Gone Raving with Harley D

Entering the rave since the age of 15, Harley D’s been committed to beatcraft since before he could grow whiskers on his chin.

First he cut his teeth on the UK south coast free party scene, then came a noisy but short-lived arrival in jump up before he took a sudden diversion in the mid 2010s, stopped releasing music for six years and focused on honing his craft.

Time well spent; a remix competition win with SaSaSaS opened the gates for releases on heavy hitting labels such as Serial Killaz, Invicta Audio, Grid, Audio Addict and, as of last month, bass music giants Crucast with one of his biggest EPs so far – Enter The Rave.

Flexing a sound that dips its nose and toes into everything from tear-out to deep via twisted techy hybrids, Harley’s years of studying, refining and digging foundations – not to mention the musical diet he’s had since birth from his junglist father – have paid off. A rich palette, crisp and heavyweight production execution and a cool air of non-urgency are the result of this approach. Why hurry when you’ve already committed your life to this culture and you love what you do?

With his Colours EP dropping next month and plenty more in store for the rest of 2022 – plus plans for an album even further in the future – Harley gives UKF his plus one for a quick chat in the smokers about all things rave, roots and beyond.

When was the first time you ever entered a rave?

Good question. Which type of rave are we talking about? Club night or proper rave? My first club night was in Matter, if you remember that place? It was an under-16 event called Under The Radar but, before that, my first experiences were putting beach parties on in my area. We’d take some decks down, take some speakers and that progressed to doing things on the free party scene from a young age. We built our own soundsystem. A few crews came together and that’s how I developed in the scene.

Wow so super young!

Pretty young. 15/16. I live in Margate and we had a great scene at the time. there were loads of opportunities to put on little parties.

What was your soundsystem called?

My one was Skanknasty and we had another one in Dover called Armada. There were loads after that. Concrete Mushroom, Bass Therapy. All these people wanted to get involved and build their own rigs. We’d all link up for bigger parties and warehouses. Good times!

Give us a favourite memory!

Here’s a good one… We were in the words in Ashford. It didn’t get started properly really because, by the time it got dark, the police shut it down. There were helicopters above us. Police going through the forest. I had my vinyl, my mate was behind me with his vinyl, we just didn’t want our records to get taken, you know?

So we jump on this trailer driving through. I manage to get my vinyl on, he throws his vinyl on too but he’s running through and can’t get on it! So I’m on the back of this trailer thinking, ‘Okay I got two big boxes of vinyl, going through the woods on some random trailer and I have no idea where I’m going to end up!’

Turns out, they took us to the entrance. Police everywhere. I was in Ashford with two boxes of vinyl and didn’t know what to do. I asked a policeman for a lift home and he said, ‘No! I’ll arrest you and take you to Dover if you like but I’m not going all the way to Margate.’ I walked back through the woods until I found some people. By that time it had got light. I’d spent ages twiddling my fingers thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’

Ha! Did you find your mates?

Yeah I found my mate who’d lost his vinyl. We spent the day in the woods in the end. Don’t know what happened to everyone else or the soundsystems but… Yeah, that was one I’ll never forget!

Brilliant. So your Enter The Rave EP was your debut on Crucast. That’s a big one.  

Definitely man. It was a wicked opportunity to work with such a big label. Enter The Rave is one of the tunes I’m happiest with. They tapped me up with a message on Instagram and six months down the line the release is all sorted.

Wicked. You took a break from releasing for a while didn’t you?

That’s right. There was a five or six year hiatus from releasing. I started off releasing and did a bit of jump up and was DJing a lot and suddenly ended up in the Beatport Top 10 with one of my earliest releases.  That was a bit of a fluke because I felt I couldn’t pull off good tunes after that. I stepped back and had to ask myself why I couldn’t be consistent.

The thing was, I was comparing my tunes to those of Mefjus and Noisia and that’s a bad thing to do. The minute you do you scrap the tune and move on to the next thing. I wanted to hit their levels and I couldn’t bring myself to release more music because I wanted to be better.

That six years was a journey. I was grinding. I stopped doing the free parties, got a job, but yeah I made through it and now I can definitely be consistent and feel like my music is talking a lot more.

Now you got Noisia playing your music on Vision Radio

That’s right. It’s amazing!

You wrote a neuro tune around that time you took off from releasing didn’t you?

Yeah! It was called Create and I did actually write it around that time when I was trying to sound like Mefjus and Noisia and trying to get the mixdowns sounding like them. I liked the tune but never worked with any neuro labels so didn’t know what to do with it. I was really happy I could release that in the end.

