Producer, Remixer, Educator: we’ve been the biggest fans of Danny J. Lewis over the years in all of his guises. His productions and remixes – a catalog of Garage and Deep House classics stretching to the present – never cease to amaze with their quality and dancefloor prowess. He’s released on labels including Defected, MAW Records, Soulfuric Trax, and Closer To Truth, as well as his own labels, Enzyme Black Recordings and Ruff Trax Records.
But he’s also excellent instructor. Lewis has taught at the famed Point Blank School in London and a YouTube channel with a library of fantastic tutorials on the use of production tools like Ableton, Logic, Cubase, Reason, plus guides to mastering, mixing and more. His soft voice and easygoing style of teaching has made dance music production accessible and inviting for even the greenest students and informative enough to teach something new to the most advanced pros.
But above all, it’s always refreshing to chat with someone with such a big body of work that can still remain so humble.
Danny, it’s such an honor to finally interview you. As I had mentioned, we’ve been massive fans of yours for so long. I just got back from London and was telling everyone I have a new favorite club: Ministry of Sound! I read somewhere that you used to practically live there?
I remember reading about it in the clubbing press when it was about to open. Justin Berkman was trying to bring the Paradise Garage vibe from New York over to London for the first time. No alcohol license, a cinema, a ruthless door policy and allegedly the best sound system all sounded incredibly exciting to me. It was the first time I’d ever been to Elephant and Castle and I’ll never forget the first night I went there – mainly because I didn’t get in! You were either a member or not and those who were not were at the mercy of the picker – going back and forth in the queue literally choosing who got in and who didn’t. I went with a bunch of male friends and two of us were picked (including me) but the rest not so we chose to go elsewhere that night.
I returned a few weeks later and got in. Walking down that tunnel into the venue was a major moment, emerging into the “bar” dancefloor with the tunnels to the main room (the box) to the left. I spent the whole night in the bar and loved it – too scared however to go into the box because of the warning excessive volume signs! The following week though I was back, took those first tentative steps down the right hand tunnel to the box and proceeded to stand right slap bang in the middle of the room. It was love.
That room became my home for a long, long time and I’d generally be there from 12am to 12pm (when it stayed open that late – sometimes it finished earlier), hardcore and dedicated. Saturday night was the best night for me as it played the US Garage (Garage, not Garridge!) sound I was so fond of. The Mood II Swing Dubs, the Todd Terry jams, the MAW Dubs, the full on diva gospel songs too… it was musically perfect for me.
The Bank Holiday parties were legendary also, never forget seeing a ton of the heavyweight American DJs back to back in the booth. That original system used components from the Richard Long Paradise Garage sound system and used to warm up properly about 6am. Sometimes my crew would even go to the venue at that time too! The original system and concept will always have a place in my heart – I was there from 1991 to 1996 on and off. The place has changed over the years and is now a very different beast by the looks of it.
There’s a ridiculous amount of free content out there for learning how to produce music, but is it all relevant? You can waste so much time plowing though stuff that just won’t help you.
Can you tell me what the timeline was for your evolution as an artist? Was it DJ, then producer, then educator?
The Ministry Box was my inspiration and I started off with a Yamaha PSS780 home keyboard my brother got for his birthday – attempting to make something that echoed what I loved and failing dismally. I didn’t realize there were specific sounds being used that I didn’t have and that was a big learning. I got my first sampling capability with the Commodore Amiga 500 and a hardware cartridge – 4 voices that I made very decent use of. Finally I could get a 909 kit, sampled stab chords, etc. That was the starting point.
Then I DJ’d on vinyl (badly) but got better over time. But it was never my strongest area – production was. Then after a life changing event (someone very close to me died in a fire) I felt compelled to do something more valuable with my life and start helping others – hence the move into teaching people how to produce.
Based on the kind of music you make, I’d love to know what kind of parties and scenes you grew up around. I imagine the rave scene influenced you quite a bit? Who were some of your DJ and producer heroes?
I went to my first underground club in 1989, a place called “SIN” at the Astoria, Charing Cross Road in London. The event was put on by Pete Tong and Nicky Holloway and was a mind blowing experience, far removed from the chart music-based clubbing experience I’d had prior. This was a period fondly referred to as the “Second Summer of Love” and was the foundation of the worldwide club scene we know today. I liked a lot of the music and actually in those days it was incredibly diverse (not just house) but I didn’t feel at that time any strong affiliation to particular DJs. For me that happened later.
When things became more “ravey” I took a break from clubbing altogether and returned in 1991 when the deeper, American-sounding house arrived in a big way. From then it was Kenny and Louie, Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, Terry Hunter, DJ Sneak, etc. who were my DJ heroes – especially Kenny and Louie who I still adore today.
