Friday, 26 March 2010

Danny Tenaglia: The WMC dance

One of New York City's most famous jocks helped make the Winter Music Conference one of the most famous events in all of dance music. RA takes a trip down memory lane with a living legend.

When you think WMC, there are few names that come to mind more quickly than Danny Tenaglia. He's attended the annual event every year except one, and has produced some of its most indelible moments. Now in its 25th year, WMC wouldn't be the same without him. It wasn't until the late '90s, however, that this fact became clear. It was around this time that Tenaglia's parties at Groovejet took on an iconic status, cementing his place as The DJ's DJ—the guy that every jock wanted to see in their time away from work. The before and after of Tenaglia's career have been well-documented elsewhere, which is why in advance of this year's conference RA's Todd L. Burns called up the Brooklyn-born DJ to find out what made—and still makes—Miami so special to him, with a few digressions along the way.

Let's start with WMC. You have a long history with the conference.

Yes, it's been an ongoing thing. It's their 25th annual conference, and it will be my 24th year participating. I had moved to Miami for a few years in 1985 and I had just missed the first one. That's it, the rest has been history—I never missed a conference and it's something that I look forward to every year.

What do you have planned for this year?

I'm pretty much doing the same exact thing as last year. Pacha New York City does Pacha at Parkwest for the week, and my night will be on Wednesday. I will also have Paco Osuna with me. We worked together during Electric Zoo at the after party at Pacha, and there's definitely a great chemistry. I'm looking forward to that. Then we're going to do what we did last year at Score on Lincoln Road, we're bringing a New York vibe to Miami with that attitude of Be Yourself at Score: classics past, present, future—a mix of music, and Anthony Lamont and Vivacious hosting. Nobody really knows what to expect, including me! And then, of course, there's the closing party at the Shelbourne. I can't wait for all of them.

You say you're going to be bringing a New York vibe. What do you mean by that? Does Miami not have the same feel as what you get in New York?

I think no matter where I play I take a New York vibe, because I was born and raised in Brooklyn. But I think particularly when I play at Score it tends to bring out something between my parties that I used to do at Vinyl for five years, as well as when I used to do Winter Music Conference events at Groovejet, which moved on to Space from 2000 to 2003.

I was doing Groovejet until 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning, and then when I started playing at Space it started getting a bit crazy. It would go all afternoon. People tried to put this label on me as a "marathon" DJ and all that. I just go with what's in front of me, but that's not my mission, to keep the people there as long as I can. There are a lot of misconceptions.

What I try to recreate more or less at Score is similar to what I do at a lot of events at the end of the night. I'm thinking about how we bring this party home, which is a lot of people's favourite part of the night, the last hour or two. You know, the lights aren't so dark and flashy, and it goes up a bit. There's a lot more room, and I start playing a little bit more familiar music.

Why do you think there's a misconception about the "marathon DJ" thing? How would you like those parties to be thought of, if not for the fact that you played X hours in a row? Obviously that's what a lot of people do remember.

Basically, for me as a DJ, I really have a love, passion and respect for the word "resident." Residency, for me, meant what a job is for most people, like a classic 9 to 5 cliché. I used to work in the late '70s and early '80s from 9 to 5—9 PM to 5 AM was an average for me, sometimes up to four nights a week in the same venue. It was very normal for me to be in a DJ booth for 8 hours.

In 1996 I started working at Twilo, and then went on to Tunnel, and then it was starting to go into the 10, 11, sometimes noon zone. You know, I had the endurance because I think any DJ who really loves it can testify that, as long as there's a crowd in front of them—and there's that connection, and there's no clock, and no club owner telling you "hey you've got to stop" or police saying "you've got to stop"—it's just going to keep going on. So I think part of the misconception is that that was what I was trying to do. I used to say maybe something like midnight until it ends.

For me, this was something that started in New York City with the Peter Gatien clubs where they would get a whole other rush of people [coming to the club] at 8 AM. As long as the city was allowing it, they saw that as money, and a business. They were milking it too, the Palladium, the Arena, Exit, Twilo. So then I started doing it as well here in Miami because when Space opened in 2000 they had a 24-hour liquor license. I knew from day one that this was dangerous!

And people in other cities had the same expectations. That you'd play for long hours.

