Danny Tenaglia chats to 909originals’ Emer O’Connor

If electronic music had a global ambassador, it would arguably be Danny Tenaglia – the Brooklyn native has lived and breathed all things dance-related since he started to pick up his first vinyls as a ten-year-old. 

As the 62-year-old has stated in the past, the legendary nightclub Paradise Garage had a profound impact on him, shaping his ‘no boundaries’ policy for music. Commencing his DJ career in the 1970s, over the years that followed, Tenaglia assembled an impressive roster of remixes, while also demonstrating a wide array of influences, including artists ranging from Patti LaBelle to Kraftwerk.

Over the past 25 years, he has been recognised as the ‘DJs’ DJ’, with seminal mixes for Global Underground (GU Athens was released in 1999, and GU London followed a year later); stellar tracks such as Music Is The Answer featuring Celeda; genre-bending remixes such as his reworkings of Green Velvet’s Flash and Depeche Mode’s I Feel Loved; and a Grammy nomination, among other achievements. 

His latest release is a collaboration with Sasha Carassi, Automatik, which is released on 21 July on Renaissance Records – a track that by both artists’ own admission had seen some back-and-forth ahead of its eventual release. It’s backed by a melodic house remix by Magdalena, and can be downloaded/streamed here

On a separate note, the 909originals team would like to wish Danny all the best with his treatment following his recent cancer diagnosis. Sending you lots of positive vibes, Danny! 🙂

Emer O’Connor had the chance to chat to Danny about the new release, his life-long love of music, and a lot more besides. Over to you, Emer.

If music is your religion, and you’ve had the privilege to experience one of his 12 hour-sets at any of the world’s electronic music temples, then Danny Tenaglia needs no introduction. 

First off, I would like to personally say what a pleasure it is to finally get to chat with you, after almost 25 years of listening and dancing to your music. Let’s kick off with your latest offering on Renaissance Records, Automatik – a collaboration with Neapolitan producer Sasha Carassi. First of all, how did your professional friendship with Sasha begin? I believe you also invited him to play a Beatport set for your 60th Birthday celebrations?

Our relationship started probably in 2009/2010. I had reached out to him with a message saying, “I really like your work,” and asking him if he would send me more of his promos. He was appreciative that I reached out on a personal level.

Did you initially receive his promos randomly, or did someone put you onto him? 

Sasha did a lot of his own productions and remixes, and I was getting them on promo or buying a couple. So, I felt that because I have a connection with Napoli, where I play quite often and it is my heritage – despite being born in Brooklyn and not speaking Italian – there is still a little connection there. 

We became friends, and I invited him to play with me on a couple of occasions, but one good gig I can think of was at Pacha New York City. He was one of 30 people who were invited to play for my 60th.

And how did those celebrations go down, did you enjoy yourself?

It was weird but very touching to see Hernan Cattaneo, Carl Cox, David Guetta, Blond:ish, Seth Troxler, Chris Liebing, Steve Lawler, Guy Gerber, Kink, Nicole Moudaber, and Paco Osuna – all these people coming together to do an hour set for my birthday. 

It was odd, especially during a pandemic, so it was all online, and I didn’t see anybody in person. It was awkward, but still a memorable experience, haha.

Well, I listened to your own personal set and loved it, so thanks for inviting us all to your virtual party! I understand as a writer, it can be hard to let things go, so what did it take for you both to finally finish this track after ten years and get it released?

There is a lot to be said about this track, going back and forth several times, to try to find something that we both agree would be great for release. 

I think we have different styles to a degree, but ultimately, Sasha really latched onto this new modern progressive sound, and I’m really happy for him because it’s probably got him right where he wants to be. He’s doing a lot of sets with artists like Tale of Us and Afterlife. He’s also getting to travel to places – I’ve seen some of his clips, and the most recent one was from Hi Ibiza. 

I’m genuinely happy for him because he’s so dedicated. He’s been doing this for a very long time, and now that he’s finally found his niche, it’s really working for him.

So, when I went to Italy, to his house in Naples, and we sat down in his studio to put our heads together in a new direction, it was like starting over. 

He really helped pull it together as an engineer and programmer, so I must give him the credit for really making it happen, and contacting Renaissance. It’s an honour to be involved.

That sounds perfect for you because I know you’re not a massive fan of the technical nitty-gritty ins and outs of plug-ins and stuff, although you can play several instruments by ear. It’s great that you could pop over to Napoli instead of having a Zoom call. I imagine it must bring your creativity to a whole new level, being in person and working together directly.

Yes, of course, and we still keep in touch. Everyone’s got their phone in their hands at all times, so it’s like walkie-talkies these days, haha!

There are two versions of Automatik – the original and the Magdalena remix – which I can see working fiercely well in the main rooms of Hi Ibiza, Club Space Miami, or Berlin’s Berghain. Do you have any plans to take your typical two vinyl copies on the road with you for any future big gigs?

Haha, two vinyl copies! Well, I haven’t played records in a very long time. At home, I have the most amazing set-up, but I’m a completely Native Instruments Traktor guy. I fell in love with the program and utilise it to the maximum. I use remix decks and apply a lot of my production skills into my DJ sets now. 

