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Nine Songs
Danny L Harle

Diving deep into rave subcultures Danny L Harle talks Matthew Kent through the non-vocal riffs which have shaped the euphoric highs of his expansive new project Harlecore.

27 February 2021, 13:00 | Words by Matthew Kent

For the best part of a decade songwriter, producer, composer and all-round musical genius Danny L Harle has been concocting music which sounds like the future, now he's elevating the past.

A pioneer of the sounds and textures we now associate with hyperpop, the conservatoire-trained PC Music affiliate has three distinct spheres in which he operates. The sugar rush highs of his previous solo work, including collaborations with Clairo and Carly Rae Jepsen, sprawling yet perfect classical compositions and as he’s highlighting with Harlecore - an ambitious, years-in-the-making album - he’s got an unbounded love for creating rave music.

“My general approach to music is about achieving this sense of melancholy euphoria, that's the thing that I'm after.” On his quest for that crucial moment where sadness complements joy, Harle tells me that he's discovered that “rave music is the fastest way of achieving it, it’s kind of like the fast food of euphoria.”

There are two other key components to the world of Harlecore which have to be understood. Firstly, it’s a deeply collaborative record with Hudson Mowahke, Caroline Polachek and Lil Data embodying alter-egos DJ Mayhem, DJ Ocean and MC Boing respectively. All long-term collaborators and friends of Harle, it was his very first session with Hudson Mowahke, years ago, which kicked off the chain of events which would lead to this record being born.

Sliding into his DMs on Instagram, as a huge fan, Harle simply asked if he’d be up for making a hardcore track. “I knew that he had an affinity with that music,” Harle explains “so I thought, 'I'll go in with that, because probably nobody else has offered to do that.' So then he said exactly that to me in the session, ‘I don't know why I haven't been making hardcore music my whole life,’ and talking about how lots of the riffs in his tracks are actually rave riffs from UK hardcore style tracks.”

Secondly, Harlecore is not simply a record, it’s an immersive audio-visual experience and a single trip to Club Harlecore will confirm that. Reflecting Harle’s own relationship with the music, his initial introduction to rave, and a whole host of sub-genres, came through internet exploration rather than late nights or early mornings on the ground at warehouse parties or club nights. “This is very much an expression of my very personal experience with rave music... between me and headphones in my kind of inner world,” he adds.

In real life Harlecore ventures have popped up in cities around the world, beginning simply as an opportunity for the club-shy Harle to hear this music outside of his headphones, they gained a cult following with all four alter-egos popping up on the line-ups. While the notion of music and musical experiences existing virtually isn’t new, it’s certainly become more of a novelty as the COVID-19 pandemic shut venues down, but Harlecore was always going to live inside an animated playground. But don’t worry, there are tentative fans to resurrect the Harlecore club nights in one shape or form when it’s safe to do so.

Unlike most Nine Songs features, which typically span pivotal tracks from every corner of an artist’s life, Harle’s are instead a granular exploration of the sounds which not only sparked his interest in this music, but kept him hooked.

“These are all riffs, which basically when I hear them I literally can't not move or dance. I just get an intense feeling to get up,” he says. “Different riffs make me want to do different things as well, which is interesting. The older sort of ones make me want to do a certain style of rave dancing and then the euphoric ones, the more Scott Brown, more contemporary ones, really make me want to raise both arms in the air, in that kind of DJ Danny pose.”

The videos for each track here are set to play at the exact moment his favourite non-vocal riff begins, and while he tells the stories of the artists and scenes attached to these flashes of sonic brilliance, it’s these precise points which matter the most.

“Crazy Man” by The Prodigy

“It was really hard to choose one Prodigy riff, because Liam Howlett and Scott Brown are two of the best riff writers in the world, and in this very small world of rave music we’re talking about, I could have picked 100 from each of them. But I chose to choose just one per person and for The Prodigy, it would be “Crazy Man.” For me personally, this has the most energy of all the riffs he's ever written and it's an absolute work of art in its simplicity. It's quite rhythmically complex in the way it interacts with the beats, but it's just pure feeling.

“[I probably first heard it] out of my computer speakers, in my room when I was 15 or something like that. I don't think I knew what I was listening to and I don't think I could properly process it then. If anything, I probably didn’t even like it, because it gave me this feeling. And I think that's often a response to things - if it gives you a new feeling that makes you think things are going to change in the future, my initial response is often repulsion - but it's often these things that I'm initially repulsed by that are secretly my favorite thing. Gradually, I come to realise that I think that the idea, the thing that's repulsing me, is the feeling of me not being who I think I am or this feeling of a change coming.

“This is one makes me want to go mental and it's one of the few non-melodic riffs here, it's pretty much pitched white noise. I don't know how Liam Howlett made it, but there is something about the combination of this riff and the drums coming in that is like an adrenaline hit to my entire body. This track is some of the most potent energy within sound that I've ever heard. In any context, if I hear it, it fills me with energy in sort of a manic way."

