“No one is an island, right? The more you help each other, the better things get. As cliched as it sounds, it really fucking works…”
Danny Styles leans back on his chair in his studio, hands behind his head, a satisfied smile on his face. A sprawling panel of controls, screens and speakers roll out behind him. His high level I.T day job commitments are done for the day. Once this interview is done he’ll have the evening to embark on another studio exploration, building up a discography that dates back to some of the earliest chapters in jungle history. Albeit a discography with a rather large hole in the middle.
“I do feel an element of unfinished business, yeah,” admits the 24 Karat Recordings bossman who returned to the scene in 2018 after a 15 year break. “I’m doing the best stuff I’ve ever done and there’s a lot more in me and a lot more to come. I’m not done with this yet.”
For evidence of his current mindset and creative levels check 1 More Thing. Timeless and tense, it’s a dark style, pranged-out breakbeat assault that Danny has made exclusively for this site’s Patreon supporters…
“I keep listening back to it. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in recent years. I almost don’t want to give it to you,” Danny laughs. “But I want to help, this is what I’m saying – none of this works without people helping each other. It’s a fucking hard slog on your own. I can’t do what I do without the love and support of my missus, or the support of platforms like this or download stores like Juno Download. It’s really important that we – and I mean the underground – work together.”
Danny’s always been a believer in strength in numbers, but it’s his return to drum & bass that’s really compounded his perspective. Bringing 24 Karat Recordings back to life – a label that launched in 1994, ran until 1999 and featured numerous foundational cuts including some of Kenny Ken’s earliest productions – was a predominant catalyst. Now home to a new league of talents such as Veak, BOTB, iV, DJ Direkt and Joely, Danny explains how he takes time to get back to his artists with constructive feedback, advice and support.
“On a really cynical level, any of these people could be the next big thing, right? So if I fuck ‘em off or ignore them then I’m hardly going to get any support on my releases in the future,” he says frankly. “So I take the time out and help them on their way. I won’t sugar-coat things, mind. If you want someone to tell you you’re brilliant and blow smoke up your arse then play your music to your mates or your missus!”
Having spoken to Danny in the past and experienced his often funny, no-nonsense observations on social media, I already knew that he’d never been one to sugar-coat things. But as his story rolls out in more detail during the call, I realise just how much his frankness and zero-fucks attitude characterises him and how he approaches life. “I’ve never been one to respect boundaries, no!” he laughs in agreement.
The very first 24 Karat release is a good example of his brash, devil-may-care attitude; entitled Sorry / Not Sorry, the record lent heavily on breaks used by Roni Size, raising eyebrows and a just a smidgeon of temporary tension with fellow Brixton residents V Recordings. Around the same time he also bootlegged Hyper-On Experience’s Lord Of The Null-Lines, a massive 92 anthem on Moving Shadow.
“Very few fucks were given, I have to say,” he shrugs. “I was blatant back then. It’s sample-based music. What do you expect? You can’t fucking cry about it!”
These are just two examples of points in Danny’s life where sugar-coatings couldn’t be further from his reality. There have been many, many more. Points where even the music wasn’t his top priority. Take Danny’s earliest adventures into raving for example.
“I grew up in Brixton and was heavily into reggae, dancehall and bashment,” he explains. “I ended up at this rave in the West End and was strictly there to sell dodgy pills. I really wasn’t into the music at all. But then this girl came along, put a pill in my mouth, told me I was beautiful and dragged me around for the rest of the night! After that, those early moments of rave for me were all about getting out of my head and enjoying the company of women. But then jungle came along…”
Echoing a story and set of influences that Marlon M-Beat recently told me in this exclusive DJ Mag feature, it was the fusion of black music styles such as bashment and dancehall with breakbeats that really caught Danny’s imagination. “I started hearing those elements of bashment and ragga in the music and it was a game-changer,” he recalls. “Once the blackness came into the rave scene I got really inspired. Getting out of my head became a lot less important.”
This was 1992, one of the most critical and pivotal years in the evolution of breakbeat culture. Danny, like so many others, was completely inspired and wanted to contribute to the movement and be part of something that resonated with him. He convinced his grandma to pay for a course in the school of audio engineering and set on his own musical quest.
By 1993 he’d already started tinkering with various aliases and bootlegs – the earliest being Skan, Rotating Heads and Evil Ed – before launching 24 Karat in 1994 alongside Lloyd (who now runs the Innovation raves) and Odette. “Lloyd was running a distribution company at the time and my enthusiasm wore off on him, I think,” Danny recalls. “He was pushing house music but I convinced him to add jungle labels to his roster and build a studio in his yard!”
Countless productions followed under myriad aliases from Half Breed to Insolent Bwoy. Cuts like Lazy Sunday, Jungle Hop and Criminal were among many key Danny Styles productions in an ever-growing jungle soundtrack as the movement became a cultural phenomenon the broke down barriers unified the disenfranchised, cynical and completely under-supported youths, many of which came from working class backgrounds.
Many more missives were fired as the 90s progressed. Not just on 24 Karat but other labels such as the influential Lucky Spin imprint and the iconic Emotif, a label that came out of the SOUR studios community where luminaries such as Potential Badboy and Shy FX had sown seminal jungle seeds and labels like Botchit & Scarper would rise and characterise the first big surge of the breaks movement in mid to late 90s.
