Northern stars rising: On the phone to Moodymanc

Looking at Manchester’s beat-based industries in December 2011 reveals some promising signs of life. A healthy label scene name-checks deep tech outfit Modern Love, bass culture midweek revellers Hoya Hoya, and genre-straddling experimentalists Mind On Fire, to name but three. Then there are the producers, with faces like XXXY having been catapulted into the limelight over recent years.

Another such one-to-remember is Moodymanc, deliverer of deep, immersive house music. It’s another moniker vital in the modern roll call of England’s northern cities and their electronic output. Releases on Tsuba, Leeds’ legendary 20:20 Vision, and Landed Records all attest to that.

But the artist, also known as Danny Ward, has been around longer than his pseudonym would have most Discogs researchers believe. His resume overflows with live percussive duties (both with house music for 20:20 Soundsystem, and without), along with periods of hip hop production, and transatlantic DJ sets.

Who better to ask a few questions about the current state of play in Manchester’s underground then? With the resounding answer ‘nobody’ we gave the guy a call. From his base in the city’s southern suburbs he explained he’s involved with a new project for We Love, and how the local dance music scene really is as healthy as it looks right now, while reassuring us of the fact he’s not actually that moody at all. Read on for the details.

Hi, Danny. So, what’s been going on at the moment? 

Well there’s a project for We Love that’s been keeping me pretty busy. The guys at the label are really lovely people to play for, you know, they organise these huge parties, but also book people like me within their events.

At that kind of level, with the big brands and stuff, it’s often not the case- the music is regularly bottom of the agenda. But those guys are very different, so when they said they were up for doing a soundsystem album, or live LP, it was something I dove into with both feet.

As such that has been taking up a lot of my time really. I’m also remixing a lot, which I love, and so I’m really thankful people seem to like my approach to it, and want to work with me, because I think the way I do them is a little different.

Oh? How so? 

I do it as I do it, it’s a good process for me. Coming from a hip hop background it’s all about records and sampling, first and foremost. I do use synths, and I’m into them, but it’s always been about drum machines and samplers.

So for me, when I get remix parts, it’s just like playing with someone’s samples, in the way I might do on my own stuffIt’s not very often you’ll hear a direct lift, but I like the limitations… well, I think that’s the wrong word, but, you know, no, fuck it… yeah, limitations- they force a lot of creativity.

Sounds like you’ve been working pretty hard recently then? 

Yeah, I’m also still doing a lot of non-house music stuff- playing a lot of jazz, and Latin music. I’ve always done that, and I get to play alongside some great people. The DJing is also picking up again too, which is great, as I love it and, over the years, I’ve put a lot into it, but up until a couple of years ago I had played more in New York than Manchester.”

Moodymanc first came to the fore through 20:20 Vision. How was the Leeds-Manchester divide bridged?  

For me it was all through Back2Basics in Leeds. I used to go up there and play percussion with a mate of mine, back when it was the Pleasure Room days. We played alongside everyone, but consistently Ralph Lawson wiped the floor with them all. Whenever he appeared he was by far the highlight.

The one person I’d put on a similar standing, from those times, is Francois Kevorkian, who blew me away in a similar way. Anyway, through playing there we started hanging out, Ralph was busy with Karl Finlow, setting up 20:20 as a label, and I had got into recording drums and guitars. I started throwing them ideas, and the monster was spawned.

Around that time I was making a lot of hip hop and beats. I was sending these out to loads of people, and when I turned a couple into tunes Ralph was really up for putting them out, even though it wasn’t really the 20:20 sound. This was all under another name, Dubble D. Then the 20:20 Soundsystem stuff started on the side, which began life as a jam really, and finally we did one Moodymanc 12″ as a bit of a piss take, and it just blew up from there really.

It’s not the coolest moniker, but despite that I just thought ‘fuck it, I’m going to make some straight up house music’. It’s always been a big part of my life, and in a lot of ways perhaps not having the coolest name will force it to be good quality, and will make sure it appeals to people who are well into house music, rather than the coolest kid on the block.

Most recently we received your single on Manchester imprint Development, featuring another local native, Jamie Finlay. How did that all happen? 

I got to know the Development guys unfortunately after their parties ceased to be in a regular form, which is a shame as they were putting on people that were more up my street than a lot of the stuff that was going on at the time- I just wasn’t around that much.

Nonetheless, we hooked up, and they approached me about doing a 12″ for them. And, after having witnessed and played at some of their later events, I felt really good about getting involved with the project.

At the same time James Finlay, who I first became friends with thanks to a mutual friend and a record on Wah Wah 45 called Little Trumpet, approached me with a vocal track, looking to get a remix done. I thought the track had massive potential for the dancefloor, so suggested I produce it and we released it as a 12″. After that it became really obvious Development was the right place for it, as it’s always been a party that’s as much about soul as house music.

It’s been great working with people, label wise, that I run into in the pub. One of the great things about house music is that it’s truly universal and international, so you can communicate on a daily basis, and release music with people on the other side of the world. But at the same time it’s great to be involved with something that’s directly linked to your neighbourhood.

The record includes a remix from a veritable Manchester hero, Mr Scruff. What’s the story there? 

Again that came about really naturally. Scruff is a long-time friend of mine, and Jamie’s, I used to play with him in the early 90s at parties like One Tree Island, and stuff that was quite world music based. Jamie mentioned he might be up for a mix, then he demoed it and we were like ‘wow, this takes it in a whole new direction’. And, by having him involved, it makes it even more of a Manchester production.”

How is Manchester right now, music wise?

Now is about the best I’ve seen it, in terms of some stuff. There’s a really active label scene, obviously Development’s there, but there’s music coming out from some of the people involved with Sankeys, and the whole Manchester Underground Music umbrella, which includes a few imprints. Then there’s the party side of things, which is going off too. 

Events like Content, Wet Play, and Bohemian Grove, are all small parties presenting this sort of music as it should be really. Anyone who was around when the whole thing kicked off, and then saw it go so commercialised, corporate and money driven, will know that a lot of energy was lost.

Now it’s good to see that returning, to some extent. It’s also great that Sankeys still book the really big names, and The Warehouse Project is doing that huge thing. But, at the same time, given the current social circumstances people seem to be reacting against the big branding because everyone’s getting fucked over. As such there’s this huge underground thing in Manchester again, which is really exciting.

Finally then, what else is coming up? 

Well one thing I’m particularly looking forward to is closing the house room at Electric Chair’s End of Year Riot, which is a date from heaven for me as I used to be a regular when it ran monthly, and it’s the eve of my birthday. On top of that I’ve got an EP that’s just arrived on Landed Records, with a Rick Wade remix, which I can’t stop playing- we cut the record at Abbey Road actually.

Then there’s another EP I’m hoping to get out before Christmas, with another Manchester vocalist called Kuntri Ranks, who’s a reggae artist I work with on a couple of projects. That’s coming with a great remix from James Anderson, and there’s another track on there too. It’s busy again, which is great, and hopefully means it could well be the same next year too.

Moodymanc MySpace / Discogs