Fate and finesse: How Dan Shake became one of UK house music's finest - Features - Mixmag

Fate and finesse: How Dan Shake became one of UK house music's finest

Backed by a Detroit legend from the start, Dan Shake has now become a house and disco star of his own. He speaks to Gemma Ross about chance encounters, growing organically, and his momentous story so far

  • Words: Gemma Ross | Photography: Dan Medhurst | Styling: Conrad Byer | Art Direction: Vassilis Skandalis
  • 4 April 2022

Anyone who knows Dan Shake’s sprightly character might assume that his life behind closed doors would match his boisterous on-stage personality, but being thrown headfirst into that world reveals that it’s a little more settled than that. After he and I stumble to the top of a hill near his home in rural Devon, both breathless from the steep ascent, Dan turns and proudly proclaims: “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” A far-off view of foggy, rolling hills and sheep munching on the fresh spring grass proves Dan’s words quite right, though this countryside home certainly feels a world away from the temporary one he makes for himself weekend after weekend on stage. Fast-forward just a short few days, Dan would swap out this picturesque view for one overlooking hundreds, if not thousands of hollering fans at his sold-out, all-night long show in London.

But first, some biographical back story and detail. Dan Shake, born Daniel Rose-Weir, is telling me about his first memories tinkering with music production on our stroll about the countryside that surrounds his 16th century home - a wooden beam-carved cottage sunk into acres of green land where he now resides with his girlfriend and their dachshund puppy. "I found a CD with this production software called eJay on in a box of Shreddies back when they used to come with freebies,” Dan laughs. “It was just dragging and dropping loops, super simple but really fun.” That fateful box of cereal set him on the path to his now flourishing music career — including a record deal with the mighty Moodymann; a consistently sold-out series of shows; and the gateway into becoming any festival line-up’s hottest property.

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Just 13 at the time, Dan - who was born and raised in North London’s Wood Green - became fanatically interested in music. The producer, who now deals in the sonic sphere of disco, funk and house, first set sail by creating sounds that would seldom find their way into a Shake set today. “There were these lunchtime music production courses at school that we would go to and make grime bangers when the genre was just starting. They were terrible tunes,” he recalls. “I had a dubstep phase and started making really shit Skrillex-style tracks. One actually landed on UKF and got about two million views, that’s more than any Dan Shake track has ever had.”

“The thing is, I never actually wanted to be a DJ,” Dan says as we sit down for lunch. He explains how his interests weighed more heavily on the behind-the-scenes world of music, and after sending out hundreds of emails to record labels across the UK in the hopes of pinning down an industry job, only one person replied. “Harry worked for a tiny label from Leeds called Ranking Records and shared an office with the guys who run Outlook and Dimensions,” he remembers. “The Outlook guys also ran a night called Vagabond in Leeds, they told me if I went to study up there I could run the night. They were booking nights with people like Swamp 81, so I was like fuck it.” When Dan set up camp in Leeds, he admits he rarely reared his head at his music production lectures but had fun by all means. “I went there more to run the night than to go to university. I put all my energy into flyering at five in the morning and trying to connect with the big promoters. It was so cringe looking back, I’d stand behind the booth with the DJs just looking over at what they were doing!”

As Dan organically moulded into the industry, so did his knowledge of music. “Uni is where my music taste really changed,” he says, “I discovered the whole Detroit house scene.” At the cornerstone of Dan’s evolving tastes was one sound he would pick up and run with — '90s hip hop influenced by the sounds of Detroit house. “I started learning about the scene and found J Dilla, he was really the spark of my inspiration. I absolutely fell in love with him. He was and still probably is my number one inspiration even now,” he says on the Slum Village member. “It’s odd because his music isn’t entirely similar to the stuff I produce, but he educated me so much on music. He was so creative with the way that he sampled, I’d go through all of his samples and check out the records and find more tracks through that. I learned so many new records from his productions alone which opened up a whole new world of disco and funk and boogie for me. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a hip hop song.”

