When it comes to unsung heroes of the Bristol music scene, Daniel Davies is high up on our list. And its not because he shuns the limelight - his regular Peng Sound nights at Take 5 are a Bristol institution, and joining the Young Echo crew is hardly the right move for a creative recluse - but in an age where self-promotion has become an art form, we often don’t see the whole picture, especially for someone so deeply involved in the day-to-day running of several record labels (Peng Sound, No Corner, Fuck Punk amongst others) and specialist online store RWDFWD. Not to mention the countless artistic collaborations, and the fact that he doesn’t always take the easiest route to get to his goals. Frankly, we were amazed he even had time to do this interview… but here it is.
Whilst your DJ sets span many disparate sounds, a consistent thread can be heard in what you play. What do you think these characteristics are and what do you look for in a record for DJing?
Ha! That's a tough one already... I guess they appeal to me for various reasons, but generally I seek out music that has something to say, there has to be a certain 'vibe' to it... that can be introvert and thought-provoking or just plain body-moving, it doesn't matter!
How long was it before you started cutting dubplates? I know you are a big fan of Jamaican sound system culture, is this where you got the inspiration to start cutting dubplates of your own?
I think I started cutting dubs around 4 or 5 years ago now... Actually, the first dubplate I cut has 'Find Jah Way' on it, the record that was later to be Peng Sound and Gorgon's first release... On the flip, there's a Junior Dread special over the Sleng Teng rhythm. Both these tracks are obviously in keeping with / indebted to Jamaican soundsystem culture, but to be honest with you - I think the reason I cut them to dubplate, wasn't necessarily a reaction to this heritage, it was simply because I wanted to play it out and I'm not too fussed about playing CD's at a gig... I tried it once, during my set at one of first Peng Sound Events, on my shoddy Numark CDJ that I bought for £20, and of course I managed to somehow accidentally catch a loop on the tune and had to call my friend over to make it play again - which was a bit embarrasing to be honest!
I think making the commitment to vinyl & dubplate says a lot about how much faith you have in the music you play, as well as just being a lot more fun, tactile and entertaining experience for both the selector and the crowd.
What is your favourite size and format of dub plate?
Ohhhpph... It's a tough call between that heavyweight 12" slate and those smelly little 7" acetates - It depends on the tune.
When you started the Peng Sound night, was it in order to get artists you felt weren’t getting represented in Bristol or to push a certain sound?
I guess so. The first dance did happen in order to push some people that I felt needed to be put in one room behind the decks - the energetic Intalek, with his cordless microphone, and Bjorn Vibration really impressed me in Cosies some months before... And then there was young Kähn - that's how his name was spelt back then - who was already showing severe talent at this point.
To be honest though, like with a lot of the projects we've built up over the last few years, it's more of a 'just do it' kind of thing, no initial big intentions other than making something happen that we feel the need to do.
Did cutting dubplates become even more important to you once you had started your own dance? Trying to outdo the artists you were bringing ;-)
Yeah, the thing is I can't really play my dubplates at Peng Sound nights, because the other DJs would probably just run home scared!
Ha, on a real though - being surrounded by so many talented musicians and DJs in Bristol really does keep me motivated to keep doing it, even if it can be a bit intimidating at times.
How long after running the night did you set up your first label Peng Sound Records and why did you feel that you needed to do so?
I think it was about two years in, around 2011. I had been given a CD with unreleased material from Gorgon Sound, seen the likes of Peverelist put out records in simple D.I.Y. fashion (that first run of Livity Sound 12"s) and then got talking to Sean Kelly behind the counter in Idle Hands, who basically told me to start a label... it seemed like a good idea, another natural progression.
When did you open your online shop Rewind Forward, was this borne out of necessity in order to facilitate the release of Pengsound001 or did you feel that there was a gap in the market you needed to fill?
That was about a year after PengSound001 actually, in 2012. We had done pretty well selling Find Jah Way directly via our big cartel store, you could sell a maximum of 5 items on there, so I ended up buying a handful of other choice vinyl to go along with our Peng Sound stock... A few months later, around the time we released Kahn & Neek's 'Backchat' on Hotline, we decided to make a proper website and get some more good stuff in... and we haven't stopped since!
When buying stock for the shop do you see it as an extension of your own record bag? Are there any criteria a release has to match to be considered?
Yes, definitely. To be honest, we don't have loads of staff to do reviews, admin etc - so it's almost necessity for us to just choose music we like, and feel the need to stock. We've always gone with a 'quality, not quantity' kind of ethos, and we try to keep a certain human aspect to the way we present things. There can only be a buzz and excitement around pushing something you really believe in, and part of the reason we do this, is because we don't want to work a mundane job, it's just really positive to be surrounded by things we appreciate and getting the same feedback from fellow music lovers.