Right. It started getting a little ridiculous when I played in Montreal, because they also didn't have a law when to stop. There was just one incredible party there. I was just having the greatest time, and I ended up playing 19-and-a-half hours. That was a great night, but they also expect it now. So, people think, "Alright, he's going to play all day so I'm not going to get there until 7 or 8 AM when there's more room to dance." I don't like that, because I'm like, well, what if I'm not feeling it by noon? Then you're only going to get 2-3 hours. Let's say after 10-12 hours I feel like I'm done... I just don't want that to be the attraction.

"DJs have this wall that they put up, and it's a shame."

I wanted to speak a little bit about your parties at Groovejet. To many people, they're among the defining parties of the Winter Music Conference. Do you feel that way?

Oh totally. In a very humble way too, not in an egotistical way, because I feel that it was without a doubt a time and place like everything else… but that was a specific club, venue and party where I connected, not only with the conference, but also with all my peers, colleagues, DJs, producers that I've equally admired all these years.

I probably have pictures somewhere, but they're all in my mind—all the top DJs, like Sasha, Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Farley & Heller—these names and faces are implanted in my mind. But as well as the people from the magazines, the people from the record labels… it felt like everybody. It was definitely an extension of the Winter Music Conference itself. People would go and get their badges, go to Fontainebleau or wherever it might be held, and it seems like that would be one of the things to not miss. That ended in 1999 because the venue was changing.

Do you remember a certain year that was the best, or were they all pretty memorable for you?

Not the very last year, but I think the year before that. I think that's when I had done "Be Yourself" and "Music Is the Answer" and "Elements," and I think that that was a year when the industry really started to really understand that I was not just about deep house. You can never really fully understand me as a DJ by my compilation CDs. I don't know what changed after 1999, but maybe we knew that it was coming to an end, we knew that this was the last year there… but I think that was also a year when things were changing, less people were starting to show up, budget cuts, the internet. Once 2000 came, that was the year where I saw a big change, even though a lot more people started coming to the conference.

Do you think there are too many parties nowadays at WMC?

Yeah, without a doubt. I don't really follow it, but I can tell you that it wasn't as crazy as it is right now with the pool backyards and those private parties, there wasn't as many of those, they weren't doing much in the clothing stores or just finding any place to host themselves as a record label. In the late '80s and '90s it was much more about a venue and hosting artists.

Dance music-wise, who are you listening to these days? Is there a particular sound that you're following?

I would say if there's anybody that I'm really keeping an eye out for… I don't know if they're still working together, but it was the Wighnomy Brothers. I was onto what they were doing as Robag and Gabor and the other names they were going by. Back when I was working at Twilo, I really started to notice, that was when I started embracing minimal sounds that were coming out of Germany, really punchy, and sounding so big with their kicks and their snares and so on. But recently I'm more and more impressed, because I never expected that they would go on to such a housier old school direction.

Somebody else who is so frickin' consistent is Adam Beyer. I see him as a silent giant. The world knows who he is in a way. But I would love to see Adam come to America and get the kind of fees that some of these other DJs get, who maybe in my opinion aren't that worthy [laughs].

I've never really heard Adam DJ, but I'm sure he's wonderful. But I think that—and I'm not just speaking about Adam, I'm speaking on the whole—a lot of DJs need to understand and respect that they are entertainers. Now that we've come into a whole new generation, it's not just all ears on the DJ, it's all eyes on the DJ too. All I can say is that I'm not better than anybody and nobody's better than me. But by god, I'm not a shy person.

So again, I'm not saying that you have to go in there and be animated and do this or do that. I just know that it works better, that the people appreciate it more when you're not just looking down at your mixer, your computer screen, your CD books and not connecting with them.

When Adam and Joel Mull were coming up, they were quite faceless.

I remember when that proper tech-house sound was really big for me—it was faceless. I was like, who are these people. Who's Ben Sims? Who's this one, what do they look like? Cause I was doing this as a kid. Imagine hearing James Brown and not knowing what he looked like. When these guys started coming out in Holland and Sweden with their sound, there was barely any information on the records. So not only were you not seeing their faces, you were just getting a track with incredible percussion, loop, groove. It would start out really hard, and end hard. I was like, whoever they are, they're incredible. I'm going to have to play their music slower, but I'm going to go the extra mile, I'll put it in Pro Tools, create my own little breakdown and outro so I can mix it.