“Find Your Way” by Spenno and Jess

““Find Your Way” is an absolutely incredible riff. There's a great vocal lineup on top of it, but for me its this riff that really steals the show.It does everything that I want to hear in this kind of music. It's more in the UK hardcore style, which is to be differentiated from happy hardcore, which is the ‘90s thing. UK hardcore is sort of a North-east thing, which has more of trance influence rather than a breakbeat influence. It's also a riff that HudMo used, he did a kind of cover of it called “Find Ur Way”, which is fantastic and obviously a tribute to how much he loves the song as well.

"I can remember when I posted it to my Instagram story, with a GIF of an angel and the artwork, which is by Bonkers 13. I very much recommend all Bonkers releases and I want to promote the influences behind Harlecore, because I did not invent any of these styles from nowhere. They are heavily influenced by musicians, and I want to highlight that in this interview.

“My DMs exploded with people asking me ‘What is this?’ And that's often the case whenever I put any kind of rave-y stuff I've heard from other artists, people are like ‘What is this?!’ Even if I put the fucking track in the top, the reaction isn't to investigate, it's just such a passionate reaction, commenting even though the information is right in front of them. I think that’s because that's the feeling, that's the immediacy of it. They get the feeling and they're like, ‘How do I get more of this?’ And that's very much what happened with “Find Your Way.”

“Peace & Loveism” by Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era

“This is an interesting one. This is a slightly older style and they’re more in the Suburban Base world of music. The riff that I’m talking about is the piano riff. Technically, yes, there’s a person singing a sample of ‘yeeaah’ on top, but I'm not talking about that. I’m talking about the piano riff, and I absolutely love it. There's lots of piano riffs, but for me, this one has an emotional tone to it that I haven't really heard before or since.

"It has an atmosphere of rave to it that is very evocative for me to listen to, and it transports me in a very interesting way. If I was to be brutally honest, it probably transports me into a false memory, of all those rave videos on YouTube as if I was there. It’s so funny with those videos, the series is such a culture in themselves now. The comments people leave on them are super nostalgic, and it's inevitable that people are talking about how things aren’t good now and they were good then. It was obviously a very important time, politically and musically, for lots of people, and I think it was quite a big letting off of steam.”

“Taking Drugs?” by Scott Brown

“This is the first Scott Brown track that really inspired me, but this is no sentimental list and this is still my favourite Scott Brown riff. It exactly encapsulates his very specific relationship with sound, harmony and melody that make him the most unique composer of rave music, in my mind, and definitely one of my biggest inspirations. If I listen back to his entire back catalogue, I just think 'This man writes the music I want to listen to', there's something in his brain that is absolutely providing me with what I want to listen to, and that isn't true of pretty much anyone else.

“I think fans of my music will recognise the things that I like in it, but there's something on top of that as well. The things that I like obviously will be the fact that it's this kind of never ending loop that connects the end and connects the beginning in quite a classy way. But it's the fact that the harmony feels resolved yet it keeps you pushing and wanting more, and that's why you can just listen to the loop for the entirety of the song. I think this track is an absolute master worker.

“I would say it’s my favourite of these riffs, and people who follow my music will recognise it as well, because I've dropped it so many times. It's an absolute for me. It's a very important track. It's a classic and the genesis of so much.”

“MTC” by S3RL

“The thing that I like about it is the bit where it says "she would sing" and then it has this fantasy hentai girl singing. I didn’t know this context at all when I first listened to the song, I didn't even listen to the lyrics and I didn't know what “MTC” stood for, which by the way, is 'masturbate to cartoons'.

“This riff is just absolutely beautiful. Conceptually, it’s something that I like as well, not the fact that it’s a hentai girl, but the fact that it's some kind of otherworldly voice that is singing to you and reassuring you, but it's “she would sing”, she's not actually singing, but you are hearing it, and I love that combination.

“The shredding arpeggios that she sings, with little ornaments and deviations, are just absolutely beautiful. I actually messaged S3RL about this on Soundcloud, and he was really nice to me and he told me about how he did it. He didn't even use a voice synthesizer; he used a real voice.

“It’s always one that stands out to me. I've put it in mixes before and you've just got to respect how honest this guy is.”

“This Sound Is For The Underground” by Krome & Time

“I heard this one when I bought the Suburban Base anthology. It was when I was getting more into rave and I was interested in looking at the genesis points of everything, and working out where all it came from culturally, politically and musically. Something that I'm interested in is finding out exactly what it is that I like about something, and then finding out when that started and what influenced it. The funny thing is when I investigate that, there is often a point where the thing that I like starts and it's usually when somebody hears something else and then combines two things to make a new thing.

