Danny L Harle sits in his London studio when I call him up on Skype. At the time, he’s been busy working on a heap of new material before flying out to New York at Charli XCX’s request to DJ the after party for her sold-out Pop 2 performance. Since that quick trip, he’s also been bringing hardcore club nights back to the U.S. with his HARLECORE warehouse parties in L.A. and New York as an extension of his newfound mission to feed a culture that is in “the pursuit of euphoria” and freedom.
Midway through our conversation, Harle changes course to play a video that Cardi B uploaded on Instagram. “That’s her filming a really shit painting someone’s done of her and just improvising,” he says with a smile. “That’s great, and that’s the kind of thing that should be out there.”
At one point, he also points out how the concept for Drake’s music video for “God’s Plan” visual immediately reminded him of Blink-182’s iconic “The Rock Show” visual. Even though Harle’s entry into the music world was through classical, he has always found a myriad of ways to apply the traditional techniques he was raised on to his distinct production. Lately, he’s been revisiting Elizabethan music, an era that has been a huge influence on his work although he has never felt that it’s necessary for fans to be aware of this in order to connect to his songs. Harle firmly believes that the music should speak for itself and wants listeners to embark on their own process of discovery.
“All these kind of descending melodic patterns, it’s just weird how you can directly translate that into something like dance music,” he explains. “There’s this love for these kind of euphoric, repeating melodic patterns, chord patterns.”
Harle hasn’t put out a project since his 2017 EP 1UL, but there’s been so much going on behind the scenes that he’s slowly starting to share with the public. His most recent work can be heard on a superb remix of Superorganism’s single “Night Time” in addition to Clairo’s moody bop “B.O.M.D.” off her debut diary 001 EP. He is also constantly updating his “HUGE PLAYLIST” on Spotify so fans can keep track of all the bangers that he has in heavy rotation. Scroll down to learn more about the brain behind the beats in our exclusive interview.
The last time we talked was when PC Music made that deal with Columbia Records about two years ago. What’s been going on in your life since then? I saw you got married a few months ago so congratulations!
Yeah, loads of stuff has happened… My approach to everything is just to enthusiastically stumble into it rather than to actually have an idea or ulterior motive or an action plan or anything like that. I just sort of go in there with enthusiasm and take hold of stuff, that was my approach at that time. Since then I’ve kind of realized if you have that approach, you can only do one thing at a time, whereas if you start to think a bit more about stuff, you can actually have multiple projects going on at the same time. Now I’m doing things like producing people’s albums and then having a remix on the go, writing loads of stuff and organizing live shows. You sort of learn how to be resourceful in this way, to have multiple projects going on inside your own mind, something I wasn’t really able to do at the time. I can visualize large, long-term projects now.
You’ve always been such a major collaborator from mainstream artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX to Tkay Mizada and Clairo. What do you tend to look for in a collaborator?
I very rarely find someone who I feel like… Because I don’t sing my own songs, it takes me a long time to find someone with a voice I feel like can sing a song that I’ve written. I think a lot of producers, especially these days, end up singing on their own songs. As a result, that becomes their project ’cause it makes sense, but I literally can’t stand the sound of my own singing voice so it takes me a long time before I find someone. Then I find someone and I’m just like, “That’s the person that’s perfect for this thing.”
Clairo was an interesting one ’cause I discovered her through—I’m up to date with a lot of meme pages and at one point they were all just sharing the “Pretty Girl” video, but not the YouTube link, like uploading it directly to Facebook. They were just sharing this video and it was going viral very organically that way. It wasn’t the kind of thing that can be pre-planned ‘cause these sort of pages are very organically acting. I just saw this person and it took me ages to find out who it was though ‘cause they were all sharing this video, and then I started chatting to her on Twitter. This was just before that video properly blew up, is the thing, and then the thing went crazy after that. We started chatting, we have really similar interests, and then we met up in New York when I was there working on another artist’s project. It went really well. We just emailed, she works really well over the internet, so that really helped as well.
It’s an interesting question though, what do I look for? It’s like people with a bit of sadness in their voice, but not intentionally. It’s usually not people who are actually sad themselves, it’s people with a melancholy edge when they’re singing. The funny thing is, I do think Carly [Rae Jepsen] has that to her voice. There is some kind of emotional depth in her voice, the way she says things is sort of like her excited tone, that kind of thing. ‘Cause the thing that I’m ultimately searching for in music is this sort of sense of euphoric melancholy that music can give you and it’s always voices that can carry that message.
Yes, secretly like crying in the club. That’s what I’m also always looking for.
