Whether he's in the studio or playing out around the world whenever nocturnal jock Danny Howells is around sleeping is not the priority.
Its late on a Sunday afternoon and Danny Howells is in the middle of Haru Kaze, Tokyo's annual free psychedelic and goa trance outdoor party.The organic atmosphere of tie-dye, incense and hippie-inspired hedonism is far removed from the brand name clothing and funky trainers of the UK club scene but this isn’t a case of his booking agency stuffing up. Instead Danny is in search of his production partner Dick Trevor, who by chance, also happens to be in town and is scheduled to play at this event.
Dick Trevor, who made his name on psychedelic trance label Flying Rhino under monikers like the Green Nuns of Revolution, now also collaborates with Danny as the other half of Science Department and Kinkyfunk. So how does this musical combination work in the studio? "Recently we've been working on housier, disco kind of stuff. Dick will twist things by adding some really nasty, psychedelic kind of noise on top. I think it adds an individual flavour to what we do," says Danny.
Given their individual DJ commitments it's not often that they have the chance to get together. When they do, it's usually in Dick's loft studio where they burn the midnight oil. “Dick will work until 5 in the morning. Then I might take over for a bit before waking him up a couple of hours later". This year Danny is planning to reduce his commitments over summer and instead spend some time in the studio with Dick.
Whereas their releases under Science Department (‘Persuasion/Repercussion’ (Bedrock), ‘Breathe’ (Renaissance)) are more vocal and song-like, as Kinkyfunk Danny says “ We’re intending to do more kinda twisted house stuff, more techno-oriented instrumental pieces, even some breakbeat tracks.” Having recently completing their latest track, a disco offering, Dusk 'til Dawn, Danny describes it as " A really poppy track with a real piano. It’s a ‘92 style hands-in-the-air kind of thing. " Played out in Miami the disco elements of the track have taken a few people by surprise. Danny says "I listen to all kinds of music so I wanted to do something which shows these influences".
Like Danny's own re-edit of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love', played by Danny Tenaglia during his 20-hour marathon set at the Miami Winter Music Conference and also featured in his Two Tribes sets in Australia and New Zealand. Danny says " I'd been doing all these bits on it at home. Then I gave it to Tenaglia and he added his own stuff on top." Like any good remix Danny says, "I just wanted to keep the original in tact but at the same time make it a bit beefier and mix-friendly."
The search for Dick Trevor having proved fruitless, when we catch up again with Danny later in the evening 'I Feel Love' is once more ebbing out of the speakers -this time in a kitchen-sized bar where Danny is giving an impromptu performance. Laying down Miami big tune, Narcotic Thrust's 'Safe From Harm', Danny shows no glimpses of tiredness despite having played a 10-hour set the night before.
"That was the first time I've done a 10 hour set outside of New York, " says Danny " Some people think 10 hours of a single DJ might be really boring but they don't realize that you get to chance to play a whole variety of music." Danny says, "Even if no-one's listening, the pleasure for me is in hearing songs I love played loud on the sound system. Early in the evening it’s like bringing out your own 'Back To Mine' records".
As Danny drops yet another white label hot from Miami, how was the conference this year? "It was really good,” says Danny “A lot calmer than last year. I played at a really small intimate club called Bed. People were dancing on beds, which was really cool. " Tracks Danny says to keep an ear out for include the Rob Rives remix of a Humate track (“ It's really summery - mellow and trancey but really beautiful,” says Danny) plus a new housey-but-trancey number on Twisted.
Back inside the bar some international not-so-bright young thing has mistaken Danny for a local jock, complaining that the music is too slow. Danny is the consumate professional as he listens politely to her request before pointing at the bpm counter in mock disgust shouting "Too slow! Too slow! It's 132!" Later we find him jokingly whining, "Where's my Phazon??? " in reference to the sound system installed at Tokyo's club Womb where he played the night before for Renaissance.
Indeed DJing has evolved considerably since the days when Danny was warming up at Bedrock in the UK. These days, colleges around the world now offer Diploma courses in DJ skills. Danny says, " I think it's really great that people are taking the initiative and doing courses like Sound Engineering. I really do think the key to becoming a successful DJ is in production." However, when it comes to the art of mixing, Danny suggests your hard-earned dollars might be better spent elsewhere. "I don't think you can teach DJing. You just need to be stuck in your room at home playing and having a smoke. That's how you learn."
With the advent of technology like Stanton's Final Scratch and the versatility of the Pioneer CDJ-1000 the possible extinction of vinyl and the changing role of the DJ is also an on-going debate regularly featured in magazines and on message boards. "I think it’s unbelievable,” says Danny. “I love things which aren't going to take over from records but instead complement what you're doing already. I honestly don't think digital technology will ever completely take over from vinyl. People love vinyl and will continually find ways to enhance what they're doing with it."
Despite being halfway around the world from his hometown Hastings in the UK, Danny seems quite at home in Tokyo. Like most DJs he spends a considerable amount of time on the road given his monthly residency at New York's Vinyl, his international commitments with Renaissance in addition to appearances at international events like the recent Two Tribes. Danny says, "Two Tribes was really good. There was a range of DJs from Rui Da Silva and Pete Heller to Tiesto and Goldie. Everyone got on really well so it was a lot of fun hanging out."
Not to mention the opportunity to sneak in some sightseeing. Tour guides working the Sydney Harbour Bridge climbing tours had themselves an eventful affair when Danny and RA columnist, DJ and producer Cass recently made the climb. "There was about ten of us including Cass' mum," says Danny. Things got mad when Danny ripped out Cass' headphone wire followed by Cass trying to undo his safety buckle. Despite the antics Danny cheekily adds, “We got some great pictures though!”
After four hours Danny reluctantly surrenders the decks and the barman boots us all out. As dawn approaches and Danny concludes another memorable affair - what can we possibly expect next? " A 24-hour snooze-a-thon with Howells!" enthuses Danny, "Bring your duvet!” Just don't expect to get a lot of sleep.
Interviewed on April 7, 2002.