Manchester Spotlight: Danuka

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Dan Flynn a.k.a Danuka, is the boss man of much loved club night So Flute in Manchester, which, unlike many of the high-profile promoters in the city, stear clear of the house and techno banner. Instead the focus is looser and more outward looking, away from conventional Western dance sounds and into the nooks and crannies of music around the world. We caught up with him to have a chat about So Flute, his own DJing career and Manchester’s music scene.

First our usual ice breaker. What’s your first musical memory?

Can’t remember exactly what my first musical memory was but I remember listening to a lot of cassettes in my mum and dads car but I didn’t really grow up with a lot of music around me as a kid so it’s quite hard to pinpoint my first musical memory.

Building on that then, did you grow up with a strong musical background in your younger years or was it something you branched out into and discovered solo?

Well no, like I’m saying it was something that maybe we had on in the car but my mum was into a lot of pop stuff like Wet Wet Wet, and even though both my parents were into music growing up it isn’t something that carried on into their senior years so I was always into sports and stuff like that. Music was more in the background for me as a kid and it wasn’t really until I got a bit older and moving away from Stoke on Trent, that I really got branched out on my own and got into music.

When did you realise that you wanted to try and make a career out of music, was it an organic development or an actual decision you took?

I think it was when So Flute got to a point where our monthly show at the Roadhouse we were getting at least two hundred and fifty people through the doors consistently and that allowed us not only to maintain the night itself financially, but it allowed me to earn enough on top to re-invest in myself. That was the first step and then as my record collection grew, I sent out a bunch of e-mails to bars in Manchester and started DJ’ing at a few bars and from that it just grew. People started asking me to come back and play my records week in week out, So Flute was going strong and I started to think about it as something I could make a career out of.

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What pushed you to try and open up a club night (four years ago now I believe?), did you notice a gap in the market or did you want to throw parties that you and your mates could get down to and enjoy?

So there are three of us who run So Flute, me, Yadava and my mate Billy and we started it in my third year of university in 2012, and I think we started it because the three of us all got into similar artists and producers who were more influenced by things like Jazz, Soul and Hip Hop and we sort of thought to ourselves, there aren’t really any nights in Manchester, other than Mr Scruff, that played stuff like that. And that pushed us to go for it, so yes I guess at the time it was a bit of a gap in the market, but also us getting into the same kind of music at the same time and thinking why not? Why we can’t put something like this on for us and our mates.

You’ve booked some pretty big names in the past, the likes of Andrew Ashong and Alexander Nutt spring to mind, what is it like for you watching legends like that behind the decks, are you watching and learning, or just trying to soak up the moment?

Haha, that’s a really good question, it’s a bit of both man, they’ll be periods where you’re behind the decks and you are taking that opportunity to watch, literally watch everything a guy is doing and it’s funny and frustrating sometimes because they make it look so easy. You’re watching him and you go to yourself, he’s not doing anything to dissimilar to what I do but it’s the details and the consistency with these sort of DJ’s. If a mix is going out, it will come back in. Alternatively though, you might see a bunch of your mates and go I’m gonna hang with them they’re having a great time or you might go out to the smoking area and just soak up the atmosphere for a bit.

Also how strange is it now looking back to when you and the guys first thought about setting up So Flute, do you feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to do, or are you still looking towards the future?

Well it was tough for us after the Roadhouse shut, mostly because it was such a surprise and because we were so comfortable there. Since then we’ve moved around a bit and that experimentation with different places has been really beneficial for us and I think maybe we needed to do that to keep growing. Recently though we’ve been in touch with Band on The Wall, which we always maybe thought of as a place that could have replaced the Roadhouse and we’ve now got two shows penned in for later this year, one in October and one in December which we’re really excited about. With that venue it also opens up the possibility of doing So Flute live shows which is something we’ve always talked about wanting to do and so that is something you might see us working on next year as well.

Personally you’ve DJ’ed across the country but would you ever think about taking So Flute out of Manchester, or do you think it belongs here for its duration?

So we’ve actually done a few already, one in Liverpool and one in London, both of which were a lot of fun and got a really good response. So it’s for sure something we do feel like we can move forward with and we think So Flute is strong enough to go to another city and maintain its identity but there’s always a lot to consider like finding the right venue and the right headliner, or even thinking about do you go in with just a residents show or do you feel like you have to book a headliner to draw the crowds. Something we’d consider for sure but we are also kept pretty busy doing our thing in Manchester.