By this point Danny had long since moved out of Lloyd’s studio and had his own with occasional production partner Nick Lloyd. Sometimes operating as Filthy Lucre together, other times operating as London Sound Collective, the pair had fallen into a bizarre situation that would eventually lead to Danny leaving both the scene… And the UK.
“This is so nuts. Every time I tell the story, it doesn’t sound believable,” laughs Danny who continues to explain how he and Nick worked for an audio shop and were approached by a Russian customer who wanted to buy a whole tonne of equipment.
“We ask him what the stuff is for and he says, ‘I’m opening a studio in Moscow.’ It turns out he owned a majority share in a cigarette company. He called himself Keith but his real name was Dimitri. Anyway, I ended up dating his daughter and got her to convince him to open a studio for us in London.”
Suddenly finding themselves in a top of the range studio on Old Street, Danny and Nick spent four years there before subletting it and opening a second studio in a building just down the way on Curtain Road that would eventually become iconic and sadly long lost club Plastic People.
“Keith was paying the bills, so why not?” shrugs Danny. “He never once visited us. We got pretty blasé about it to be honest. We were just having fun and making a lot of music. But then around 1998 he married someone who started looking through the books and asking questions. He was borrowing money off the wrong people. You don’t get to his level without having dodgy shit in your past, right?”
“Cut a long story, they wanted their money. Four very burley guys came in and took the equipment and got very violent. A few days later I’m on a plane to LA. I rang my mum from LAX saying, ‘Sorry mum I’m not coming over for Sunday dinner. I’m in LA and I don’t think I’m coming back any time soon.’”
And so marks the end of Danny’s first musical career and start of a large gap in his discography. While 24 Karat ran for another year and occasional releases came out, Danny began to settle into a whole other life in LA. A big fan and practitioner of capoeira, his original dream was to track down actor and martial artist Mark Dacascos, study capoeira with him and gradually move south to Brazil. “But I ended up meeting the future mother of my kids and things went a bit differently,” Danny explains.
In 2001 Danny heard that his Russian friend had met his own unfortunate end and was no longer around to hold a grudge so he was able to return to the UK. But by 2003 he’d pretty much left music for good. “The blackness had gone,” he explains. “It was a different beast, a very commercial one. I wasn’t really interested in contributing to or taking part in it. So I found… Other pursuits.”
He laughs again but it’s not quite as hearty as other chuckles during our conversation. While the 90s had been a blur of amazing experiences in the midst of the biggest cultural and youth movement the UK has ever given the world, a large part of Danny’s 2000s and 2010s were spent in a much darker haze. Specific details aren’t necessary but it’s safe to say he fought a lot of demons during those years.
“I wasn’t your typical addict,” he admits. “I was never going to nick a ham from Tescos, I was never going to beg outside out a tube station. That wasn’t my style. No, I’d go to the source and rob a drug dealer. It was a pretty good system until things went south and I was looking at an 8-12 stretch.”
Sugar-coating wasn’t an option for a long, long time as Danny lived another very brutal reality. At his lowest he was attending his grandma’s funeral handcuffed to wardens in a prison tracksuit. His 8-12 stretch was a lucky near-miss as the situation was such a complex web of lies and crooks the judge had no choice but to kick it out of court. Moments like these were a wake-up call leading to Danny’s return in 2018.
“I walked out of the court, got on the train and came here with nothing but £22 and the clothes I was wearing,” admits Danny who now lives in Hull and has been clean ever since. “When I was in rehab, it was very intense. You have to examine yourself. No one likes looking that far inward. Not that deep. You have to expose a lot of pain, but I went through it.”
Throwing himself back into the world of I.T – a world which he’d worked off and on in since the late 80s – Danny picked up the pieces and decided it was high time he brought back 24 Karat. “I’d had half an eye on the music and I could see things coming back round,” he observes. “I could see there was an interest in the original sound and the foundations and that things had changed again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a horrendous amount of shit out there which I have no time for whatsoever. But there’s a hell of a lot of good music, too. And very talented artists. I felt like 24 Karat could be relevant again.”
The first release on the relaunched 24 Karat landed in late 2018 as Danny donned his old Half Breed alias and updated the 94 classic Selecta, renamed as Come Down Selecta. Slowly but surely he gained pace, recruiting new talent as he built things back up. By 2020, a time when a lot of labels were holding back on their biggest dancefloor weapons, Danny felt like he was back.
“There was all this uncertainty and no one was releasing music. Why would you? To have it played on a live stream? Not gonna happen,” he explains. “But after a few months I thought, ‘Hang on, we’re not changing for a while now, let’s release it all.’ So I got all of us together, we got our best stuff on album Heavy Hitters and slammed it out. It was number one in Juno for a long time and a moment I felt things were getting back on track.”
Two years and another Heavy Hitters volume later and Danny’s in an even better position. No longer running 24 Karat with other partners, or working in a studio paid for by a shady Russian, or being on the run in LA or battling any demons, the future’s brighter than it’s been in many years, possibly ever.
“You’re right you know,” smiles Danny. “It’s not on anyone else’s terms now, just mine and the people I choose to work with and help out. That’s a fucking good feeling.”
With that he puts his hands behind his head and gives another satisfied smile. Interview done, he starts to turn towards his controls, ready for another night of studio exploration. The unfinished business continues…
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