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Friday 2 October 2015

Radio 1 DJ interview

The Solent Students’ Union Freshers’ Ball had some great acts this year, including the likes of Blonde, Lethal Bizzle and Radio 1 DJ Danny Howard.

Ahead of the event, Solent BA (Hons) Popular Music Journalism student Charlotte Croft had the chance to ask Danny a few questions – read on to get his take on music, university, and finding a career in radio…

You studied sport and exercise science at Edge Hill University. What career choice did you have in mind, and what changed for you to become a DJ?

I did sports science because I was working in a gym as a personal trainer before I went to uni, so it was a natural progression for me. I really enjoyed the real science behind it, and when I got in the course I really liked the psychological side of it.

My goal was to work with athletes in the 2012 Olympics as a sports psychologist, but in my second year when I started to DJ I got sidetracked a little bit. I started to put on my own nights at uni and in Blackpool, I became a resident at the student’s union, and it all went from there really. By the time I’d left uni I had residencies in Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, and I was earning enough money DJing to keep it going. I loved it and it kept growing and growing, and here we are now!

How did you get into DJing? Were you brought up around dance music?

Yeah, my older step-brother was always into dance music. He was more into hard house, so I suppose that was my first real introduction into the dance music world. Looking past that into house music – that was my first real love. Hard dance wasn’t really for me. So it was my brother who had a pair of decks and a passion for DJing, and he introduced it to me when I was like 10 years old!

I was quite late starting to learn it myself – I failed my second year and had to resit the whole year but only for a couple of modules, so I was only in on a Friday and I had the whole week to teach myself to DJ, although I probably should’ve been studying!

So how did your university experience contribute to where you are now?

I think being at university helped me get to where I am now – if I’d gone into a full-time job at that time I wouldn’t have committed to learning to DJ and put events on. I had such a strong group of friends that it helped me to network around the campus and get people to come to my nights. It all helps. If I didn’t go to uni I probably wouldn’t be here now.

Do you think going to university is a good way of getting into the industry?

Yeah. There’s so many ways to get into the industry now, I wouldn’t say you have to go to university to do it, but it worked for me. There’s no set way to go into it, you can still hold down a normal full time job and produce music in your spare time. Going to university won’t make you become a DJ, but it helped me to build up a network and you have more time to commit to it.

So you were a resident DJ at The Syndicate in Blackpool, how did you get that gig?

That was because me and my friend Alex started doing nights together, he’d do the promo side and I’d do the music. It really worked, our first night brought in thousands of people and it just kept growing.

At the time Syndicate was one of the biggest clubs in the UK, bringing in everyone from Erick Morillo to Armin van Buuren. I suppose our local following led them to sit up and take note of what we were doing. We both went on to put our nights on there.

When do you think your big break was? What’s the best advice you could give to students who want to become DJs?

The pinpoint was definitely the [Superstar DJ] competition that I entered on Radio 1; it was just an opportunity that I never would have imagined would lead to where I am now. The reason it has is just lots of hard work, preparation and learning. Put in the groundwork so that when you do get given an opportunity, you can grab it with both hands and make the most of it. The competition was only meant to be to play for Radio 1 in Ibiza, but I pushed a bit and it helped.

The advice I’d give is to work hard, take opportunities because you never know what will happen – the only reason I entered that competition was because my friends and family heard the advertisement and told me to enter. You never know.

What do you think the future is for electronic dance music (EDM)?

I hate that question! I think music goes in cycles, EDM represents the harder and faster sounds of electronic music and it’s been absolutely smashing it for the last five years, and it still is. Here in the UK we’ve moved away from it a bit – personally I was so happy when the likes of Duke Dumont, Secondcity and Route 94 were getting to number 1 in the charts. EDM will always be there because the artists that are associated with it are so big, but even they’re changing their sound a little bit. EDM is still here but music goes in cycles.

What are the best gigs for you? You’re doing Solent Freshers’ Ball this year. Do you find sets in the UK are anything in comparison to the likes of Ibiza?

It depends where you play. The student gigs that I play are always a bit more fun and laidback, a mix of familiar and fun stuff with older classics, mixing it up to bring a party vibe. That’s really important at a freshers gig because everyone has very different tastes and backgrounds so you have to be wider in your approach. In Ibiza people come specifically for the music and that’s a real opportunity to play more deep, underground and fresh tracks. Very different but both very enjoyable.

So after university you managed to start playing for Ministry of Sound in Egypt. How did that gig come about and what advice do you have for DJs who want to start working abroad?

That came about just through a friend who was working as a production manager for Ministry and Hed Kandi. I’d always had a desire to work for those brands in some capacity, so when the opportunity came up it was good timing, I’d just finished uni and they were looking for a resident DJ. It was only short but it was great, to be associated with two such massive brands and in a lovely hot country, it was win-win really. For anyone wanting advice on working abroad, the only way to get those gigs these days is by producing music and giving people in these different countries a reason to come and see you.

You’re one of the top Radio 1 DJs alongside the likes of Annie Mac. How did you get into radio and are there any pros and cons?

It’s very nice of you to say that! I only got into radio because of that competition, but I used to listen to Annie and Pete [Tong] every week because I loved the music, but I’d never thought about becoming a radio presenter. But when I saw the mechanics of it I was amazed, I really became interested in it. Between winning the competition and getting the radio show it really helped me get my foot in the door. I used to make my own podcasts at home and put them online; I’d send them to Radio 1.

There’re more pros than there are cons; what’s better than being able to play some of your favourite tunes on a Saturday afternoon? It’s still one of the strongest mediums of influencing people’s musical tastes. We get a lot of texts and tweets saying that they weren’t planning on going out but listening to the show has made them change their mind! It’s such an amazing feeling to move people like that, it’s something only radio can achieve.

On that note, how much artistic freedom are you given on your Radio 1 show? Do they have certain things you have to play?

You have to get a balance – I programme every tune on the show, but the Radio 1 music team had to set me a few guidelines when I first started. It’s 4pm in the afternoon, so you can’t start going too underground and dark or you’ll alienate mainstream daytime listeners – you’ve got to be mindful of that. So earlier in the show I play a lot more familiar, vocal-led songs and then in that last hour I get to take it a bit more underground and introduce some new tunes. You have to remember there’s a wide variety of listeners.

Would you recommend pursuing a career in radio to fellow DJs?

Certainly, radio doesn’t have to be on a big commercial station like Radio 1. Radio can just be having your own podcast that you record at home and upload to mixcloud. Lots of DJs these days have their own shows to share their new productions, tunes they love or sets recorded from a club. It’s not just a promotional tool, it’s a really fun thing to do anyway.

Danny is playing the Solent Students’ Union Freshers’ Ball on Sunday 4 October, at Oceana Southampton.