You'll be hard pushed to find a better education in dance music than working among the racks of London's Phonica Records. That's where NTS resident Danielle got her start in music aged 18, holding down a decade of service from 2009, and she's been putting that learning to fine use ever since.
Now residing in Bristol, the multi-disciplinary artist hasn’t stopped for a second since breaking into the industry. You’ll have to catch your breath before you can list all of the titles she’s collected - illustrator, radio host, mentor, and label boss, to name a few - but most of all, Danielle is hard at work in her full-time job as a DJ, which she puts to the test each weekend at shows across the UK and beyond.
Since becoming an NTS Radio resident in 2021, Danielle’s monthly selections have reached audiences across the globe, establishing her as a tastemaker of genres aplenty. She soon ramped up her devotion to the dance music community with efforts in mentoring and coaching through Mix Nights, co-created by Danielle herself, aiding aspiring women, trans & non-binary DJs through workshops and classes. And if that wasn’t enough, Danielle also recently launched her own record label, Soft Raw, championing new artists who catch the tastemaker’s ear, which debuted last month with a release from Slacker.
We chatted to the DJ about all her many proficiencies, what she’s been up to recently, and the launch of her brand new label, Soft Raw. Danielle also delivered a turbulent hour-long mix running through BPMs, dedicated to the late-night shenanigans of her recent closing sets.
You host monthly shows on NTS - how did that residency come about?
I was asked by Kowton and Peverelist to do a 40-minute guest mix for their NTS residency in 2017, and all the NTS crew really enjoyed it and reached out to me to do a guest show, then I just kept doing them fairly regularly and eventually became a resident!
How do you go about curating a show? Do you find you have to spend a lot of time preparing beforehand?
I’m a full-time DJ, so I spend most of my time looking for new music, but about a week before the show comes around, I start collating and actively looking more for tunes that I would like to showcase on that month's show. Many things can influence what I decide to play, I can be into a particular genre or mood, or just have a busy month of club shows which will be reflected in what I play on the show. I like to play a mixture of old tracks and new and some unreleased bits, and I normally always like to start with an ambient intro. Sometimes I do themed shows too, and I may start doing more of those next year as they always go down well! I only have an hour a month so I don't tend to invite guests, sometimes if I have a party coming up, or now when I have a release on the label coming up, I will have a guest.
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You recently held down a residency at Colour Factory - what was that experience like?
It was incredible! Each one had a completely different vibe, but all had something special about them. The last one was extra special because I knew exactly how I wanted everything to be in the club by then. I was more specific about the stage setup, the positioning, the lighting, etc. All of this made a huge difference to the overall feel of the night and it was so good to finish on such a high. It was also such an honour that Helena Hauff agreed to make her debut at Colour Factory on my night, and I enjoyed it the most because I was able to play a three-hour closing with a late license - so it rounded the whole experience off very nicely. I’m keen to do more residencies like this in the future!
Tell us about Mix Nights and your involvement in that - what is it like training budding creatives? Have you taken anything away from that yourself as a mentor?
So, I'm one of the co-creators of Mix Nights which is a multi-city DJ course, online platform and community for women, trans & non-binary folks. It's part of Saffron Records, and I teach on the Bristol course. We’ve just completed term ’22 there, which means we’ve taught around 175 people to DJ in Bristol alone in the last six years. We also run the course in Birmingham, Nottingham, and London. I've learnt an awful lot more about DJing just from teaching it, as you really have to explain everything very carefully, which in turn helps you to understand the craft perhaps in ways you hadn't thought of before. It's really rewarding seeing people play their first-ever DJ set eight weeks after starting our courses, and then go on to keep it up. I'm always super proud of the participants, and our courses have changed the landscape of the city dramatically.
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Your tastemaking prowess has extended to your new label, Soft Raw - what do you hope to achieve with the imprint? Are you looking at specific genres or themes?
I was adamant that I wanted my label to reflect my broad taste in music, so the idea is that the releases will progress stylistically from one approach to another, but with a narrative that binds each release together with regard to the tensions between the soft and raw qualities that are found within cutting-edge dance and electronic music. I want to mainly focus on exciting emergent producers exploring delicate ambient tracks, and also anything from modernist techno abstractions with rhythmic intensity to soundsystem music, jungle, straight 4/4, acid, electro & more.
The first release on Soft Raw was with Slacker - what’s the process like in choosing artists for upcoming releases?
He actually sent me those tunes to ask what I thought, and if I knew anywhere that would like to put them out. I didn't get back to him immediately as I hadn't had a chance to sit down and listen, but when I did a week later, I knew instantly that I wanted them for my label and asked Sam if he'd be up for me releasing it, and he agreed! It was then about a six-month process from sending that email to the official release date. I approached my friend Colin at One Eye Witness to see if he would be keen on doing the distro, which he was, and then my partner Guillaume created the artwork based on some art direction from myself. I had a very strong idea of what I wanted the general artwork themes to be, contrasting elements, i.e. soft and raw textures, with two stickers on the sleeve and a grey centre label with bright coloured text. But then aside from that, I left it all to Guillaume, and he delivered! Each release will look very different to one another, but the general layout of the centre labels will remain the same for now, just for some continuity. The feedback has been amazing so far, so I'm very pleased. I haven't announced anything officially yet, but the next release will be a debut from an artist and is going to be out early next year, I just got the TP's back! It’s someone who has been sending me tunes for years and they’re wonderful - I'm so excited to release it.
You’re also an illustrator, when did you pick that up? Did you study art or illustration?
Yeah, I studied graphic design and illustration at university - I do a lot less of that now, but I still find the time occasionally. I do all the artwork for Mix Nights, the posters for Livity Sound parties in Bristol, and have just finished some new T-shirt designs for Phonica celebrating 20 years next year. I also occasionally get commissioned for various illustration jobs, I did some artwork for the centre label on a release by Tim Reaper recently and some editorial illustration for Hii Mag.
How does that work in conjunction with playing music and running a label? Do you find those creative aspects go hand in hand?
It's definitely played a part, I had a very strong concept in mind for what I wanted the artwork for my label to look like, but I am more of an illustrator than a graphic designer so I didn't want to create the artwork myself as my partner is a lot better at that type of design than I am! During the pandemic, I made prints that were up for sale too, but I would definitely like to explore the two together a bit more in the future, perhaps if I do some all-night-long shows or something.
Can you tell us about your Impact mix?
I went to record this mix at the end of a super busy November where I had a lot of late-night/closing sets, and was kind of in that headspace. I realised I don't record many of my DJ sets (which I must get better at), and so I don't have many mixes that showcase a peak-time or closing set of mine, so I decided to record a kind of power-hour mix playing a load of my favourite tracks that I've been playing out recently. There's a mixture of old and new tracks - it showcases many different genres too from 170 stuff to bassier bits, then into techno, electro, house, and breaks. I wanted to include one of the tracks from the Slacker release on Soft Raw, and since it's a faster tempo, I decided to go about the mix a bit differently than usual by starting off fast and then going slower and back up again. I think it works really well! I start off a 170, then go down to about 140, and then back up 155. It's the kind of mix where you're not sure where it's going to go next, but when it goes there, it makes sense! That's kind of what I like to do in my peak-time or closing sets - keep the energy there, but keep people on their toes!
Check out Soft Raw on Bandcamp
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter
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