You have a DIY ethic to everything that you do, does this come from an interest in Punk and Reggae which espouse a similar mission statement? Can you think of any specific people or examples of this that have proved inspirational to you?
I think the main reason we like to keep a certain 'touch' to what we do, comes from being of an age where I've experienced a big switch in society, from growing up as a young teenager making mixtapes, making friendships without a mobile phone, to being right in the middle of the fast-track 'information age' we live in now, where human-interaction is often compressed into social media formats or email.
Keeping things physical is a way of staying sane, keeping a sense of reality in the world we live in. Punk and Reggae have definitely inspired us, from the old screenprinted Studio One covers to the hand-labelled 7"s and grubby collages, there are some real visual treats amongst those worlds. But I have to add, when it comes to putting out records, and the way we have always presented them - the person who really opened my eyes to the beauty of D.I.Y. was definitely Alex Digard, the man behind the Tape-Echo design house, co-owner of RwdFwd and design-engine for the labels we run together - from photocopiers to typewriters and handstamps - that's the Tape-Echo vibe.
For what reason did you start to run more labels? Why did you feel it necessary to do this instead of having one central hub for your releases?
For our own (in)sanity. As much as I think music should be enjoyed as an all-encompassing experience, I guess it's more involving to digest a record when it's presented with a certain aesthetic to it, and besides that we have a lot of fun putting out music in different ways & means.
What has owning a record shop and running a label taught you about the music industry? Do you still retain the same passion for it now that you have seen behind the curtain a little bit?
It's definitely changed a few perspectives, it's hard not to take certain factors into consideration when you learn about a trade - whether that's the music producers skill / dilemma of being able to dissect a production into it's shreds and perhaps missing the point of the composition, or the record vendors eye for a good quality pressing, that may have him overlook a piece of underground white label gold.
But with this in mind, I try my best to maintain a 'listeners' stance as well as that of a 'professional'... I think If anything I've become more passionate about music since being further involved in it, there's great sense of community and creative inspiration feeding through it all, whether it's between musicians, labels, shop-owners or DJ's.
You recently became a member of the Young Echo crew and regularly feature at the monthly club night in Bristol. Is cutting dubplates for this an important part of the process for you? Is there a competitive aspect to this?
Yeah, although there is no format-fetishism going on between the Young Echo guys, at least half of us regularly cut dubplates and some of the sets end up being 100% dubplate - which makes me feel pretty proud to be honest! Holding the flame. I guess there is a bit of competition, but it's about contributing to the output as a whole and also about being unique amongst the collective - surely that's the healthiest competition there is!
Why should a consumer in 2014 still buy recorded music? With production costs diminishing as it gets cheaper and cheaper to make music and get it out there, how is buying vinyl and recorded music not a fetishisation of format but an actual viable means of consumption?
I'm guessing some people will have a different opinion here, but I think if you appreciate the dedication and skill someone put into something you take part in by listening to it and enjoying, then it's nice to support this.
After all, we all have to survive, and having good music to listen to makes this survival thing a hell of a lot more enjoyable, plus it enables the musicians and label-owners to really dedicate their time to the trade, ensuring that the quality and skill is maintained and creativity can be focused.
From a listeners point of view, I think building a record collection is far more satisfying than bookmarking your favourite blogs or illegal download sites... I don't think your grand child will be too interested sitting on your lap whilst you scroll through your hard drive in the year 2055 - but presenting them with some dusty records and heavily-used dubplates from 'back in your day' may raise a smile and make for a few interesting stories, perhaps even tell them something about your personality that you couldn't explain otherwise.
It's also a much more enjoyable way to digest the onslaught of music we are confronted with these days. There is so much of it out there, and simply put, not all of it is going to be up your street. The fact a properly released and presented record has had so much skill and thought applied to it - from the artist to the label, the graphic designer and the pressing plant, through to the record shop-owner - ensures that you at least have some sort of quality control applied to the end-product, and allows you to interact in the music in a far more enjoyable way. It's an important part of our culture, and society relies on communal support, surely?
Where do you feel the true value of music lies?
It's a universal language, a form of expression that can bring all kinds of people together, positively.
I say to David Cameron:
LESS TAX, MORE WAX.
NO WAR, MORE 4x4.
LESS DEBATE, MORE ACETATE.
What advice would you give your younger self about a career in the music industry?
I wish I kept playing the drum-kit when I was a teenager. And I wish I'd started learning to play double-bass from the age of 3... I'd love to be able to play the double bass!
Interview by Lurka