Interview: Dan Berkson & James What
Dan Berkson & James What are two highly thought of producers who have already released on numerous celebrated labels like Crosstown Rebels and Pokerflat.
Now with a release on U.S. based label Touch Of Class, we dropped in on the guys to talk about the release, why their partnership works so well, and their plans for the foreseeable future…
“When we are spending days at a time in the studio we enjoy having hardware equipment so that it’s more interactive, rather than both of us staring at the computer all day.”
Looking back the both of you have had very fruitful solo careers, how did you first meet and what made decide you wanted to start collaborating?
James: We met around 2004 at an afterparty at Dan’s flat in London and began working together that year. We had similar backgrounds of playing in bands and then getting involved in electronic music.
Dan: We also were both quite interested in the idea of getting a live set together, but I know for myself at least seemed like a difficult project to tackle on your own.
You guys have been making music together for the best part of 10 years now, was there anything different about how you approached this project in regards to past collaborations?
James: The track was different in that we worked with a vocalist which we don’t tend to do so often, but also Amelia is based in the US and we were working from London at the time. She sent us sketchy recordings of her vocals on our track until we finally booked a studio session there for her to record the part. She did an amazing job.
When you’re in the studio together, do you each have your specialised fields, or do you see every production process through together?
James: We usually do most things in the studio together, Dan is a keyboard player so anything more complex than at kick drum it’s usually safer if Dan plays it. As Dan gets most of the keyboard action I tend to do a bit more of the tweaking and mixing.
What sort of equipment do you use in your studio, do you have a lot of hardware gear?
James: We use mostly hardware these days, although we definitely love the sound of some digital instruments and plugins to combine with that. Some of these old machines just sound incredible, and are hard to emulate with software or just not as fun. When we are spending days at a time in the studio we enjoy having hardware equipment so that it’s more interactive, rather than both of us staring at the computer all day. Here’s our gear list:
DESK – SSL Xdesk + Xpanda
MONITORS – APS Aeon
INTERFACE – Lynx Aurora 16, 2 x emagic amt8, Kenton Pro 2000
500 Series Rack / Preamps – Cartec Compere, 2 x Neve 1073LB, Radial DIs
SYNTHS / KEYS – Moog Minimoog model D, Roland Sh-101, Roland Juno 60, Roland MKS-80 + MPG80, Roland Jupiter 4, Ladyada x0xb0x, Fender Rhodes MK1, Korg Triton, Studio Electronics SE-1, ARP Solina
DRUM MACHINES – Roland TR-808, Roland TR-909, Roland CR-8000, Roland CR-78, Jomox 999
OUTBOARD- Ibanez AD-202, 2x Roland RE-201 Space Echo, Lexicon PCM70, Lexicon PCM42, 6 x Moogerfooger: MF-104M, MF-102, MF-101, MF-108M, MF-103, MF-105M, Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phaser, DBX 160
SAMPLING – Technics MK2, Radial J33 DI, Shure M97xE
MIDI CONTROLLERS – Livid Alias 8, Arturia The Factory Keyboard
As a production duo you’ve released on esteemed labels such as Crosstown Rebels and Pokerflat. How did the partnership with ‘Touch Of Class’ come about?
James: I first met Mikey when he was living in San Francisco back in 2011. We became friends and kept in touch from there on. When Touch Of Class came about it seemed like a good home for the track. We thought it was a special track but decided to keep it separate from our album because the vibe was different and didn’t flow quite the same as a whole. They were into the track and receptive to our ideas for remixers so went for it and we’re very pleased with the results.
Is there any labels you haven’t yet worked with but would love to in the future?
James: Secret Sundaze, Ostgut Ton or Innervisions would be among the ones we respect alot and would like to work with for sure.
So the EP is made up of the original track and four remixes. In regards to the remixers, was this a label decision or did you already have a few producers in mind who you wanted to bring in on the project?
James: We were quite keen to get Jovonn onboard for a remix, Touch of Class made it happen, and they come up with the other remixes which all turned out great.
If you could have any producer present or past remix one of your tracks who would it be and why?
James: Probably Carl Craig would be the one, we’ve often used his productions as studio reference and were always blown away by how simple yet effective his tracks sounded.
Dan: As far as current people, Floating Points is a favourite of mine.
You guys are now running your own label called ‘Modelmaker’. Tell us more about that, is it strictly for your own productions or will you be releasing other music on it?
James: Actually we had one release from another artist already. They are a UK duo called MaddeModes. More on the deep heady techno tip, but we kept it only vinyl for that one. We setup Modelmaker primarily as a way to release our album and have complete creative freedom, it was a fun process, now of course we’re open to releasing other artist but we are pacing releases slower now than when we where promoting the album and the singles.
from the label perspective.
Music aside, what do the pair of you get up to in your spare time, do you have any other hobbies?
James: Last year I also setup a booking agency called Araï and which focuses on bookings in the Far East. We have many old friends I have met along the way on the agency so it’s a fun project. And it’s also exciting in that Asia is a territory we didn’t get to explore much this past decade so it’s nice to cover new ground.
Dan: Well, not aside from music, but I’ve been working on an MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London working on jazz piano and composition. Other than that, I’ve been splitting my time between Hackney and a cottage in a big field with some cows in it with my wife and two kids.
Dan & James’ ‘On The Shelf’ featuring Amelia is out now on Touch Of Class Records BUY