You have talked about Daz-I-Kue (of the Bugz in the Attic collective) helping you out as a sort of mentor and eventually a production partner. I find it interesting because you had mentioned back then it was very hard to find people who wanted to share any kind of knowledge. So was it expected you all had to get proper training from a school? Nowadays it’s free information overload!
Yep, back in those days the only resource for learning was Sound On Sound Magazine, and for me at the time that was like reading a foreign language. And talking of foreign languages, most of the gear manuals were really badly translated from Japanese to English so that made learning the gear even harder! This was a time of course where there was no internet, no mobile phones even.
I was introduced to Darren in a studio in Brixton and we hit it off straight away musically. We worked on many long sessions in that room and got to know each other’s approach to production very well. He taught me a ton about working with vocals and vocalists particularly as well as lots of other things gained over time.
You learn a lot when it’s hands-on and with someone else with expertise. This is one of the problems with the current situation – there’s a ridiculous amount of free content out there for learning, but is it all relevant? You could waste so much time plowing though stuff that just won’t help you.
And then you began teaching at Point Blank for seven years? Can you tell us about that? (As a side note: I signed up to take an Ableton class at Point Blank many years ago because your initial tutorials won me over. But when I saw you weren’t the actual instructor, I lost interest. I thought, “That’s not Danny J. Lewis!”)
I worked at Point Blank for ten years I think, starting off with classes teaching kids in community centers. That was super challenging as many of the kids had been excluded from school. Most just wanted to get on the mic and spit lyrics about gang warfare and a small percentage were interested in actually producing. I worked my way up from that into teaching production, to paying customers at the school itself and got into course development. Later in my career there, Point Blank got into video tutorials and myself and JC Concato were the first ones to get involved. Despite being super nervous at the beginning I soon got into it and threw myself into it heavily.
Why did you end up leaving Point Blank and how did your YouTube channel start? Your tutorials are absolute gold, you give so much back to the community!
I left Point Blank because I felt my time in the education world as a day job was over and it was time to return to IT Project Management (the career I had before losing someone close.) I wanted however to keep spreading the knowledge so that’s why I started ramping up on my own channel (youtube.com/musicprotutorials).
What’s your schedule for uploading videos? Is it a decent source of income, especially now that YouTube has made it harder to earn money through their platform?
My schedule is totally ad hoc and is worked around a serious day job for a major music publisher as well as family life – good thing I can survive on low amounts of sleep!
Money? My average viewpoint is around 2k so that’s definitely not a big money earner. I do get stuff for free from software companies though so that’s a perk and well worth the investment of time. Most important reward though is seeing the comments and getting the messages from people around the world about how much the tutorials have helped them.
Have you had any of your formal students or those who follow your tutorials go on to have success as producers? I see so many positive comments from people on your channel that must be such a great feeling!
Yeah, there’s a serious alumni list somewhere, I should try and make it some day! Yes there are some people who have gone onto some amazing things and I’m very proud to have been part of their journey. The comments and feedback from everyone is what keeps me making the videos – I’m very grateful for the appreciation shown.
Being on the up and up with how digital trends are, where do you think our industry is heading in terms of music distribution, generating income and just the general over-saturation of music and DJs?
Income? Don’t expect to make a living from the music alone, unless you are hooked up with the sync world or making commercial hits. For underground producers you need to be gigging regularly to make a living in my opinion. There are way more people making music these days so it’s all the more important to try and stand out in some way.
Streaming may be seen as the enemy to many but platforms such as Spotify are incredible for discovery – and that helps people be heard. We are on the cusp of streaming.
I love that you have a whole section in your Soundcloud of free downloads for unofficial remixes! And then you have accompanying tutorials on how you came about them.
It’s just a nice way of creating content, I can enjoy making the remix first and then let people know how I did it. Putting my own spin on tracks I love is a ton of fun, way easier than composing from scratch!
What new music do you have coming out soon and what other projects do you have planned?
I have a new release promoting currently on Motion that is heavier and techier than normal but I love it – average rating is 8 out of 10 on DJ feedback right now so it’s looking positive. I’ve just finished remixing something for Bugz In The Attic that I’m really proud of, it’s a full song and also a heavy dub… very musical and very emotive. I’m super happy with it. I’m also continuing my passion project with remixing Moonchild whom I LOVE. I really hope they don’t mind. I’m trying to push people in their direction so I hope it’s all good. I’ve remixed The List and Cure and there’s more to come…
Have you ever been to the States and/or do you ever plan on coming back?
Yep, a road trip from LA to San Fran in 2002 which was incredible. Also New York in 1999 where I went to Club Vinyl for Body and Soul – amazing experience. Next up is Nashville in September for work so looking forward to that! I actually love the American people, always found them super friendly and enthusiastic. I work with plenty of Americans in my day job and will always acknowledge America as the home of house music, particularly New York, Detroit and of course Chicago so it’s a true honor for me to be interviewed by you. Thank you!