1) Introduce yourself?
Hallo this is Daniel Wang – I suppose I am known for making “left field” disco music and playing DJ sets with lots of obscure (and not so obscure) old disco (and other) music.
I am Chinese American, born in California, lived in Taiwan for 7 years of my childhood. Studied psychology and literature in school, lived between 1990 and 2003 in New York City, worked in a vintage synthesizer and a record shop… and now I am living in Berlin.
2) Present your music style. “Where do you come from, where do you go” “..if from the stars..” IDEALISM: your album on Environ was and “is” a pearl for disco electronic lover and inspire the current fashion DJs, labels, electro rock music style. What do you think about? Influences: Italo, boogie, electronic, 70, 80.
IDEALISM was a compilation of several vinyl EPs I did. My honest critique – it has some lovely moments, but some things I would like to change of course!! I’m a bit self-critical. The beat on Rings of Saturn sounds too stiff to me now; I wish I could have recorded a much better theremin piece – that would happen AFTER the Cd release, on the Environ NOCTURNES E.P. … I want to write better key changes in the future (like Cole Porter songs), and I still have a long, unreleased master version of my favorite piece, ALL FLOWERS MUST FADE, which is a synth instrumental about Zen Buddhism, time, and reincarnation really. The beginning is like the end, and the melody has two reincarnations….
I know that my music seems to be full of influences from the 1970s and 1980s, but I hope that is only because MUSIC from those periods was much more “musical”. For me what matters are melody, harmony, texture, … like hip hop now or trance or techno – its all just idiotic computer loops or stolen samples – who cares? It’s shit. I always try to add some modern touches – like with my Yamaha formant synth, the filters change over time. This is not always obvious but it is in there.
I used to be obsessed with making A GOOD BASSLINE (that was very Paradise Garage, like “Magnificent Dance” or “Nothing going on but the rent”) but now of course I feel the overall structure and composition are more important – like ALL FLOWERS MUST FADE is an example. I think the French disco band VOYAGE made real classics – their structures (like “Souvenirs”) were really well-developed!
3) Your Italo most strange-played vinyl list.
Oh I have a few italo favorites: Mr. Master “Dog in the Night” on Il Discotto; strange ones are Black Devil Disco Club or Pink Project of course (I never play it, but it is so funny)…. but I love Azoto, and TANTRA “Macumba/ Tarot Suite” – Celso Valli is a genius; and Gaz Nevada “Special Agent Man” – we are remixing it for Environ.
4) Your “escape from NY”: Berlin at present and European world, peoples!
I have a marvelous book from 1980 called “NIGHT DANCING”. it was a comprehensive guide to ALL THE DISCOs in New York at that time – not just Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, but also all the unusual clubs like Ice Palace, Crisco Disco, Xenon, Cotton Club, Empire Roller Rink….
Basically, I escaped from New York to Berlin in 2003 because (1) New York is just too expensive, and all my DJ work is now in Europe, (2) I had very few close gay friends in New York and discovered a very open gay atmosphere in Germany, (3) I could not stand looking at G.W. Bush’s face on the television. Bush makes me want to vomit – and all the stupid people in America who voted for him. And you know why American pop culture is awful now? Because when you have to pay so much rent every month, MONEY becomes more important than LOVE or NEW IDEAS.
When I look at NIGHT DANCING, I realize something: we are all living in a FANTASY of New York’s disco world in 1980, but that world does not exist in New York anymore. New York now is Nike, McDonalds and Starbucks Coffee, and all the people with talent and ideas (Metro Area, DFA for example) got work and got famous OUTSIDE of New York – i.e. in London, Paris or Berlin. Morgan gave the first 2 Metro Area records to all the New York “house” DJs like Timmy Regisford – those people never played it or cared! The gay clubs are filled with idiots who think Junior Vasquez is a god! And all that stupid unmelodic AFRO BRAZILIAN house still dominates the “house” scene.
So of course New York is NOT the Center anymore. It is just one of many cities where little things are happening – like London or Berlin or Tokyo, or better yet, Oslo or Barcelona or Helsinki. I am not cynical; I just didn’t want to live in one place for the rest of my life, and believe this silly illusion. Maybe there isn’t one CENTER any more!
5) Your songs are influenced by the 80’s music; which of those artists are your favourites?
There are too many, but the few on my CD walkman right now are TOO SHY by Kajagoogoo (prod by Duran Duran)! Gwen Guthrie’s PEANUT BUTTER and Grace Jones PRIVATE LIFE (Sly and Dunbar) and Tantra (Celso Valli).
