It was during his infamous Arc residency in New York, that Danny Howells got his groove back, or rather his wardrobe, hitting up all sorts of crazy shops in pursuit of mad trousers and those much talked about polyester shirts. Still, Howells is the first to admit that its hardly his sense of fashion which has earned him props on numerous dancefloors across the globe.
Most pundits would agree it's his wildly eclectic choice in music, which (just from an electronic angle) spans from disco to deep house, progressive, tech house and banging techno, on to more ambient and experimental cuts. It would seem the folks at Azuli also share the same opinion, having chosen him to mix the most recent edition of Choice: A Collection Of Classics.
Danny Howells has made his Choice. And predictably, it's got nothing to do with washing machines, cars or a f*cking big television.
Those who have been following Danny Howells' career since the days when he filled the, back then, highly-coveted warm-up slot at Bedrock, might remember the drama that ensued when he made the choice to quit the residency. It was and still is, one of the biggest choices he has made in regard to his DJ career, but since then he admits it's pretty much been all plain-sailing.
"I don't make that many career choices," says Howells. "Everybody has the same kind of things, like certain relationships sort of die a natural death and you have to make the choice to go with something new like your agency, but nothing really that's caused me weeks of sleepless nights."
Despite the numerous gigs, worldly travels, compilations and plaudits under his belt, the two biggest choices Howells faces now, are essentially the same as when he first started out Djing: where to play and what to play. "I think, not on a daily basis but on a regular basis, you do have to make decisions," confirms Howells. "You have to make the decision to play the music you like rather than actually conform to what people want to hear, or what they expect to hear."
"To be honest often you're kind of faced with a situation where you can either do this compilation or that compilation or take on another residency. There's not enough weekends in the year to do everything that you want to do or could do. Like recently, we stepped up the LA residency to make it more regular cos it was going really well. So we're now doing that bi-monthly and we'll probably do Japan more often this year too".
Making some of those gig choices a bit easier have been the offers to play longer sets, which Howells says he has been doing a lot more of recently.
Choose The Pawn Shop.
A longer set is also one of the reasons Howells and Made Event have chosen to relocate his now legendary, annual Miami WMC party from BED to The Pawn Shop, where Danny will play a ten-hour set (instead of the previous six) this year.
"Everyone kind of agreed that it was time to move on. It's definitely not a money thing because I'll probably end up getting paid less than I did at BED to be honest," explains Howells. "It was more about the fact that the hype around the BED party was beginning to get a bit too crazy. It was overwhelming for me. No matter what I did or what I played, I felt that it was getting very intimidating cos people were just hyping it up so much."
"I think staying in the same venue for years and years on end can get a bit sort of been-there-done-that, " he adds. "The thing with the BED party is that I do think it peaked a couple of years ago, like two years ago".
Along with his also traditional appearance at the Yoshitoshi party on the Terrace at Club Space, Howells will also be back at the Ultra Music Festival during this year's WMC. "Last year I did the UltraFest (as I've done every year) but I got the chance to play on Carl Cox's stage. I like challenges like that which are a bit different. I got the chance to play after Carl Cox last year and..., " laughs loudly, "really banged the crap out of it!"
Banging the crap out of it, is something Danny Howells is exceptionally good at doing late in his sets, and he has no qualms about admitting he has a soft spot for the harder end of techno.
"It's terribly unfashionable because everything is so minimal now but I'm still quite a big fan of the old sort of banging club techno. I love the energy. I really like the sheer repetition of people like Chris Liebing, the monstrous build-ups and that kind of thing. I am playing a lot of techno stuff, that kind of Joris Voorn sound. A friend of mine hooked me up with Brian Cage and I've been getting lots of stuff from him that is really beautiful, really quite lush. Techno but really warm as well".
So what then does he make of the previously staunchly progressive house or harder techno jocks trying to reinvent themselves with the current minimal movement sweeping DJ booths?
"To be honest a lot of the minimal stuff reminds me of the most boring prog stuff from years ago, " admits Howells. "Some of it is great, don't get me wrong but a lot of it I find to be borderline prog, sort of reminiscent of the really monotonous prog from 1999 with less balls and a lot of people I've spoken to, agree with that too".
Having said that, he also acknowledges there is 'some incredibly good stuff coming out as well' and, "I think, like alot of people, you take from that genre, the things that you like. Some of the stuff on Richie Hawtin's label is, for me, just monotony, but then you get something like a Magda track which is more up the street and really kicks you in the box".
