Danny Rampling is an English house music DJ widely credited as one of the original founders of the UK’s dance music scene and was the first winner of the No 1 DJ in the World Award by DJ Magazine in 1991, he has reportedly sold over 1 million compilation albums, iconic underground got to sit down with this icon of the industry to get it firsthand…
Mike Mannix: Nice one Danny it’s an honour, for me the most iconic image of you will always be that famous picture of you at SHOOM in your baggy t-shirt with your eyes closed and arm outstretched in front of that fluorescent backdrop. Can you believe that was nearly 30 years ago and try and put into words how different the scene was compared to your earlier days playing funk, soul, and hip-hop?
Danny Rampling: Well firstly 30 years has flown past, at times it feels like yesterday. I feel the time speeding up, year on year they seem to go by quicker. I don’t know, maybe it is just the way of the world now and being consumed by technology day to day. But yeah, at the beginning of the scene it was very organic, it was a real DIY culture. Leading up to creating SHOOM I had been a keen clubber and began my career path by helping out good friend leading Soul Jazz Funk scene DJ and party promoter Nicky Holloway. Helping him set up and promote his Special Branch events and during that time I learnt a lot about promotion and the craft of DJing as an apprentice DJ.
At that time it was a musical landscape of Hip-Hop, Soul and Jazz Funk weekenders, and Funk Rare Groove warehouse parties.
During my early DJ years whilst playing fun pubs in Bermondsey a friend Paul who used to come and check out my music invited me to play on his engagement party at a venue called the Fitness Centre in Southwark London. The room was a great underground space with 300 capacity and I knew at that engagement party that I was going to come back to the Fitness Centre and create a space to call my own. I believe it was about 4 years later I returned to the venue spoke with the owner to book the place for an event and thought that was the right place for me and that was where SHOOM began.
The scene in its early stages was completely revolutionary, because of the new Acid House music. The prelude to the music revolution was GO-GO, Raregroove. Hip-Hop was breaking through, Def Jam and all of those labels. It was quite exciting, but then house filtered through in ‘86 early ‘87 with airplay on pirate radio with Colin Faver and Steve Jackson and Jazzy M in London. I started playing House in August ‘87 as I had previously been in America for a year, just traveling around while I was working out there. I came back and the House sound was starting to explode in the UK, not on that level but it was getting a lot of coverage through the radio and the gay scene building and developing.
There was a club called Black Market, the WAG club in London, Delerium with DJs Noel and Maurice Watson and Eddie Richards. We went off to Ibiza and came back with heaps of inspiration and influence from our trip there, but as I said the scene was very basic at the beginning. It began very, very small. The first night that I promoted SHOOM, there were about 100 people present and within a few months, there were a couple of thousand people outside on the street trying to get in. The thing was the early scene it was all about a DIY culture. The scene unlocked people’s dreams including my own because the economics of Britain were very depressed on the lead up to the point in 87’.
There was high unemployment wasn’t many opportunities and the reaction was that we created a scene for ourselves and that is exactly what happened. People became signers, people became DJ’s, Musicians in the acid house Balearic scene. All manner of opportunities opened up and friendships were forged for life.
”It was a very optimistic time with hope, positivity, and unity. We broke down the social divides and brought people together like nothing before. It deconstructed the class system, sexuality, race, ageism everything and brought people together as one, people felt included in something very special”
the acid house scene was later followed by the rave scene. Acid house really kick-started it and then big events came along and it became the rave scene.
Those early days everybody felt there was something magical going on. Just a handful of people knew and it spread like wildfire. Manchester, the Hacienda was playing house but it wasn’t the core scene, the explosion of the scene happened shortly after that point when we returned from Ibiza late ‘87 and then into the early part of ‘88 the first summer of love. The tabloid press scandalised the new movement and made it more popular with kids up and down the country wanting to go out on the weekend and rave all night completely liberating youth culture.
Paul Oakenfold created Future followed by Spectrum, Nicky created the Trip and Johnny was DJing and A&R at Polydor and Champion Records. There were lots going on and people around the country were starting their clubs/ raves, the Liverpool crowd John Kelly, James Barton and Andy Carroll who went on to create Cream. Dave Beer in Leeds, the Blackburn raves. Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales all raving together it was a remarkable time, incredible! House was just so fresh and modern and unusual, the sound of a 303 acid track was just like music from another planet. It was so much faster, even at 117BPM it felt so fast coming from playing music at 90-100BPM. House music was the pumping new sound, an incredible new music with its roots in disco, soulful music, and the gospel sounds of America and electronic influences of Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode and European bands with the techno scene.