6) Midtempo discobeat: talk about Panoramic trax and Leather Video experience.
I LOVE midtempo disco because I think there is a special groove in there – like Maze “Twilight” at 109 bpm is a good example. And lots of soft disco rock, like Bee Gees “Night Fever”. That is “sleeze tempo” – it’s the club at 5 am, when the old disco queens are REALLY now feeling each other, having sex in the darkroom or just “grooving”. Panoramic is not the best example I think, but the B-side – the leather video music I made was really for a porno film from San Francisco, but it was about that MOOD – not bam bam bam, but more sensual.
7) Philosophy of BALIHU: disco, sampling, rhythm and future plans. When do you work on a new track what kind of approach do you prefer? Immediate and instinctive or technical and rational?
ACTUALLY let me be very specific. I basically hate sampling old disco records. If someone has not enough originality to make a bassline or melody, they shouldn’t make music. But lately, I sampled a rhythm pattern from a record – just because I haven’t done it for a long time, and I don’t want to be too dogmatic!!
I am not sure if music has INFINITE variations, but I am both instinctive and rational when I make something. A good bassline or melody is from instinct, but that instinct comes from accumulated knowledge. Just instinct is not enough – you need to develop the idea with techniques. There are so many things to add or subtract – arpeggios, obligattos, solos, 7th and 9th and 11th chords, major and minor, etc.
Most of all, I believe every idea has a possibility. Pop music is full of good ideas which weren’t well developed (like italo disco tracks); or bad ideas which are overdeveloped (like Celine Dion). And sometimes, the idea and the development are perfect – like Giorgio Moroder’s “Evolution” for example.
8) Do you prefer to work with synthesizers or on your desktop?
You mean laptop computer? I only use it to do some sequencing, and I never do the whole piece on it. But Ii do use the KORG D16 – only 16 tracks – and with a 2 x 15-cm wide LCD screen and real faders. I really think computers have killed people’s creativity. The screen is deceptive. So many pretty colors, but so little harmonic content… I like to touch my keyboards – ARP odyssey, Korg Poly 800, Yamaha TX81Z, Roland SH 101 etc. I like to tune them with my own ears.
9) When you are creating a new track, do you think at the reaction that people might have listening to it or just at the reaction that you get in that moment? In the latest electronic music there are no emotions, your music although is full of personal feelings; how important for you is to give a soul to your tracks?
Of course I want people to react to the song, but the best way is just to put all my emotion and energy into it. Of course I still dont feel im emotional enough – if I start singing songs like Gladys Knight or Karen Carpenter, that will be really great soul music! All this instrumental disco I make seems to me like a sublimated, “aesthetisized” soul music, to be honest.
But at the same time, I think for many musicians, good music (= good harmony and melody) becomes an expression of emotion itself, and that is also ok. I listen to Satie at home much more often than black “soul music”. So you dont have to scream or cry – a beautiful electric piano glissando can express the same thing. But of course there must be emotion in it, and maybe thats why IDEALISM is good – besides Buddhism, theres a Tokyo love story in there, and a song for my scottish boyfriend…. it is all personal. But these people who make a few loops on their software synth – that’s not music, to me.
10) Talk about your latest gig around the world, about your public and fans.
Well, in this last month, I traveled to Gran Canaria (Spanish islands near Morocco coast), Tel Aviv (Israel), Vilnius (Lithuania), and London. A beautiful Spanish boy named Ilya and I exchanged emails about music for one year, and I decided to go visit him in Gran Canaria. It was wonderful – althought there were maybe 5 people on that island (5 million people) who understood disco music like he did. I think disco-style dance music speaks to certain instincts in people (beauty, sublimated sexual instincts), and in some cultures (like in Spain) those are suppressed or diverted into other forms of expression.
Lithuania was freezing cold, but spring was coming. The people were wonderful and I think a lot of my disco records sounded fresh there – one girl just wanted to hear me play “I will survive” – Lithuania was soviet communist before 1990! Tel Aviv was not at all dangerous. It was a bit like a big hebrew-speaking section of Brooklyn, New York – the American influence is strong. But most people there didn’t quite know where my weird disco music was coming from…
11) Music and your preferred colors.
When I was a child I thought that I was supposed to have “favourite colors”. For a while it was purple (radiant, deep) then yellow (bright) then red and silver (absolute, imperial, blood and metal).
Then I realized I have no favorite color – it depends only on the mood and the shade (tint). And the combination of colors – green with orange can be ugly; or it could be avantgarde…
12) Music and fashion.
