD is not about using the most upfront, exclusive tracks you can find. You have just under 3 hours if you’re doing a double album, to make something hopefully timeless and that you would want to listen to yourself.
With a DJ set, I get my biggest buzz from playing a track for the first time and hearing it with pretty much the same ears as the crowd. With a CD, I enjoy digging through my favourite current tracks as well as going through everything I’ve played out over the last 2, 3 or more years. Things that are a few years old that no-one else really picked up on, they’re the special tracks that can make a CD sound good in 10 years or, hopefully, more.
Waveform: You have worked alongside John Digweed on many an occasion – in fact you arguably kickstarted your career at John’s Bedrock club night. How did that partnership come to fruition?
Danny Howells: I mentioned before about one of my mix tapes ending up in John‘s hands. But I knew John long before as he was a big mentor, playing the local clubs pretty much most nights of the week.
He would play the “popular” stuff of that era (a mix of the likes of Stone Roses, Happy Mondays to Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson etc) as well as mixing in early house and acid. I would always request things like The Cure and The Smiths and get on his nerves!
Once he gave me the chance to open for him, I guess I must have played OK because he kept booking me. Even after the gigs where I thought I’d properly screwed up, he still booked me and gave me a massive leg up as far as my career is concerned.
Waveform: Speaking of club nights, you played your first set outside the UK in Holland. Did the Dutch scene influence your sound in any way, or indeed the style of DJing you adopted?
Danny Howells: I was very influenced by that sound back then. The Dutch sound in the mid to late 90s was so hypnotic, loop driven and spacey. Nothing like the trance stuff that followed. A lot of that music still sounds great, although a little fast by today’s standards!
Mick Boskamp (radio host, journalist, amazing guy) had a big hand in pushing me in the Netherlands and had so much faith in me, and that led to me becoming more well-known back home and in other countries.
Waveform: Where else have you drawn influence from? What artists can you cite as being on your list of influencers?
Danny Howells: It all starts from when I was a kid .. being exposed to James Brown, The Beatles, Floyd, Bowie, Bolan, Motown, funk etc, and then disco, the electronic sounds of the 70s (Moroder, Kraftwerk, Space etc), New Order, new romantic, gothic, punk, pop, acid, etc etc. I’ve been immersed in music all my life and all of it has made an impression.
Waveform: You’re well known for your deep, sexy DJ sets (as well as your amazing shirt collection – we saw the purple paisley number at your recent set for Motion in Liverpool, great choice!) How would you describe your sets? What do you do to prepare for your performances, and how do you manage your sets as they unfold?
Danny Howells: I prepare by making sure I feel confident, and to feel confident I have to know that I’ve got probably 5 or 6 times more new music than I could possibly play. From ultra-deep ambient house to full on jackhammer techno and everything in between, except chart nonsense!
That way I can play a set which takes in various styles of house, as I’ve never been good at playing one style all night long, and I can also take my set in many directions, depending on crowd, venue, atmosphere, opening DJ, my mood etc etc.
Not playing the same music every night keeps me inspired and fresh and on my toes. It means things can go wrong but it also means things can go very right, and you’re not playing in your comfort zone night after night which is a very mind numbing thing to do.
Waveform: You recently played a benefit gig for Go Vegan Scotland, in partnership with Music is the Answer. On a personal level, are you a vegan? What made you adopt this lifestyle choice?
Danny Howells: I am indeed. I always considered myself an animal lover, yet it took me many years to realise that my lifestyle was causing these same animals to live a life of confinement, abuse and exploitation, and that no matter what quality of life these animals were given, the end result was always going to be the same – death.
I couldn’t carry on like that so I decided to go vegetarian, and immediately started following animal rights pages on social media, reading books and watching documentaries and so on. This made me see the truth behind dairy, eggs, fur, animals in “entertainment”, “sport” and so on.
It was daunting at first and I wasn’t sure I could do it, but the more time went on, the easier it became. I soon realised that living a life as free from animal products as one possibly can in this society is so much more fun than I could have ever imagined. And I feel so much happier and healthier as a result.
I can eat without feeling guilty and instead of eating the same old ready-meals week in week out, I now love nothing more than getting a good old cook off going on in the Howells kitchen and trying new things out. Some will get posted on my FB page, the occasional one goes in the bin but it’s all part of the process!
Waveform: Do you consider yourself an animal rights activist, in this case? Tell us a bit about the charities you support and what makes animal rights so important to you.
Danny Howells: I try and do everything I can do to raise awareness as to what is going on all over the world as a result of humans, the atrocities that are taking place everywhere. I try and show that veganism is easy, that the support is never-ending, that you can feel happy and healthy and that it’s not a sacrifice in any way whatsoever.
I support as many small charities as I can, mainly small rescues who rely on public funding etc. I want to increase the amount of work I do publicly in terms of sharing the things I’ve learnt, experiences, advice and so on. I attended my first vigil a few weeks back which utterly broke my heart.
Google “The Save Movement” to find out more…it really crushed all of us who were there, but it enabled us to document the experience and raise awareness for the poor animals in their final moments before being led to slaughter.
This is something I will be doing as often as I can, and even though it is a very painful thing to witness, the pain is nothing compared to what we put these animals through.
Waveform: What do you do to ensure you stick to your vegan regime, and adherence to your core value of opposing animal cruelty?
Danny Howells: I don’t really see it as a regime as that makes it sound quite punishing, instead of the joy that it is. I do have to keep my eyes open when I travel though, as the language barrier can create issues. But regardless of whether I’m home or abroad, the HappyCow app is always being worked to the max!
I can always locate the nearest vegan restaurants, read reviews etc. And I find that I use my spare time much more constructively than I used to. Years ago I had back problems, anxiety, exhaustion etc so started seeing a chiropractor.
She advised walking as an exercise and a way of dealing with this, which is probably the best advice I ever had. So now I find a local restaurant that looks good, fill my iPod full of new tunes and get walking! I get to see the city, get my blood circulating and get some bloody good grub in the process.
I sometimes also get asked to go to dinner with the promoters, but I tell them that I’ll look after myself and that I’m looking forward to trying a certain vegan restaurant. Frequently they’ll say that they will come and join me. I really love that.
They say that vegans love to shout about veganism. Well, yes, I suppose we do. But at the same time, people love to ask you questions about it. And me being the annoying vegan, I love to answer them. At great length as you can tell!
Waveform: You’re a busy chap. Tell us what the future holds for Danny Howells. What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
Danny Howells: I’m the same as I’ve always been…no big plan, no real ambitions with regards to career etc. I just want to carry on being able to do what I love. Right now, I feel I have an amazing balance, being able to work in music and being able to do as much as I can for animals. I have no complaints whatsoever.
Waveform: Thank you Danny for chatting with us!
Danny has also kindly contributed to our Waveform mix series! The set is taken from his recent appearance at Ohrwurm, and Danny will be releasing the full mix in good time. Check it out, now!