THE STANDARD: One of your recent Instagram posts mentioned your dedication to not being in the same place as last year. As 2023 wraps up, what did you do differently?
DANA LU: I am someone who dislikes stagnation, so I am always looking for ways to improve and grow both professionally and personally. This year was all about refining my identity and sound as a dance music DJ and producer, while remaining true to my identity and cultural heritage. I achieved this by selecting venues that would allow me to express myself as a dance music DJ. On the production front, I focused on fusing elements from Techno, House, Dembow, and Soca. This creative journey culminated in the release of Worldwide Link-Up, my most ambitious project yet, featuring collaborations with various international artists.
In the competitive NYC DJ scene, what's been your biggest challenge?
Gaining recognition from promoters and bookers was tough. Besides a few who took a chance on me, I had to create my own path by organizing my own events and producing music. These efforts really defined who I am as a DJ today and I'm thankful for those challenging times.
Can you recall when you first decided to become a DJ? Was there a particular moment that inspired you?
In high school, my old friends and I would organize get-togethers and I was always in charge of curating the music. My best friend encouraged me to DJ, and that's where it started. As for producing, I've been influenced by icons in hip hop, reggaeton, house, and dancehall, like Pharrell, M.I.A or Missy Elliot. My journey into production began in college, working from my dorm with just a computer and a mini Akai controller.
With your upbringing in Newark and Manhattan, surrounded by a diverse mix of music like freestyle, house, Jersey Club, salsa, merengue, and dembow, how have these varied genres influenced your DJing and production style?
Growing up, my parents exposed me to a wide array of genres, making it natural for me to become a multifaceted DJ. I've always been keen to share the music from my childhood and discoveries from my teen years. In my production, I often blend two genres. For instance, in "Chapiadora!" from Girls Having Fun Vol 1, I mix baile funk and jersey club, while "Le Damo Duro" on Worldwide Link-Up merges Dembow and House. "Sound Di Horn!" combines Soca and Jersey Club. When mixing genres, I’m careful to not only make it sound cohesive but also meaningful and resonant.
New York's nightlife has been experiencing a renaissance, with a focus on the east side, in areas like Bushwick in Brooklyn and Ridgewood in Queens. Do you feel there are aspects in the north of Manhattan or in the west in New Jersey that are overlooked? What have you learned from these scenes?
I started my DJ career in Washington Heights, north of Manhattan, and I'm deeply thankful to the promoters there. I don't think the Uptown scene is overlooked; it is a beast within itself and you can choose to pursue a career within that lane. Regarding New Jersey, while it has a lively club scene, it'd be great to see more DJs explore those venues. Having worked in both scenes, I can tell you that it is imperative to remain true to yourself and your sound and make it work. You never know who’s listening!
Your talent for thriving in varied party settings is impressive. Do you adapt to different environments like a chameleon, or do you mix these diverse styles to create your own unique signature?
My approach is to blend different styles, shaping the "Dana Lu" experience. I aim to have my DJing and production style become recognizable trademarks in the music industry. Ideally, when I eventually retire (if ever!), I want people to identify a production or DJ style and instantly think, "That sounds like Dana Lu."
Your ability to hyping up the crowd with a microphone is part of your style, a trait not commonly seen in many DJs, particularly in the house scene. Does this charisma come naturally to you?
Initially, hyping up the crowd was a necessity in the scene I started in; if I didn't do it, I wouldn't get bookings. So, it began as a learned skill. Over time, I practiced and honed it until it became a part of my unique style. As I ventured into other scenes, I brought this element with me. Now, it feels more natural than ever and has made my DJ journey quite exciting.
Your record releases Girls Having Fun and Worldwide Link-Up reflect the dynamism of your DJ sets. Can you discuss the creative journey behind these works and how they mirror your growth as an artist?
With Girls Having Fun Vol 1 & Vol 2, I aimed to narrate my experiences in the NYC & NJ nightlife. For instance, "2AM IN NYC" was inspired by a unique day party I DJed called "9AM Banger", while “Best Friend” Ft. DJ Hook captures the essence of going out with your best friend. Worldwide Link-Up marked a shift, focusing on my cultural influences and DJing style. The intro is an 808-heavy, brass-infused piece, inspired by motion picture scores. This album was about encapsulating a "Dana Lu DJ Set" in five tracks, reflecting my love for global music. It's a milestone in my artistic journey, highlighting collaborations with artists from various genres like Dembow, Soca, and Dance, and represents my evolution as a producer and DJ.
Is there a special meaning for you playing alongside Rich Medina and Tony Humphries at Le Bain for NYE?
The opportunity to perform alongside Rich Medina and Tony Humphires feels like a full circle moment for me. It was always a dream of mine to make a full-scale entry into dance music from the very beginning and Rich and Tony are legends within that community and culture. This is one of those jaw-dropping moments, and I look forward to sharing this story with others for many years to come.