Read this next: 20 of the best early-90s hip hop samples

During this time, Dan was offered a full-time job with the Dimensions and Outlook crew — but it wouldn't prove to be a long-term role. The inaugural Croatian festival of Outlook was really heating up by 2011 with impressively stacked line-ups, and Dimensions was due to have its debut event just a year later, which Dan would have a hand in helping to curate, dropping out of uni to do so. “Around festival time, I’d do a few months of work at both Outlook and Dimensions doing set recordings, basically asking permission from artists to record their sets and go out there and do it, it was stressful as fuck. I’d be up until 6:AM everyday recording and wake up six hours later to do it all over again, but the good thing that came out of it was that I got so many sets from just about everyone. I had recordings from people like Nina Kraviz to 3 Chairs who played some huge five-hour b2b2b2b. That was inspirational at the time.”

But working at the backend of the music industry wasn’t quite cutting the mustard. On a flight to Outlook Festival one summer, Dan’s attention was caught by the ‘More Than Me’ hit maker Eliphino, who was sat two rows behind. “He saw that I was making music, I’d just open Logic whenever I had a spare five minutes even though I couldn’t really hear anything on this flight. He leaned over and asked me, ‘oh, you make music?’,” Dan remembers. “I eventually found him at the festival and played it to him and he was like, ‘this is sick, I’d love to release it but I can’t at the moment’, and that was the end of that. But what’s funny is that this was the track that I ended up releasing through Moodymann.”

Watch this next: Moodymann: Detroit Dust On My Shoes

Enter stage left: Moodymann. The legendary artist who would have the most resounding effect on Dan’s career also happened to be at the same Croatian festival that weekend, and after trying his luck with one producer, he thought it best to give a couple of others a nudge, too. Although he admits this wasn’t entirely his own idea. “My girlfriend had this brainwave that, because I was working backstage at festivals a lot, I should burn some CDs and give them out to people. It took a lot for me to even share it with someone like Eliphino at the time so I was like, ‘no way, it’s not happening’. She ended up finding a bunch of blank CDs in the window of a shop in Pula and bought them, then spent ages in our little cabin ripping them and writing out my details,” he says. “She made about 10 CDs, one of which I gave to Flako, one to Gilles Peterson, and a few other people.”

The final CD boasting the infectious, disco-infused ‘3AM Jazz Club’ ended up in the hands of Detroit’s own Moodymann. After a five-hour set from 3 Chairs, Dan debated whether to sneak one to his foremost inspiration of the time while skulking around backstage. “I thought he was so cool and unapproachable and I was just this little white Jewish guy,” he jokes. “I eventually went up to him and told him I was inspired by his work and gave him my track, and he thanked me. He put it straight in his record bag, and after that, I didn’t think any more of it. I genuinely didn’t think he’d ever listen to it,” he says. “When they got back to Detroit, his assistants were going through his record bag and found the CD with my name and email on. They listened to it and absolutely loved it, and for some reason, they thought it was a record they’d picked up in Detroit. They emailed me straight away.”

“This was about five months later, I was emailing a lot of artists at the time to clear the recordings from the festival so I wasn’t even thinking about it. I got this email from them just reading: ‘Hey Dan, can we have this?’, I was really confused. I thought they were talking about a set, but they were like, ‘no, the CD you gave to Kenny - can we put it on Mahogani?’, I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking it was a joke or I’d misunderstood the email,” Dan recalls. “They didn’t know anything about me, they thought I was just another guy from Detroit”. Dan became the first person from outside of Detroit to release on Moodymann’s influential Mahogani Music, passing the taste test for one of the house music's great connoisseurs to select Dan's music to join his label's revered roster. “I think it’s the most excited I’ve ever been in my life,” says Dan.

