One of Global Underground’s brightest lights gives a frank interview on the lessons learned from 20 years of being in the game
Danny Howells emerged as one of the most well respected members of the progressive house scene in the late 1990s. His mix contributions to CD series’ like Global Underground, Balance and Renaissance earned him a reputation as one of the brightest minds in the genre and ever since he has been surfing his way through the global dance music scene and spearheading his own label, ‘Dig Deeper.’ Recently he’s been playing as part of 3D, a DJ trio with Dave Seaman and Darren Emerson, playing festivals such as Latitude or Glastonbury and working with animal rights charities, a subject that is close to his heart.
Tell us about your record collection..
Danny Howells: I started with hand-me-downs when I was a kid, things like Bowie, T.Rex, ABBA etc. I had a huge collection of 7″s and tapes by the time I was about 10, and it just escalated from there. It spiralled out of control about 10 years ago when I was up to about 25k records and lord knows how many CDs etc, but when I moved to London I managed to scale it right down to about 7k records, about half of which are electronic.
I still collect artists like Bowie and Prince…not obsessively, but I look at my collection and sometimes realise I have six copies of the same record. If I’m passionate about a particular album then I usually like to have a really early pressing, preferably UK, and then maybe a Japanese copy for the sound and packaging, and so on.
What are you searching for in the records that you are seeking out week to week? We mean this question in the deepest possible interpretation. What does our endless search for the perfect record mean?! What are we really looking for? What are you looking for? Freedom or relief through music? A connection to a greater energy? What’s going on!
Jesus that’s a question! Heaven knows. For me it’s never really been about searching for the perfect record as such but more about stumbling across them. DJing has changed so much for me, from the days where I would analyse a record inside out and play it for weeks on end, to today where I rotate my music constantly and try and play as many of my new bits at each gig as I possibly can. I buy my music pretty much blindfolded in that I flick through every new release without paying too much attention to who it’s by or what label it’s on or what style it is. And lo and behold, every now and then something emerges and you think “yup that’s perfect!” And then you start digging for your next gig.
Tiga wrote a post about playing badly and the side of DJing that no one talks about. Tell us about the last time you really mugged a set or felt truly vulnerable as a DJ?
It’s pure truth. There are so many occasions where I know I could have done so much better, and then you’ll get people at the end saying they loved it and it really messes you up. You feel like you’ve let everyone down. But all it does it push you further. You can’t beat yourself up and dwell on it. I’ve never been the guy that goes “oh I rocked it” because whenever everything goes absolutely amazingly, it’s a pure team effort, from the sound, lighting, opening DJ, crowd, promoter..everything! But when it’s a bad night, I tend to take sole responsibility and do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen at the next gig.
And tell us about the last time you really, truly connected with the inner DJ chi?
It would have been at my last gig which was a tiny venue in North London. It was a fundraiser for the forthcoming animal rights march and 90% of the people there had never heard me play before. It turned out to be a six hour set and one of those nights where I wasn’t having to think about what I was going to play next, it all just felt so natural and relaxed. It was something so different to what I’ve done before and that made it so exciting.
You’re a former psychiatric nurse. And for nearly two decades you’ve spent your weekend around ravers in various states of unravelling consciousness. You’ve no doubt learned some valuable lessons about the human mind in your former job, what lessons have you learned about the human mind in your current job?
That’s a tough one. As a nurse, one of the key things I learnt was to try not to judge people. I made that mistake with certain patients, forming an opinion on them before I later discovered they’d been a Doctor or ambulance worker or something and lost their family and home and been through sheer hell in the space of months. I always try and keep an open mind with people as much as I can. I still slip up sometimes but I try my best.
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