You may know Danny Rankin under a different name from his time playing the chilled-out, Golf GTI-riding character Decoy of BAFTA-winning mockumentary People Just Do Nothing. Nowadays, the Kurupt FM star is also working on his solo career as DJ Danny Rankin. Spinning sets that fuse dancehall along with drum ‘n’ bass and, of course, UK garage, Danny creates the ultimate carnival atmosphere we’ve all been missing.
Danny grew up in Kingston upon Thames with the sounds of garage, reggae and jungle surrounding him, with some of his earliest musical influences coming from Beenie Man, Super Cat, and discovering DJ Hype’s ‘Jungle Massive’ CD. It was a family trip to Jamaica that introduced a new genre to him: dancehall. His love for the style was born when exposed to both the music and the culture as he witnessed his first clash, and now his killer mixes now draw upon his passion for soundsystem culture and Jamaican sound clashes.
Later on in life, hip hop became a major interest of Danny’s. Hip hop was one of the major factors that brought together the Kurupt FM group. Since then, five acclaimed TV seasons culminated in the Kurupt FM film, People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan, reaching our cinema screens in 2021.
Throughout lockdown, Danny’s mixes were booming through people’s home as his live streams were a huge hit. Spending his time discovering independent artists, Danny showcased his latest finds in his streams and began working on his shows which has made him into the artist and selector that he is today. He also continues to roll with Kurupt FM and is touring England with the crew this month.
We spoke to Danny about incorporating more traditional dancehall MCing into his sets and how he has dealt with making his own identity outside of Kurupt FM.
Check out our Q&A with Danny Rankin and listen to his In Session mix below.
Could you tell me about how dancehall is appreciated in the UK?
Dancehall is my number one passion. There’s something about dancehall. It’s always fresh and exciting, especially when you are in the scene. It never seems stagnant, it’s always evolving, it’s always changing. But I feel dancehall in the UK isn’t what it was back in the '90s. I think there are elements of dancehall you hear in all forms of UK music, especially jungle, grime, and garage as it is heavily influenced by Jamaica and soundsystem culture. But I feel the essence isn’t appreciated as much these days. Artists like Koffee have made it more interesting for people to tune in. I feel like there’s a lot of work to be done in the UK for dancehall to be a dominant sound in the commercial space. But there are great sounds out there like Shabba Party and Rampage Sound who are always pushing that sound. There are good foundations here and people are working hard to push it. UK artists like Stylo G, Big Zeeks, Gappy Rank have really been putting the UK on the map, especially Stylo G with Nicki Minaj and Vybz Kartel on a remix that that was a big international hit. Stylo is definitely waving a flag for the UK right now.
Do you remember when you were introduced to dancehall?
My love for dancehall came about when my mum took me to Jamaica to see my family. I went when I was 11 and I wasn’t very clued up on dancehall. I knew about reggae as it was in my household, but I never really knew what dancehall was. When I went out to Jamaica tunes like Beenie Man ‘Who Am I’ was poppin’, and other legendary riddims that everyone knows were playing, so it was an exciting time to be there. It was the first time I ever saw a clash and the first time I got to experience the full soundsystem culture of stack top speakers and people hosting over riddims. The whole dancehall aspect blew my mind. I remember coming back from Jamaica and the first thing I did was buy a Beenie Man CD, and from there my love grew. As I got more into it, I looked back into the past and educated myself on dancehall. So yeah, from around 11 was when I first really got into it and was like “rah this is my thing.”
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I’m guessing you’ve since returned the Jamaica, right?
The last time I went was in 2017 and I was going back as an adult. Experiencing the whole thing as an adult didn’t disappoint and if anything, it reignited my passion for dancehall. I was like “you know what, I don’t know what it is, but I want to be involved in this.” I’m glad I’m able to do that and spread the word.
What was the music scene like around you when growing up?
