Meet Danny, champion of the DJ world

Blackpool DJ Danny Howard

Blackpool DJ Danny Howard

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Hosting a 6,000-person sell-out party in your home town is one way to get the festive season under way.

And for DJ Danny Howard, Blackpool Rocks was another reminder of just how far he has come in such a short time.

Back in 2011, he was DJing locally and hosting nights with his business partner Alex Huckerby – believing they were ‘smashing it’ with a crowd of 500 people.

Danny said: “When we started Blackpool Rocks, people thought we were pretty crazy holding it when people were getting ready for Christmas and had spent up their money.

“But we wanted to put something in place to fill the gap left by the Christmas Tree Ball for a younger audience. It has filled that, but so much more.

“We are so proud. Me and Alex, we’d done events ourselves for six years in Blackpool. Selling them out with 500 people, we thought we were smashing it.

“Doing it together with Cuffe and Taylor is even better, and for me personally coming off the back of my first tour in America, for the second Blackpool Rocks this year, it’s great that my first gig after that is in my home town at this thing we’ve created.

“It’s like something you would write in a story.”

But a ‘fairytale’ success is not too surprising, given Danny’s track record.

His life changed in summer 2011 when he won Radio One’s Superstar DJ contest – the prize being the opportunity to open at one of Ibiza’s top clubs for the station’s weekend on the White Isle.

The following April he was revealed as Radio One’s new ‘mainstream’ face of dance music, taking on the three-hour weekly Dance Anthems show on Saturday afternoons, which he still hosts.

He’s secured a residency at Ibiza super club Pacha, and regularly plays the UK’s top venues.

Last year, Danny and Alex teamed up with Peter Taylor and Daniel Cuffe, of promoters Cuffe and Taylor – and the duo behind Lytham Proms – to host the first Blackpool Rocks ‘indoor, winter festival’ at the Winter Gardens.

The event returned for its second outing, headlined by top dance acts Martin Garrix, Duke Dumont, Hannah Wants and Danny himself at Blackpool Tower.

“It’s hard to believe it’s year two,” Danny said. “It’s shown that last year was even more of a success than anticipated. When we announced the first wave of tickets for this year, without even having a line-up, they sold out in three minutes – we thought it was a mistake in the system.

“It was unbelievable. We were really overwhelmed by that.

“It’s amazing to have an event like this in Blackpool. It’s fulfilled the expectations and more of what we wanted from it.

“Having so many people getting excited about the night on social media is brilliant, and it shows it’s needed and wanted in Blackpool.

“It’s year two of a three-year plan for the event, and having this kind of reaction almost makes me want to be starting on year three already.

“We want it to be a destination people want to go to – as DJs and acts, as well as the crowd.”

Such is Danny’s pride in the party prowess of his hometown, that he puts his own reputation on the line to get the best acts in dance music on the bill.

His personal contacts with the DJ glitterati is one of the key factors in Blackpool Rocks’ success. “One of my main roles with Blackpool Rocks is being able to use my position and relationship to get these people to come and play,” he admits.

“It’s not a case of saying ‘you need to come’, more that they trust my opinion when I’m saying ‘come and play, you’ll have a great night’.

“It took months and months of negotiations with Martin Garrix. I spoke to him personally and said it would be perfect and he seemed excited. And he’d done his research into the venue, he knew about it before I came with the details.

“They have got to want to come and play as much as we want them there. But I’m not going to hide the fact that my position helps us. You need link-ups with people to open the right doors.”

And as a local lad done good, for Danny, playing a residency at Blackpool’s once-legendary Syndicate club was his original dream-come-true gig, the festive shindig is just the start.

“It’s a personal victory for me. Growing up seeing the top DJs at Syndicate, now that’s gone but we have Blackpool Rocks – it’s amazing. I’ve come out of Blackpool and you want to build it up in my home town.”

Danny spent Christmas back at home after a fortnight’s tour to America – his first time working there, but he’s already looking forward to going back in the new year.

“America is a weird situation,” the 27-year-old former Lytham St Annes High School pupil said.

“They are more enthusiastic about it as dance music is newer to them.

“In the UK we have amazing producers and DJs, dance music is all over the charts, but it suffers a bit in the clubs. And that’s not the case in America.

