Global Underground Vol 10: Athens, by Danny Tenaglia
It’s hard to imagine dance music without certain figures – Danny Tenaglia is, for me, certainly one of those people. His influence over house music is huge, even if now he is more likely to throw down techno at the sets he plays all over the world. I was introduced to Tenaglia very early on in my musical education by my oldest brother, who had spent a couple of summers in New York and 3 years in Manchester at the height of the Hacienda, and picked up an enviable vinyl collection over those spells.
It was through many of these records that I picked up on a simple idea which I have found often sums up the very best in dance music – “Hard & Soul”. This was the name Tenaglia gave to his 1995 LP on Tribal (a label who’s artwork had so intrigued me when I saw my brother’s record bag, doubly so as my house was stuffed full of various tribal sculptures and artifacts that my dad is so fond of collecting).
It seems pretty obvious really – hard, driving, pounding beats given an extra layer of life by soulful vocals, instrumentation, soulful tracks which rather than finishing at pop song length veer off for 5 minutes of stripped-back, syncopated rhythm tracks. Tenaglia made this something of a signature style, able to walk the tightrope between arenas that most acts would keep separate, able to bring light and shade to dancefloors at will in his legendarily long sets. His 2 CD Athens mix for Global Underground showcases this understanding of the emotions, tensions and dynamics of DJing fantastically well.
Tenaglia cut his teeth early on in his career playing all sorts of music at roller discos in Brooklyn in the late 70s and early 80s, while regularly visiting the legendary Paradise Garage nightclub, before in 1985 moving for some years to Miami, taking a residency at Cheers Nightclub playing Chicago & New York House. This long apprenticeship means that, far more than most well known producer/DJs, Tenaglia is a real DJ’s DJ – that is, he is someone who can happily play for hours on end, multiple genres, work a crowd, adapt his set, and generally call on a skillset that is sadly such a rarity in the world of the modern superstar DJ, which often seems to be more about a few big tracks getting the profile up, and cramming as many 1-hour sets in a night as an agent can book.
The first time I saw him was on one of Carl Cox‘s Tuesdays at Space, in 2005. The two men shared pretty much the entire night across the club, with a mix of solo and B2B sets, taking in the full spectrum from soulful, tribal, latin-infused house through to pretty much heads down techno, without it jarring at any point, and he genuinely seemed to be having the time of his life. Another favourite was a Sunday evening at Sankey’s in Manchester after he’d played the whole night before then came back to round the weekend off, playing from about 6.30pm til the small hours – I particularly enjoyed his little explanation at the start, of the journey he was going to take us on, culminating in a devilishly amused “… and at the end we’re gonna get reeeeal dirrrty hahaa!”
One thing to note about DT is that he is one of the good guys in the industry, I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of him or his professionalism. I highly recommend listening to his fascinating Resident Advisor Exchange podcast about his extensive career. And I’ll finish with a little anecdote about him that shows how unusual he is in the stratosphere of legendary DJs that he occupies.
Over a decade ago, when the internet was in its relative infancy and forums were still the main way people congregated online (pre-Twitter and Facebook that was the norm, my main haunts were the Erol Alkan Forum and Diplo’s Hollerboard), my oldest brother’s 30th birthday was approaching. Unbeknownst to me, my younger brother had pinged a message to Tenaglia via his forum, explaining what a huge fan our sibling is, and that it was his birthday soon, this is his address, etc etc. Incredibly, he found the time in his hectic schedule to write a card, sign a few flyers, and post it all to my brother – including phone number, email and address, with an open invitation to come hang if he found himself in New York any time, and even emailed to let my brother know about a loft-party he was throwing in case he was stateside! This is all obviously in pride of place framed at my brother’s house, so I can independently verify it (although I’m not sharing a pic of these here as I think Tenaglia still lives at that address!). So yeah, one in a million both in talent and general good-dude-ness.