You were DJing at a roller rink in the late '70s, and you've talked about how that was instrumental in learning how to work the crowd. It was a situation that forced you to get on the mic.

I did that for three years. I started when I was 19, and after 21 I was allowed to spread my wings. Before that my family was saying, "Oh no, you ain't working in Manhattan." Which was wonderful, I'm glad I had that upbringing. But I learned, more than anything else, how to be consistent when working in a roller disco. I was DJing there sometimes four or five times a week. At the same time, I was such a Paradise Garage addict. So after I would go to the Garage or the Loft or many other clubs, I would go right back to my residency at the roller disco and practice. Even when it wasn't open, they would let me go in there.

I was working with two, and eventually three turntables, back then I was using a reel-to-reel. I would go home and copy my favorite DJs. I was like, "Oh my god, how did Larry mix 'Love Is the Message' with The Clash? What the hell is he doing? I love it!" You would think that it's impossible, because you're mixing an orchestra and a live band with another live band. But I heard him do it. I would have never imagined that the songs go together. It was very complicated. But you have to do it four, five, six, seven times to know what part to slow down with your finger and what part to speed up. That's what the roller disco was doing to me more than anything, the skill.

I can't say that it was working a crowd because they had sessions, you know. There was the slow part, the fast part, the girls only, the boys only, the slow song. That was interesting in its own way. But I was definitely noticing myself back then as an entertainer. I was the one that had to get on the microphone and say, "The next song's going to be for the backwards skaters only." Things like that. You had to be present on the mic, you had to make them understand what was coming out of the speakers.

DJs have this wall that they put up, and it's a shame. There are so many events with a lot of DJs on the flyer. When there's no one to host it, most people have no idea when they've switched to another DJ. So I'm glad that I've been blessed with a nature of not being shy. Let's say I'm in between Fatboy Slim and Carl Cox is going to come on next. If I didn't get on the microphone and say, "how you doing Miami, thank you for having me, please give it up for Fatboy Slim, hope you enjoy it, please give it up for Carl Cox"… something like that. I'm glad that I do that, because I think that it's just unfair that some DJs don't even get announced. They play a 90 minute set, they came from another country—and to not even get announced? I get mad.

"I'm all about telling people a story...[but] if you only have two hours or less to do it..."

Do you still enjoy playing these festivals? I've seen you talking in interviews about how you have to play a certain set at festivals which you wouldn't normally play otherwise because of the time constraints.

For sure. I think it's a time issue, an energy issue. It's the age of instant gratification. When you know that you have other tents happening, and big main stages, or a big trance act like Tiësto, Paul van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, these guys are going to go up there and play pretty fast. The music that these guys play, trance, is a lot of crescendos up and down. They just wait for that build.

As an entertainer, I think, "How do I keep their attention without them leaving for the other tent?" So it's finding those tracks that have energy, and have build-ups as well. But it's very different from trance because it's usually vocal-related. I just don't find that music that interesting, it's very similar to pop music. So that's the thing about festivals. I'm all about telling people a story, or taking them on a journey. If you only have two hours or less to do it...

...then you're telling a short story, or writing a poem.

It's unbelievable, people don't realise the work that goes into this if you're not a DJ or a producer. There's a lot of method. I try to give myself so many options. For example, if I'm going to play Ultrafest I might create a file, go into my iTunes, and go over all the tracks, all the possibilities that I might want to play. When I look at that playlist, it's like 7.4 hours! [And] can't just play two hours of new music that they don't know, you've got to drop something that they know. An a cappella, or a sound effect... It's complicated to have that position, that power, of playing for between two and five thousand people in one tent...that if you hit the wrong button they're all listening and looking at you. There's a lot of pressure. Camera phones, media, do the interview before, do the interview after. It's overwhelming. That's the word.

Do you ever think about stopping?

In two weeks I'm turning 49, and I've got no signs of stopping any time soon. I'm going to spend all of 2010 figuring out what I might possibly want to do, and then get back to everyone when I turn 50. I want to surprise myself. 50 is a milestone. So I need to come up with something. Something new, maybe a residency.

Sourced From RA

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