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Outside of So Flute, what are some of your favourite parties to get down to in Manchester?

Recently ‘High Hoops’ has been amazing, especially in the last few months I think the impact it’s had on proper music heads in the city has been great. Mr Scruff and ‘Keep it Unreal’ has got to be my favourite club night ever, always an education and always a pleasure. And also ‘Banana Hill’ is always great.

Given Manchester’s storied Musical history, do you find it an inspirational city to live and work in (Musically) or can it feel convoluted and saturated at times?

Well one of the reasons I left Stoke on Trent to come to university in Manchester was because of the music scene, I started coming up most weekends in my gap year and going to places like Sankeys and the Warehouse Project and that really shone a light on for me on a community that I’d never really experienced in my life to that point. Also with so many good nights going on in Manchester all the time, as a promoter it makes it kind of tough to have an ego because I go to so many good nights as a punter and that keeps you pretty humble. Of course unavoidably there is a bit of saturation but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because that saturation sorts the average from the very good, it (a club night) has got to be really good in Manchester to have longevity.

Pretty much every bar in Manchester has a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights, do you think this has had an impact on the DJ scene in the city, and do you think it’s a positive one or perhaps it’s saturated the market a little?

I think what’s happened is that as bars have got later and later licenses, people’s dependency on clubs has reduced. So now on a Friday and Saturday night there are bars open until 3 or 4am whereas in the past they all shut at 12 or 1am latest, so back in those days if you wanted to stay out drinking you had to go to a club and that meant you were being exposed to proper club nights and proper club DJ’s. Whereas today there are hundreds of bars with hundreds of DJ’s but a lot of them are just peddling the same stuff week in week out, and it’s created this pseudo club effect inside bars. Whereas if you look at proper club nights, in proper clubs, there are people working behind the scenes who know so much about music, and so whilst the bookings might be more eclectic and the music might not be as accessible, it’s so well curated and there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. So yes I do think that it’s had a big impact on the city’s DJ scene and it has become a little saturated, but equally I know that DJ’ing in a bar has had a massive positive effect on my DJ’ing so it’s not something I’m knocking.

Roadhouse and Kraak went last year (and Dance Tunnel in London recently closed its doors for good), do you think there is a problem with small venues at the moment in Manchester, and is it a promoter based problem, or something bigger such as the council?

Well I don’t think the council had anything to do with Roadhouse and Kraak shutting down but, I think that was due to financial reasons and I think overall that is the main problem. You look at somewhere like the Roadhouse that used to throw really busy mid-week gigs, which became a staple part of their income, right now there’s a bit of a lull in live music, I think it will recover for sure but at the moment live music in the city is on a bit of a down and so as a small venue you lose that staple, mid-week income and so you’re essentially only able to operate on the weekends, which for any business is an impossible situation to succeed in. So I think that has played a huge role for sure but you’ve also got to remember that music falls under the umbrella of the arts, so you think about the council investing money into art galleries or public spaces, they’ve also got to be looking at investing in small spaces and venues that allow for an expression of that art form.

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Any upcoming talent in Manchester that has really caught your eye and that people should be on the lookout for?

Yeh, Tom Burford or Contours, he’s kind of already reaching that point of bubbling over but he’s recently released on Rhythm Section, really good musician with great taste in music. A lady I work with called Poppy Roberts, who’s making some absolutely immense music. And Yadava, honestly not just sneaking that one in because he’s part of So Flute, he’s a proper musician and definitely someone I’d be on the lookout for.

And lastly could you tell us about the mix you’ve recorded for us, where and how you recorded it, the idea or theme behind the mix and any standout tracks you’d like to talk about?

So I’ve been working on the mix for about 3 weeks, partly consciously and partly sub-consciously, thinking about what a mix should be and about the mixes I like and still go back to, trying to make it very listenable and versatile, something you can sit at home and listen to, or whilst you’re travelling or something you could put on a speakers and listen to on a big system. It starts of really chilled with a jazz and soul vibe but obviously I pay a lot of club stuff so that invariably made its way into the mix. Couple of standout tracks, ‘Mr Man’ by Air which was recently re-issued and I actually had to message the guy at Be With Records to get the digital file so I could include it in the mix because it hasn’t been officially released yet, so really happy to get that tune in. And also ‘Maria Fumaca’ by Banda Black Rio, another 70’s release that’s recently been re-issued and made more accessible than it was on initial release.

So Flute’s next Manchester party welcomes Volcov on the 15th Oct.

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