With DMC Magazine hailing him as “One of the finest new producers around’’, Sonny Wharton has firmly established himself as one of the brightest prospects to emerge from the UK in recent years. Beginning his career as a DJ, Sonny first gained recognition by winning a DJ Mag mix-tape competition for Renaissance; it was this breakthrough that gave him a prominent start within Ibiza’s club scene, leading to high profile slots at Amnesia, Space, Pacha, Ministry Of Sound and a weekly residency at the infamous Manumission.
Since then, Sonny has received regular support from house music heavyweights Pete Tong, Armand Van Helden, Steve Angello, Roger Sanchez and most notably, Fatboy Slim, who proclaimed “I’m devouring everything Sonny does right now, my producer of the year” which prominently led to Sonny supporting him on his sell out “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” tour.
A regular artist on Brighton based Skint Records and with releases on the likes of Size, Toolroom, Spinnin’ and Material, Sonny also runs his own successful label Whartone Records, which recently celebrated its milestone 100th release featuring a collaboration between himself and X-Press 2. Tech guru and all around studio wizard, Mick Finucan caught up with Sonny to get the low down.
Hi Sonny, thank you for taking time out to speak with us here at Decoded. So how has your summer been for you?
This summer’s been amazing, thanks. I’ve had so much fun playing some really interesting venues – a disused prison in Lancaster for a night called A-wing which I played alongside Pete Tong. I also played Glastonbury for the first time, and lots of great events all over the world, from a giant castle in Shanghai to the legendary Octagon in Seoul, and also Beats For Love Festival in Czech Republic, which was set right in the heart of an old industrial complex.
As a DJ you’ve had a wild ride since those early days with Renaissance. Similarly to another Renaissance fav (John Digweed) you managed to land a residency on the strength of a mix-tape. Given the way the industry has changed, do you still find DJs can put a great demo mix together, or has the age of pay to play meant that the art of the mixtape has been lost?
I owe Renaissance so much for taking a chance on me back then – I recorded that mix-tape on vinyl with 3 decks (one of which I’d had to borrow to do it) and it certainly wasn’t flawless, but it was a live and true 60 min snapshot of my vision for a set. Very often now with the majority of DJ mix-tapes being done on Ableton, I do feel sometimes people can get lazy and just play a bit too safe, but then times have changed and technology has evolved so much, that on the flip side of that we have the opportunity to do way more than ever before – if you want to edit on the fly or layer loads of tracks, we are able to do that at the click of a button, and for this I also think it’s a really exciting time for the art of DJing.
Talk us through the emotional roller coaster of supporting someone like Fatboy Slim on a sell out tour. How do you judge what to play?
It’s something that’s genuinely still not really sunk in – having being a massive fan of Norman for so many years to then actually get to DJ with him is all a bit surreal. The Eat Sleep Rave Repeat tour was great to be part of but the one that really blew my mind was getting to play a Vinyl only classics set with him recently in Brighton for the 20 Years Of Skint party… that’s the sort of gig I never ever thought I’d get to do!
As a seasoned producer, you’ve been consistently releasing tracks since 2008, and as a result, seen an incredible rise to prominence with releases on Skint, Natura Viva, Toolroom and Spinnin to name just a few. Could you tell us how this journey began?
Well first and foremost I’m a DJ, and that was always what I’d dreamed of doing – I’d toyed with the idea of producing but it wasn’t something I really focused on until the industry switched and it sort of forced my hand. I kind of hit the ground running with it all, and spent a good 12 months or so in studios with other producers trying to absorb how they worked and learning from them, whilst trying to develop my own sound along the way. At that time it was in the whole physical to digital transition, and this certainly made the learning curve even harder as labels were shutting down, distributors going bust and a lot of producers and studios throwing in the towel, but I feel like I’ve really found my feet with it and have massively enjoyed the journey so far.
You also have an incredible output of remixes. Could you give us an insight into your approach to this particular facet? Does it differ when you work on your own material compared to remixing?
Remixing is something I really really enjoy as I get to take my favourite elements of someone else’s vision and give it my own spin… you’re almost free to do what you like without the mental pressure of having to create something completely from scratch. My approach depends on each instance to be honest, but I’ve normally always got immediate idea of what bits I want to use from the original and then build my groove based around those.
Your productions vary across the house spectrum. When you sit down to start is it an organic process, or do you have a fixed idea of the genre you want to produce?
