J Dilla, Wiley, The Streets—we hear the records that have shaped the UK artist's tastes.
It would seem Danielle Gooding has always had a dark and a light side, constantly shifting between contrasting styles ever since getting her first copy of Ableton. She's been tirelessly producing ever since, promoting herself long before gaining the support of Elijah & Skilliam and the rest of her Butterz family. She's touched many people along the way. As Elijah wrote in an email: "She has been a beacon for females, for garage, for grime and the label, and our lives would be completely different without her."
Gooding has stared down some tough times, moved around a lot and was even living in a hostel at one point, barely earning enough money to get by. But she doesn't dwell on these things; if anything she's as upbeat as last year's feel good anthem "Happy" would suggest. Speaking to Gooding reveals how doggedly determined and technically minded she is. It's clear music has provided her stability in a prolonged period of flux. As she was gearing up for the release of UKG, the debut album from TQD, her group with Royal-T and DJ Q, we discussed some of the records that got her to where she is.
Forget Me Nots
Admittedly I only know this one because of the Men In Black theme song.
I always loved that song. I loved the chords, and when I found out that they were based off an older track I had to find it. Chords and melodies really grab me from tunes more than anything. I just love the progressions here and the soulful feel. It's just a mellow, feel good track for me.
You've selected quite a few soulful, melodic tunes. What is it about soul music that attracts you?
I think it's just, again, the use of chords. By changing a few keys in the arrangement, it can give a whole different vibe to a track. The melodies used in the more soulful stuff reel me in, and a lot of that has definitely gone into the music I make.
Where does your love of chords and keys come from?
I was about eight years old, and my mum bought me my first mini keyboard. It was battery operated. I used to just sit on the floor whilst mum cooked dinner, just playing on my keyboard in my own world. So that's the first thing I ever learnt musically—the keyboard—and then from there I just developed an interest in synthesisers and pianos. As I got older, I would upgrade to a better keyboard and more advanced sounds.
Do you still have a lot of keyboards?
I've had some keyboards, they come and go with moving. My setup is pretty average, I guess. I've got a Bass Station MIDI keyboard, which obviously specialises in bass, but yeah, I don't have anything too advanced. I just use it to simply play, but the sounds that I use are obviously built into the program or the plugins that I use.
Buddy X (Masters At Work 12" House Remix)
EZ played this in one of his sets years and years ago, I think it was towards the end of his set, and yeah, I fell in love with the track. It gave me goosebumps, it just gave me a mad feeling. I like the swing in the drums. I've played it in a few warmup sets and it just goes down really well—especially in a place like Ibiza.
When did you last play in Ibiza?
I had a residency last summer at The Redlight [at Sankeys Ibiza]. I was playing out there pretty much most Mondays for a couple of months. It was my first season out there, so it was a big learning curve for me.
What influence did EZ have on you?
I was in school when all the Pure Garage CDs were out in shops and on TV commercials. I think just being at that age and still kind of getting into garage, that played a massive part. There was so much mainstream exposure to garage back then. I used to have all the CDs—that's a big part of how and why I fell in love with garage.
I've only got into DJing in the last three years, and his style definitely inspires me. EZ makes me wanna be more technical with my mixes, to not just be a DJ playing tracks and then mixing them.
I think the fact that your first major DJ gig was on Boiler Room is pretty mental. How did you cope with that?
I still laugh about that now. I was a candidate at RBMA in 2010, and I think I had a track floating about then. Boiler Room emailed me saying, "Would you like to be involved in this?" and I was like, "Yeah, I can't really DJ, but OK, I'll do it on the condition that I can come into the studio before, have a look at a CDJ and have a little practice." I had no idea what BR really was. The next day I went into this really intense atmosphere with a camera there and I was like, oh my god, what have I got myself in for?
I don't think the footage ever surfaced. I had no idea how much of a big deal it was. You wanna make sure you're the best you can be, so my practice hours were basically in Boiler Room.
Who are some of the DJs who have inspired you along the way?
EZ, DJ Q—just turntablists. When I was 16 I used to work in a record shop and it was my boss who actually gave me my copy of Ableton. He was also a DJ performing in things like DMC championships, so he was very technical. His whole style was based around that, so I think I've always had an interest in just wanting to do more than what you can do with two decks and a mixer.
Weren't you breakdancing back then as well?
Yeah, I was. I was really into my breakdancing at the age of 15, 16. But once I got into Ableton it all slowed down. I realised what my real passion and interest was—it was making music.
I guess you were listening to more hip-hop at that time then?
I used to listen to a lot of different stuff, but I was more into my old-school '90s hip-hop, like Nas, J Dilla, Pete Rock.
This J Dilla track just stands out for me. Unlike the majority of other hip-hop, which is very sample driven, he uses a lot of synths in his instrumentals. This is one of my favourites because he incorporates all of those electronic elements into it and still keeps it hip-hop.
