Signing to Hospital Records at the turn of the millennium, South West producer Danny Byrd is one of the most recognised names in drum and bass. Releasing his debut album Supersized in 2008, he’s just dropped his fourth LP on the festishised label, Atomic Funk.
Interestingly, the funkiest song on the album isn’t the title track, it comes in the grooving guitar samples of Devil’s Drop – the first single release and Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World earlier this year. Once you’ve heard it, you become more astute to the funk influence tentacleing its way through the rest of the album.
As we’ve now come to expect from Danny, Atomic Funk demonstrates the versatility of drum and bass, combining obvious funk and hip hop overtones and more subtle influences like garage and R&B with his intelligent production.
Atomic Funk demonstrates the versatility of drum and bass, combining obvious funk and hip hop overtones and more subtle influences like garage and R&B with his intelligent production
Atomic Funk delivers 15 tracks and collaborations as varied as MC GQ and Bristol-based soul singer Pete Joseph. It’s his fourth studio length album and is a pleasure to listen through in a single session. Though it’s easy to think of drum and bass music in terms of single tracks put together into an hour-long dancefloor set, Danny’s tracks show a tendency towards thoughtfulness rather than pulling out all the tricks to create dance floor hits, which can be jarring when you’re not actually in front of a sound system.
We caught up with Danny about the new release after an early doors jungle set at last month’s RUN All Day at Motion, where he’d managed to pack out the main stage by 2pm.
‘I’ve been signed to Hospital Records for 18 years now, so I was there right from the start’ he explains. ‘The one thing that they did differently to every other label back then was that they were very album focussed. I find it very hard to work in a different way now, I write in an album frame of mind.
I’ve been signed to Hospital Records for 18 years now, so I was there right from the start
‘It gives me a license to have variety. With an album you can do stuff that is more self-indulgent, or that you think is more self indulgent, but you show it to the label and they say, actually, ‘That’s the first single’. You can never be objective about your own music – other people are best at that.
‘I’ve had the most fun with this album. As you do more and get more experience, you learn to enjoy the process more and embrace all the pressures of it.’
He’s talked about Atomic Funk as a collection of all his favourite influences and genre-wise there are many, but Danny also takes influences from technology, continually striving to change up and improve his production, from the samplers he uses to the microphone used by his vocalists. This album, he explains, is a different kettle of fish to his previous releases…
‘Previously they’ve all been made on logic, they’ve all been made in the box in the same sort of sequences everyone is using. On this album I used a lot of vintage drum machines like MPCs and E-mu SP-1200s, which are famously used by hip hop producers, but I used it on this album to give a different sound to the drums, like the hi hats. Just little things that the listener won’t totally pick up on, but more of a subconscious thing. I wanted the whole sonics to be cleaner and the mix downs to be tighter. I took real pride in my vocal recording this time – not that I didn’t before, but every year you have to up your game. I was trying to get the same kind of sound that you’d get in American pop and R&B, using the same mic they would use and things.’
I used a lot of vintage drum machines like MPCs and E-mu SP-1200s, which are famously used by hip hop producers
It was worth all the effort because one of the interesting things about Atomic Funk is the breathing space it gives to its vocals, which stand out as part of the song rather than the gimmicky, background feature you can get in drum and bass music.
‘When you have some success with music, especially radio success, you get a lot of managers circling you and saying “you should do a session with my vocalist” or “you should work with this rapper” – there’s people trying to almost tag along with you and create something so they can have a radio hit too. It’s that sort of really generic music industry stuff that I hate.
I got back to using samples, which is much more the dance music method – it should all be bedroom based
‘With this album, I haven’t put any music out in a while so I didn’t have any of that noise. I got back to using samples, which is much more the dance music method – it should all be bedroom based. But what we did was re-do the vocals and change the lyrics slightly. We sketched over the vocal and recorded new vocals over it, so it still kept the vibe of the original sample, which is maybe why the vocals sound more complete.
