Danny Tenaglia: The original DJ’s DJ

It’s been more than a decade in the making, but legendary US DJ/producer Danny Tenaglia is finally on his way back to Australia to party with us over New Years. He’ll he joining the massive Summadayze 2010 tour with appearances at the Melbourne, Perth and Gold Coast festivals, as well as a New years Eve set at Shore Thing in Sydney. So where do you start with Danny? He’s one of dance music’s most enduring icons, working it behind the decks for more than 25 years and known for both his inhuman mixing skills and his ability to connect with the crowd, with a track selection that goes well beyond his long-term love of house and techno.

Getting his start in New York in the 70s and finding his heart at the legendary Paradise Garage, he later moved onto hugely successful residencies at hotspots like Miami’s Cheers and NYC’s Twilo, releasing seminal artist albums like Hard & Soul, mix compilations like Mix this Pussy and several unforgettable efforts for the Global Underground stable. He’s perhaps most remembered for the trademark 12-hour marathon sets he’s delivered at the Miami Winter Music Conference and beyond.

Brett Robinson from Future Entertainment says it’ll be a landmark tour for his company. “We have been working with Danny and his manager for close to nine years now on his return to Australia, so it’s so satisfying to know that he is finally coming back. Danny’s elusive nature, his absolute scrutiny and selective nature when it comes to the shows he will commit to, his extraordinary profile and his remarkable ability as a DJ makes this without doubt the biggest tour of the year for us.”

To say there’s a lot of anticipation for the tour would be an understatement as big as one of Danny’s marathon sets. ITM has some time with the man before it all gets started.

Your passion for music began in New York in the 70’s. For a kid from small town Australia, can you describe the vibe in New York at that time, and what made you want to become a part of it?

The vibe in NY at that time is almost inexplicable. There were so many scenes going off at the same time from disco to punk to funk to rap to gay. The city was always buzzing; so many different cultures coexisting there that young people growing up amongst it all during those days could not run away from the influences it had on their lives. I always had an affinity for all types of music and was constantly buying records and immersing myself in the sounds I heard from them. At 12 years old I, for the first time, heard a DJ mix that someone gave to me on an 8 track…GAG! I got so excited by the whole idea of mixing records. It was then that I knew that I wanted to do this and set about taking the steps to make things happen.

Just how important was Paradise Garage in shaping the way you play music and what was the club like?

Hearing Larry Levan play at Paradise Garage is still incomparable to any other club experience I have had in my life. The man really knew how to take people on a journey full of surprises. He did not guide himself by what was popular at the time. He did not believe in musical boundaries as far as genres. Larry just played from the heart and knew how to work a track to give it maximum impact for the people on the dance floor. The club itself was special for many reasons; the sound was incredible. It also did not serve liquor, so for the owners of the club there was never any emphasis on making major profits off of that. It was simply about the music and the wonderful, diverse crowd that would come out to have a good time and enjoy the magic.

Recognition for your talents exploded in the 90’s, remixing artists from Madonna to Right Said Fred, and Grace’s classic Not Over Yet. Yet Elements remains for me and many people a real highpoint. What inspired that particular production?

It was a matter of being experimental in the studio with the drums, vocal and keys that lead to it sounding like that. At the time there was a lot of light, fluffy music being produced and played in the clubs and Elements was my way of adding a bit of darkness to counteract all of the safe sounds that were being heard at the time.

Your residency at the alcohol-free club Vinyl saw you return to your roots by playing music across all genres. What was Vinyl like?

My BE Yourself party at Vinyl was very special for me in many ways. It was the club residency where I was finally able to really bring all my years of DJing experience and my appreciation for all types of sounds together to truly express myself musically. Every week I played whatever I felt like playing at the moment without any boundaries. The crowd that would come out to that party was so mixed. There was a lot of unity on the dance floor and after a while it just became like one big family. The sound system was great and the room was perfect for the kind of vibe that I like to create. It was my way of trying to recreate the same feeling that I would get when I would go out to the Paradise Garage.

A week after a gig with John Digweed, Twilo was shutdown. What was the feeling after such an institution shut its doors?

It was very sad for me and more importantly for New York. The people behind Twilo really made an effort to cater to a musically educated crowd, and after it closed those people were left without a proper venue that played the music they loved. It was a very special place and its closing marked the end of an era for dance music in NY.

Your marathon sets at the Miami Winter Music Conference are legendary. How do you prepare your collection for such sets?

I never like to brag but after so many years of doing this I have amassed a rather large collection of records. A lot of them I bought knowing that although they might have been a bit too advanced at that time, they would one day be ready to rock a dance floor. I take some of those records. Listen to and shop for a whole bunch of new records, which provide the bulk of the set. Then I throw in a healthy amount of classics. From all that I create a stack of edits and mash-ups of some of the tracks to make them extra special for WMC. It really is a lot of fun preparing for it and even more fun when I am finally up there playing them to the wild crowds at WMC.

Being a devout music lover and having been described as a “DJ’s DJ,” you must have a soft spot for vinyl. How do you think the technology has changed dance music and do you miss the days of vinyl?

Vinyl has many advantages; most notably, the amazing sound quality that it has. You cannot get that same sound quality from CDs or digital tracks. What is also special about vinyl is the artwork, which I feel gives it more character and makes tracks easier to identify. With CDs and digital tracks it is very easy to overlook certain tracks during a set because of how faceless they become when you can only identify them through titles. I miss both these qualities of vinyl immensely. At the same time, if you are using CDs or a laptop for your sets you now have the ability to bring a much larger collection with you to a gig than if you would have to actually carry around vinyl. This allows a DJ to have so many more options at their fingertips. The availability of digital downloads has also helped dance music spread to parts of the world that did not have access to so many tracks in the past.

The world of dance music and DJ’s would have transformed considerably since you spun your first record. What do you think of dance culture these days and how has it changed?

Well there are good things and bad things. On the bad side there is the whole scene where you have DJ’s that spend more time preparing their outfits and poses for a gig at a posh club than they do preparing their music for their set that night. I mean it is important to be presentable and put on a good show but the music should always be first. On the good side I see a hunger in some younger DJs and producers that are really making an effort to produce new tracks and embrace new technology for the sake of doing more than just mixing records during a gig. Those guys that are patient and continue to do what they feel is right from their heart will one day be the headliners and will get the respect that they deserve.

Having been there from the beginning, you are one of only a handful of DJ’s that have truly changed the face of dance culture. What does the future hold for Danny Tenaglia?

There is no doubt that I will continue to share my love of music with the world in some way, shape or form. There are so many directions that I could go with this and really, who’s to tell what technologies or other outlets there will be available for me to do this in the future.

Danny Tenaglia tour dates:

Thursday December 31st – Shore Thing, Sydney

Friday January 1st – Summadayze, Melbourne

Sunday 3rd January – Summadayze, Perth

Saturday January 9th – Summafieldayze, Gold Coast