Denney: “America’s Dance Music Scene Has Caught Up To The UK”

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
April 26, 2017

Denney: “America’s Dance Music Scene Has Caught Up To The UK”

Ever since arriving onto the underground scene, James Denney, or simply Denney as he is more commonly known, has achieved an impressive number of accolades. Following his massive “Low Frequency” release, which sat at the top of the Beatport charts for over five weeks and received a Ministry Of Sound re-release that broke into the UK Top 100 chart, he was invited to the esteemed Essential Mix decks by Pete Tong in 2016 and toured the world several times over. In 2016 alone he graced the DJ booths of DC-10 and Sankeys in Ibiza, Heart Nightclub in Miami, fabric, Egg and Ministry of Sound in London, Mint Warehouse in Leeds, Flash Factory in NYC, Primary in Chicago, the famous Get Lost in Miami as well as festival appearances at The BPM Festival, Creamfields, Eastern Electrics, ADE and Tomorrowland.

Fresh off heavy stints in the studio earlier this year, James has just released an EP on Heidi’s Jackathon Jams label featuring dance music legends Derrick Carter and Roger Sanchez, with plenty more music scheduled to come out throughout the year.

In Europe myself, I had the chance to recently talk with James about the time he has been spending in the studio this year and his upcoming U.S. tour, as well as his views on the changing musical landscape of both Ibiza and the United States.

I had the pleasure of meeting James in Chicago before, and since ran into him at Get Lost in Miami during Miami Music Week. What immediately surprised me was how approachable, down to earth and friendly he was — qualities that were confirmed once more during our chat, and that I never take for granted when dealing with artists that tour heavily under the massive stress that this industry brings.

Hi James!

Hello mate, how’s it going? I didn’t realize it was you giving the interview when they said…

Yeah, I am actually in Europe myself right now. Are you in England?

Yeah, yeah… I am in London, I’ve lived here for a year now. My fiancee lived here and then with traveling and stuff it made sense for me to move down here.

I am assuming most of your flights work out better from London when going abroad?

Yeah mate, the connections and stuff were crazy before.

Congrats on the engagement by the way! Do you guys have a date set?

Nothing yet, it’s going to be 2019 realistically as time is just flying by at the moment, so much happening.

Makes sense. You had a pretty busy year last year huh?

Yeah mate, it’s just been full on. It really was FULL ON! 2017 has been steady but I kind of took a bit of a break, been working a lot of the studio now as basically I was touring that much it go really hard to balance the production. I cut back the touring a little bit the beginning of this year, had a lot of production stuff going but yeah I am ready to get back into it now all over summer.

Wicked! You just had a pretty big EP on Heidi’s label with Derrick Carter and Roger. 

Yeah it was crazy how that came about really, it was just one of those things that you kind of thought would never happen but managed to pull it in and I got really good feedback from people as well. I was really happy about that.

How did you get Derrick and Roger involved? 

I got Roger first and that was surprisingly quite easy. Roger had been playing my Crosstown Rebels EP out a lot. I had met Roger like 15 years ago, I knew him in another lifetime it felt like and then we got talking again, swapping music and I had made this record and wanted a male vocal on it and I just thought… I remembered he used to do spoken vocals so I hit him up and he asked me to send him the track. He said he liked it, “I would love to do some production with you, do you want to do it as a collab?”  And I was like, “Yeah, of course!” (laughs).

So we got that one out, did the other track and I sent it to Heidi and she said she really thought we needed a vocal on it and she goes, “I favor something like Green Velvet or Derrick Carter, I think I can get one of them.” I told her that if she could get either one of those I would eat my hand! And then she came back, she rang me a couple of days later and told me she had been with Derrick… and Derrick is an old friend of mine too, but I’ve never known of Derrick Carter doing vocals on somebody else’s records, it’s just one of those things that I would have never approached him and asked him. She asked him and he said yeah… he has called me “Mr. Big Hat” for years, a funny story from an after-party where I was wearing this big hat… and he said yes on the one condition that we called the track “Mr. Big Hat” so I was like fine, let’s do it (laughs). It was amazing how it all tied in, and Heidi has been super supportive and wicked. The Derrick Carter thing was all down to her really.

That’s amazing, it’s great how that came full circle and worked out… the right people working on the right EP at the right time.

That’s exactly it, the thing is that Derrick Carter, Roger Sanchez and Yousef were my biggest idols back then so that’s why I called it Full Circle EP, because that’s what it was. It was wicked.

That’s amazing, happy that happened for you. You said you’ve been in the studio quite a lot… what else do you have coming up as far as productions?

I’ve got an EP coming out on Green Velvet’s Relief label, I’ve got an EP coming on Crosstown Rebels — it’s a collab with D. Ramirez — and then I’ve got a big kind of summer track, a bit of a “Low Frequency” follow-up coming. I can’t actually say the label as we are just literally finalizing the deal but all I can say is that it’s gonna be a big off-shot of a major record label. So I’ve got that and a collab with Steve Lawler coming out on Viva as part of a collab EP he is doing, it’s one of the tracks on there. That’s what I have immediately coming out, quite a few big records.