I have a really broad taste in music, and when I make a track I generally go with my gut on it… Sometimes that may be a bad decision from a ‘business’ perspective, but I always try to focus more on making music that is honest to me, and representative of that moment in time when I created it.
Your back catalogue spans about 500 productions, all of which you must be proud of. Are there any that have particular significance in defining your career for you or that are a personal highlight?
500?! Wow that maybe sounds a bit much when I see it written down… its not something I’ve really thought too much about really – I just enjoy making music. There’s definitely a couple of personal standout moments, from my first Radio plays to releases with Skint, to that very flattering Fatboy Slim quote . But nothing really prepared me for what happened with ‘Raindance’… I wanted to make a track that captured how I felt the first time I saw Carl Cox DJ back in the rave days and the fact that all these years later he was the guy that ultimately then championed it means so so much. I’m not sure I will ever top that!!
20 Years of Skint has a stellar track listing on it, including of course both ‘Raindance’ and ‘I See U’. Can you talk us how your relationship with the Brighton label developed?
The Skint hook up all came about through Rocky & Diesel (X-Press 2) – they very kindly gave me a shot at remixing a track of theirs called “Opulence” and after doing that Skint asked me to come on board and sign as an artist. For me as a music fan, its always been one of my favourite ever labels and a lot of my record collection is made up of their releases, so to become part of that family and actually get to put out my own tracks is a bit of a dream come true! I feel very lucky to be part of their 20 Years celebrations.
Now coming into the autumn and winter anything we should keep an eye out for production wise?
I’ve got a new single ‘I Feel It’ dropping on my own Whartone Records label on October 30th which I’m really excited for people to finally hear as I’ve been working on this one for a while and been dying to get it out there!
I can imagine you must spend a lot of hours in the studio, whats your current set-up?
I’m still running a fairly basic setup using Logic 9 and a lot of its own native plugins for most things. I’ve also got a Nord Lead 2, Micro Korg, Bass Station 2 and MC-303. .
Moving away from been an artist to label manager: How has it been so far getting Whartone Records off the ground?
The label really has been a labour of love for me, and something I feel quite proud of. All the artists on board are a real close crew and its so nice to be working with them all. We’ve recently celebrated 5 years as a label and during this last 12 months in particular I really feel like its stepped up another gear in terms of branding and identity and how we’re planning on moving forwards into 2016.
What have been your highlights as label manager and any frustrations too whilst running it?
Lots of frustrations with trying to find the best ways to get the music heard mainly – a lot of doors are often closed or its hard to get the exposure sometimes for certain tracks, but on the flip side of that there’s lots of personal highlights for me, like celebrating the 100th release with an X-Press 2 collab, the recent 5 Years Of Whartone Album, and also watching some of our original family like Will Clarke, Sick Elektrik and Leftwing & Kody grow into international artists in their own right.
You work with a vast number of artists and DJ’s who would you recommend to our readers to keep an eye on in the coming months?
One guy that’s blown me away this year is a new producer called Paul Flynn from Glasgow, he’s releasing some really timeless music that is in a league of its own. Also watch out for Matthew Warren from New Jersey and James Kinninmonth from Liverpool – another new name that’s on fire with his music right now!
Sonny it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today. From all of us here at Decoded magazine we wish you continued success in the future. One final question, what tracks are currently doing the business for you?
One of the biggest tracks for me this summer has been Dirty Secretz ft. Rebe ‘Trippin’ which has just gone off in pretty much every set I’ve played!! Other tracks like Cristoph ‘Nause’ and Pele & Shawncey ‘Better for my Brain’ have all been on heavy rotation!
01// Joris Voorn – Homeland feat. Matthew Dear (Kruse & Nuernberg Remix)
02// Hot Since 82 – Voices
03// Doorly feat. Davos – ’96
04// Josh Butler – Feelings & Meanings (SW Edit)
05// Golden Girls – Kinetic (Pirate Jams Remix)
06// Paul Woolford – MDMA (SW Edit)
07// Cristoph – Nause
08// Pele & Shawncey – Better For My Brain
09// David Herrero – The Houser
10// DJ Shifter – Trash Talk (SW Edit)
11// Sonny Wharton – Octagon (SW Edit)
12// Dusky – Parakeet Feet
13// Luzion – The Baguio Track (Victor Ruiz Remix)