DFW Music News

The DJ’s DJ: Danny Tenaglia Looks Back on His Origins Ahead of Dallas Appearance

Danny Tenaglia heeded advice from the Governator and became a world-famous DJ.
Danny Tenaglia heeded advice from the Governator and became a world-famous DJ. Gui Ramos

Danny Tenaglia has a yellow sticky note on his refrigerator, “3 p.m. interview with Elvis from Dallas Observer.”

A 3 o’clock call to Tenaglia is unanswered.

A text from Tenaglia comes over about 45 minutes later, “Hey Elvis, so sorry, I’m just waking. Had an unexpected marathon in the studio last night in Brooklyn and didn’t go to bed until 7 a.m. You ok with 5 p.m.?”

Studio sessions forever supersede journalism. From his home in Queens, an apologetic and generous Danny Tenaglia rings at 5 p.m. sharp.

“I typically try to get up before noon, but last night was a late one," Tenaglia explains on the phone. "I have a new track I’m finishing and then after our call, I’m driving down to New Jersey to work with Harry Romero at his studio.” 

A DJ first, Tenaglia’s studio time is typically for remixes and edits to sauce his sets. There are, however, some originals such as "Don’t Turn Your Back." It releases this summer on Hot Creations, the lionized British label co-owned by Jamie Jones and Lee Foss. Remixes by industry friends Mendo and Harry Romero are complete, and another one by Carl Cox is in the works. This track will make Tenaglia’s set list on Friday night when he takes the helm to serve the It’ll Do Club dance floor.

Parallels abound from an unlikely source. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his recent speech-that-broke-the-internet, “The first rule of success is to have a vision. If you don’t have a vision of where you’re going and if you don’t have a goal of where you want to go then you drift around and don’t go anywhere.”

Tenaglia’s adolescence was harmonious with a humble, yet Schwarzenegger-like vision to DJ. “I was 12 years old, and all I cared about was making it over the bridge to Manhattan to DJ over there,” he says. “Nobody looked at the DJ when I started. Some of these guys getting $70,000 to DJ for 90 minutes? Smack them in the face, get the fuck outta here,” he adds laughing in his Brooklyn-Italian accent.

Albeit rare, the “popular single and headline a festival main stage a few months later” recipe does happen. Tenaglia’s origins are far less sexy. They’re modest and blue collar. He paid dues at New York rollerskating rinks. Next was a five-year residency at Cheers nightclub in Miami. There were no Champagne bottle sparklers, cryo-blasters or LED screens. Tenaglia’s DJ early sets were primal: music, people and the dance floor.

Also in harmony was Tenaglia’s career growth and dance music culture. Both expanded to touch more people and occupy new venues. Dreams come true, and Tenaglia crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in the ’90s to DJ in Manhattan. He has fond memories from legendary nights at Twilo nightclub in the Chelsea neighborhood.

“I was 12 years old and all I cared about was making it over the bridge to Manhattan to DJ over there. Nobody looked at the DJ when I started." — Danny Tenaglia

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“I’ve been to 43 countries. I’m honored," he says. "I never told anyone this, but I was DJing at Twilo in ’96 and I could hear a guy screaming and having a good time. Someone told me it was Bono from U2. I’d remixed their track ‘Lemon,’ so I played it. Next day I received a thank you note and a six pack of Guinness from Bono. Never met him, but that was a nice gesture."

Not all DJs are good producers and not all producers are good DJs. Tenaglia, in the purest sense, is a proper, battle-tested DJ. He’s the least compartmentalized DJ to visit It’ll Do in 2019 and is comfy serving multiple genres. Not oblivious to trends, his current sets veer more for Berlin techno than Chicago house. But don’t be surprised to hear Erasure, Gypsy Kings or Front 242 at the right time — he has a knack for special moments.

Affectionately known by his peers as “the DJ’s DJ,” emails in search of validation for the moniker were quickly returned.

Paul Oakenfold said this: “I came across Danny Tenaglia very early in my career. He’s one of the true DJs that inspired me, and he’s a great person. Always love going to hear him play.”

Markus Schulz offered, “It was Winter Music Conference in 2001, I was on the dance floor, lost in the music at the legendary Club Space. On the decks was Danny, the one that everyone in the industry, regardless of polls and charts, regarded as the king of the mountain. I just closed my eyes, danced and got lost in the vibe. Not a single care in the world. I was just a clubber among a thousand other clubbers. When I open my eyes, on my left I see Carl Cox, on my right there was John Digweed.”

Tenaglia is touring North America in June and early July. He travels to Europe in mid-July for gigs in Paris, London and Ibiza. Friday’s stop in Dallas is a hand-picked date, he says. “I played (It’ll Do) once and agreed to come back. I have to be picky because I have so many gigs and offers, but I'm confident it's gonna be so amazing, even for me. It will be fierce.”
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Elvis Anderson has written for the Observer since 2016. A music fan, he's an advocate for The Woody Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that improves the lives of the paralyzed.
Contact: Elvis Anderson