All of the musical influences merged as one with Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, DJ Pierre, Marshall Jefferson, Farley Jackmaster Funk and the Hotmix 5 original Chicago pioneers creating edits and mixes that became known as house music. Shoom we did our best to keep the club very underground and word of mouth, the internet wasn’t there at that point, it was viral marketing. We went out and promoted at art colleges and other venues and fashionable streets in London and before we knew it the mixture of people at SHOOM were from pop stars to kids on the dole art students fashion kids a real broad spectrum of youth culture. It was magical!
The same in the other clubs as well, but SHOOM in particular, it was a very mixed crowd as well, it was complete hedonism. Back then in those days clubs used to close at 2 or 3 o’clock in central London, warehouse parties finished much later. Shoom was in an industrial area on the south bank in London and at that period in time, there weren’t all the high rise office blocks and trendy apartments that you see now in Southwark Street Borough area. There was no trendy shops, restaurants, bars back then, buildings were closed on the weekends. SO there was no noise pollution issues or anything, we could just get on with what we were doing. On one occasion the fire brigade turned up because we had the place smoked out with the smoke machine and the smoke was billowing out of a window that had been left open on the front of the building.
The fire officer came into the club, they thought the place was on fire and had come well prepared for a firefight, the Fire officers came in and couldn’t believe their eyes, had a look around and said “carry on, it looks pretty safe, there’s no fire” and the same with the local police who used to come to the club regularly, they’d come to the door to make sure everything was being run professionally and that there were no problems or issues or trouble going on and everyone was just having a happy time.
The chief inspector of the local station would turn up and have a look at the party downstairs, have a look around and say “Yup everything is fine”. They could see it was a crazy time, but there was no trouble and it was being run responsibly, there was no fire risk or such. It was a remarkable time, the authorities didn’t know what it was all about at that time in ‘88 and had no reason to intervene. It was very special to be part of something that was exploding like rock & roll was in the 50’s or punk in the 70’s. Being at the forefront of a scene when it’s emerging or developing is a unique place to be.
MM: Were you surprised at how fast it exploded, to go from normal nightclub booze culture and pissed up football heads to multiculturalism on the dance floor?
DR: Well I think we all had an epiphany moment in Amnesia. We were all involved in the music scene and the other guys were established, they had their own clubs. Paul worked at Def Jam Records, he introduced the Beastie Boys and Run DMC to the UK on their Def Jam tour. Yes, we all had that revolutionary moment in Amnesia, we knew we were on to something fresh and part of something very unique and special and we returned and created our respected clubs with our own influences and individual inspirations we experienced in Ibiza. We sprinkled some of that Ibiza magic and combined it with the energy of London and it exploded. As I said within a matter of 3-6 months it had spread like wildfire, but we knew it was going to be big. I don’t think at the time though we predicted it to go so major and here we are 30 years later equally as passionate about the music scene and traveling the world as a DJ.
We all played our individual roles in that whole sequence of events. We are blessed we had that experience in Amnesia and to become a professional DJ and create Shoom, that was my dream, my life-long ambition to become a professional DJ and have a crowd that was so into the music I was playing and that is exactly what happened with Shoom and that experience to me at that point of reaching personal success was worth more than any amount of money one could be offered.
MM: So what you visualised you realised?
DR: Yes definitely I visualised that room at the Fitness Centre becoming my spiritual music home. Also at Heaven nightclub late ‘87 with the late great Colin Faver and DJ pop star Mark Moore were playing there and I said to myself “I am going to be playing in that DJ booth very soon as well and within a few months I was playing at Rage, which was one of the other house/rave nights that had developed and became a huge success. Colin Faver and Mark Moore were favourite guest DJs at Shoom on many nights. Rage later evolved into the place to be for hardcore D&B with Fabio and Groove Rider and a young Goldie.
MM: You hammered it out for 20 odd years, you announced your retirement in 2005 to concentrate on other interests, just to return a couple of years later, was it hard to stay away?
DR: Ehh. Yes, I stayed at the top of the DJ tree for close to 20 years it was a time where I became a Father and became restless and wanted to explore other avenues and had a strong desire to open a restaurant and thankfully I didn’t fulfill that quest. The love of music is a lifelong passion. I had a break for a couple years, I wrote a book everything you need to know about DJing whilst I was away from the scene. Over the last 10 years, I have been back out there playing and traveling the world, having a great time and doing what I love, building my career backup as this industry is not very forgiving. I went a bit bonkers and got frustrated with where I was at creatively after departing BBC Radio 1, with hindsight I could have taken a short break and evaluated my life. The press stated I had retired, I will retire from life when I die. One thing I do know for sure is music will always be a part of my life.
MM: Bit of a cliché, but it sounds like you are living the dream.