Although Danny is from Bath, both he and the Bristol music scene have very much adopted each other. Bristol is where he got his musical education, metaphorically and literally, and the drum and bass scene over the last 20 years still informs Danny’s music.
‘I always feel like Bath is the village and Bristol is the town. I did a music technology course at City of Bristol College in the 90s and going back and forth to Bristol every day, you picked up on the vibe. I would have to get my bus from Bristol Bus Station and Replay Records was in the bus station. Bristol was the home of drum and bass and jungle, and you just felt so much closer to it. I remember coming down on the bus once and seeing a load of cameras on Stokes Croft and it was Roni Size and Krust and Reprazent after they’d won the Mercury Prize and this was right in front of me – the music that I love literally right in front of me on the street. It’s always been a massive part of everything I’ve done.
Bristol was the home of drum and bass and jungle (…) It’s always been a massive part of everything I’ve done
‘Last night I went out for dinner in Bristol with a friend, I haven’t been out socially in Bristol in a while and I started thinking “I wonder if there’s a drum and bass night in Bristol on a Tuesday… nah there can’t be”. Sure enough, I saw that Sub Zero and IC3 were playing at Blue Mountain and I ended up going and staying out till like two in the morning on a Tuesday night. I don’t know about living in Bristol, I don’t know how much work I’d get done, but I like being in Bath and dipping in and out.
‘It’s interesting, I was saying to my friend last night that 20 years ago, I remember Full Cycle Records had their night in the second room at Lakota and that was the main Friday or Saturday drum and bass night. And now you go to Blue Mountain and it’s rammed out on a Tuesday night, it’s busier than a night of A-list names 20 years ago. That is how much drum and bass has infiltrated Bristol – it’s nuts how much bigger the music has got, not just Bristol-wide but nationwide and internationally.’
you go to Blue Mountain and it’s rammed out on a Tuesday night, it’s busier than a night of A-list names 20 years ago. That is how much drum and bass has infiltrated Bristol
Despite the genre and the Danny Byrd name growing hugely in popularity over the years, Danny has remained loyal to Hospital Records, releasing almost exclusively with the label. It’s not hard to imagine bigger labels scrambling to sign him, but Danny explains why he’s stuck with Hospital:
‘Hospital has always been a constant. They’re always striving for better things, they’re always the first to do things. It might not seem like a big deal, but in 2002 they were the first drum and bass label to be selling music on iTunes. And they were ahead of the curve with Spotify and how streaming is taking over – they’re very tuned in. But they’re also independent. If I was to go and sign to a major, they could say “you’ve got the freedom to write what you want”, but at the end of the day they’re looking for a radio hit and if you don’t deliver that or you’re not flavour of the month, you’re dropped. How does that serve you as an artist and how does that serve your fans? It doesn’t serve you well in the long run.
‘At Hospital, you can put a single out that might not well – no problem, we loved it, on to the next one. It’s independent and those are the things you can do. Hospital put out records that have no radio play and are a little bit weird and out there, but they love it and really believe in it. And people pick up on that and love it. Hospital Records can give you all the best of what a major can give you, but it can also give you the best of what a really small, DIY label can.’
Hospital Records can give you all the best of what a major can give you, but it can also give you the best of what a really small, DIY label can
Hospital Records are, of course, bringing Danny with them to their Hospitality Halloween party at Motion this month, alongside the likes of High Contrast, Camo & Krooked and Fred V & Grafix. Apart from his Dracula costume, he jokes, Danny says he’ll bring all the ‘high energy and good vibes’ he always brings to a Bristol show.
‘I’m really enjoying DJing at the moment, because all the production stuff is out of the way and the album is flying, I’m playing the album tunes and people know them – that’s what I’m really looking forward to. Bristol is a home crowd and I really do always feel the love when I play here.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger
Bristol is a home crowd and I really do always feel the love when I play here