A decade of dance music with Daniel Lesden
Reported by Tara
Submitted 23-11-22 19:12
With November 2022 marking my 20 years of music journalism and event promotion on this website under a variety of aliases and, in some cases, long-dead record label and party names (may they Rave In Peace), it’s very easy to become jaded reading the usual ubiquitous DJ bios. But as a geriatric hobbyist DJ myself, I still can’t help but read the bloody things. It’s become increasingly rare, but just occasionally, someone catches your ears and eyes that really stands out from the crowd, and in the case of music producer, DJ and JOOF Recordings’ A&R Manager Daniel Lesden, has fitted more into his decade-long career than many artists will achieve in a lifetime.
In these narrowed-down days of strict sub-genres, Daniel stands out as a true artist, surfing between the boundaries of progressive, techno and trance. He originally embarked on his music production journey making psychedelic trance, but in his quest to constantly keep his sound fresh and exciting as it continues to evolve and progress, he now releases what he describes as “progressive and something rather techno-ish”. In the meantime, since 2012 he’s released over 50 tracks on Digital Om Productions, Forescape Digital, Iono Music, Borderline Music, Ovnimoon Records, Synergetic Records, Pharmacy Music, Research & Development, Tandana Records, and of course JOOF Recordings, the long-established champion of the underground where he appears to have found his spiritual home.
Despite this incredible release history, Daniel still considers himself foremost a DJ and has performed all over the world at some of the top clubs, raves and festivals. His love of sharing new music also comes through in his rave podcasts, while he passes on his passion through his prolific advice blog, which I kept getting lost reading while researching this feature.
As Daniel has recently touched down in London, where he’s planning to relocate, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to speak to this talented creator, producer, performer and promoter of all things underground dance music. With it being his very first HarderFaster interview, I was curious to discover what had put this already accomplished young artist onto the path he’s following today, and what sort of inspiration and support he’d had along the way. Was he classically trained like so many trance producers, or was it something he had gravitated to over time?
As he explains: “My journey for making music began when I was fortunate to get my hands on my first computer at the age of 10 in 1997. At this time I had already been introduced to the world of electronic dance music, so my interest in making music came naturally to me. As you can imagine, those first attempts sounded horrible, but it was a lot of fun nevertheless! Once I got serious about making music a career, in 2011 I went to and graduated from music production and DJing school, where I studied for about six months. Other than that, I'm completely self-taught and still a learner.”
But was there a defining track or artist that made him want to hole himself up in the studio and make his own tunes? Like a true artist, he says: “Since I was so young and new to underground music at the time, I just embraced all of it and was inspired by the whole genres and styles of music, rather than particular artists.”
Having released over 50 tracks over the last decade, I wondered how he feels his artistic practice has progressed and evolved? His response points to an uncertain future in the genre department, with the one constant, of course, being change itself. He describes this from a DJs’ perspective: “I consider myself a DJ first rather than a producer, and that affects my productions as well. As a DJ, I'm always hunting for new music, digging for hidden gems, and discovering things that I didn't know I would like. And the music I make myself is a continuity of that ongoing process. From fast-paced and melodic, to slower and hypnotic, to driving and pounding sound, my music of tomorrow certainly won't sound like my tracks of yesterday.”
Unfortunately I’m not going to let him get away with that one so easily. If he can’t describe his own sound, how am I supposed to?! He considers this for a minute: “Usually, I’m trying to avoid naming particular genres because everyone has their own interpretation of techno, trance, or any other genre. And it gets even harder to describe a sound when you break the boundaries and not sit within one particular genre. I like it when a track puts you into a heads-down journey; when it has some depth, some ‘storyline’ that unfolds throughout the playback. I’m sorry for such an abstract definition, but it’s probably the way to describe my music, really.”
Spoken like a true artist! I decide it’s best to let that one go and move on to getting under the bonnet of Daniel’s practice in the studio. I’m interested in how he approaches putting a new track together. Does he usually start with a final track in mind, or does it come together as the various pieces and layers unfold? “For me, tracks usually start in my head a long time before I get to the computer. First, I think about a general concept, a ‘storyline’. Then oftentimes I'm trying to find some graphic concept art as it helps me to visualise my ideas. Then I think of some more practical things like what tempo I want, what music key I want, what mood I want to convey. And only once I’ve answered all of those questions, I get to the computer to actually make it.”
Whatever formula this musical magician has composed, it’s certainly taken him to some interesting places. When asked about the key highlights of his career, he has a shed load to choose from. The young protégé’s modesty shines through: “I think every gig and international gigs, in particular, are certainly the highlights for me. It’s one thing to sit in the studio working on your music and DJ collection, but playing out in front of real crowds is a whole different level from the artist’s perspective. Having played in Russia, Hungary, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Israel, I’m so touched that there are people who know and like my humble music creations. Playing Open To Close sets is also quite an achievement for me, showing myself what I’m worth as a DJ.”