It involves a lot of elements of surprise, and I can tell that people really appreciate the way I use it, because I’m not just playing one record after the other. I’m trying to, you know, tell a story.

Well, to be fair, you’ve never really played one record after the other. In the past, I’ve witnessed you using every single piece of equipment known to man during your sets. I know you say Traktor rejuvenated your live performances musically, but do you still go out buying records? I heard you used to love socialising at record stores. Or, is life so hectic now that you don’t even have the time to feel those physical artefacts yourself anymore?

Right, but there is so much to be said for the community: seeing friends, peers, and colleagues weekly in record stores and talking about the nightlife, happenings, and new music that’s coming out. We also had record pools where we would go once a week and pick up our promos, so you would run into a lot of DJs there; it was a social scene.

So besides missing that, I definitely miss the art of using vinyl in a way where, well, since I was a child, I was addicted to records and record shops. I still have all my records. I have well over 20,000 records on my shelves.

But that was over 40 years ago. The fanatical thing happened for me as a young boy, but then everything changed, and I had to embrace the changes of record stores closing, pools closing, and things turning digital.

Major record labels all folded, so there went the remix career in a sense of it being on a more legitimate side of things, where I would get paid to do a remix. 

So I had to embrace it. I still love music and I still love entertaining. Things were still happening for me on a global scale with CD compilations, Global Undergrounds, and people requesting me to go to their countries and cities to play.

I couldn’t be bitter about it, so I just think that once I got into the CDJs and flash keys, and once I embraced Traktor, it all came together for me again. Honestly, I’ll tell you what I feel like—if I couldn’t use Traktor now as a DJ, I probably wouldn’t want to be a DJ anymore!


That’s how much I love it! 

That’s quite interesting because vinyl is back on the up here. I know that more record stores are opening in Dublin. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but there’s definitely been an increase in people buying vinyl. I think it’s because they love that authentic kind of sound, and they’re prepared to spend the big bucks. Of course, it’s different if you’re producing; your margins are going to be fairly tight.

You’re the producer of multiple critically acclaimed mix CDs, from Back to Basics to Global Underground to Back to Mine, to name but a few. Above all else, which of these still stands most dear to your heart?

Oh, well, some of them are so different. They’re worlds apart in a way. I’d have to say the Global Underground series. I think it helped put me on a map in a different way, and it was embracing music in a different way as well as generations and styles keep changing.

I think I was displaying another side of myself, besides being a deep house post-New York, New Jersey, Paradise Garage kid loving soulful music. And then, here I was embracing changes between progressive, techno, and tribal. 

I think that GU allowed me to tell a journey that I knew at first people weren’t really going to understand, but at the end of the day, I’m glad I didn’t do anything different because people still kinda like that CD.

Awww I love it, GU London CD 2, especially – my God, haha!

Oh yeah. I’d say I like both of them equally. And do you know that I’m doing a third one right now.

No I did not, amazing!

It’s almost finished. I can’t announce it yet, until Global Underground gives us permission to. But I think they’re getting very close because they sent us a teaser yesterday of a video promo.

One club I’m sorry I never had the chance to visit was your residency at Twilo New York. I believe your last gig there was with John Digweed in 2002, before it closed. We’ve had the same issues across Ireland with clubs being shut down to make way for even more soulless hotels, but our Give Us The Night campaign here is now highly politicised and fighting back.

You’ve always been one to move with the time, technically. Would you ever think of getting involved politically to protect club culture and the right to dance?

I would do what I can to put my name on something and be part of an organisation, but I don’t think I would take something on a more personal level.

A lot of DJs today that are very successful, like Jamie Jones, Marco Carola, and Damian Lazarus, are all connected to a record label or have their own brand, but I don’t. My focus has always been on the music, and running a label or recording studio just wasn’t for me.

That made me think a bit when you asked me that question about getting involved, politically. I think it would probably be easier to involve myself with something like that and be recognised for my four-plus decades of being a New Yorker.

But that’s never come up before about ‘fighting back’. I gotta tell ya, I don’t even think there is much demand for it here because everything has moved to Brooklyn—it’s crazy! There are just so many venues, so many parties, so many after-parties, so many warehouses, and it’s all within a mile or two of where I was born. It’s all gone right back to my roots.

Manhattan is just no longer reasonable. It’s kinda like, well, I’m not familiar with Ireland, but let’s say the UK. It’s kinda like trying to put a bunch of clubs in Soho. It’s too busy, it’s too expensive—the only way they can afford to pay the rent and the staff is to do bottle service and get the elite crowd. So Manhattan is kinda done with that sense of underground.

It’s such a shame that there’s a whole area which had a great history and is now a dead duck, but I suppose time waits for no man, and you have to move with it. 

Now, you credit Orbital as being the first electronic band to blow your mind—is that where you got the idea for using the torches in your own epic performances? I spotted you using them in Heaven midway through a 12-hour marathon special. It seemed like you used them when you wanted the crowd to pay special attention to a part of the track you find most interesting.

