LE BAIN: For decades, you've run one of the most successful weekly residencies in New York, but it seems weekly DJ residencies are out of fashion these days. Do you think they've become a thing of the past?
DANNY TENAGLIA: Unfortunately, I believe they are. We live in a different age and it’s all about guest DJs - about making the night a "special event." Also, to tell you the truth, the flipside of that for a well-known DJ, you make less money by playing every week compared to the money you make playing once a month or every two months, when you make it "special." That's the way it is.
It’s not something you miss?
I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now. No joke - I'm 54. I started when I was a young teenage boy, working in nightclubs in Brooklyn in 1976-77. By the time I was 21, I was already a professional DJ. The idea of me doing a weekly residency doesn't have the same meaning as it used to because all the best venues in New York are gone, the sound systems are not as good as they used to be, the mentality is not the same - it's a different generation.
Danny Tenaglia World of Plenty (1995)
Do you feel that something has been lost though? You can't build up the same intimacy with your public when you only play for special events. How do you replace that feeling, that connection?
I have to say, I have a great time when I play at Output, or at Space or Pacha, where I played recently. Even if it’s a festival, Governor Island or Electric Zoo, the New Yorkers come out for me and they appreciate that I stay true to the new stuff, I can give them as much techno as the other guys, but I do it with my old school type of classic approach … Having that experience from the 70’s and 80’s, thinking about doing a presentation, an intro, an outro, drama in the middle, and sound effects … a lot of other DJs do that, of course, but I am an old school New Yorker and I have a different approach and people can feel that. I'm maybe a little bit more theatrical (laughs).
Another thing that's missing from 90’s nightlife is the drama: the club kids, Peter Gatien, Giuliani, your weekly competition with Junior Vasquez … nightlife doesn't provide so many intrigues.
I'll tell you, the drama was on Junior’s side, not mine. Kicking off people he didn't like from the Tunnel while he was playing was part of it. He wanted to be the 'Madonna of DJs.' Honestly, what bothers me the most is that there really was no competition. I didn't try to be like Junior - I was always doing my own thing. A lot of people tried to do his sound, the 'Junior anthems,' there's no denying it, but I was doing the opposite. My 'Global Underground' CD is almost 20 years old and I was already going into a darker, minimal, progressive, tribal always, you know, unique direction... We were two different talents, with our own music and style. The thing that's the most important now, is that 40 years later, in 2015, I'm still doing this. And I love it as much as when I was a kid.
Danny Tenaglia feat. Celeda Music Is The Answer (1998)
Tell us about your teenage years, how you became a DJ.
Being a little boy from New York City, from Brooklyn, my dream, even as a young teenager, all I could think about was "Oh God, I wanna play records, I wanna get a job in a nightclub in Manhattan," because it was where all the big clubs were opening. That's all I could dream of. And the star system around DJs didn't exist at that time. I just wanted it for the right reasons: to become a DJ to make people dance and make them happy, that's all I cared about and that's all I still dream about. I am achieving what I dreamed as a little boy.
You said, "It really started for me when I was just a 10 -year-old kid. I was convinced that there couldn't have been a funkier white boy than me in the entire world!" Do you still feel the same?
Back then my entire passion was soul music. I loved James Brown, I loved all the Motown and Philly stuff. As a young boy, that music used to give me goosebumps, tears. If you listen to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, there are people who get it and people who really get it, to the point of tears. That's how I was as a child, listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson ... I was only ten years old. But I was already influenced by a lot of music in the family - Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, there was always music in our life. There were the local guys listening to classic rock: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen - I had a passion for that to, but only some of it. I always stayed soulful, soulful, soulful.
Grace Jones Feel Up (Danny Tenaglia Remix, 1994)
Any specific songs you remember?
When I was maybe 12 or 13, Soul Makossa came out. Also, the Isley Brothers Who's That Lady. That song kind of changed my life too, because it was the first blend of soul and rock'n'roll. It was also the first song longer than 5 minutes to be played on the radio, because it was groundbreaking ... and I was there, every step of the way. I loved the Jacksons, I loved the cartoons, I love the magazines, R&B magazine, the Soul Train TV shows, forget it, I was watching every Saturday, and I danced at the family parties, and before you know it, I discovered DJing. And that's was it, my entire life became about records, making people dance, going out dancing myself, And then I got a job in a roller disco in Brooklyn, that's where I studied the techniques of mixing. I was working there 4-5 days a week for 3 years... It was 1979 and I never turned back.
Another classic by Danny: Code 718 Equinox (1992)
What do you think is the future of discothèque? Of this very simple idea of having a DJ playing records for people to dance?
A few years ago, people would ask me the same, what is the future of House music or what is the future of Disco? Now that we've seen it progress into 3 initials "EDM", it's hard to imagine how it can go back to a more passionate way of being. You know we went from raves to festivals and now they are massive festivals, it's a billion dollars business. There is the rave/festival mentality combined with the Las Vegas, fancy Miami Beach nightclub and its a money-oriented mentality. It's like they bring the raves inside nightclubs, where people just face the DJ and respond to the kick and the bass more than anything. It's just about that impact and it's not about the song anymore. We're not living in the area of Cerrone, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer anymore, all these consistent producers, who were intelligently, musically trained ... People who studied music theory.
Did we lose the music?
When you think of Loleatta Holloway, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, there was church involved. Even with the Jersey sound, Kenny Bobien and so on, church was involved. Slowly, it has become less and less about the soul. If you think about the 70's and the 80's it was more about the goosebumps. As soon as you heard the voice, it was like, golden ... And now it's just like copycat copycat copycat (laughs). I was raised being the 'funky soul boy' so that's what I miss today. Today, everyone, including me, is constantly distracted by social media and smartphones. Now it's just click and drag. It's very easy today to be a DJ with the new technology, but it's not very easy to be an entertainer, not easy to get back to the soul.