“This sort of Essex-y Suburban Base, a breakbeat thing was the start of something really, really cool. Then up north we had the happy hardcore scene and then the emergence of UK hardcore in the ‘00s and that's very much my area of interest.

“This is another Suburban Base absolute classic. The riff I’m talking about in this track is a really good combination of tonal and not tonal, because it's pitched, but it's not harmonic. For me, this has a similar effect to the “Crazy Man” riff, where it's just so bouncy and characterful and charismatic. I know it sounds stupid, but when I hear it I sort of fully know what they mean. It’s just a joy to listen to that."

“1999” by Binary Finary

“This is called “1999” rather than “1998”, which is what the actual track is called, because it's the KC Radio Edit and it’s a more trance-y one. It's got that exact thing that I was talking about in terms of the Scott Brown “Taking Drugs?” riff, where it's like you're constantly waiting, but also being satisfied by it. This is a feeling that I really like and why I way prefer pre-choruses in songs to the actual chorus.

“I remember I did this Rinse FM set with Lorenzo Senni and his set was all trance build ups that he had taken from trance tracks, and he just put them all in a row. And I was like,'Yep, that. That's it. That’s the thing and I’m very much prepared to just listen to that.'

“This has that sort of endless cycle of these repeating loops, but it doesn't have a sense of repeating, because it fits into itself so well. Technically, it's actually a baseline with an arpeggio over the top of it, but it has incredible internal tension and resolve, that to me can only be rivaled by another track called “On The Move”. It was a real tough, tough decision to make between these two, but I chose this one in the end because it's just 'Yeah, you have to follow your heart.'”

“Afterglow” by DJ Movin

“DJ Movin is probably the best Mákina producer, although a lot of my favorite Mákina tracks are edits of existing songs. “Afterglow” was quite an early find for me on SoundCloud and I had no idea what it was, because often people re-post these tracks with no reference to who made them. So it took me a while to realise that a lot of my favorite Mákina tracks are made by the same person, Scott Brown, because Scott Brown has a few different names.

“It’s a fascinating and completely undiscovered style of music that's a real cultural treasure. I think it's so unique, it's one of my favourite things to listen to and it goes down fantastically in the club, even though there's basically no bass in it. My theory behind that is similar to early grime instrumentals, it's so that they sound good on phones, because if you have lots of sub bass in a track and then play it on a phone, that makes it a little bit quieter.

"A close contender for this was the track "More and More" by DJ Hixxy, the Mákina edit of that – you probably recognise it (“I feel the raving more and more / I'd like to jump right on the floor / I feel the bass drum more and more”) as it was made popular by this boy emceeing to it in Tesco and it went viral on TikTok. It was like the British equivalent of Mason Ramsey, and it's funny, because I had Americans sending me that saying, ‘Oh, they made MC Boing into a real thing’ and that very much made me feel that when Harlecore comes out I should platform these artists that it's all influenced by.

“I recommend everyone to listen to DJ Movin. I tried to get him to play one of the early Harlecore gigs, but it was always so chaotic and last minute. He’s a big inspiration. It's an incredible riff really, a really unique approach to riffs and harmony as well, unconventional and endlessly fascinating. There’s a great topline on that track as well, on his SoundCloud it says “Afterglow” is dedicated to Julian Peter, so there’s obviously a very personal element to this song, which might be an additional factor in what makes it particularly evocative.”

“Rainbow In The Sky” by DJ Paul Elstak

"I played a gig in Brussels and I went to a club afterwards. There's this moment where everybody whips out their classic childhood songs at the end of the night, and it was all these gabber songs, not gabber by a traditional definition, but these quite hardcore, hard dance songs, and this was one of them. That's when I first heard it. I've done my own version of it and I think MC Boing might be interested in jumping on it, and the lyrics “I wanna see the rainbow high in the sky / I wanna see you and me on a bird, flying away.” I know this isn’t technically the riff, but those lyrics are absolutely brilliant. It has this riff and it was this basic arpeggio that held so much meaning for everybody there.

“Paul Elstack is an absolute legend of the scene and a friend of mine, Lil Texas, worked with him recently and he's just as relentless now as he was back then. Like I said it’s not a sentimental list, I'm not trying to be historical or anything, or bring anyone through any kind of history or anything, but this feels so classic. It resonated so strongly and to me, it's still to this day, it holds that same joy to it."

"It has this energy that I love from happy hardcore music, even though it's not technically like that. it's a quite terrifying joy, and in a way there's nothing scarier than the thought of this destructive, immense strength. If you imagine a creature destroying a city, there'd be nothing scarier than for it to have a big smiley face. It would be more understandable if it had a big roaring face like Godzilla, but if it had a big smiley face, that would be the scariest. I get an awestruck sense from this kind of riff because it has this relentless joy to it.”

Harlecore is out now via Mad Decent
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