Do you go back over tunes you made during that time? Or have they just been part of the journey to get you here?

I did used to go through them quite often. A lot of projects don’t open anymore but I was on the ball by bouncing out all my stems. So I have a stem library from the years. If I ever wanted to, I could go in and grab an intro or something and refresh it. But it’s old stuff and I’m much more into making new stuff now and progressing with the ideas.

So many ideas! So many releases! Invicta, Pick N Mix, Grid, support from SaSaSaS

I won the remix competition with them. That’s how it started. Phantasy rang me up and said they loved the remix, they were going to pick two. He’s linked up me up with Jump Up Cave and other places, he’s very helpful and gives good advice. It’s nice to have people like that in the scene who I’ve been looking up to for years who want to help. It’s amazing to be honest.

Serial Killaz too

Exactly the same.

Your Battle Dubs EP on Serial Killaz was sick. Champion Sound is still one of my favourite tunes of yours…

That’s two years old. I like to let a tune digest, I’ll finish it, leave it sit for a month or two. Come back to it and listen a few times before doing my next mixdown, then masters. It can be six months, a year, sometimes two years before a tune comes out.

That’s the route for timelessness. Nothing can be throwaway

I believe so. But the concept of throwaway is interesting. People just ingest music so quickly now it can be easily forgotten. To not just rush things and go back over things is important to try and get any type of what you might perceive to be timelessness.

Definitely. What’s the best advice you’ve been given so far?

When I started working with Serial Killaz they said, ‘Think how it’s going to be on a dancefloor’. It’s great to be technical but if you go too technical then you lose a bit of flow, which loses the groove on the dancefloor. So they suggested stepping back and think about that and it’s definitely helped keeping the flow on the tune. I’ve appreciated that advice and I appreciate all constructive criticism because not everyone is prepared to be that honest with your work.

Do you pass on advice?

Absolutely. I’ve done a few productions lessons but I’m still learning myself so don’t really feel right doing that. But I do have a select group of mates who I want to help and will pass on any advice or information that I can.

Awesome. Back to the music, fusion plays a strong role in your sound. Especially now knowing your jump-up roots and your love for neuro…

Yeah I love a lot of different styles. I’m really into that early 90s – 92 to 94 type of vibe too. I’m bang into that and played some old school vinyl sets in warehouses before.

Oh wow surely you were born around that time?

Yeah man 92. That’s the one. I wish I could have been raving in that era! That would have been special. So yeah I love that era. I love old jungle. I love liquid too. I put a vocal into every single tune to give a human touch and a focus.

Nice. Was your dad an old raver? Has he been an influence on your sound?

Definitely! Some of my earliest memories are of my father in his in his music room listening to jungle and hardcore. Every house we moved to he had a music room and he got me decks when I was 14. I was definitely pushed down this path. We mix together now.

That must be awesome. Is he a DJ or hobbiest?

Hobbiest. He just loves the music.

That’s so cool. Do you have any memories of particular tunes?

I can’t remember them from back in the day but looking back now to that era it was vibes for days back then.

Vibes for days now! I listen to your Spectrum mix and how broad your range is. I reckon you started as a DJ before production…

No it was the same time. I got decks and got aa piece of software called Aurian which I found someone on a forum called Planet DNB. It was cool how it all worked out.

Got anything coming up DJ-wise?

It’s picking up a bit now. Just played in Bristol, and Plymouth before that. I used to do a lot more back in the day but I’m approaching things differently now. Much more professionally. Anyone will give you a gig if you offer to play for free but when you’re asking to be paid it’s different. But I’m happy to let the music do the talking.

What’s talking next?

There’s a collaboration with Bennie, something on Gradient, an EP called Colours coming on Serial Killaz in July and I’m working on an album.

An album! Sick!

Don’t hold your breath though, it’s going to take time. I’m a believer that if you’re working on an album it needs to represent you and your musical journey. And it does need to be a journey. Hopefully like what we said earlier – it needs to be timeless. So I’m looking at that and exploring opportunities. There’s a lot to it isn’t there? I’ve got about eight or nine tracks but I want to make a whole folder of things and pick the best of the best. But yeah that’s a big goal of mine in the much longer run. Maybe late next year… Who knows?

Looking forward to that. Anything else?

I am in the early stages of getting a label up and running for music that doesn’t have a home but really deserves to be out there. Different stuff, experimental stuff. I’ve had it up and running since last year we had a Teej release but I want to create a place for something different and experimental and my mates who I want to support. It’s called Xtract, the idea of it being extractions of all kinds of music. So yeah, look out for that.

Harley D – Enter The Rave is out now on Crucast

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