“It was also nice to see when my second studio album 2000 Years Ahead skyrocketed to the #1 chart on Beatport and was the top-selling CD on Psyshop. I’m also very grateful to the Spotify team who included my single ‘Breaking From The Shadows’ in their editorial playlist, resulting in over 550,000 overall streams on my Spotify artist page.”
Having already achieved so much, I wonder what goals he could possibly still have left to tick off his bucket list? “I would certainly love to play out in more countries and some iconic venues where I haven’t played yet, such as the Ministry Of Sound in London or Ageha in Tokyo.”
As an A&R manager who travels the world DJing, Daniel is at the cutting edge of new music. I wonder what up and coming DJs and producers have caught his eyes and ears recently? “Artists like Pig&Dan, Eric Sneo, Axel Karakasis, Drunken Kong, Don Ruijgrok, Pjotr G & Dubiosity, DJ Dextro, Dosem, Gabriel D'Or & Bordoy aren’t leaving my Rekordbox lately, although these are established acts of course. As for the probably less-known names, I keep my ears and eyes on Fractions, DJ Physical, Dawn Razor, OTHK, Antithet, Enlusion, Bagagee Viphex13, Omformer, Aethernal, just to name a few.”
Daniel’s awesome advice series is an incredible resource for both new and experienced DJs. Having read some of the best advice around on his blog posts, I have to ask, what are his top tips for new DJs who are still trying to escape their bedrooms? “I think the best tip for new DJs to escape their bedrooms is to literally leave their bedrooms and go to the clubs. You must experience music on big sound systems as it helps to better understand what tracks work and why. Watch how good DJs build their sets and how the crowd reacts. Clubbing is also a great way for introducing yourself to the people behind the scenes, building relationships and gaining trust among other DJs and promoters.”
I especially like the direct honest advice he gives out, providing different and unique perspectives, such as considering the promoter’s point of view in a difficult situation and telling DJs not to give up their day jobs – no doubt from his plethora of experience over the last decade. I know what goes on the road is supposed to stay on the road, but I can’t help but ask him, what’s the craziest story he can tell us from his time playing at international events and festivals? “I remember when I played in Hungary, it was an outdoor open air in the middle of nowhere, as it seemed. Literally just green fields all around, wherever you look. But all of a sudden in the morning came a man who claimed he couldn't sleep because of the event, despite the fact his house was miles away, and he tried to call the police to stop the party! I felt sorry for the man, but it was a pretty stressful moment for the organisers as well.”
Daniel is also a prolific podcaster, with the second Friday of the month dedicated to Rave Podcast day where he connects with like-minded musical fans from all over the world. What’s the concept behind the podcast and why does he think it’s resonated with DJs and producers all over the globe? “I started this podcast over 10 years ago, and since then its concept hasn't changed: to showcase the finest underground electronic music, bringing unexpected musical twists in every episode. After all those years, I’m still very excited to mix every new episode to share my latest music discoveries, you know, like a happy child with the joy of sharing. And I’m sure the listeners can feel that passion too.”
It’s been a challenging couple of years for everyone, but DJs and producers have been hit harder than most. I have to ask, how did he survive the closure of the events industry and still manage to get creative in the studio despite the chaos around him? Ever the optimist, he replies: “The pandemic was certainly a terrible event that no one expected. I feel sorry for so many people who suffered from it. I was fortunate enough to be able to follow one of my own pieces of advice that I’ve written about distributed income, which basically says, ‘Don't put all your eggs in one basket’.
While there were no gigs due to lockdowns, I still had income coming from royalties and other sources, so I made it through. It was hard mentally at first, just as it was for everyone, but then so many people showed empathy and support for each other, so it actually inspired me.”
Having come out the other side of the pandemic and landed in London, I am most curious about what new tracks he has in the pipeline. The abstract artist is back in the room, saying that he’s “planning a series of EPs connected through a common theme” and “it’s going to be quite interesting and diverse musically.” In other words, watch this space!
Finally, Daniel continues to explore avenues to pass on his passion to other aspiring artists, and has somehow found time to start working on educational resources to pass on his knowledge. As he describes his new venture: “Over the years of working with music and people in the music industry, I have accumulated experience, which over time has formed into a structured framework of knowledge. And I want to carry that knowledge forward. I’m working on a full-fledged training course for DJs and producers. It's still in progress and I'm not sure yet when I’ll be able to release it, but if it sounds interesting to you please find more details on my website at Courses”. I’ll certainly be at the start of the queue!
All images are courtesy of Daniel Lesden. Not be reproduced without permission.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.