There wasn’t a dancehall scene where I was at all, so dancehall was just a thing I enjoyed by myself. Growing up in the UK, my first introduction to dance culture was probably my 'Jungle Massive' CD, and I just fully fell in love with the whole jungle sound. But obviously, I was really young so it’s not like I could go to any raves. It was literally just me listening to this like crazy fast music. Coming into my teens I was heavily into my hip hop and that was pretty much how I met the Kurupt boys. Seapa who plays Grindah was the MC, Asim who plays Chabuddy G was an MC, Hugo who plays Beats was a producer, and I didn’t do any of those things. I was more of a DJ and just loved being around people that liked the same thing as me. I grew up in Kingston on the outskirts of London and we had a sick record shop called Slammin' Vinyl. It was the place where we would go on a Saturday and listen to all the new white labels that would come out. It was the cusp of that digital age of people buying CDs as record shops were closing down. It was funny because back in the day you just didn’t care about vinyl whereas now, they’re like a hot commodity. So, jungle was my first introduction, and then garage came into play around 2000 so I was more into the commercial end. Then the scene kind of died and I fell in love with grime when that came about. I think it was Dizzee that got me into grime, and I was like “rah this is madness.” The grime scene is just so reminiscent of dancehall culture, clashing and the whole pirate radio thing. It went hand-in-hand.
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Could you talk me through how you got into DJing?
I don’t know what possessed me to get decks, I just knew I had to have a pair. Thankfully my dad got me some, but they were shockingly bad and almost impossible to use. I had a shitty pair of KAM decks my dad had got me second hand that were basically turntables. It was literally like having a record player. Then I upgraded to some Gemini 2000s which were still shit. I knew I was never going to be like an MC or anything. There’s just something I love about playing records.
How does DJing incorporate itself with Kurupt FM?
It was a slow process of carving out a sick stage show with Kurupt, because when we first got booked it was a shambles. At the early shows, CDJs were a thing but we were old skool so Steve would come with his records and mix. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that management told us that CDJs were a thing and that nobody mixed on vinyl anymore. So, we had to make a transition. I think the first time Steve ever did a set on CDJs was at something crazy like Wireless Festival. That’s why the Kurupt journey is quite a funny one because none of us were DJs, we all just dabbled. We were just more studio people and making tunes instead of actually mixing and playing them.
Could you tell me about yourself as a producer?
Well, Hugo is the top producer - the number one hit sort of producer - so he was the sound man behind the Kurupt album. Whereas me as a producer, I’ve always just been a bedroom producer and would just make little beats for myself. I’ve never really put anything out there. But soon that’s going to change. I’m definitely going to be putting out some EPs and stuff. So yeah, that’s something to look forward to.
How has the pandemic and lockdowns impacted going solo?
The solo thing started pretty much a year before lockdown. I just felt it was time I needed to do my own thing in terms of playing music that I wanted to. Obviously, I love Kurupt and will always do the Kurupt thing. I felt like I needed to separate myself a little bit because the thing is with doing Kurupt and going solo is there is such a thin line of who I’m going to be on the night. I get a lot of people that want to come to see me and others who want the whole Decoy thing. The process of finding that separation is quite hard, but it makes it fun as well because it feels like I’m starting again. I’m hustling. I started doing my own thing about a year ago and things were going well. I was getting bookings, doing shows, getting a good turnout, and streaming was great. Then there were long periods where I did nothing because I was doing the film. Filming took a couple of months and then COVID hit so there has been a two-to-three-year period of nothing, no solo shows, and no Kurupt shows. Coming out of COVID really feels like I’m starting again. I’m really trying to my name out there and sort of become relevant again. Just got to let people know I’m here and I’m going to be taking off soon.
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How did working with live streams and virtual gigs affect your DJing?
I’m not going to lie, the live streams were a bit of a savour for me. In terms of mental health, obviously, we were all rattling around our houses and just feeling shit about everything. Especially the industry we’re in, it’s very uncertain: as a DJ having a booked-out year of loads of stuff in the calendar to like nothing overnight, having no certainty on what’s going to happen tomorrow or how I’m going to get paid. Doing the live streams made all those issues go away and it was sick to interact with people again. I had fun doing those little live mixed streams and then I got into Twitch, and it just became a weekly thing. I clocked onto Twitch a little bit too late during lockdown but that gave me a little bit of a purpose and just people messaging me every night saying: “come online please”. That was nice. So yeah, I'm thankful for the live streams. The streams saved my life.
Where did you find music throughout lockdown?