At this point, Dan’s productions already paid homage to the inimitable musician. “I don’t think I realised the actual gravity of that email,” he asserts. “I met him for the second time at a night called Louche in Leeds. He was so cool and wholesome, I remember the first thing he said to me was: ‘Welcome to the family, brother!’, and he played my track later that night. But it was scary to meet him even there, even though I had some sort of tie to him at that point.” It would take a year for ‘3AM Jazz Club’ to be released, but once it caught wind, Dan was the first to hear about its success. “I started getting loads of emails from people asking me to play at their parties. But, I still didn’t know how to DJ, so I was like ‘fuck, I need to learn!’”

Read this next: The Secret DJ on what makes a good DJ great

Dan used the success of his Mahogani release as a propeller to learn the most important skill he’s honed over time: DJing. As a bedroom collector who only bought records to sample in his productions up until that point, Dan Shake would have to learn — and learn quick. “My girlfriend had a pair of turntables, these 1210s which were completely fucked, but she gave them to me to practice on. I locked myself in my room for about six months and taught myself how to play with vinyl. I only had about 20 club records at the time so I was just practising with those, and then about six months later, I felt like I was good enough to play out. My first gig was in Leeds at a night called Flux, there were a lot of people I knew who came to support me,” Dan remembers. “I was playing Room 2 and the setup was awful. Everything was broken, one of the speakers didn’t work, the turntable, but at the time I didn’t realise it was fucked. I just thought that was what playing in a club was like.”

After a dodgy first rodeo, Dan quickly learned the ropes and picked up an increasing number of gigs around the UK. The producer-turned-DJ was still pretending that he was enlisted at university all the while, even as his name started to pass through the lips of the music industry. Enough gigs, he recalls, to land himself on an agency alongside a handful of his musical predecessors: Palms Trax, HNNY, Madlib, and the likes. “It was a cool roster, they pushed me even further and helped me to progress. But a few people left, and it ended up just being me, A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne,” Dan laughs. “It was so random, I could tell I wasn’t on their priority list,” Now up with hip hop’s cream of the crop, Dan had almost come full circle - even more so when he was asked to return to Dimensions Festival, this time as a performer.

“It was the first time I wasn’t working there after six years. Dimensions was kind of the thing that got me into music, so playing there was a real full-circle moment,” he says. “It was a big step in my career. It felt like I was coming home almost, it just took me back to reality”. That paramount moment was the kick-starter in Dan’s now endless touring schedule and would see him come to curate longer, five-hour, six-hour, or even seven-hour sets with just as much relentless energy. His ability to take charge of a crowd and use tracks as a vehicle to keep fans on their toes for hours firms Dan Shake is one of the best to do it. And the thousands of people returning to his consistently sold-out, newly curated House Party series would certainly agree, too.

It’s been a whirlwind ride since Dan’s gigging schedule kicked off, but when the pandemic threatened that merciless calendar, it gave the producer a chance to step back. “Lockdown slowed my brain down a bit. I hadn’t had a chance to make music for months, maybe even a year, I was just touring so much,” he explains. Crucially, Dan spent time working on himself, his record label, and his productions, culminating in his debut LP. “I never really wanted to make an album, I thought that it was something I’d do in a couple of years. It’s quite different from my normal stuff, it’s more chill but still quite club-focused,” he says. “I used a lot of sound recordings from my walks in the countryside and my surroundings, I’d take sound snippets in the forest.” Though this isn’t where Dan’s story begins, Devon is where paths have led him in recent years. It’s a new neck of the woods for the producer, but one that he’s chosen to settle in for the foreseeable to keep the artistry flowing: “There was so much creativity I’d been holding in,” he says.

When we cosy up by the fireplace after lunch, the conversation turns to the future of the ever-evolving Dan Shake project. “There hasn’t been a point where I felt like I made it, I’m always just progressing,” he tells me, adding logs to the fire. The 29-year-old producer is on his own path to the same soaring legacy of those who influenced him from the very beginning, but right now, he’s barely scratched the surface. “I feel like I’m making music for the joy of it again,” he smiles. And while the universe has led him to this particular place and time, there’s no real telling where it could take him next. For now, Dan Shake is counting on his wicked luck, stellar selecting, and that undeniably infectious energy that keeps his fans returning over, and over, and over again.

Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter

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