Danny Tenaglia: A DJ’s DJ Finds His ‘Balance’

Danny Tenaglia Balance 025

It’s a Monday afternoon in September and through the magic of Skype I am talking to Danny Tenaglia who is sitting in a hotel room in Montreal. He played a long set on Saturday night into Sunday morning, and instead of jetting back to his home in Miami only to have to fly to Vancouver to play his next gig, the DJ legend called an audible and decided to stay in town and relax.

“I’ve been here so many times but I’ve never stayed,” Tenaglia admits, addiing that he’s woefully underdressed for the brisk autumn weather. “It’s going down to 36 degrees tonight. I was like no-no-no. I wasn’t prepared for this. I only brought a little hoodie.”

Having interviewed Tenaglia many times over the years, and religiously catching his sets at Twilo (from 1995-1997) and Vinyl (from 1999-2004) back in the day, I confess that I’ve been a bit out of the loop about his exploits at Pacha in New York City. The first thing I tell him is how blown away I am by his Balance 025 compilation. A departure from the Hard & Soul sound he forged in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the two-CD collection finds Tenaglia bringing his unique techy twist to techno with a track listing featuring sublime cuts by Nicole Moudaber, Thomas Schumacher, Regis and Lewis Fautzi.

“It’s been many years now since I moved myself a little more into the techno world where my sets peak, without ever forgetting what people like to hear from me — that New York/New Jersey/Chicago vibe, which is why I like to play long sets,” Tenaglia tells me. “But if I’m doing one of those two- or three-hour set — maybe I’m the headlining DJ or maybe I’m closing — I’ve gotta come on strong. Tech-house is what’s always helped me to jack up the party a bit.”

Balance 025 is Danny Tenaglia’s first mix CD in six years. He says that he did his due diligence about the series before agreeing to take part in the project.

“When I was asked to do the CD, I did my research on Balance because I wasn’t really familiar with the series. I don’t get records in the mail like I used to and CDs…I really liked their roster. I felt like it was…,” he pauses, “Well, I’m not gonna lie, it reminded me when I was asked to do Global Underground. I did my research and I saw Nick Warren, Sasha & Digweed, Tony Devitt… I felt honored to do it. That’s how this felt, as opposed to being offered to do something from a label that puts them out left and right — EDM, whatever commercial thing. I don’t want to be involved in something like that.”

“I can’t say yes to everything that comes my way, even if they’re dangling the money carrot. Nope, can’t do that!”

Authenticity has always been important for Danny Tenaglia. Always has been and always will be. He says his management fields a plethora of offers on a regular basis, but he only says yes to the projects that feel completely right.

“I have passed on several offers in the past. Similar to remixes and gigs — I can’t say yes to everything that comes my way, even if they’re dangling the money carrot. Nope, can’t do that!”

Balance 025 allowed Tenaglia to stretch out and show the world the sound he’s fallen in love with over the past few years. He attributes the shift to his global travels and finding a new home to play at Output in Brooklyn.

“I enjoyed doing this,” he beams. “I felt like it was reflective of recent travels and the new move — I won’t it’s a permanent move — but as I was doing Pacha mostly in New York and then Output opened and I gravitated there and it just felt really right, similar to what we haven’t had in New York since Vinyl closed. It just felt more intimate. That’s the word. Intimate.”

Tenaglia pauses for a moment to reflect. “I’ve had great times at Pacha and will still play there again, but I think you probably know the New York feeling of people who say, Oh, I love it but I can’t go because it’s too young for me. However, those people will come to Output. So that’s what I’ve been experiencing.”

I agree, though if you’re single and looking to mingle you might feel otherwise.

“My joy at Output as well as travels and my current gigs at Berghain and Panorama Bar [in Berlin] have inspired me. Unlike the CD I didn’t put house-music classics on there, but I played a lot of that at Panorama Bar. In between I played a lot if funky, techy stuff upstairs that’s similar to CD1 and then downstairs was a little bit more relative to CD2. Of course I got a little more bizarre. I didn’t want to just sound… Some of it I used my imagination and thought, This ain’t gonna translate on a CD. People are gonna get bored.”

danny tenaglia electric zoo

With boredom never an option when Danny Tenaglia is on the decks, I remind him how he’s one of the few DJs I know who can seamlessly mix a Nitzer Ebb track into a diva house offering by Taylor Dayne with the skill of a surgeon. He laughs and attributes his skill to his time as a resident DJ, when you have carte blanche to take chances in the DJ both.

Could Tenaglia have imagined himself playing techno back when he was pioneering his Hard & Soul period?

“Yes and no,” he says. “Maybe not as far back as ’91. But I know that when I started working at Twilo — that’s a time when I finally started to make decent money that when I went to a record shop I wasn’t concerned that I couldn’t afford this stack [of records] — I started buying deep records at Satellite and Dance Tracks. Disc-O-Rama, Decadance, Rebel Rebel and through my travels.”

Traveling and buying records at Satellite in New York City opened up his musical world. “It was all about pitching them down and hearing them in the 126/128 zone. My mind was saying one day I’ll be able to play this stuff,” he chuckles.

“Now I’m a producer in a DJ booth, doing my homework in advance and working harder than ever because a lot of the older music won’t work in Traktor right away.”

“With Twilo, I was able to play some of that stuff,” he continues. “I found myself moving away from the Saturday night anthems that were so girly and gay — 4:00, Roxy’s closing. We’ve got their crowd coming! — it just wasn’t me. It was me trying to be a professional DJ trying to satisfy as many people as I can. I don’t think I was fully comfortable as a DJ until years later until Vinyl where I really felt like I was being myself. It all came together in a funky way, tribal way. But techno? I’ve been onto guys like Adam Bayer, Carri Lekebush, Marco Carola, Sven Väth up to 20 years ago. I just wasn’t able to incorporate some of the music in my sets.”

Tenaglia cites Traktor for reinvigorating his love for DJing and creativity in the booth. He says it’s opened up so many musical possibilities for him.

“Now I’m loving it more than ever,” he beams like a Cheshire cat. “I wish I had Traktor years ago. Now I’m a producer in a DJ booth, doing my homework in advance and working harder than ever because a lot of the older music won’t work in Traktor right away. So you have to make a recording session out of it first to make them lock first… Some of the older tracks drift and this is why I’m working harder. I’m going through my older records, put them in a studio session, lock them and now I’m about to play ‘Let’s Get Jazzy’ with something techno and the people love it because there’s this hunger for the old stuff too.”

Tenaglia tells me that he respects and appreciates his peers who are playing vinyl-only. For now, though, he’s having too much fun with Trakor.

“If I want to catch the best loop, you can’t get that with vinyl,” he declares. “So [Traktor] is making [DJing] more exciting, and I’m doing something that wouldn’t have worked with vinyl. So often when I play back what I’ve done I get goosebumps.”

Danny Tenaglia plays Boo Yourself at Output on October 31. Balance 025 is out now on Balance Recordings.

Top photo by Gary James; second photo by Pearcey Proper for ElectricZoofestival.com

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