“That’s partly why I wanted to do Blackpool Rocks. The UK club scene doesn’t reflect how massive dance music is on the radio, on Spotify, on iTunes or in the charts.

“It’s not that it’s bad here, but compared to America it’s different and we can build it up again. The UK is the home of dance music.”

Danny puts the speed of his rise down to being ‘hungry for things to happen’, as well as a certain amount of luck.

His work ethic can’t do him much harm either. Danny readily admits he has trouble switching off, and will even be flying back in the middle of a fortnight’s holiday in January to present the Dance Anthems show.

“You always have to be aware of what’s going on, because if you don’t get it first someone else will,” he explained.

“Watching TV for even just an hour I get bored – it has become a habit.

“It’s such a fun job, it doesn’t feel like work. I’ll hear DJs at Radio One, who’ll remain nameless, saying ‘I’ve just got in to work’, but it just doesn’t feel like work to me.

“I’m happy to be always switched on.”

That said, he finds it easy to justify the slog, when people question the number of hours he ‘works’.

“People say to me ‘So you do the show on Saturday and a gig on Saturday night, what do you do with the rest of your week?’,” Danny laughs.

“But there’s pressure to deliver the Radio One show, and a lot of time goes into searching out new music for the show and my sets.

“I have two radio shows, with the Sirius [America’s equivalent to Radio One] one too, to plan and produce.

“Then there’s event planning and travelling to gigs, and all the admin that goes with anything you do in life.

“I soon find myself eating into my sleeping time. I’m always working and never really take a full week off.

“The opportunity I have and the position I’m in is one thousands of people would love to be in, so I have to justify it being me. I realise that and it’s the attitude I have – and that 100 per cent comes from the way I got here.

“I always say to people who ask for advice to work hard, learn your skills and you have to earn where you want to be, it won’t happen in a flash. I did spend years doing gigs and playing rooms with no one in. When you get the opportunity to do more, that’s when you have to be able to deliver.

“There was a bit of ‘right time, right place’ to it too. At the time I won the Radio One competition, they were looking for someone to be the more mainstream face of dance music on the station.”

And it’s not just his home town roots that Danny refuses to forget, among his projects for 2015 is developing his Nothing Else Matters brand – ‘the deeper side’ to the job – working with up-and-coming DJs, touring the UK and hosting nights in smaller venues.

At the other end of the scale, he’s set to be at the forefront of dance music’s biggest party once more, as Radio One celebrates 20 years of its Ibiza weekend – and he can’t believe his luck.

“It’s famously the biggest weekend of the year because of the massive presence Radio One has on the island, I’m not just saying that because I’m obliged to.

“To have a 20-year celebration, I’m just delighted to be involved. If I wasn’t there as a DJ, I would be there as a punter.

“For me to be even at Radio One is a dream come true – I have always listened to the station.

“Winning their competition gave me an amazing opportunity, and it’s amazing that they listen to their DJs and our ideas.

“Sat in a meeting in October starting to plan Ibiza, I was in a room with Radio One controller Ben Cooper, head of programming Rhys Hughes and DJs Annie Mac, Pete Tong and Zane Lowe.

“I remember looking round the room, thinking ‘Am I really here, with these legends?’, especially Pete.”

After initially making a move from the Fylde to Manchester for work, Danny now lives in London, having gone south 18 months ago.

“It made sense,” he said. “I was commuting every week from Manchester. I’m busy at Radio One, with production meetings and popping into other shows, and travelling a lot more for gigs these days, I have to get to the airports and it’s much easier. It’s only a two-hour journey to Manchester by train, and I do love any opportunity to get up north.”

Which takes us back to Blackpool Rocks. If there’s a three-year plan, what happens after next year’s event?

“We’re only doing Blackpool Rocks once a year at the moment, for the first three years, although the others keep trying to persuade me to do more, but it keeps the impact massive and not diluting the effect.

“After the three years, if it’s going to be as successful as it does seem to be, maybe it could go to three or four times a year.

“Blackpool Rocks is really for the town, we want it to be for the community, for hotels and local businesses to all benefit.”

So it seems home really is where the heart is for Blackpool’s Danny boy.