So do you use a studio at home or do you go to a studio somewhere in London?

No I work from home, I am really lucky to have my studio at home. I work better at home honestly because if I have been away traveling or sometimes I am just in a situation where I am at home distracted and I can go in the studio and start working on something. Some people need a different space from their home but I kind of like it, I can come in here and come and go as I like and it means I can sit in my pajamas all day! (laughs)

That’s definitely part of the beauty, if you get an idea all of a sudden you can pop in real quick and work on it right away.

That’s exactly it mate, and say someone needs something quick like a remix or an edit, I don’t have to get on the tube to get somewhere, I can just literally work. It’s just personal preference and I have been really lucky with the place I managed to get.

I am sure you’ve been asked this question in the past, but what kind of software and hardware can we find in there? What’s your go-to?

I work off a laptop, I do a lot internally in Cubase 8.5. I do have a Cyclone Bassbot, which looks identical to a TB-303, which I use for acid sounds. I have a Jun0-106 that I just use for keys and stabs and stuff like that. I have so many plug-ins, VSTs and stuff like that. I kind of like to use different things and I always like getting new synths and sounds. I did use the Predator software, I’ve been really impressed with that as well as Contact for my drums and that’s it really.

What I use depends on the mood really, but I would honestly say that 90% of what I do is in the box rather than external hardware and that’s just the way I work. I love hardware and I’ve used it more when I have done tracks with other people, and I will keep buying and collecting new hardware as that changes.

I am one of those people, both in terms of production and DJing, that believes that the medium doesn’t really matter as much as the music that comes out at the other end.

Yeah totally, that’s it. It’s what you’re comfortable with. I know some producers who use Fruity Loops and their records sound fucking amazing. Whatever journey it takes you to get there, it’s the end of it that matters.

Exactly! So you’re coming back Stateside this week and have a bunch of dates lined up. 

Yeah I am doing Seattle, San Francisco, LA, Phoenix then off to Miami and then Panama.

What’s the LA gig?

It’s a pool party, a daytime pool party for the Liquid Frequencies guys. It’s at a hotel on Lincoln Boulevard. Are you gonna come down?

I would but I will be out of town actually. It’s a pity! You play in a LA a couple of times a year though right?

I do play maybe once a year, not as much as say New York or Miami. I kind of play there the most, but I come through to LA I suppose once a year. Last I played was Clinic Wednesday. I also played in Orange County back in March for Doorly, which was also really cool. It’s going to be great to be back in LA properly!

What do you like about the city, anything you look forward to when you come back?

Ah, the weather man! (laughs) Myself and my fiancee have talked about moving there even, it’s just the climate is so good and the thing with LA is that there’s something for everyone: if you want to go to the beach you go to the beach, there’s a good music scene, mountains, great art scene, food, everything like that is really good there. You’re not far from San Francisco and I have a lot of friends there too which is cool. When I was on tour in March I had a couple of free days as I played in Orange County and I got to stay in LA for a few days and I got to catch up with loads of people which was cool. But yeah it’s just a great city, and like I said the weather is so good, you just wake up happy.

It’s going to be great to have you back in the city I am sure. What else do you have planned for the rest of the year?

A lot! I am playing the last Secret Garden Party in England, I am doing Viva Warriors in Ibiza — a couple of shows— I am playing for elrow in Ibiza which I am really excited about this year. I am doing festivals in England — quite a few boutique ones— and I am back at Hideout in Croatia. That will be great. I am doing Eastern Electrics in England, things like that. I have a couple more gigs in Ibiza which I can’t say too much about now as that’s getting tied up, and I know I am doing a festival in the U.S. later in the year but I can’t say that yet as it hasn’t been announced yet. But yeah I will be back over after summer doing some stuff over there which will be great.

Damn… you’re gonna be busy! You mentioned Ibiza and you’ve played Viva Warriors a lot in the past, also DC-10 for Jamie and you’ve been going there for a while now. How do you feel about the direction the island is going? How is it changing for you from your perspective as your DJ, producer and someone heavily involved in the scene?

I think it’s definitely changing, and it has been for the last few years. But I think this year is gonna be a pivotal moment for Ibiza. We no longer have Space, that’s gone. I know Privilege is getting refurbished, they’re doing some big parties with Carl Cox going there. I know Eden in San Antonio are also going through a refurb. I know there’s some plans for San Antonio… so I think this year is gonna be really interesting and I don’t honestly know what direction is going to go in. But I think it’s exciting, there seems to be some excitement about it. It’s changed up a bit yes and I do know there’s a lot of people who have reservations about Space and the new venue, but I have to say from the lineups I have seen so far I am happy. I think because it’s owned by Ushuaïa people assumed it would just be an extension of it… big EDM, a ton of table service which I am sure will be there a bit, but I do think there will be a lot of quality music there. Black Coffee and Steve Lawler are new residents there, Nic Fanciulli, Kölsch, Andrea Oliva and all these DJs like wAFF are playing there. There’s going to be some good stuff and obviously Carl is doing his nights at Privilege which is a lot more techno orientated, and I know Sasha and Digweed are doing stuff there as well which I think is really exciting for the island.