I used to make a lot of hip-hop. I used to have a big affiliation with people like Black The Ripper back in the day. Me and Wiley even did a couple hip-hop bits that we never released. It was actually really good stuff but, Wiley being Wiley, he's so selective sometimes.
Did you start off producing hip-hop, or were you making grime and hip-hop simultaneously?
I started off with hip-hop, but at the same time as I was making other things, too. I've never been a one genre type of girl. When I first got Ableton I was one minute making a hip-hop instrumental, and the next I'll be trying to make some sort of bassline. But I mean, I was just making music for myself. It was like self-healing in a way, it was just what I enjoyed doing. Working with artists and all that came years and years later.
Absolute classic. Where did you come across this one?
My aunty showed me that. She was such a big garage listener, she used to have loads of underground CDs. I think I would've been about 12 when I first heard that, in the car. She used to have loads of garage packs, Matt Jam Lamont or DJ EZ, from the Garage Nation raves. I remember the first time I heard it I just fell in love with it. It's just one of those tracks that makes you feel good and makes you think about and reminisce on things. It seems to unite all people, everyone just loves it.
Is this in your record bag, so to speak?
Yeah, definitely. I think you can play it almost anywhere, and even if it's a peak-time set people just love it.
Gettin' In The Way
I used to listen to that track as an instrumental a lot, just because of the chords, melodies—that's what I love about it. There are so many tracks I've used those keys in, and if I was to pitch it up, you'll hear it.
So you're drawn to the production more than Jill Scott's vocals?
I'm definitely more driven by the beats. Anything I listen to, if I decide whether I like it or not it's probably because of the instrumental.
There's a strong female vocal streak to your music, can you tell us about some of the women you've worked with?
I used to work a lot with Lioness, she was a big female MC at the time. Me and Lady Leshurr did something. Lately I have been trying to do more vocal tracks, and Miss Fire is one of my favourite vocalists to work with. She can send an a cappella and I can just get an idea instantly. That's what happened with "Happy."
I think the first time I heard this was on an Outlook promo video. It's one of those tracks I was instantly drawn to. I go through phases: if I find a track I love, I'll listen to it over and over again about 100 times, every day. I used to listen to this track a lot, and I think at the time I'd just had some stuff going on in my personal life. This track, I dunno why, it was kind of a go-to track that I would just sit and chill to, and it used to take my mind off things.
I had a lot of love for this album. Were you listening to much dubstep at the time?
Yeah, I was. I was living in Kent, in Maidstone, so I went out regularly there—when dubstep was huge. I used to love it, but I've never really made it. I never felt like, OK, now I want to do dubstep. That's the one thing I've never really dabbled in.
Wasn't this around the time you attended Red Bull Music Academy? How was that?
Yeah. I didn't think I was gonna get through, I just thought I'd try and see what happens. I wasn't working at the time, wasn't really living on much money. I went to London for this course. They put everyone up in a plush apartment for two weeks, you're in the studio with likeminded people, and also you're being coached by the likes of DJ Zinc. It was a really amazing experience, and it changed me in so many ways.
I got a gig—I was DJing on vinyl in those days—so I got my first taste of actually playing in a public environment. It was probably an awful set, but I took a lot from the experience.
Is there a reason you don't DJ with vinyl anymore?
I had decks when I was 16 but I ended up selling them.
What kind of vinyl were you collecting back then?
I didn't have the biggest collection. When I was working in the record shop, my boss used to kind of pay me with vinyl. I was like, "Look, if I stay longer, can I take a vinyl?" So I used to take a lot of old school hip-hop. I think the first-ever vinyl I took home was Pete Rock and CL Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You."
Has It Come To This?
That piano. Because I'm so into old school hip-hop, where they would take a piano and sample it, having that in a garage track was like, "Oh my god, yes!"
I think Mike Skinner was one of the finest urban poets. He was lyrical, but gritty and honest, too.
He doesn't just write lyrics. A lot of what he says, there's someone out there that can really relate to it. I found that with myself.
Have you ever met him?
I haven't, no. I even got really happy when he followed me on Instagram a few months ago. I was like, "Oh my god, he's noticed me!" But loads of mates know him, so no doubt we'll probably bump shoulders in the future.
He's been staging a bit of comeback in recent years, hasn't he?
I remember in a t q d set recently, Q tapped my shoulder and said, "Watch what I drop next," like he does when he's got a special one. It turns out it was a tune by Mike Skinner, a bassline track. I couldn't believe it. So yeah, by the looks of it he's definitely getting active again in production.
Speaking of bassline...
This is from when DJ Q was on 1Xtra, so before I even knew him. This tune got rinsed so much, it made such a big mark on the scene, but at the same time it sounded really different to everything else. And even now, years down the line, it still gets reloaded every set that I play, it's just such a landmark tune.