Yeah, but it’s people who are often unaware that their voice has this quality. I was working with my now wife’s little sister Raffy a lot, early on and she’s also the voice on SOPHIE’s “VYZEE” and on my song “In My Dreams.” She’s a really chilled out and cheerful person, but when she sings there’s this kind of strange, bored sadness. It really resonates with me, this sound. So that’s the thing that sort of attracts me to a voice, I’d say. There’s a few more artists I’ve got that I’ve been working with that have this quality. I’d say that’s the thing.
This past year I’ve really been looking at who producers are selecting for the features on their albums. A lot of the time, you’ll have some artists who will maybe only have one or two artists featured but then there are others where it’s like every single song is a feature. My question for you is what is the value of the feature now to you?
Well, the industry is a machine. It is an industrial process so if something works then that will just set an algorithmic sort of trend in terms of what everyone does for a bit. So yeah, features work in that kind of way. DJ Khaled is maybe like exacerbating the features effect to the maximum degree which might actually prove to be the end of the feature as an idea, but it’s an interesting one ‘cause it is kind of like making artists lose their superstar impact. It’s ruining the impact that stars used to be able to have. It means new artists start by doing a bunch of features with DJs that are more famous than them, that kind of thing. That reduces their eventual impact if they want to be like a superstar if that’s the case rather than just having music where their first thing is their own stuff, where their first release is just them. They’ll be like a bunch of features, they’ll be this kind of thing. I think that does kind of blur the lines a bit in terms of the stuff that the person may release.
It’s such an interesting phenomenon these days. Sort of like the current times that we’re living in, where there’s more of a presence of a writer being more of a pop star in themselves – an artist also being a writer. There’s a consciousness of that with people like Charli [XCX] and even Ed Sheeran. Stargate are now trying to make themselves known as artists as well. So it’s like they’re trying to bring writers out of the board room and into the studio, like into the music video basically.
It’s interesting to think about if there’s actually room for all these people or if it’s just easier to focus on one person in terms of the way pop works as a whole. I kind of preferred it when it was one focused person with lots of people behind them on the whole. I really liked the way the industry worked in the ’90s – not behind the scenes necessarily, but knowingly industrialized music like boy bands and female acts and male acts where you know it’s written by hit songwriters, but it’s the perfect version of that.
I feel like there will be a return to that as well. People who are kind of openly… What’s the word I’m looking for? It was like, where you’re knowingly fake… Manufactured! Openly manufactured music is something that I’m interested in as an idea, and that’s something I’d like to see. It would be quite a radical statement to make these days, because there’s a big emphasis on artists being very unique to themselves. But I’ve seen lots of artists who actually want to be manufactured. And there’s an interesting climate where that’s not really particularly allowed, because there’s a sort of assumption that you have to be expressing a kind of pure identity that’s not quote, unquote, fake.
There’s always a kind of tension with music, where people don’t want to feel like they’re listening to something that’s fake. And what they don’t realize is the stuff that sounds like it’s honest is just as fake as the stuff that sounds like it’s fake. There’s equally big sort of industrial processes behind both. And the sort of sounds that they think sound more real are actually just as sort of edited, apart from Beyoncé’s vocals, because she doesn’t use auto-tune or anything like that. She literally just does it. But it’s still comped. But there are different trends in music, this sort of liking the sound of manufactured music and then the sound of real music. But it’s all equally manufactured.
That also makes me think of the whole “separate the art from the artist” argument. As a fan, you really don’t know these people even if you’ve met them a few times. It’s all an act to some degree.
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s quite dangerous, that kind of relationship as well, but I think it’s essential. It’s something that a lot of people hold on to, that idea, but it also creates a lot of anger on the internet when an artist does something that sort of departs a bit from their usual thing. And the people who felt like they had a relationship with the previous artist feel betrayed, but I think a lot of people love feeling betrayed as well though.
How are you feeling about the current pop landscape? What are your thoughts as you’ve been navigating through the industry?
It’s great. I mean, I love pop stuff. I think Cardi B is the person I probably like the most out of everybody. I’ve liked her for ages though. Obvious parallels to Nicki Minaj early on, who I was also a massive fan. Me and Alex [Cook] early on were really into Nicki Minaj and this ability to be a bit abstract and surreal or just extend an idea to beyond what people consider as normal, but to not be put in another category. She’s still a pop artist, yet she can be completely free to experiment with things. It’s something that I really, really respect in an artist.
[Cardi B] did a fantastic Instagram story the other day, I might have to whip it out. She’s the force in music that I feel the most joyous about. [The industry]’s the same as it’s always been. I have a belief that everything’s always been the same in terms of the way people consume music and that kind of thing. Obviously, there has been developments in human culture to now, but the way that humans connect and consume things has pretty much always been the same. Music has always been the same.
