A vital cog in the PC Music collective machine, Danny L Harle’s new album and immersive digital experience, ‘Harlecore’, is beyond ambitious.
Words: Martyn Young. Photo: Vasso Vu.
Danny L Harle is a musical genius. There we’ve said it. For almost a decade now, one of the pioneering masterminds behind PC Music has had a hand in loads of exciting, fresh and innovative music, making transcendent future pop, insane club bangers and all manner of other weird and wonderful sounds with a string of smart and creative collaborators. This year though, Danny is finally getting around to releasing his debut album. Well, kind of debut album. We’ll let the man himself explain, but ‘Harlecore’ is a fantastical immersive listening experience built around Danny’s Club Harlecore creation in which all his, and a few friends, musical passions come to life in a thrillingly unique style. It’s a labour of love for the super talented producer, and Danny told us all about what Club Harlecore is and how it works, all the while with a glorious 3D multi-coloured background behind his head.
Hey Danny, tell us all about the wonderful world of Club Harlecore.
I’m so excited because this is a really personal project for me. I’ve made sure that in every step of the way of its creation, it remains completely true to the concept and has completely no compromise at any stage. I explained the concept to fellow musician Jean Dawson two years ago, and it sounded like it was so ambitious and so silly, just the kind of bullshit that people say in sessions, but then Jean Dawson commented on the trailer that I posted and was like, “wow, there it is just like you said.”
If people like it, then it’s like an intimate communication for me. I like that sort of interaction with people.
How long have you had the concept for ‘Harlecore’ going on then? We like to imagine you’ve had it ready to go as soon as you came out of the womb?
It dawned on me that it had to be in this state approximately three years ago. It’s been in production since then before any of this pandemic stuff. It has become more and more relevant as an idea. It seemed like quite an avant-garde and experimental thing initially because it was a specific expression of the way I personally experience music. It was an expression in a world were your main relationship with music is you and some headphones rather than you at a live event because I was a total nerd, or maybe even Dork is the word, as I was growing up [thanks for the shoutout, Danny]. I was not going out to parties or clubs. I wasn’t part of the living scene that this music was coming from. The euphoria I feel listening to it is inside my brain and body, but I thought I would try to express this sense of place that this feeling is contained within.
I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. I’ve always been interested in the idea of an album being a physical experience where there are a series of different rooms and moods. This seems such a tight concept as multi-room nightclubs are already a thing. It presents the multiroom club idea to the American audience, who aren’t necessarily so familiar with that sort of thing. The fact that it’s a rave album with all these sorts of different styles might be confusing to present to an American audience, but with this compartmentalised presentation of it, it makes it a bit clearer because it’s like, oh yeah, that music is really chilled out cos it’s in the chilled out room. The very visually intense elements of the whole thing come from the fact that I very much prefer to show people my ideas than explain.
I wanted to do it in such a dynamically visual way, so I didn’t have to explain it to people. It’s just there.
So, in the simplest terms, you could just say, “See the little blue guy in the video? MC Boing? That’s what the album is about.” We love MC Boing.
He plays the piano all day and all night. The funny thing is, though, that he talks about cars and pianos all the time, yet I’ve never seen him do any of that.
So, who are DJ Danny, MC Boing, DJ Mayhem, DJ Ocean then? Are they different people entirely or aspects of your own character?
They’re all conjuring acts that are halfway between me and someone else. DJ Danny is an exception who acted as a helpful way for me to compartmentalise the more trance rave side of what I was doing. UK hardcore is the more specific way of defining it. The Glaswegian DJ and producer Scott Brown is an enormous influence on this project. It was presented in this way to shed light on a lot of these artists who have influenced me. A lot of the ideas that people think PC Music invented already existed in these still underground UK and European genres. I think mainly the UK, though, as UK hardcore and happy hardcore are unique to this country.
Oh yeah, definitely we loved the ‘Bonkers’ series of compilations back in the day. They were bigger than anything. Everyone thinks Britpop and stuff like that was the biggest thing going, but ‘Bonkers’ and UK rave was massive.