As for the bandwagon-jumping DJs, says Howells, "You do see some DJs who pick up on what is fashionable,and do try and change their style quite regularly but it's just really transparent."
Howells, on the other hand continues to play the sound he's known for, and which will have punters lined up in Miami's Downtown towards the end of March. From ambient, downtempo stuff early in his set, moving through to deep house and tech house, then onto progressive and techno before mixing in some experimental stuff and classics, he says, "It's pretty much not that different to what I was playing before. I'm still trying to take in as many different styles as I can, and try to make it all make sense."
Reeling off labels like Freerange, Seasons, Sonar Kollektiv, King Street and Marketing as some of his top house imprints, his penchant for music is anything but 'same old same old'.
Choose the Classics.
It's this unpredictability and eclecticism that made him the perfect choice to take on the onerous task of compiling a Choice: A Collection Of Classics CD, which was released in January this year after a couple of months in the planning stages.
"When I first found out that I was doing it I made the original list of a 100 tracks in a week. You're kind of always prepared for that as you know what your classics are and what your favourites are from years and years ago." The hardest part, however, says Danny, was getting the list down to the 40 tracks, "I needed a bit of help for that. I had to meet with the label, give each track a mark out of ten and then just kind of do the tens. It kind of streamlined the actual content because it was wildly eclectic before. There was disco, drum'n'bass and hip hop and looking back, it was going to be quite difficult to put it all together really, so I'm pleased with how it worked out."
Danny Howells is one of the few DJs who has had the breadth, skill and musical diversity to compile no less than three differently themed compilations for Global Underground (Nubreed, 24:7, GU27:Miami). Compared to those releases, he says, "The tracklist was a lot easier because when you're doing an album of contemporary stuff you're always being bombarded with new tracks each day. The same day you finish your compilation you might get a complete bomb".
From the forty tracks which were licenced, the final task was then whittling those down to the 30 or so tracks used on the final Choice mix. The resulting mix sees Fire Island (early Pete Heller and Terry Farley) classics alongside the Pleasure Dome's '8 Minutes Of Techfunk' and Todd Terry's remix of PM Dawn on Disc One while Disc Two sees Sub Sub's 'Space Face', Coldcut and Hextactic's 'Timber' pave the way for The Temptations' 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', Orbital's Impact' and Carly Simon's 'Why'. Both mixes pack plenty of soul and funk in a Beyonce kind of way spiced up by some more eclectic electronica from days gone by.
Notable tracks which missed the cut include an old remix of a Julian Cope track called 'Beautiful Love', originally before the first track Space Face on Disc 2, and 'King Of The Beats' by Mantronix, later taken off as it didn't quite fit in.
Tracks on the Choice CD span across a number of decades, so I asked Howells which decade he thinks has been the most influential and inspirational, music-wise?
"For me personally, probably the seventies," says Howells. "I say the seventies because that's when I grew up so obviously I got into like David Bowie, who was really interesting at the time, and then more electronic things as well. There was also the kraut rock stuff that came out as like Faust and Neu! and the Frank Zappa stuff too. Though each decade is inspirational if you think about it".
Choose Bald Richie.
Not wishing encroaching images of Danny Howells in his purple track pants ("I don't wear them out!" whines Howells) to shatter my illusions of this DJ turned rockstar (well actually, he's just an all-round nice guy with a tasty record collection), it's time to wrap up our chat with a few final 'choice' questions.
Bald Richie or Combover Richie?: "Bald. I think Sven has always championed his own look and never given a f*ck but Richie, well...I think it's good to go for a change but I think he could dye it a different colour or at least add a tone to it. I'd like to see Richie Hawtin with a bubble perm and a moustache."
Tom Baker or Paul McGann as Dr.Who?: "Baker because Baker just rules supreme. No other Doctor has ever come close to Baker. No other Doctor had such Shakespearean authority in his voice."
Party or Afterparty?: "Party because it gets harder and harder to go to the after parties. It's too tiring. So many times I've been stuck in some fucking random place in a country in some strange city. I don't even know how to get back to the hotel or where I am and I've been there for ten hours. Too often it's an ordeal so stick to the party."
S or M? (shirt sizes, of course...): "Always S. Never M. You know a lot of seventies M is actually S so in that case you've got to read the measurements."
Finally, having now squared away his Choices: A Collection of Classics CD, how would Danny Howells re-write Renton's classic "Choose Life" speech from Trainspotting?
"Choose polyester. Choose disco. Choose platform shoes."