It’s fascinating hearing from Moodymanc, or Danny Ward as he is formally known. His history, career and musings stand out remarkably from the usual DJ/producer trajectory that we hear and read about. His long and varied career has allowed him to work with a mass of different producers and musicians, as well as travel worldwide performing as a DJ and jazz musician. With a musical background lying firmly in jazz and drumming, he has worked with artists such as The Pharcyde, Rae and Christian and Fila Brasilia, but since taking on the drumming and production role in the group 2020 Soundsystem alongside DJs Ralph Lawson and musicians Juilan Sanza and Fernando Pulichino from Silver City, his name has also been firmly associated with house music. As a part of 2020 Soundsystem and under his ulterior moniker ‘Double D’, he has released on the likes of Tsuba, Dessous and 2020 Vision itself, with two widely acclaimed albums and numerous EPs, as well as a storming tribute remix of Whitney Houston‘s ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’ last year. Just after his recent ZZZ EP release on Frola Records, we catch up with the man himself and pick his brains over the creative processes behind his EP, his thoughts on the state of the industry and his advice for fledgling producers.
How did your journey through being a session musician end with you creating electronic music? Was it a path you always knew you would go down, or was it unexpected?
I left school in the late 80s in Manchester, so was very much around at the explosion of house music and techno in the city. As much as I was out playing drums and percussion with bands I was also hanging out at and playing at these sorts of parties and clubs. As a result I met and ended up working with a lot of producers who were making dance music and hip hop at the time. As well as playing on records and live shows I also naturally became interested in programming and production. I bought my first drum machine in about ‘92 and that was it, I was hooked, so it’s always been a part of my development as a musician as a whole to be involved in the electronic side. I am also still very much active and dedicated as a performing and recording musician too so it’s all part of an ongoing process.
How has your background in live music shaped the process of how you produce now, from inception to release?
I’m very lucky to have worked with and be surrounded by some amazing musicians and artists from very a diverse range of backgrounds and genres. This has opened me up to all sorts of concepts and approaches that I perhaps might never have come across otherwise. It’s also introduced me to all sorts of amazing records, and it’s an eternal source of inspiration for me. Working with such talent has also taught me the importance of investment in your own music, to be patient and enjoy the creative process as much if not more than the end result.
In terms of how I release my music, I’ve also luckily had experience with working at lots of different ‘levels’ within the record industry. I’ve had experience of working with major labels on some very commercially successful (and not so successful) projects as well as on the independent side of things. This was very formative for me in the respect that it allowed me to witness a lot of the processes and culture involved and discover that it really wasn’t for me. I have learned that it’s not always the artists who sell the most records or make the most money that are the most ‘successful’, but rather the ones who sustain a lifestyle by which they can make the music and records that they want to make for as long as they like: that’s very much something that I aspire to.
Have you considered, or would you consider, creating house music with live instruments?
Ralph Lawson and I put together 2020 Soundsystem with Juilan Sanza and Fernando Pulichino of (keys and bass respectively) of Sliver City, and later also Simon Richmond (Palmskin productions/The Bays) to do just that. We’ve had a very fortunate run with it and after 10years of gigging worldwide we’re currently taking a break.
With my own productions pretty much all the drums and percussion are played and recorded by me, and often I like to bring in musicians and artists I know to play in the studio when it’s possible. Over the last few years I’ve been trying to invest and learn as much as I can to put myself in a position where I can do this more and more. Of course, it’s a very different approach when it comes to house music, and I still like to make beats with drum machines and samplers too, but it’s part of who I am and what I do so it’s got to come out in the way I make music.
You are a man who speaks through his music, rather than speaking frequently on social media platforms. What are your feelings on DJs and producers who have maybe not gone down the same route and are now probably better known for their “Twitter wars”?
Ha! I’d certainly like to think that was true! I do enjoy a bit of Facebook banter, and spending (perhaps sometimes too much!) time reading what people have to say on various platforms. I’m all for it, and as such if people want to engage in “Twitter wars”, that’s very much up to them. It is a shame if they get more notoriety for that than their music, but if that’s the way they feel they express themselves better so be it. I’m sometimes intrigued by some of the stuff that goes on though, what motivates it and also what it achieves. No doubt for some people raising their level of public awareness this way can get them more gigs….
You’ve said in a previous interview, “Part of my love for house music is what I see as its politics. For me it is about breaking down social barriers, dispensing with taboos and prejudices”. Do you ever feel the underground scene goes against this?