There's that danger, perhaps even more so in this scene, that once you've made a banger and it explodes, when it does eventually recede from the limelight it can disappear forever.
It's sad that some tunes, after six months, DJs might not play again because it's not "new" any more. If a tune is good you can play it whenever you want, not just because it's past its sell-by date. Redlight smashed it with that one. It's been in most rave sets I've seen, headline DJs still use it.
It was so hard to pick. I didn't wanna make my whole list grime, but I could've. This is really from the early days when I was just getting into grime, the Channel U days. The first time I heard it, it was like grime but not all the other things that I was hearing. It's not even 140 BPM, it's a lot slower and just so raw and dark—even the video.
I love that droopy bassline that sounds like a drunken bee zigzagging its way back to the hive. Dizzee produced this himself, didn't he?
Yeah, I respect Dizzee so much because he produced a lot of that album. A lot of the productions are pretty simple but kind of unpredictable, really skippy and experimental. I just love how the bass on "Graftin'" morphs. It's unusual but it worked.
This whole release riffs off the grind of London living. Why did you decide to move there?
I was born in Bournemouth but my family are from Birmingham, so I used to go up and down between the two. I always felt that when I was in London I was somewhere I fitted in. I felt comfortable, like, this is where I should be. So I used to regularly be in London and staying with friends. I always wanted to move there for good, but I never had the financial funding.
It was actually down to Wiley that I moved to London. When I was making a name for myself in the grime scene, Wiley got in touch through Myspace. At first I was like, "Is this really Wiley?" I didn't believe him, then he called me one day. He used to pay me per track. He gave me a lump sum, and I gave him about 20 tracks. In those days I didn't have much money so it was a lot to me, and I thought I needed to do something with it. I need to get out of Bournemouth, I need to be somewhere where I can network and try and make a name for myself. So I ended up moving. I got a room to rent and I used the money for my deposit.
Which instrumental did you make for him that you're most proud of?
I Got The Vibe
We actually did this as a single on iTunes. It was so random. We were in the car one day and I played him this track, sat in the back seat. I said, "What do you think of this?" and then gave him the headphones. He literally wrote a lot of the bars sat in the passenger seat.
When you're working with MCs do you tailor your sound to suit them?
It depends. I remember once—this was probably like 2009 or something—I was sat in a bar with my mate, and I randomly got a call from an unknown number. It was Ghetts, just ringing me, like, "Hi, can you send man some beats?" I said to my mate, "Sorry, but I've gotta go home," and I literally got straight to work on Ableton. But normally with each MC I'll listen to a lot of their tracks before I try and make something. I think that I can adjust easily to people's styles, which is why I've got such a variety of content out there.
As someone with family from Birmingham, what are your thoughts on the grime scene in the North of England?
A lot of people when they think of grime, they think of London. But it's not just a London thing any more. There's a lot of talent emerging out of Birmingham too, and getting so much radio play.
Do you play a lot of gigs in the North? Is it a different crowd?
I pretty much live in the North! Because I'm more known for my bassier side, obviously up North is where it originated from. Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leeds, it's massive, and I really notice the way people rave there compared to down South. They just go mental, and they really get into the music. It's always a good party up North, they're always up for it.
I recently got back from LA. The Americans are getting into the bass sound too, and each time I go back I notice people are more educated about the songs I'm playing.
How does it feel to be DJing in places like LA and Ibiza, all in a relatively short amount of time?
It's mad, yeah. To be able to keep playing the tracks that inspired me, and then playing them to massive crowds of people, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like what I did paid off, and here I am doing what I wanted to do, which was make productions, get exposure, and then eventually break into the DJ world.
I can hear all of your soulful, poppy influences percolating through this. It has Flava D written all over it.
Yeah, big time. It has a mainstream feel, but it's still dark. There's something that everyone can love about it, from the underground heads to people that might not necessarily be into that sound. I think Disclosure massively influenced garage making a popular comeback, and that "Boiling" track inspired a lot of my new wave garage material.
Who are some of the main grime producers who've most influenced you?
Maniac was pretty much the biggest grime producer at one point. He produced a lot of grime classics. I'm really into Rude Kid. When I listen to a producer I'm rating their ideas, but the final product has to sound good when you actually play it. I find Rude Kid really good at that. There was a producer back in the day—I don't think he's making music now—called Nocturnal. He used to do a lot of stuff with Ghetts and was very orchestral-based. He was known for his strings and trumpets and a lot of orchestra sounds that he would integrate into his grime. Sir Spyro's "Topper Top" is one of my favourite instrumentals at the moment. Swifta Beater, who produced Kano's "3 Wheel-ups," is an absolute monster. Any track Swifta makes sounds so professional and really well executed in the mixdown. He's one of the biggest right now, and so he should be.
Flava D will play alongside Royal T and DJ Q as t q d at Sónar festival in Barcelona, as RA hosts the SonarLab stage on Saturday, June 17th.