DR: Absolutely. And being an international DJ is living the dream it’s not a job. I have said this for many years, it is a lifestyle a way of life. Promotion DJing and working in a studio is a lifestyle it’s not a job. I have done tedious jobs in my younger years and experienced period of unemployment, I know what crap jobs are like. If you don’t enjoy your job make plans to get out of it and take a chance in life and follow your dreams, break out of comfort zones and at least try and do something different and something one enjoys doing.
MM: It was a foundation for you I suppose, a humbleness as well I think when that manifests in someone before they reach the echelons where you are at.
DR: Absolutely, gratitude! I didn’t just go straight to the top. Learning my craft over a period of many years to the lead up to becoming a professional DJ, I had been playing music since I was 12 years old. I only started DJing in the early 80’s, but yeah learning one’s craft and when that break came along. I created that break myself really, influences had been instrumental in that but I got up and said: “Right, this is it, this is my time to shine”. I knew the time was right, time to step up and that is what happened. Instead of bursting onto the scene, we created the scene. That’s what happened and it is still going very, very strong today. People want to come out and dance on the dance floor and it’s all about the music and promoters who book me worldwide know I am very professional at what I do, I show up and entertain through the music.
MM: How big an influence was Ibiza?
DJ Alfredo at Amnesia was a real alchemist at that time playing in an open-air club that was completely different to the clubs in London. The open-air club was incredible and stayed open until 8 o’clock in the morning, 10 o’clock sometimes. Sun coming up, beautiful people. A bunch of club kids from Manchester, Stoke London Liverpool. A few of them were football boys and fashionistas Euro jet set models actors playboys pirates misfits freaks you name an extraordinary socially diverse mix of people as one.
Very different to what you see in Amnesia today where everyone faces the DJ with camera phones crammed in like a rock concert. Those times it was very early days… Ibiza was very much about individuality then, the openness to music as Alfredo demonstrated really coined that term Balearic. Being on that dance floor with the sun coming up after being playing cracking house sets merged with indie rock & pop Latin and all kinds of different musical styles. And it worked so well! His style greatly influenced us, we hadn’t come from an indie and rock background as such and then exposed to all these kinds of different unusual sounds, but they had the funk. The tracks Alfredo played at that particular time he still plays today.
He has a very funky sound through the DJ sets. Whether it is an indie rock track or whether it’s pop or whatever it may be, he showed us the Alfredo Balearic style. We all imitated Alfredo’s style just as the USA DJs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy David Mancuso had inspired a generation of USA DJs.
We were all inspired by the best DJ’s, there is always a figurehead and sometime later I was influenced by Tony Humphreys. He really showed a lot of people in New York his mastery at mixing US House with European music and how he weaved the tapestry of music together in the mix. Larry Levan was the master of eclectic music in the Paradise Garage in New York and as Frankie was doing in Warehouse with Ron Hardy in Chicago. It was very unique to us, we had come from backgrounds in soul, funk, hip-hop and that was the sound at that time we had been influenced with.
MM: What’s your opinion then on today’s designer DJ’s that are coming from the champagne and diamonds background, that’s starting to takeover Ibiza now?
DR: Well there is room for everything, but you know the music scene is a global business. So, you know the explosion of EDM in America has contributed to that, the whole VIP and bottle thing it goes hand in hand with the EDM market. Ibiza is still always pushing the boundaries of music, radio and clubs are very strong in Ibiza. There is always something going on the island, of course, Ibiza has become very commercialized in a lot of clubs but that is just what happens when things get popular and has made a number of people very wealthy. We’ve all contributed to the popularity of Ibiza that’s the way it is, but you know.
You either want to be part of that culture or you want to get out on the dance floor and enjoy yourself to cooler underground sounds as people do in Sankeys, Sankeys has been great this past year with the night 88/89. Sankey’s is complete polarity from the world of EDM dark room cool lighting and booming quality sound system it’s all about the music in there and not prancing around with bottles with sparklers in. People go to dance to great music played on a great sound system and be in unity with others on the dance floor that’s what nightclubs have always been about.
For the real music heads in Ibiza, that’s what it is all about, dancing till the sun comes up or dancing in a dark club or outdoors with a great sound system and a great DJ playing great music that is the essence for many of us in the industry and Ibiza in particular.
MM: I was there last September, I was doing a piece for a magazine on the underground in Sankeys and I totally agree that is probably my favourite club on the island. We were there for the international DJ awards as well in Pacha, I like that dark, authentic, warehouse vibe because that is what I grew up on.
DR: Yeah they have, It is a great club Sankeys and also the inside of Space, and again it is a big dark room with great lighting, great sound system and that’s the spirit of Ibiza. Amnesia too with the sun coming up on the terrace. That is what Amnesia has always been about, it’s a very big commercial club now because the marketplace is bigger and the demand for Techno is massive. With regards to EDM, there is room for everything and there always will be, I think the best idea is to focus on what one enjoys rather than something that isn’t to your particular taste or style. Rather than focusing energy on that, it’s better to focus on what’s great and what can become great.
