Danny Tenaglia on the Lost Art of Residencies & How Traktor Renewed His Interest in DJing

Danny Tennaglia
Courtesy of Danny Tennaglia 

Danny Tennaglia

This Friday, Danny Tenaglia will return to Brooklyn to join Marco Carola during one of his famed Music On parties. Tenaglia has filled many roles during the course of a four-decade-long career, holding down residencies at prestigious New York venues, earning a Grammy nomination for his remix of Depeche Mode's "I Feel Loved" and landing multiple hits on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart as a producer, but he has never shared a bill with Carola at a warehouse gig.

"It makes me really excited to play with someone I've never played with before," he tells Billboard. "Plus we both have Italian names, people make a big deal out of that too. I don't speak Italian, but I'm proud of the history."

The party is put on by Teksupport; tickets are available here. Tenaglia also spoke with Billboard about how New York's dance scene has changed since he got his start in the '70s and why it might be time for him to start producing and remixing more records.

How did you get connected with Music On?

I'm a fan of Marco and a friend of his. He's one of the few DJs I can't say I've ever shared a night with. We've probably been on the same flyer here or there, a festival or something, but we've never played together him opening for me or me opening for him. It's really nice to be requested as a guest for a Music On event -- in Brooklyn, no less. I've been honored to play with so many of the greatest DJs in the world from both the deep side and the techno side of things. Tony Humphries, Louie Vega, you name it. And then Laurent Garnier, Carl Cox -- there's not many DJs I haven't shared a night with.

What do you admire about Marco as a DJ?

It's a legendary situation. I know of Marco from 20 something years ago when he was a techno artist. I didn't know much about him as a DJ, that he was an Italian guy from Napoli. Then you start discovering more about people through magazines and what have you. I knew he had Zenit Records. Probably around my Twilo years I found myself looking for more and more techno. I kept seeing his name. Now he's the frontman of Music On –- it's nice to see somebody who's paid their dues, not somebody who it's like, who was that two years ago? One hand on the knob, one hand in the air, oh, I'm a DJ too. You know, the DJ's making $200,000 more a gig than me. I'm not bitter about it, I get a kick out of it, because I'm still glad that it's related to what I do, it's music, it's entertainment. It's changed 100% for when I started at clubs and lounges in Brooklyn 40 years ago. But I'm still in it. I can't complain. I could, but I won't.

As a longtime Brooklyn resident, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the dance scene here?

Those words right there -- there's not much of a dance scene anymore. Back then it really was about making people dance. There was a formula to that. If you cleared the floor, you needed to do something to get people to come back and dance again, or you could possibly lose your job. These days it's a whole different ballgame. The DJs are not just DJs anymore; we're artists, we replaced the live acts, we're in spotlights as producers. You used to just be one resident DJ. There was no other DJs on the bill, no flyers, DJs didn't make records or CDs. We sold 8-tracks and cassettes for your friends and cousins and went to the record shops religiously. I can't think of anything that hasn't changed. In regards to the clubbing as well, as a born-and-raised New Yorker seeing things aren't in Manhattan any more –- who would ever have thought that? Sure there's venues, but it's mostly VIP table-service places. There's no more Tunnel, Limelight, Factory, Vinyl, I could name dozens. Now it's warehouses with rented systems.

But I definitely embrace the technology. All we knew of back in the '70s was two turntables and sometimes a reel-to-reel in the booth to record or use for cheap effects, reverb. We went on to CDs and then digital flash keys. Then it became computers, Serato and Traktor, and I thought I would never progress with this. Now I'm in my fifth years with Traktor and I love it so much. I think it revitalized my joy in this career. I would never have guessed that. It's probably because of my many years as a producer/remixer. Having this understanding of multi-track recording, once I started to work with Traktor, I realized I could work with seven, eleven decks at once. That's how I get a kick out of it now –- apply loops, a capellas. It's almost like having multi-track right there at your disposal. At any moment, bring up a fader, that hi-hat, that kick drum, that vocal. I love that spontaneity.

As someone who has played at so many legendary New York venues, has it been hard to watch most of them disappear?

I'm like an elephant that you keep shooting but won't go down. Bang! Another club. Bang! Another club. Coincidentally I get asked to do a lot of closing things. I closed Industry in Toronto. Government in Toronto. I can't even think of all the clubs I got to do the closings of. Vinyl. Space in Miami. I think people were starting to see me as the guy to get for the closing party, the special event. Maybe that also has to do with the fact that I like to play long sets. And if they have the rights to go ten, fifteen hours I would totally get into it.