It’s not every day you get the chance to just sit down and really go through music and really process it and listen. Reminded me of the old skool days a little bit by having time to do that. Finding new music with platforms like Mixcloud and SoundCloud was really good. I think that is the last thing we have left like crate digging. They are great ways of discovering new music and supporting independent artists. I feel that's a little essence in like rave culture and dance culture that sort of lost a little bit with the new-gen.
When filming People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan did you get any inspiration whilst out there?
I wanted to dabble into the music culture whilst out there, but our schedule didn’t allow us to really explore that side of things. There's an artist called on Onjuicy who is influenced by UK grime culture. Wanted to link up with him as he had a night on when we were going, and I was going to perform there but it just didn't happen. I also know Japan has quite a good dancehall scene out there which I wanted to dabble in. There's Mighty Crown, which are a Japanese reggae dancehall act that were very big in the late 90s/early 2000s, they are like legendary clash sounds, and I really wanted to go to one of their dances. They had a dance on but when we were out there was a massive typhoon and the whole place was on lockdown. It was the same night as that dancehall night so no one could leave. So again, it was like another blow. I did go to a dancehall club, but no one was there which was jokes but we all had a good night in Tokyo. I would love to go back because it has every scene in the world in a little place. There are so many subcultures. I love Japan and I was definitely blessed to have gone and explored Tokyo. It's a mind-blowing country. It’s one of those places I'll tell everyone, you must do it.
How do you tailor your mixes for a night?
Before I play I kind of gauge what night is. So, if it’s more of a dance-influenced night, then I’m most likely going to play garage or drum 'n' bass. But if it’s multi-genre where they might have a garage act or have someone that’s playing like UK rap, then I’ll blend the two and do half dance set and half UK garage set or carnival-inspired set. Whatever I do play it’s always that soundsystem sound. I play garage but don’t play every type of garage my main thing is mostly two-step, reggae, dancehall influence.
How do you manage to infuse a mixture of the genres of dancehall, UK garage and drum 'n' bass?
I feel like I’m always progressing. When I’m doing garage, I’m a DJ and I consider myself to be a good DJ, but now doing dancehall - it’s a sound you can’t always mix, as it’s not meant to be mixed it’s meant to be played. So, I'm starting to really understand the selector side of things and not having to mix everything, and I'm starting to improve on my mic skills. I want to do it in an authentic way. My Flavas night, which is my night where I'll play dancehall, you would expect me to be on the mic guiding you through the evening. I’m not talking like a wedding DJ, but an authentic dancehall fashion of introducing a record and telling you what this record is and where it comes from and how you’re going to move and how you’re going to enjoy the record once you hear it. So deep down I consider myself more of a selector because I’ve always been that guy that supplies the party with the music. I’m always doing a playlist for my boys. It's just something I've always done. I'm a DJ, I can mix, but really, I'm a selector and when I play tunes, I want to play them so you guys can hear them and hopefully get a bit of background from that music, and a little bit of knowledge to take away with you.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter
Respect (Longeez Tuff Edit) - Longeez
Nice ’N’ Sweet - Main Phase
Gimme the Weed - Akul
Deadpan - Phasmid
Conquering Lion (ZeroFG Remix) - Frankel & Harper
We Run (Original Mix) - Bailey Ibbs
The Stopper (Remix) - FELIXCW
Eden - Archetype
Limit (Original Mix) - Bakey
Rhythm N Gash (Remix) - PJ Bridger
Are You Really From the Ends - End Productions
On My Mind (Remix) - Chipizm & Dub Master
All Night (Original Mix) - Soul Mass Transit System
Set Trends - MPH & Logan
Down Down Biznizz (Darqwan Remix) - London Dodgers
Feel Da Vibe (Remix) - On My Ones
Freak It Out (Original Mix) - Tumare
Raggamuffiin Biznizz (Original Mix) - Chipizm
We Watch a Movie (Original Mix) - Bubble Couple
Hackney Parrot - Tessela
Dark Soldier (Remix) - PJ Bridger
The Energy - Xander
Wicked Sound (Original Mix) - Old Bass System
Kuruptfminnit - Kurupt FM
Take It Further (Original Mix) - Bakey
Back to the Party (Original Mix) - JGT
U Belong 2 Me - Y U QT
Rise Up (Freestylers Remix) - Deibeat