Few people are aware that global music icons Paul Oakenfold and Judge Jules manage a young British producer by the name of Danny Howard. Even fewer are aware that Danny should have been on their watch list back in 2011, when he won the BBC Radio 1 "Superstar DJ" competition. It was then that he catapulted into the limelight and moved on to produce Billboard Dance hits like "Thundergod" with Futuristic Polar Bears (see below).
Meanwhile, Paul is in the midst of working on his forthcoming album, Pop Killer, and has just launched his Trance Mission USA tour. Scheduled to perform at Pacha that evening, Paul and Danny sat before us on a luxurious couch at the newly opened The William, an extended stay hotel in Midtown. Sitting in a room that resembled one's study, the space was vintage in nature due to its large windows, curtains and bookcases that decorated the dark room. The pair siped on hot tea that was steeping in white paper cups as they prepared for the ensuing 18-minute interview, which was just one of three that afternoon. This interview was split into two parts; in part one, Danny speaks about his goals and what it's like having Paul and Judge Jules as mentors. Part two is dedicated to Paul, in which he explains the concept behind his Trance Mission USA tour, his technique when it comes to producing covers, and his next album.
In your recent interview with VIBE, you told them that your next dream is to play a major music festival in the US. What is your game plan for achieving this goal and extending your fan base?
The only way to do that is through music. So, I started a new radio show on Sirius XM on BPM every single Saturday, and hopefully more people will start listening to that. My game plan is to get in the studio as much as I can in the next few months. We’re in the industry where you’ve gotta know people. You’ve gotta have the music and the product behind you; as much as it is about making connections, the music is really important as well.
Would you say that earning slots on Sirius XM and BBC Radio 1’s busy schedules is like a rite of passage, or are there even bigger accomplishments that you consider as such?
Well, these radio shows are quite big in their own right and I never imagined I’d in a million years end up on these networks. But my goal was always to be a DJ and to play the best shows at the biggest clubs and festivals. So as long as everything else I’m doing goes into the equation, where the outcome is doing these gigs that I’ve dreamt of, then I’ll do as much as I can.
Do you have any funny fangirl stories you can share with us, or maybe just one of the most ridiculous memories of your career so far?
Not really, but I did just have my first bra thrown at me on Boxing Day. But no crazy stories like that.
Some of the greatest friendships have the worst beginnings, and we know that you two had a bit of a rough start. But here you are today; Danny, how have Paul and Judge Jules contributed to the development of your style and vice versa?
Danny: Having two successful people who have been in the industry for so long is invaluable really. I’m not sure if they’ve contributed to my style, but they definitely point me in the right direction. Being connected with the right people is important, but you’ve also gotta make your own style and do what you want to do. Whatever I decide, Paul and Jules have always been responsive to it and have guided me. You’ve gotta be honest.
Paul: We’re here to advise him for help but no one is here to tell Danny or anyone what to do. We’ve seen it and been through it and if we can give back, then great. There are a lot of people who at some time in their career have asked for my opinion, but they don’t necessarily have to agree with it. We’re saturated with music. So you’ve gotta come up with a sound that stands out. Saying that is very difficult to do that because in terms of technology, it’s so accessible and everyone has access to the same sounds. So you’re digging so deep to find these sounds and as soon as you come up with one and put it out there, there are 50 other producers copying you. Within two months, that sound is bone out. Everyone’s in the gold rush and trying to make money out of it. Bear in mind producers used to make music for DJ’s but now the producer is also the DJ. It can’t help you if you’re a DJ and don’t produce music.
As one of the most influential trance and progressive house DJs/producers out there, what do you have to say about the “come and go” pattern in trance’s popularity over the years?
We as a trance community lived on the Main Stage for many years and slowly we’ve been moving away and EDM is the most popular sound. Deep house is probably the second most popular sound and we’re moving further and further away from where we used to be. It’s strange to see because you’ve lived in this place for so long. But times change, and you embrace that. I saw on the Trance Mission tour there was an upswing of the current generation in America getting into trance, and hearing it for the first time. I don’t have a problem with it. I got bored with trance, it all sounded the same years ago and that’s why I kind of stepped out of it to focus more on film and other sounds.
When you explained the concept of your Trance Mission tour to Billboard, you said that people “weren’t crying out to hear another remix of a trance classic.” Do you think fans will be highly receptive to the re-worked trance classics concept, or do you think they will expect something different?
Tonight you’re going to hear two out of the ten tracks that I chose. The idea of the tour came about to play small venues like Cielo and go back to that really melodic trance that I got into it for. The album came about because of, really we were getting a lot of people on social media saying, “Can you play some classics?” and I didn’t want to go back and play old music. So then we were talking as a team at Perfecto: “What if we go and take some of these classics that the current generation in America isn’t familiar with, and bring them up to date with a 2014 production sound?” In realistic terms, cover them, rather than do a remix. With a remix you’re given the parts, the original parts, and you add some of your own production to it. But you keep some of the original parts and that didn’t interest me. So the idea was to take a song that was popular for me ten, fifteen years ago—sounds terrible for me to say that—and reproduce it. And bring a lot more to the table, not only in terms of production, but also in vocals. In “Adagio For Strings” for example, I put vocals on top of it. It’s very interesting to see, because in Britain we tend to dig deeper and find what DJ’s we follow, what sound we like. In America, it’s quite hard to play older tracks because people don’t know them. And they have access to them, but they just don’t seem to want to dig deeper other than the top ten tracks on Beatport.
Can you give us the lowdown on your technique? As in, what is the general process from start to finish of producing a cover?
In terms of making a cover, you want to keep the integrity of the song so people realize that it’s a cover but you want to add a fresh take to it. You want to add 2014 production sounds because some of these songs are fifteen years old. Technology has dramatically changed to the point where I want to bring that to the table. So, and as I said earlier on, I added vocals. In terms of arrangement, structure, they’re different. So it’s a real modern version of an old song. It’s something that’s very rarely done in the electronic world. It’s done more in the pop world where a singer will take an old existing song and cover it. We usually remix it. With “Adagio for Strings,” we used a real orchestra, which cost a lot of money to do. We used a quartet—an eight-part quartet to record the strings to give it depth and much more emotion and feeling. If you’ve heard that original part, William Orbit kept that moment and that moment was always special because coincidentally, Ferry Corsten did a big mix on it and then Tiësto did a version. That record that William did was a very special record because I’m a big fan of film. That moment in Platoon where you have that actual piece of “Adagio,” which took a 60-piece orchestra, was incredible. So that’s where that moment came from. I wanted to record it like it was recorded for a movie.
Are you able to give us any further hints as to what we can expect on your forthcoming album, “Pop Killer”?
“Pop Killer” is more of the same of my last two albums. Basically it’s melodic, cutting-edge music with collaborations. But the collaborations this time I’ve gone for Azealia Banks, ZZ Ward, Allen Stone, Miguel. It’s going that route rather than the last two albums—big names. What’s changed is that house music has become pop music. So we now live in a much more commercial area. I think the album will be perceived as much more commercial but I haven’t changed anything since the last two.