I think it's just nature. We move on. Thankfully I always have been offered opportunity after opportunity to continually travel. And it's not like I live in Manhattan and have to keep walking past these venues. You get on with your life. It's like watching the area where I was born and raised in Williamsburg: Another hi-rise, another hi-rise, another hi-rise. It's the opposite: a club goes down, a club goes down, a club goes down. What can you do? You just adapt to the change.

The one that affected me the most was one when Vinyl closed. I was a resident there for five years; I was there every Friday from midnight until noon. When that closed, that pretty much was the last of what New York had to offer where you would find a weekly DJ resident situation. Once that closed, that was it, because all the others were getting knocked down left and right. We didn't get shut down. Vinyl shut its doors because they knew it would be closed any moment. We were starting to get a lot of the riff raff. We started to notice, we never had to call an ambulance before. The owners of Vinyl –- which used to be the Shelter, Body and Soul, Area –- they held on to it until the last minute. Then they got an $18 or $20 million offer and it became condominiums.

You mentioned playing in warehouse spaces with rented systems, how does that compare to your resident DJ days?

Residencies were great –- you know the club like you know your bedroom. When it's your first time playing somewhere, you have to adjust to everything: the environment, the sound, the monitors, the height of the console, where the light person is. At least you don't have to worry about where you're going to put your records anymore. But it's adapting to everything. And if you're not the DJ starting the night, you can imagine going in while the other guy's on before you, and maybe he's got friends in the booth, and you've got to set up around them, people staring and watching –- it's not always comfortable. But you get used to it. I can't say I love it like I used to love the clubs and the consistency.

Warehouses and festivals will also never compare to those four stacks in a room where you feel that thunder. A lot of places you play, warehouse or festival, when you're on the stage, they usually have speakers only facing out these days. If it's a loud situation, if you shut your monitors off, sometimes you're like, what track am I playing? You can't even really tell because the sound is just blaring straight out into a field. A lot of those scenarios I don't want to play more than two or three hours.

I don't know if you've seen that picture of me where I'm standing in front of a stack that I had from Vinyl; I had the four mid-bass speakers behind my head. That's a concept that's also disappearing. Clubs don't want the stacks anymore because it blocks the view of their party; it takes up too much space. So they hang the highs from the ceiling and the sub-bass are on the floor. So you're missing that impact of the mid punch-kick. Those old sound systems are a dying breed. The quality gets decreased.

All the years when I was a resident, you'd get a record, you couldn't wait to go back and play it again. The crowd couldn't wait to hear it again. Maybe you got it as a promo, a white label, an edit, whatever it might be, a new song like [Adeva's] "In and Out of My Life." [Funky Green Dogs'] "Fired Up" was a big one for me at Twilo. As soon as you heard that, people would get up. That magic is sadly gone. You don't get to break records anymore.

What's next for you this year?

I've been getting some good offers. You can't say yes to everything. You get offered a boat in Manhattan and playing with Hot Since 82 in Ibiza and it's the same day. Trying to make it work is stressful on the body. I'm getting offers to play with Jamie Jones in Ibiza. I'm doing April 21st at Output, that's where I mostly play in New York. I'm doing a festival in Montreal, and I'm going to a part of Israel that I've not been to. I'll be playing at Ultra Fest. I'll be doing a classics party, old-school style. I can't stop.

You were on a track last year with Layton Giordani; are you doing any production stuff?

That was interesting; I didn't really know Layton and I got to meet him; he's a nice guy. He asked me if I had anything. I just loaned my voice to it. It's good I got my name out there again in that capacity because I haven't done that in a while. But I did do several things over the years that I put on the shelf and didn't complete. It wasn't good enough, the timing wasn't right. But I'm getting back into it. I did a remix recently for Carl Cox and Nicole Moudaber; it's called "See You Next Tuesday." It's kind of jacking, a fun track.

As far as my own stuff, I'm working on this track for myself called "Don't Turn Your Back." Everybody's asking me about it –- can I have it, when is it coming out? I guess because I'm not one of those guys that has the brand, the label, the team, I get lost in my daily world between things I do for my home in New York, for my home in Miami, my office, my storage. To think about starting a label, it feels like I'm getting in it late in the game. But at the same time, it's never too late –- what else would I do if I didn't do this?


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