It’s an interesting climate that we find ourselves in. It’s funny that there is a sort of zeitgeist to music that sounds like unintentionally pop music. It’s not music that’s actively trying to be popular, it’s like music that sounds very relaxed and someone accidentally made a viral hit is the kind of vibe. It’s very much the influence of Drake, basically. It’s vibe of just coming up with a really casual hook in the studio and then it has this sort of accidental casualness to it, which is very clever because obviously it’s the least casual thing in the world to get a track on the radio in America. I find all that really fascinating. There’s lots of pop artists that I think are absolutely amazing, Young Thug’s really interesting as well, and BROCKHAMPTON — I really like the blue vibe.
Sometimes I feel like we’re approaching more of this genre-less era, but so many people now can be like, “No, I’m a pop artist” even though they wouldn’t be what you would typically like traditionally label as a pop artist. I was listening to Okay Kaya and she classifies herself as smut pop, but I kept thinking she was more R&B.
I know who she is, that’s interesting. It is overwhelmingly clear that as much as you can create lots of sub-genres there are these very, very present trends in music. Just look at the drum sounds people that people are using over so many different genres. It’ll be the electronic 808 drums in various forms. Even on singer-songwriter stuff you hear it. It’s always got to have this kind of aesthetic coherence through all of pop music because people need a reference point. It’s not a judgmental thing to say because you can’t just play a song that sounds like nothing else to everyone. There’s got to be that reference point. Everyone can’t be dancing and then you put on this track that has a completely different rhythm and a completely different thing. It’s like the way which people can see music is, it’s much more sort of playlisty so it’s like if something disrupts the playlist then it’s kind of disruptive as a song.
Even though there are multiple genres it is illusory to an extent. Things do line up quite clearly. There’s only a few BPMs that are used, it’s an interesting one. I’m up for people coming up with genres to help define themselves as artists as well ’cause I think there’s certain rhythms and stuff that one can’t help but fall into as well. Sometimes people can lose sight of who they are and what they like because it’s so easy to pull back on a trope in this way or that way, and to understand that you can use a bit of that and a bit of that and then experiment within that kind of thing. That’s kind of where pop lies within because it’s like you’re giving people something to grab onto., but then you can use this sort of skeleton of that to make something people will feel like they’ve never heard before when in fact it’s on the framework of something they have heard before.
When you were talking about this whole playlist thing, it reminded me about when Drake put out More Life. At first, everyone was calling it an album and then he was like, “No, it’s a playlist.” How do you view an album now? It’s so confusing.
Well, that confusion exactly expresses the state that we’re currently in, in terms of the way people consume music. People aren’t sure how they can see music. It’s not like it used to be where we can only listen to music on vinyl records or cassette tapes. The industries have exploded in this way so all this confusion about “Is that an album? Is that a mixtape? Is that a playlist?” is the exact confusion, like expressing the confusion of the technology that we’re using. The way artists work has always been at the complete bidding of whatever technology exists to release music. So a long playing record defines how long all these albums are that were written. These weren’t just like pure, visionary works of art in that sense—they were limited by this sort of like length of a release, so therefore they have to write something that fits in that.
Now we’ve got infinite potential with playlists and that kind of thing. I think the way it seems is it’s moving backwards now. In a way it’s probably quite fun like back into the world of more old fashioned approach to an album. Although, I’m not sure that Drake thing was actually a playlist. I would like to see an actual playlist though, a kind of bottomless album. I’ve always liked the idea of it so that would be a cool thing. I haven’t properly seen that done, but it’s just this sort of expression of the anxiety of where we find ourselves. There’s no answer to it because there hasn’t been any proper agreement made between all these companies. It’s literally like a kind of business thing. It’s just interesting how that affects the artistic side of things. And some people are taking advantage of that, people are getting confused as a result of it. I think it’s fascinating, really.
What else are you working on? Can we expect a full-length album at some point? I know you’re working on other people’s stuff, but what about you?
I’m working on a bunch of stuff for myself at the minute. I’m literally working on multiple big projects involving me at the minute. So it’s like bigger than an album kind of territory in terms of the grand scheme. I’ve basically got a lot of very exciting projects going on. There’s some really, really fun things, one of which is not actually a project I’m working with, but it’s like a cut that’s coming up that I got. It’s literally like a dream for me and I’m incredibly excited about that. I think there’s gonna be a lot of euphoria being spread around the world, hopefully as a result of me.
For more features like these, visit our interview with afrofuturist artist GAIKA right here.