New York State Of Mind: Danny Tenaglia

Ahead of his return to Egg London on Saturday, 22nd September, Skiddle chatted with the iconic selector...

Award-winning DJ and producer Danny Tenaglia is one of the biggest names to have broken out of New York's DJ scene. American and of Italian descent, he grew up in Williamsburg and took his earliest clubbing inspirations from Paradise Garage, becoming a DJ himself in the 70s. 

However, it wasn't until the 90s that he broke into the big time via famed residencies at New York clubs like Twilo and Vinyl, a distinct hard yet soulful sound displayed on singles like 'Music Is The Answer' and on his remixes for the likes of Tribal Records, Jamiroquai, Depeche Mode, Green Velvet and Kings Of Tomorrow. 

Tenaglia maintains his position in the top flight of DJs to this day proving an ever-popular draw for his sometimes marathon length sets on Ibiza and elsewhere internationally. Ahead of his return to Egg London on Saturday, 22nd September, Skiddle chatted with the iconic selector.

Inclusiveness is something that seems to have been important to you. Which of your residencies held the best and broadest demographic and how do the audiences you play to today compare? 

Ooh. That last part. Haha. Well, my favourite residency for sure was the last one, at Vinyl, which closed as a club called Arc. That lasted five years and four months. 

What made that different, so unique, was that it was like my version of Paradise Garage because there was no liquor. The club hours were 12 midnight until noon. And when you have a party like that with no liquor it really stands alone. The only other things that were going on in town were all slowly closing, The Roxy, The Tunnel, Twilo, Sound Factory (which had moved to 46th Street and become Pacha). 

All of them got closed down and, surprisingly, we never did. And I think that was because of the liquor and drug factor, which was slowly starting to make its way to Vinyl because the others had closed. What really closed that club down was the owners of the building deciding that it was time to sell, even though they were super rich. That's why they'd kept it all those years. They didn't need to make money. 

I don't know if you're familiar with it, but there was Body & Soul on Sundays, I was there on Fridays, but its history went all the way back to the 80s when it was opened as a club called Area, which was a very chic, artistic club. They kept changing the design. It wasn't over fancy, like Studio 54. Elite. I think the owner's father was an artist. He used to raise wolves on the roof of the building. Their family owned a lot of property in Tribeca. Really, really big money. So, the two owners, who were brothers, when they were just rug rats they used to be able to go to the club, see all the changes. It was part of their lives. But once the city started closing all the other places down, because of drugs, violence, they thought it was time. They said they needed to close before they were forced to close down. They sold it to condominiums. 

What made it so special for me was that they gave me total control. We shared the night. It was a family, unlike anywhere else I've ever played. It didn't feel corporate and structured. It was purely about the party, the people, the sound. It wasn't about elegance or fancy lighting. For a lot of people growing up in New York in the 70s and 80s, that was the last one left. No one's seen a club like that since. There hasn't been a club where you could go and see the same residency, like that since it closed. Very sad. There isn't anything left in Manhattan any more. 

The sound you emerged in the early to mid-90s was different to a lot of the house music that was going on in New York at the time. Where did you take your inspiration to do that? Did your previous residency in Miami have any influence over that? 

No. I lived in Miami from 85 – 90, but I was a DJ for many years before I moved to Miami, so my influences on the soulful side were Motown, Philadelphia and then it became disco. That's when I started working in clubs in Brooklyn. I was 17 years old. The reason I ask is, when I think of New York in the early 90s, not to forget New Jersey which was something different, but that sound was sometimes very jazz influenced and soulful, Masters At Work, Blaze, Nu Groove, early Kerri Chandler. There was a distinctness of sound between New York, Chicago and Detroit. 

But your sound was a little bit different, so why was that? 

I think my childhood. Loving bands like Cream and Pink Floyd, but loving soulful stuff more. I would really get a kick of me dancing around the house to anything Motown, Jackson 5, 'Soul Makossa', Isley Brothers. I was a frustrated musician. I always wanted to play the piano. Tried that. And guitar lessons. But I couldn't deal with the discipline of it. I was just a child of 9 or 10. 

Then I discovered DJing at 12. I would listen to orchestration. Frank Sinatra and stuff that a traditional Italian family would listen to in the holidays. Doo Wop. I would remember it all. My initial breakthrough was disco, 1977, Cerrone, Moroder, Thelma Houston. I lived it, I breathed it. When house music from Chicago started to hit in the mid-80s I was loving it, but I wasn't having any luck as a DJ. So, I moved to Miami. I got a gig in a club that was open seven nights a week and I would play three or four of them. I got to do my thing there, even though I had to play what was some really obvious stuff, Taylor Dayne, Rick Astley, Erasure. 

But a lot of people were doing house mixes and I enjoyed it. I was in my 20s. I was able to play Farley Jackmaster, Marshall Jefferson and Todd Terry because I'd figured a way to fuse it with the other stuff and, if I saw them getting bored, I'd be able to bring it back to something more commercial. At that time I also got turned onto industrial, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, bands like that. 

The drum machines were very similar to house music, so I brought that in too. What really made it work though was that in Miami we were the only club that was able to stay open until 7 am. All the other clubs had to close at 3 am. So, we had this really mixed audience of gay, straight, industrial, old, young. For that last three or four hours I really had them in the palm of my hand. I could play MFSB 'Love Is The Message', Donna Summer. I would play 'Bamboleo' and the whole place would sing. 

Nobody else was really introducing house music to Miami. People do always say that. The Winter Music Conference helped that too. That really boosted my career too. When I moved back to New York in 1990 it was because I was being offered a lot of remixes to do, Shakespeare's Sister, Double Dee, Right Said Fred and all the rave sound of people like Frankie Bones was starting to come through in a harder way. 

Todd Terry was big and his drums were harder and stronger. And I had that industrial side too. For the most part, the early remixes I started to do were pretty soulful. But I found I wasn't having luck with that. Louie Vega, Frankie (Knuckles), Roger Sanchez would all get my records and I was thinking “I really thought they would play this!”. But they didn't. 

If I could mention just one of many names, DJ Pierre. He was doing things in a really different way with his Wild Pitch sound. It was fiercer. People like Farley and Heller were also starting to punch it a little harder, so I started to embrace the progressive thing that was coming mainly from England. I was like a sponge, absorbing it all. I remixed a song by New Order ''World (The Price Of Love)' and the versions I did were rejected by Warner Brothers. 

That was really the start of it for me because I asked for permission to use what I'd done, but removing the vocal. They said go ahead. That became 'Bottom Heavy', the first single I did that really got me a lot of attention. That's when the phone started ringing. That's when I started to travel.  

Read The Full Interview Here