Of course this might be a symptom of getting older and all that comes with it, but I do think that over the last few years there has been an increasing self-awareness in house music. It’s always been there to certain extent, but the whole scene for me has become a lot more fashion-conscious and trend aware. I think it’s inevitable; as a society we spend so much time now interfacing with each other through platforms that encourage you, in a very public and direct way, to either give judgement on everything you see or receive judgement on everything you do or say. People are bamboozled with the amount of music that’s out there and are desperate for guidance as to where to even start, and those giving the guidance have to move so fast to cling on to their audiences and credibility that it has created a culture of fast moving trend creating and short-lived brand loyalty that perhaps wasn’t there as much before. People and styles seem to come and go much more quickly and there’s a desperation to conform to and celebrate what’s deemed to be “cool” or “successful” or “popular”. Having said all that, the true underground, by definition remains unaffected. As ever, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it…
You’ve just released your ZZZ EP on Frole Records, how long did the creative process take for this release, and what’s the reason behind the name?
Well when putting together EPs, especially for vinyl releases, I very much think about both making a record that I might want to buy and representing myself artistically; it has got to tell a story! As such, this EP has got three quite different tracks: ‘ZZZ’ which is very much a nod to a classic house sound with, for me, quite a strong nod towards the 90s (though perhaps not as fashionable as some people’s versions ha!), this has a wonderful rave-tastic reinterpreation by Volta Cab, ‘Akom’ which is inspired by West African ritualistic drumming, something I have studied and which very much interests me, and ‘Inc’, which I definitely approached from a hip hop perspective in terms of production values…I wanted to try to make something a little more raw than some of my more recent stuff. A real nod back to my earlier days as Dubble D. Time wise it’s actually hard to quantify. I made all the tracks last year. I’m constantly making beats and loops, like a sketch pad and bounce them off each other. Some of them I pay with forever and they never get made into tracks, or they can develop into something completely different. With others it can take a couple of days from inception to mixdown (then usually a day or so tweaking with ‘fresh ears’). I usually record specific drums and percussion for each track which can take a day or two. I like to experiment and explore the possibilites available…the journey is more important than the destination! Why ZZZ? Everybody needs their ZZZs, especially people who like to party at the weekend!
You’re obviously so passionate about your music, how do you stay inspired?
Music has been my life for a long time now. As I said above, I’m lucky to live surrounded by and in contact with great musicians, producers and DJs, and friends with the most amazing record collections. I’m on a mission to constantly better myself, it’s endless. Sometimes the “business” side of things does get me down, but I have faith in music, it always brings me back up!
Ignoring the EDM debate, several deep house tunes appear on the latest release of the commercial dance CD Floorfillers. As you’ve previously said that the underground scene is struggling, do you think this could be seen as a positive step to increase the awareness of house, or do we run the risk of destroying the scene?
There will always be a “cross-over” from underground to “popular”. It’s inevitable, and necessary! We discussed it to a certain extent above, but I think that it if it opens people’s ears to styles they might not have before encountered, and encourages them to explore and buy music that they otherwise wouldn’t it’s great! It’s hard making “underground” music; I’m all for underground house artists getting their music out there and getting paid! I’m quite happy to embrace any SHM fans who might like my music too 😉 The only danger is when lots of producers start emulating a formula because they think it’s going to be commercially popular…they’re often chasing something they’re never going to catch. Again, it’s a lot of the same issues that we talked about above.
What are your words of wisdom to fledgling producers entering the scene today?
Ha! That’s a tough one, I still feel quite “fledgling” myself. I think it’s important to make your music your success. Enjoy it for what it is, not what you think it ought to be. Don’t be too hasty to judge yourself by other people’s definitions of success; it’s not all about winning polls, or making lots of money, or a jet set lifestyle. Stick to your guns, keep love in your heart and music at the very top of your agenda! To be honest, it’s something I struggle to do every day, but usually when I do feel real satisfaction, it’s because I’ve managed to get there in a small way!
Finally, what are you plans for 2013 and what can we look out for from Moodymanc?
The plans are for more music! I’ve still got a couple more EPs to come out very soon: one for Crosstown Rebels’ RebelLION label at the end of the month, about which I’m very excited. A follow up EP on Abstract Theory to my previous ‘Tuck’ EP and another one on Gimmick Records after that. I’ve been working a lot with the legendary and lovely Ashley Beedle on various collaborative projects. We’ve been doing some re-mixing, writing, re-editing and also finishing a release with Yamhoo that looks like it’s ‘growing legs’ as a project.
I’ve also been ploughing on with a new project, ‘Balaphonic’, which is a little earthier and more organic than some of my Moodymanc and Dubble D stuff of late, though still with a heavy nod towards the dancefloor. I’m trying to involve a lot more live musicians in this one. There are some sneak previews of snippets on Soundcloud if you search the name and I’ve been doing a couple of remixes and re-works with that concept too which I’m really excited about…
I’m also really hoping to get back out DJing again! The studio has kind of swamped things a little over the last few months (hence all the releases) but I’m chomping at the bit to get back out and spin so hit up…firstname.lastname@example.org 😉
Moodymanc is performing at UBERMAX alongside Oskar Offermann, Sei A & DJ Steaw on Saturday 11th May.
Visit the event page here
Buy tickets on Resident Advisor here
Visit Moodymanc on Facebook