Let’s face it, there was a kind of tech house overload toward the end of last year and I think these parties will be great. Musically it’s going to start changing probably away from the tech house a little bit. With the likes of Digweed and Sasha coming I think it will be amazing for me, I am a massive fan, and I think it keeps things fresh. Every couple of years things change, there was the big minimal sound in Ibiza around 2005 to 2008, the electro sound when that first kind of came, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes. It could go more techno or maybe more progressive, who knows. I think it can only be a good thing!

Also I think with these EDM kids that want to go see David Guetta or whoever… while I don’t like the music it’s a great doorway for kids. They will first go to Ibiza and won’t know who Loco Dice or Marco Carola are… and they might go to the island and say “Let’s go to Amnesia to change it up!” and by chance end up seeing Marco Carola and then their taste might change. I don’t listen to the same music I was listening to when I was 17 or 18 years old and I am sure you don’t either, and not many people I know do. We all evolve and listen to different aspects of dance music so I think in terms of getting all these thousands of kids into dance music it’s a good thing. Especially with festivals, where they go and then fall into a tent with let’s say Carl Cox and then they are like, “Wow this guy is amazing, who is this?” I have done that a few times where I’ve ended up seeing a DJ I didn’t know and thought they were amazing.

I am looking at it as a positive. A lot of people say Ibiza is not what it was but there’s still that magic side to Ibiza with the hippie side, the secret beaches, amazing hidden restaurants, the Old Town… it’s still there! It’s all positive.

Honestly I am one of those who immediately assumed Hï would just be an extension of Ushuaïa…

I think we all did to be honest. I was there at Space for the Carl Cox closing and I was like, “I am never gonna go, it’s never gonna be the same!” But things change, and the fact that Space went out like that and everyone has nothing but happy memories from there… I think we shouldn’t associate the two, and until we go and see what it’s like we won’t know!

We can catch up on that in October!

Definitely, it will be interesting to see the direction it goes in. Let’s cross back over the pond… do you remember your first gig in the States?

I do remember it, yeah! It was in Miami at Treehouse. And that was in 2013 I believe and this is the thing, I always have had a strong connection with Miami from the beginning, which is why I now have my quarterly residency at Heart Nightclub. I do that four times a year and it’s always been a really good place for me. I have a lot of friends there, the crowd is always amazing and even that first gig I remember was really, really cool. There’s a really friendly crowd in Miami.

How do you feel the U.S. techno and house scene has changed since that first gig. Is it moving in the right direction?

Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY! I think as a whole dance music is just huge in America right now and the EDM thing was a catalyst for that of course. But I think it’s great the way things are going. You go to Ultra in Miami now and you’ve got Carl Cox hosting the arena but also the Resistance stage, you’ve got a ton of good artists playing these festivals like Sasha, Digweed, Loco Dice, Jackmaster, Skream… it’s gotten massive there.

Everyone used to say America is a bit behind the UK, but I definitely think it’s caught up. I definitely think in terms of the effort from promoters and some of the clubs, in some ways it’s overtaken England and the UK now. Then you have clubs like Heart which encourages DJs to play for like 18 hours, which is what I grew up on. I grew up listening to DJs like Danny Tenaglia and Deep Dish, Roger Sanchez and people like that… these guys used to play for like 8 hours at a time whereas now we get booked to play an hour and a half. That’s why I love playing Heart, they’ve given me an extended set in two weeks which means I get to play 6-8 hours, which is perfect for me. I play so many different types of music and a lot of people get to see me bang it out and nothing else. The other week I played just three hours in Berlin and I got to play really groovy, trippy techno and house which was great for me, I love that! I think America is starting to encourage that and it’s really cool. I know there’s a lot of DJs that can’t wait to go play there now.

Chicago has some great clubs as you know. New York City obviously has a load of new clubs now, which is great. There’s Shimanski, and Flash Factory in Manhattan is a really amazing venue for me. It’s really really cool. And then you’ve got San Francisco, the whole Burner sound as they call it… there’s a lot of good producers coming out of there now too I think. Some of the resident DJs there were really, really good actually.

I think this is all great for the States. There’s a whole new wave of artists coming through, just as there has been in England with wAFF, Patrick Topping… all of us lot have come through together. I believe in America over the next couple of years there’s gonna be a whole new wave of kids coming out of there and it’s gonna be great. Everyone there has their own scene and their own sound, which is amazing.

The one thing I am going to say is the effort from the promoters, the production level and stuff is brilliant. I always love coming over there, it’s great fun!

Thank you James, have fun on the U.S. dates and see you out there soon!

Thank you mate, enjoy your travels!


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