MM: Do you think it is more difficult today to carve out a niche for yourself using modern technology as opposed to when you, Paul and the lads started?
DR: I think the DJ business has always been difficult and recently is more competitive than ever before, there may have been a period in 87′- ‘89 where everything exploded and it was a bit more of an open playing field and there was more opportunity. People carved out careers for themselves and I think it is the same today but there is a smaller pond in a sense with more big fish in that pond and that’s the thing. Also, the industry has changed, you need a marketing team behind you and money generally, the need to make great music as well, need to be a good producer to stand out and employ PR companies which cost a lot of money.
Carving out a niche for oneself can be challenging but a little luck along the way also helps and influential people you may meet on the way up. There are so many people doing it, but I think that if you make great music and you play good music and you can read a dance floor have respect and you are approachable and you get on with people, a good networker then there is an abundance of opportunities in the DJing world.
Anyone can be a DJ, but it takes commitment to make great DJ same with productions as well. The industry is not like the old days where you could work your way up, stand out as a great DJ. What happened back then is completely different now, it is very marketing driven but the rewards are far greater now than they were back then. I would compare it too premiership football, what footballers earn now and what they earned in the 60’s is a stark contrast. It is very similar with DJing.
MM: Is there anybody up and coming that has caught you eye?
DR: I like Elias from Switzerland. He is a young DJ, he is 14 or 15. I was introduced to him by Mark Brown at CR2 records. Mark is a good friend, he introduced me to him in Ibiza, and he was there with his parents. He is a very smart kid and is so talented, producing Techno music, he has been playing since he was 10 years old. He’s is playing on some very credible big events and festivals already and he is definitely a very bright emerging star of electronic music scene and will be huge.
Also into the UK based, ‘Saytek’, who does live stuff, he has a great sound, it is more tech, acid, techno sound, and is done on the fly. It is really brilliant electronic. ‘ILONA’ another burgeoning Techno star, big Melodic trippy deep sexy techno, packs a serious punch. I’ve heard some of her music in a mastering studio and it’s really blown me away. She’s releasing an E.P. soon and will be making serious waves when that hits, her DJ mixing is really next level stuff as well, a girl you will be definitely be hearing and seeing a lot more of. From Portugal, ‘Rick Maia’ he is very established as such but he is one of the new wave on the electronic and techno scene throughout Europe, he’s is a great DJ,
I like his sound, supported him at the Dockyard Festival in Amsterdam, very accomplished. Then in London, ‘Josh Caffe’ play a diverse mix of Acid, House, sometimes has influences of Tony Humphries soulful funky sounds, often sings a couple of his tracks whilst Dj-ing, very diverse. From New York George Aponte aka Saliva Commandos great percussive tribal productions and Djing in that NY style is a rising star of the underground New York scene.
MM: You are going to be playing alongside David Morales and Roger Sanchez in the Royal Albert Hall at Christmas?
DR: I am looking forward to that, it is going to be a great night. It is always a pleasure to play alongside David and Roger, we have played countless times over the years. Real legends, New York and London legends, so it will be a big event at a big venue and it is all about the culture of Ibiza and Space classics, it will be a really good one for celebration and to music and culture that we love. We are going to deliver quality sets with quality music. People also who have experienced being there on the dance floor in Space in Ibiza and will remind them of those time. It was a great party and David and Roger went back to back for about 15 minutes.
MM: How much influence has David Morales had on you then over the years?
DR: From very early on, from the Red Zone days and being in New York with Frankie, first gig I played with David was in Heaven back in ‘88, when Black Box ‘Ride on Time’ came out, that was the first record he opened up with. He wasn’t very approachable at that time, but we formed a friendship over the years and became very good friends I spoke more to his manager Judy Weinstein that night and that is where we first met in the DJ booth at Heaven nightclub London. The same with Frankie Knuckles, I met him at the World Club in New York where he was a resident in ‘88. Judy Weinstein introduced me to them both. David has been very influential and I love the whole Def mix percussive sound, we all came from a similar background in soul, funk and disco music.
MM: What do you find most rewarding about working with him?
DR: It is the sheer professionalism and the style, the way he mixes and his attitude, just the presence that he brings and attention to the detail of sound quality and the New York heritage. Such strong heritage, just look at the contributions to house music. We always have a good laugh, talking music and just life in general as friends do.
MM: This year then, that’s 30 years of Acid House, how are you going to celebrate that with Paul, Nicki, and Johnny?
DR: There will some things happening for sure there are some exciting things on the horizon and a major milestone of club culture 1988 -2018 is the 30th anniversary of the summer of love which will be something special.
Live Interview, Page Design, Editing – Mike Mannix
Transcription Dax Malone