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Mixing It Up With Scotland’s DJ Rankin



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Almost 16 years ago Limewire, a file-sharing site launched and took the UK by storm. Thousands of illegally distributed songs made their way through the popular green color schemed software to the hard drives of music hungry teens in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. Alongside the rise of the bedroom DJ slowly began and with it came promotion through sites now long forgotten by a current Snapchat generation such as Myspace. Avicii, Sweden’s superstar producer was one of those mixers whose music was unleashed online before the whiff of a record deal could even be considered, before him came a fellow countryman Basshunter and in a remote part of Scotland proceeding all came DJ Rankin.

A man synonymous with energetic controversially produced club remixes that took were downloaded thousands of times, taking him as a performer across the UK and world and now back to his native Scotland a decade on. After moving to the nation of kilts and IRN BRU just a few weeks ago i was surprised to see how this solo performer has managed to stand the test of time and still sell out club after club to a whole new wave of music fans. I caught up with Rankin at his latest Scottish event series called “I Am A Raver” to ask how music and technology have changed his life.

Q1 – What did you want to do when you “became a grown up” and did you know this from a young age?

A1 – I always liked the thought of being in the RAF as a Pilot I guess but as most young people if you asked me back then I’d have probably said something outrageous.

Q2. – When did you start learning how to DJ?

A2 – Well I started messing around with mixing software before I learned to DJ, I remember my remixes started taking off and it just blew up and all of a sudden I had clubs ask me to do gigs so I had no choice but to start learning. I would say I was about 15 or 16 when I got a resident spot at the Universe Nightclub in Coatbridge along with Barry (DJ Pulse) so I got a set of decks and started practicing and learning the ropes.

Q3 – What kind of support did you start off with?

A3 – In all honesty not much. The problem is I was the first to really do this sort of PCDJ as they called it style of remixing. To me it was just messing around with songs I had no clue what I was actually doing at first it was for my own enjoyment I knew that it was basic, I mean listening back to it obviously it was out of time and just a mash of A cappella but what people forget is I was 13 when I started doing these remixes. I’d let a few mates hear it and they would love it and ask for a copy then it just went from there it got shared out all over and all of a sudden this messing around I did for my own enjoyment was in demand. I never went out originally to be heard or become a DJ it was all harmless fun, I really loved high energy music like the first “Bonkers” CD I will never forget hearing that for the first time I was hooked! The first time I was exposed to that style of music was when I was about 7 or 8 I went over to a friends house and his older brother was playing a set from the Rezerection events and I was intrigued. We went into his room and I saw all the posters and flyers from these events all over his wall I just knew it was for me. I started listening to Tom Wilson on the radio he was a massive inspiration to me I remember meeting him at a gig when I was starting out and he told me he loved what I was doing and to stick at it and that had a big impact on me continuing to learn and take it to the next level. Obviously I realized the stuff I was doing was not professional so I had to move on to learn how to produce myself and polish my mixes but by this time the older stuff I remixed with little knowledge of how its done had already spread like wild fire. The way I see it is, everyone has to start somewhere the difference is my stuff took off before I even knew it when I was very young I think people forget that, its easy to slate something someone done when they were starting out but what a lot forget is I was the first to do this style I had no idea it was going to become something big but I am glad that it did. I still get told to this day I inspired a lot of great DJ’s to get into this game thousands of others started to copy the style and made it their own and it just kept getting bigger I’m glad I started something that made so many peoples childhoods and brought joy at those adolescent times because no matter what they say they will always tell you how those remixes brought them joy and still brings them nostalgia and into that fact it also brought some people there first interactions with dance music.

Q4 – What advice would you give to kids and people of all ages to gain more support? A4 – These days there is a lot of support for young aspiring musicians, producers and DJ’s to help them, for example music workshops etc, unlike when I started what I was doing was different it wasn’t established like it is now. The problem they face today is the amount of people interested in being in this profession makes it much harder to get a break and make a name with the advances in technology and the internet it makes access to the world without the backing of record companies or funding easier but the downside is this means too many are doing it so its very difficult. The advice I would give is, just believe in yourself don’t let people put you down and become disheartened, take everything with a pinch of salt and use it to your advantage. Criticism is good it will make your aim to succeed stronger when people doubt you or slate you all they are doing is giving you the fuel you need to progress toward your goals.

Q5 – For aspiring DJs where is the best place to start?

A5 – Like I said its very difficult in this day and age but I would say practice get your game on top find something that makes you stand out from the rest. A lot of young DJ’s will just do gigs for free to get exposure and experience this can be good but you open yourself up to becoming just another DJ you have to find the right time to break away and make yourself heard don’t just become another DJ make sure you have confidence its almost like trying to gain promotion in any job you have to assert your dominance and show you have the will to succeed and nothing will stand in your way. A great example of this recently is a DJ friend of mine called Marko Liv. He has started as an average DJ and worked the ladder moved onto his own events and evolved he is now signed to a major label and playing with the biggest names in the business at the biggest clubs and events and all because he didn’t let people take the piss and become another DJ in a massive pool of wasted talent. He pushed and pushed and people then see you have the right mind set to be something more.

Q6 – What software did you start off tinkering with?

A6 – A program called Acoustica. It was a basic music editing program not really worth shouting about but it was all that was available back then unless you could fork out serious cash for the software the big record companies used it wasn’t like today, getting a hold of decent software was hard. Later other things like Atomix came along but I was never a fan of it, though most others started to use it and it became the most common for that style I was already moving onto things like Cubase by the time this came around.

Q7- What’s your favorite style of EDM?