Well you know on my CD label i wrote once – I wish i could make one beautiful classic simple pop song (like a Cole Porter jazz tune – that would be like a simple black dress) but my mentality is more like Comme des Garcons (strange textures, technological touches).
Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Alex McQueen are still my heroes, but I couldn’t wear those things in public. Well, maybe for performances I will. If I earn lots of money!
13) Explain, describe what music is. imagine to describe, talking to a little child!
Wow! Heavy question. Actually I am very scientific about this. Perfect harmonies do exist in nature – it is physics. Like perfect “4th” and “5th” harmonies. You know plants grow faster when they hear pure harmonies? Chinese and Greek musicians calculated the mathematics of it all over 2000 years ago, but of course i think music is “the language of the subconscious” – our brains experience and store emotions as groups of frequencies, like the beeping of a fax machine or modem. And of course, these sounds follow a certain steady rhythm, also like the “data speed/ baud rate” of a computer modem. That’s why a beautiful rhythm “feels so good”. A few times, between sleeping and waking up, I was able to hear these beeps in my brain ….
If we use machines – guitars, violins, synthesizers – I think we are manipulating these emotions and thoughts. If we do it well, we are making beautiful music… So, to a child, I would say – music is just the secret language of your brain – not like German or Italian, but the code underneath these languages.
14) Your friends around the world, crew, most interesting Club, the peoples you thank on your records (I love it, read it!)
Oh god I have made so many friends through these records (Morgan Geist was really among the first, from Balihu)…. I cannot name just one person! But it really makes you think – there might be war and poverty and disease, but in tiny moments, it’s like world peace is possible through music, because it gives people something in common beyond language and politics. ABBA is playing on the radio in this internet cafe (where I am now) and that is DEFINITELY some kind of universal music!! Ha ha! Maybe one day they will all play ABBA DANCING QUEEN at Weddings in Iran and we won’t have Islamic terrorism anymore.
As for favorite clubs – I HAVE noticed that the best moments are the clubs in smaller cities, where all the friends in one city come together. The big clubs have better dance floors and lights maybe, but the sound is often boomy, and the public will be more commercial. A smaller club (like Seminfinal in Helsinki, or Erste Liga in Munich) is often more intimate. Oh – but I did have a wonderful night in Liquid Room in Shinjuku Tokyo. It was a huge club, but all these boys came to hear me (hetero AND gay) and they all took off their shirts…
Traveling so much, I never forget that this is a rare opportunity. I mean, in the 1950s, only HYPER RICH people could travel to 20 or 30 countries in 3 or 4 years. If I died in an airplane crash tomorrow, I could not complain!
15) Do you mix with rotary mixer (like Larry style-Levan UREI) or prefer mixer with effect?
I really need to have a crossfader. Of course I think the Urei sounds better than a Pioneer and Allen & Heath, but I don’t believe in “the myth” of the Urei. I LOVE David Mancuso but I disagree with his “no mixing” philosophy. Some records are made for mixing, with beats and breaks which do make magic with certain other records.
You cannot exploit those sounds with knobs. The best DJ is someone who improvises with the equipment and the club environment!!
16) “Let’s go to Mars” I think this trax is really magic, atmospheric, sweet . Why Mars fashinated you and how actually is the red planet for you.
Actually I like “Lets go to Mars” also. The bridges have a nice key change, and the synth “obligattos” (the little acid bleeps) are complex, carefully programmed. It is not only about Mars – but you know, I really believe in life on other planets, or maybe they are just humans from the FUTURE.
(In the 1970s a Danish researcher named Erich von Daeniken was a popular author – look at those strange space / UFO drawings in Mexico and the Middle East, and there are even clay “astronaut” figures from ancient Japan.) I am serious!!!
17) Message to everyone:
Dont believe all the hype about DJs and dance music and blah blah blah. Especially samples referencing “this”, or experimental electronic “that”.
The reality is so simple – groovy music made by humans who care about a good bassline or a good song. It’s just about love, falling in love with some beautiful boy or girl or thing on the dancefloor.
It’s about fantasy, so forget the expensive Gucci bag and go out in a leather harness or a ballgown instead. Or…. just go naked.
Crazy questions made by Dario “Dax DJ” www.family-house.net © 04.2004
Thnx to: MOG, DJ Kent (Japan) 4 helpin’ me!
Daniel Wang – Presents Balihu 1993-2008 – Rush Hour (limited edition)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.