Well, it’s just better music than Britpop. I absolutely love it. ‘Bonkers 13’, the Halloween edition, has a track called ‘Find Your Way’ by Jess on it, and I’m obsessed with that track. It’s one of the greatest rave riffs. That music is incredible. I don’t know why I love it, though. I wasn’t brought up around it and never heard anything like that when I was young. My dad is from Newcastle, and we’d go up there a lot to see my grandparents, and I saw an advert for a clubland compilation in Hexham in Newcastle. My brother said to me, “You see Dan, the further North you go in the UK, the music gets faster and louder.” That has really stuck with me, and I’ve always found that such a cool idea. I’ve had an affinity with people from the North and love that vibe. I love that I exist in a world where ‘Bonkers’ was bigger than Britpop.
So, let’s get back to the characters. DJ Danny was a way to separate off the hardcore rave stuff from the more poppy stuff because I’m very eclectic as an artist, and I also do classical stuff, so there are three main channels of output. I define them by how I listen to music. Rave stuff is where I want to feel immediately amazing. With pop, I’m willing to put in a bit more time.
How much more time?
Approximately 30 seconds before I want to feel amazing. With classical stuff, I’m willing to put in infinite amounts of time and properly engage with it and listen hard to the music. I can listen for four hours before I feel anything. Some things just require that. Even a live trance set, you have to be there for hours sometimes before you feel this epiphany.
Like when we would stay in the Slam Tent for days on end at T in the Park and come out not knowing where you are or where you’ve been but knowing that you’ve had an amazing time.
Yeah, and there’s no way to feel that without that time-lapse thing. The medium of music is time. Some music takes time to say what it needs to say.
MC Boing is a thing that came from a session with Lil Data. At cultural gunpoint, I forced him to do some MC’ing and said, we’re going to make some machina music and let’s do this in ten minutes. So the thing with MC Boing is that all the songs were written in less time than they take to listen to. They are also probably my favourite lyrics I’ve ever heard in any song ever. Including every song in the whole world.
So what about Mayhem and Ocean then?
I messaged Ross, AKA Hudson Mohawke, when I was in LA. He was and continues to be a hero producer god in mine and everybody from PC Music’s eyes. I was asking if he wanted to do a hardcore track. Being from Glasgow, I knew what he would think of by a hardcore track, and I saw him drop a Scott Brown track in a DJ set, so I figured he must like that kind of music and have an attachment to it. He was like, ‘Ok, yeah, tomorrow?’ Oh, yes, you’re my hero. We remade a new style by combining his beast kicks with my euphoric synths. It fits into this world of rave that I was making that had its own identity. Ross kindly allowed me to use the name he was already using as DJ Mayhem, and we continued collaborating on DJ Mayhem tracks. We then had a live performance at the three crowns in Stoke Newington in London, and we put it together on the day in a 120 capacity room. I think a ‘Sweatbox’ is the term for it. So that was a fantastic night, and perhaps the genesis of the whole Harlecore thing as that was the first time the name was whipped out. We took the Harlecore nights out on tour, but when it came to playing in New York, I couldn’t find enough acts playing this music. I had to make up some new acts, so I made up the mysterious DJ Fuck, who was my friend Sam who performed some nu-metal turntablism Linkin Park style, which was amazing. I was discussing this with my friend Caroline, and we started making music. As usual, very little words were shared, but it started to become a thing, and between us, we decided on the name DJ Ocean.
So how did these characters combine to make an album then?
As we were taking it on tour, I realised I was writing a lot of music for these events and realised there was the music of club Harlecore. I was thinking about how genres are associated with venues. There is a shared dream state that people who like this music inhabit, so why not manifest that into a thing? If it appears as a concept like that, then it’s real. It made perfect sense. As soon as I started giving it its own socials, then it really works giving my rave output its own club. It might confuse people as technically it’s my debut album, but as my career progresses, people will realise that I’m making my eclectic output as clearly channelled as I can.
Once you made club Harlecore into a real thing, what did you hope people would feel when they experienced it?
A sense of place for this music. I felt like just uploading an album of rave music to Spotify feels a bit futile. It’s not where it lives. I want people to listen to the music and understand that it’s of a certain place. The background things on Spotify, you can see the club oscillating when you’re listening to DJ Danny’s ‘On A Mountain’, and it gives a sense of place to the whole thing.