A7 – That’s a hard one! I always loved old Euro dance style tracks like Snap! and Cappella but then I love Happy Hardcore,Commercial Dance and Old Skool stuff like TTF,I mean TTF are great Jon Campbell (The Time Frequency) is a friend and i have to say he is the only current producers that is still producing that style and i lift my hat off to him for this cos we need more like him in this industry keeping the scene alive. But in all honestly the answer is hard to pick as I think these days most DJ’s would agree, you have to love it all, to have a passion for it.

Q8 – When the support started to grow and you became more recognized as a producer as well as a DJ. How did it make you feel? How did you act on it to keep your listeners happy?

A8 – That was the best when people started to see past the old remixes i had done when I was a kid and they would come and watch me DJ and couldn’t believe I was actually good and enjoyed watching my sets and hearing the new material I had produced myself not just remixes. Once this happened I got regular gigs and people took me more seriously, getting involved with Clubland artists like Micky Modelle, John Truelove (The Source) in the studio and then also touring with acts like Ultrabeat, Cascada, Special D, N-trance etc helped a lot. I still tour with these guys today and we always have a great time tearing up clubs. The people who come to these gigs love it, it’s almost a taboo to admit they love being taken back to the times they sat outside all night in bus stops and parks with mates drinking cheap cider with these songs blasting from someones mobile phone. Make no mistake they love it.

Q9- Did you have any negativity & rejection through the years? (If so how did you deal with and what advice would you give to people in this situation?

A9 – There’s always going to be negativity in the world of music. But like I said before the best way is to just use that as fuel to help you rather than let it get you down. Keep moving forward and the rest will sort itself. Most of the negativity comes from misinformation people listening to rumors and the rumors growing legs. I will get stick for this more than likely its always the way the main thing is no one really cares about the negative stuff people spout really they are just wasting there time and giving you more exposure, if you don’t like something don’t make a song and dance about it.

Q10 – What are some of your best memories over the years? Where have you been? Who have you met?

A10- So many, I’ve travelled all over doing what I love a few that stick in my mind are the Point (O2) in Dublin with Akon was a massive experience also playing at outdoor festivals with Faithless was great, hanging out with 5ive, Fatman Scoop and then playing venues, the Geordie Shore cast came along to party, it’s always fun. I could sit forever reminiscing of lots but every gig I play keeps a place in my heart no matter how big or small they are.

Q11 – Where are you now in your career? What events & productions have you been involved in and what upcoming events should we look out for?

A11 – Working on lots right now more so than ever before. I guess being much older and wiser now helps to get on with it unlike when I was younger it was all just a blur. Next events, I have some in Ireland over Christmas and also some at home in Scotland then on to New Years eve I have a few on the same night the big one being I Am A Raver, an event inspired by what I started all those years ago with other well remembered DJ’s like Paul Zitkus, Gary MCF, DJ Pulse, DJ Cammy etc. They are a great bunch of lads and we blow the roof off those sold out gigs we all had a part in the scene we are like marmite some love us some hate us but either way if you come to those gigs you get a serious show with great technical DJ’s who can hold our own with any top DJ today.

Q12 – How important is music to you?

A12 – Music is my life its as simple as that. A lot of people wouldn’t realize this but I love all types of music even as far back as Buddy Holly as vast as bands like Screeching Weasel and the Ramones. Music is what makes us as human beings it can shape our lives, it is the most powerful kind of influence in my opinion. It can help us through hard times and give us an escape from stress and other worries, you wont find anyone who doesn’t like music in some form and that’s what makes it so amazing it can bring people together. With my set it’s moved on lots over the years obviously I still play the old classics although re edited and beat matched (laughs) honestly I was tone death when I was young but its good to laugh at how we started. Also, I play new productions I’ve done but I infuse them with the old to get an all round good vibe from the crowd. Its amazing how many people ask me for new remixes they hear in my sets that I’ve produced myself they are shocked how far I have come but once again they are comparing me to a 13-14 year old me forgetting the 15 or so years in between I’ve had to develop. I would say make your sets around what you love and have a passion for don’t change your style constantly you need to have a foundation to build around if you keep chopping and changing styles it makes it harder to break out and you just become another DJ. You need to find that one thing that’s going to make you stand out from the rest.

Q13 – Sharing music and creating an atmosphere is 1 of the main things for a good DJ – How do you get the crowd going?

A13 – Interaction with the crowd plays a big part. Every DJ will have a different way but if you are a good DJ the music you play breaks the ice, its then just up-to you to shift it from good to great.

Q14 – Who inspires you? Who are your role models and favorite music artists?

A14 – Well like I said before Tom Wilson was a big influence in inspiring me to push on as a DJ, his son Craig is now a very successful DJ in his own right that shows you how influential Tom was, Craig’s a great DJ and another who is breaking out and doing very well and that’s cos he learned from the best, Tom. Favorite artists is tough depending on past or present, to name a few though I would say I love what Calvin Harris is doing, TTF (Jon Campbell) for the fact he still keeps it real and produces the right kind of music for his fan base not giving into the pressure of modern music, George Bowie I have a lot of respect for we done some stuff together a few years ago now although the stuff we worked on fizzled out and nothing came of it I still love his passion for music and especially the hardcore and commercial dance scene he also is someone I look up-to.

Q15 – What’s one of your own favorite songs?

A15 – Stuff I produce myself. The old remixes obviously I love and hate at the same time but I love them for what they are…remixes.

Q16 – What’s your favorite songs of all time?

A16 – This is tough couldn’t put them in order but I will rhyme a few off …. Snap! – Rhythm Is A Dancer, Congress – 40 Miles, Westbam – Wizards Of The Sonic.

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