How I Made: Daniel Ness on his ‘Hell Is A Room’ EP

The Paris-via-London producer and vocalist talks through the software, locations and stories behind his experimental new EP...

25.08.22 Words by: Billy Ward

In this feature on Dummy, we’re asking artists to drill down into how exactly they make their music. We’re looking to hone in on the processes, equipment and locations they made their sounds in, and after speaking with UK producer London about his work on Rema’s chart-topping ‘Rave & Roses’ album, we sit down with Daniel Ness to discuss his experimental EP ‘Hell Is A Room’. The Paris-via-London producer, vocalist and label head’s new project signifies a brand new chapter in his story and sets in motion a complete creative rebirth. Bridging an array of left-field sub-genres such as weightless-ambient, trance- infused synths, jungle and garage, the 8-track body of work reveals Ness at his most vulnerable while doubling-down on his visceral sound design and evocative world-building ability. To find out more about how the record was created, we spoke with Daniel to get granular on his production methods. 

Where was the project made?

“The EP came about between London, Paris and the East Fjords of Iceland at three very different times however they were all done in pretty isolated situations either geographically or physically. Despite the different locations, the songs all hold this common thread and mindset throughout which was probably the product of specific events taking place, various feelings and a general outlook on things at that time. ‘Kiss The Dirt’ was actually the first track created in Iceland which is quite an obscure-leaning and brash song but metaphorically it holds a much more hopeful and positive message (that might not be very obvious) which I think is representative of the EP as a whole, especially lyrically. I must have brought a lot of melancholy with me from London, which eventually vanished whilst working on another project out there.”

What software or hardware did you use to produce the EP?

“I use Ableton to produce as well as sampling, some random hardware synths and instruments such as guitars which I mostly process or resample. Same goes for VST’s, I use a couple but I tend to rip the audio from VST demo’s (sorry VST companies) and then tweak it through sound design. For vocals, I use Logic Pro to record mainly!”

Who did you work on it with?

“A bunch of cute people helped on this project both musically and visually. My best friend and close-collaborator HNRO produced ‘Wounded’ with me during a strange time, but it came about super quickly both lyrically and musically. Mikey Enwright as well, an incredible pianist and producer from Boston (who just dropped a beautiful EP!) co-produced ‘Live A Lie’. Angus Luke flawlessly mixed and mastered the EP. Also had the pleasure of working with Swedish-artist jjjacob on ‘40 Years’ (he runs an amazing label called katharsis). He’s just a criminally amazing producer to put it simply. Another good friend of mine from Paris, Rare0000, helped with some things and arrangement ideas on ‘Kiss The Dirt’, again an insanely good producer and artistic director.

“Visually, Warsaw-based artists Øleg&Kaśka created the artwork and installation by photographing a miniature sculpture and painting of theirs. I also worked with the Basel-based motion design boss Dimitri Erhard who made 3D animations of the character taken from the artwork. My great friend Pierre Allain-Longval helped out a lot (go check out his latest project ’Manual Touch’). Also shout out Plastic Fruit Studios, Keight and Hussko as well.”

What are your favourite tracks on the record and why?

“‘Kiss The Dirt’, ’40 Years’, ‘Wounded’ and ‘Að Lifa í Lygi (Forever Mix)’ are my favourite tracks as they are very similar to how they originally sounded when first made and ultimately didn’t undergo many changes. They also hold important lyrical meaning, which I’m really happy about. If I had to choose though, ‘Kiss The Dirt’ is maybe my favourite at the moment as it’s the closest thing to what I tried to achieve with that one.”

Were there ever any difficult moments working on the record?

“Seeing as I haven’t released music in a while and have been in an extended hiatus so to speak even since before my EP in 2019. I’m basically starting from scratch, which is an overwhelming and frustrating place to be in because you’re stuck in this whirlwind of thoughts about what to do, what not to do, if things will work out or not and if there will be any response to any of it. That was pretty hard to shake off but it’s also a super exciting and rewarding situation to be in because you have this whole new version of yourself to put forward without limitations and that only benefits you. That really helps you grow and build your creative practice. Technically, there were a couple tracks that I had created a while back that went through numerous versions or needed fixing and that really became a nightmare especially as I didn’t want to re-record them. Despite all this, in the end the hardest thing as mentioned above, was to just let go of it and move on but I’m happy I did as I can focus on new projects somehow more confidently and better myself.”

How did you overcome those moments?

“Hmmmm originally by putting it off or running away from what needed to be done OUPS! But yeah, no that didn’t help overcome anything. I guess I overcame these moments by really going against old habits and setting some sort of deadlines beyond my control that I had to stick to. Working with other people like Angus on the vocal mixes really really helped. Oh and performing these songs live before they came out too helped I think.”

Could you talk through some of the project’s main musical inspirations?

“Generally my music is very much rooted in alternative electronic sub-genres such as weird club music, ambient, weightless genres, electronica, random breakcore or trance stuff but a huge element of the EP and my own creative practice as well as much of the music I’ve been doing for the last few years, stems from more traditional songwriting as a whole and folk music. A lot of the EP was developed by way of lyricism and by attempting to create a song that can stand on its own through only vocals and an instrument. All the tracks were pretty much written in that way and can be performed acoustically or with a live band as the songwriting is driving most of the arrangements despite the layered production. I’m not saying it worked aha but it is what it is and it means, I can continue experimenting!”

How does this project differ from your previous work?

“Sonically it’s pretty different, it’s not only driven by production and it’s not as club-focussed although to me it’s still connected. The main difference is that this is a completely vocal project and the main medium of expression has changed. The use of both lyricism and singing alongside production (which still remains equally important) is a much more suited form of expression, one I feel I can express things much better. This also applies to the way the music is digested and performed by myself, with a particular focus on live performances as opposed to DJ sets. All in all, this new project has made my small musical world a more versatile and open-ended one, it’s also become blunt and the depth of honesty has pivoted to something much more vulnerable, honest and in doing so continuously-inspiring in many ways.”

Stream ‘Hell Is A Room’ EP below or listen with your preferred player here.

Read next: How I Made: Big Zuu on his ‘Navigate’ album

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