Photo: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
Danny Tenaglia Talks Coachella, How To Pace A DJ Set
Danny Tenaglia might consider himself a bit of an enigma, but that is just his impressive humility. To both DJs and hardcore music fans, he is one of the consummate masters of the mix. The New York-based DJ is the definition of the professional’s professional; a hard-working, skillful lover of dance music for almost forty years.
Before he took over the Yuma Tent at Coachella, Tenaglia walked us through how he preps for a set, whether it’s a 90-minute time slot at a festival or a 14-hour marathon.
How many times have you played Coachella?
This is my second, I played [Coachella] for the first time in 2008. I’ve done a lot of festivals, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. I don’t really consider this Yuma Tent a festival; it really is a DJ’s dream, a paradise in a festival for a DJ like myself. I don’t play the commercial sing-along hands in the air type stuff. So I always felt kind of awkward at a festival ‘cause what I’ve done all my life was underground nightclubs, intimacy, and that’s always where my heart remained. So the fact they built a room like this that makes you feel like you’re in a nightclub, big four-point sound system, completely covered, light show, air conditioning, you’re completely separated from the fact there are all these main stages out there
Interesting to hear you say you don’t feel like you’re a main stage act because I talked about that in the past with Richie Hawtin, bringing a new generation of fans to the veterans.It’s probably even different for me and for Richie because he’s like king in the techno world, people know him from the Plastikman days and he’s a pioneer and he has Minus Records, Enter in Ibiza, he has these brandings. So he’s known in the industry and I think I’m more of a mystery. I’ve been around a long time, I’m known as a New York resident DJ that travels, but I don’t really put out many mix shows, I don’t really have any SoundClouds, I don’t put out many compilations. So in comparison to a main stage where they might have a David Guetta or Skrillex, [Hawtin] and I are often booked in completely different arenas from the crowds that might get attracted to a Deadmau5. And the reason I feel less and less interested in doing festivals, if I’m on a much smaller stage in comparison to the main stage, is the music I play is underground and it doesn’t travel like a trance-y type, melodic, synth-y resonated vocal sound. And I don’t usually wind up getting the better sound systems. So it’s a little complicated when a track I might be playing breaks down and all that music is blaring from the main stage or yet another larger tent or smaller stage. So it’s an embarrassment.
How do you get into a shorter festival set?
I pray, I really do. I say, “God, please let me pick the right songs,” ‘cause I have passion for deep house, I have passion for soulful house, I have passion for techno and I try to somehow make people feel a bit of each within that short journey. This past Saturday I played 14 hours at Stereo in Montreal and that’s a proper, proper set. And believe it or not I find that easier to do than two hours because you’re trying to mix it all together. Surely I could go in there and do 90 minutes of techno or deep house, but then you have this massive crowd that you know some are hoping for more than the other. So I’m just trying to give them a little bit of each. There’s even that tribal essence that people like from me where it might get percussive.
How do you pace yourself for a 14-hour set?
It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s an effort that’s been put in over the past few decades of gathering my favorite classics of the paradise garage era, Chicago house, tribal, being from New York I have that kind of thing going on. Then there’s the progressive and more tech-house element. As I’ve progressed the past few years, I’ve been known as more of a tech-house techno DJ as far as more of the peak of the night stuff because that’s what elevates the crowd. If I was just sticking to deep house and so on then I’d be playing the first set or the smaller rooms. So it’s part of embracing the changes. I think it’s a matter of doing a lot of homework, preparing a lot of my playlist in genres. It’s like doing your homework, you need to know your books. So I’m constantly refreshing the genres and the playlist and making comments so you could refer back to that. So people tend to say I have a talent for blending old with new and I think it’s because I’ve been working since the ‘70s and that’s all I’ve ever done, was be a DJ.
Have there been times you’ve veered away from being a DJ?
I’ve been a dance music producer over the years. I spent all of the ‘90s in the studios doing tons of remixes, but my first love and passion was always being a DJ since the early ‘70s. And the production thing worked well for me in a promoting-my-name kind of way, and there were a few hits along the way, but I wasn’t looking to make pop commercial music. So nothing really stuck. I made a few good compilation CDs, but they were all underground vibe.
How do you find new music?
With home studios, everybody’s making music and I’m still a fan of it. So all these new acts I didn’t know who they were last year, I’m a fan of them because they made a record I like and I’m playing it. And when you have resources like Beatport or Traxsource, click on a name and you like a song then it’s just another click away for something else. You’re like, “Holy s***, what’s this?” And it’s another name you’ve never heard of. It’s amazing, I could’ve never predicted that right now, in 2015, nearly forty years later from when I started, that I’d still be loving this so much and be as excited about it as I was when I was a kid. It’s still refreshing.