“Just uploading an album of rave music to Spotify feels a bit futile. It’s not where it lives”Danny L Harle
How conscious were you of how the music would be experienced then?
It’s interesting how uncommon it is for artists to have an idea of where their music is being performed. Because it’s sound, you have to choose reverbs and stuff, and it sounds designed to be performed in a certain space. Do you know what that space is and where is this music being performed, or do you just want people to have nothing in their head while they’re listening to it? Artists rarely have an idea as it’s really easy to get lost in just music, but that’s rarely how people experience it.
You’ve mentioned euphoria a few times, so what is euphoria for you, and how are you trying to express it?
Euphoria is the goal of all of my music and the goal of every DJ in Club Harlecore. There are different ways of achieving it. All those types achieve euphoria as well. The type of euphoria I think rave music gives you is like fast food euphoria. I’m speaking as a big fan of fast food and sweets.
We can definitely endorse sweets here at Dork. A nice burst of sherbet dip.
It’s so immediate, and it’s like a cheat code to get euphoria as fast as possible. It’s like how sweets are a cheat code to setting off your mind’s pleasure centres for food. It’s an extraordinary thing about music. With my music, I’ve got a particular set of sounds that I like hearing. Not like instruments specifically, just that I react emotionally to combinations of notes, and I find that fascinating how different arrangements of sounds can make you feel emotions with no lyrics. That’s what I think sets my music apart.
How do you feel about the hype surrounding hyperpop in 2021 as one of the biggest influences on that scene with people like 100gecs referencing PC Music?
I think it’s amazing that my early stuff with PC has influenced something. Hyperpop is something that evolves from PC. When I see and hear these artists that are supposedly hyperpop, I don’t really know too much about it, but I’m very flattered and honoured. I’m happy if my attitude and take on things has resonated with people. The funny thing is that if a lot of those artists tried making music with me, I don’t think they would like what I make. I make different stuff to what hyperpop is as a thing. I think the movement that influenced it and the sound are two very different things. It’s interesting how culture moves on.
Are you conscious of your legacy as an innovator, or do you just carry on doing your own thing, and whether anyone else likes it is up to them?
Yeah, that’s always been my mentality. I’ve achieved everything by doing exactly what I want. At nearly every juncture, there’s been immense pressure to keep doing the thing that people identify me with and want to hear from me. I don’t work like that, and I’m unable to write music that I don’t fully believe in. Whatever comes out is what comes out.
We need some details on Club Harlecore then. What’s it like in there? What’s on the drinks menu? Is there a dress code?
Well, you are in there. You’re in there right now. Whoever is reading this, it’s you. You’re in there. The drinks menu is yet to be revealed. It’s hard to see anyone else apart from the DJ’s in there. It’s hard to know.
Ok, we’ll take it that you can be whoever you wanna be in there. Anything goes. So, do you think you might be able to take club Harlecore out for some actual humans in the actual flesh to experience at some point?
As soon as we can get Harlecore on the road, we’re going to do that. We’ve got further exciting Harlecore releases planned. I’ve got lots of Danny L Harle stuff with other artists and new projects that are starting. I might be scoring a few things. I’m always expanding.
Yeah! “Danny L Harle – Always Expanding.” That’s our headline right there.
I’m so huge, and only getting huger.
A Few facts you might like to know about super-producer extraordinaire Danny L Harle
Danny is used to creating pop madness, but did you know his first gig was actual literal Madness? Yes, it was Suggs and the lads from back in the olden times. “ They are an incredible band. I’m a big fan of the song ‘Baggy Trousers’ “
Danny has lots of musical passions and is currently obsessed with Chutney music. That’s a unique genre with a dancehall/bhangra/soca mix, don’tcha know? “It captures a certain emotion between being sad and wanting to dance that I absolutely crave,” he says.
He doesn’t have any animals for his band. Primarily because he doesn’t have a band. However, he does have an animal somewhere. “I think you’ll find there’s an animal in the basement at Club Harlecore already DJ’ing,” he tells us ominously. “That animal forces you to explore the animal within yourself.”
Taken from the April 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Danny L Harle’s album ‘Harlecore’ is out now.