I really appreciate you noticing that. Not only was it probably a fun spectacle for people to see from the dance floor, but it was a lot to do with the light. Men don’t know these tracks I’m playing, and I need to highlight the crescendos and have fun while I’m doing it.

The thing is that they became very heavy and hard to travel with, and it was time to retire them.

I just want to rewind for a second and go back to something we were talking about: the records. 

Records are still damn expensive, and I feel bad for young DJs because a lot of what us old school DJs would do to make the most of a track is to buy two copies. A lot of the time, the best part of the song was the intro or the breakdown, but you know if you have a 7-minute song, the breakdown is only 30 seconds, you gotta extend it. 

It was just the way it was for us; that’s what made a really good DJ, highlighting the best parts of the songs. 

So now, if a track is like $15 for a single 12”, and you have to buy two, that’s $30—it’s insane! It really feels almost like a rich kid’s hobby.

Precisely. Actually, my partner is a DJ in Belfast, and he said the exact same thing yesterday when I was doing my research on you. We were listening to some of your old interviews, and he said, “If you were to start your vinyl collection today as a young DJ, it would be so hard to build it up.”

Right, I’m 62 years old now, and I’ve been collecting records since I was nearly 10 years old, but probably more consistently since I was 13, as the pre-disco movement started moving in.

I don’t think the word ‘disco’ had exploded yet, but that was my roots of learning how to DJ in ’73, ’74, ’75, and by ’76, I was working in a pub in Brooklyn. In connection with that was what we were talking about with Manhattan versus Brooklyn and the changes that have happened over the years.

We have  basically moved the festival mentality into a nightclub. They’re not like discotheques and dancing like they used to be in the ’70s and ’80s, for the most part.

Now it’s got that concert appeal, where, for the most part, DJs are on a stage platform, the sound systems are facing out to the crowd. It’s not like a proper nightclub where you have a four-point system, and you’re surrounded by the system. That’s a treasure, when you go to a club and they have that. 

You know what I’m referring to, in the sense of when EDM came on the scene…

Ahhh yeah.

Yeah, it just changed everything.

It’s all bells and whistles now. They put such emphasis on the light show, the AV, which is incredible, don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed experiencing Afterlife at Hi Ibiza once, but would I go to see them again? No, probably not, because they’re really expensive, and I didn’t think the music was all that!

Ha. That’s the problem at the end of the day – it’s going to come down to the music. You want to hear a DJ play multiple different songs and different artists.

That’s another thing about Manhattan and the clubs of the ’70s and ’80s, there was something so original and unique about each venue – they had their own style, they had their own light system.

Now it’s LED and digital screens, and flash, flash, flash. It’s completely different. 

There are underground clubs that have minimal kinda vibes; they’re just hard to come by. But any club that is going to hire big-scale DJs that are charging $40,000-$70,000, those are the ones that are gonna have the screens.

Indeed. As well as that, you have the aspect of social media and the number of mobile phones you see stuck up in the air constantly recording gigs, instead of enjoying a good aul bop. And don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve even taken a few selfies with you at the tail end of your gigs over the years, showing my appreciation as a no.1 fan. But do you think phone recording should be banned, like it is in many clubs in Berlin?

I do think it should be banned in the more ‘intimate atmosphere’ nightclubs, where let’s say the capacity is barely 500 or 600.

If it’s one of those mega venues like I was referring to, with the concert appeal, where the screens are so bright, with EDM DJs, I think it’s just a given that that’s gonna happen. You couldn’t take that away from these kids today because they don’t know any other way to behave.

They’re not going there to dance; they’re going there to look at the DJ and the spectacle of it all. But a pure underground dance party with a few lights and a good sound system, those are the places where it should be banned.

I see you’re walking around here on Zoom with me. Is this your famous New Jersey home? And you have a private home with gardens for the first time.

It’s not really a garden, just three acres, but there are a lot of animals here. Sometimes I’ve seen black bears, coyotes, foxes, black snakes, grasshogs…

Well congratulations to you!

Yes, it’s beautiful, private and quiet.

My final question – who would be on your dream dinner party VIP guestlist, either dead or alive?  

Hahaha. I’d like to invite Prince. I don’t want to be so obvious and say Michael Jackson. In fact, they’re both so weird, I don’t think they’d even talk at the dinner, haha.

But if you wanted to have the craic, and have interesting conversation at your dinner party?

I’d say Paul McCartney, I’m a huge fan. And maybe David Bowie. 

No women, no? 

Well, Bowie was androgynous…

Haha, fair enough. Well, listen, Danny Tenaglia, it’s been such a pleasure, and I wish you all the very best with your new release.

Actually, the release that I’m really excited about is coming out now on Nervous Records – The Brooklyn Gypsy. t’s my take on Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman.

Also, I collaborated with my friend Cevin Fisher, and we did a track called Move That Body, and people are receiving it really well. It’s really more about my neighbourhood, my New York roots. It’s got a jacking piano hook, and it’s more me.

Words by Emer O’Connor. Danny Tenaglia and Sasha Carissi’s Automatik can be downloaded/streamed here

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