words: ERIN SHARONI pics: ANDREW RAUNER
At the end of a concrete driveway on a quiet street in Miami, a nondescript door is the portal to a world of acoustic awe: on the other side, Danny Daze’s home studio resembles the cockpit of a spacecraft. Backlit buttons and metal knobs adorn effects pedals and vintage compressors; cables run neatly along the floor connecting amps, preamps and subs to an impressive selection of synthesizers arranged in a wide arc. At the center of it all is a simple desk chair where Daze is seated, captain of an analog ship.
“I like to be surrounded by this stuff,” he says, as he looks around the space. “I like to wake up and have the first thing I see be a bunch of speakers and keyboards. It reminds me of what I do every single day.” He taps his fingers across a set of keys. “I’m blessed.”
Daze points at a Roland JP-8080 stacked in a rack to his right and smiles, “That was the first synth I ever bought. My first guy.”
His equipment list reads like an audiophile’s dream: among the enviable pieces are a Moog Voyager XL, Prophet 12, Ensoniq Fizmo, Roland Jupiter 80, MAM VF-11 vocoder, Access Virus TI2, a collection of Moogerfooger effects pedals, ADAM S3X monitors and a requisite pair of Yamaha NS10s for reference.
That’s the abridged version.
The Miami-born producer is comfortable in this environment, a small room lined with professional grade soundproofing and enough hardware to send even the most digitally devoted producer into heat. “I have a studio with a bed in it,” he laughs. “It’s not even a bedroom; this is a music room with a bed in it, that I sleep in. This is all I need.”
Danny Daze’s devotion to music is as evident in his preference for sleeping next to synthesizers as it is in the quality and complexity of his work. ‘Dual’, his new EP on experimental music mate Jimmy Edgar’s Ultramajic label, is a testament to the breadth of Daze’s production abilities. Aptly named, the two-track release reflects two facets of his style: at once hypnotic and undulating, pounding and blunt. ‘Rhythm Box’ is a warehouse banger that Daze classifies as “a straight up festival track,” while ‘Ready2Go’ features a mesmerizing melody and rolling beat. The bassline and bells on that record mimic the dry, Detroit techno sound that has influenced him throughout the years.
“‘Ready2Go’ actually took me a long ass time to make,” Daze explains. “In the background you hear the bells doing reverses, flips, reverb; things that were all done manually. It took me about two weeks just to put those bells together, simply because of all the processing I had to do.”
That effort appears to have paid off, and 2015 is shaping up to be another year of quality deliveries by Daze. Since January, he’s released a four-track EP on Omnidisc; completed a sinister remix of Mark Houle’s ‘Talk To Me Baby’ on Minus; started a monthly experimental music podcast called ‘Sunday Morning’; and is gearing up for the fourth release on his own label, launched earlier this year—the identity of which he prefers to keep under wraps for the time being.
“All I’ll say is the sound of the label is doom. It’s not even techno, it’s just doom,” Daze smiles, clearly satisfied. “It’s dark as hell. Really, really dark shit.”
THAT’S MY BOY
Danny Daze is no stranger to polarizing preferences. Raised in a city of big bass and b-boy culture, a place perched on the very edge of America where the lines between everything from nationality to music are blurred, Daze was exposed to things that most in this country are not. His Cuban heritage is not uncommon in the 305, but his journey to the top of the Miami music scene is far from status quo.
For starters, his mother gave him his first set of decks. And his DJ name.
Sometime around the ripe young age of 13, the boy born Daniel Gomez became the DJ called Danny Daze. “Honestly, I think my mom just looked in a dictionary and was like, ‘You need something that matches your first name. What about Danny Daze?’” he reminisces. “I just stuck with it.”
His unorthodox entry into the music world set the tone for everything else that was to come: Daze started off as a wedding DJ who, he suggests, people booked out of novelty because he was so young. While he ultimately became known for his open format sets in the Miami electro circle, he credits trance with hooking him on electronic dance music forever.
“There was this two-sided trance mix CD by David Padilla, in 1999, called ‘The Mix - Afterhours’. That was one of the best mixes ever made, and I’ll go down saying that,” Daze states emphatically. “That CD is what got me wanting to DJ. It was commercial trance at the time, but it was classy. All of those tracks are still very playable.”
Danny Daze, the artist with releases on today’s most revered underground techno labels, tells this story while sitting amidst his collection of analog equipment, wearing a t-shirt with a massive Tiësto logo printed on it.
“That’s my boy,” Daze laughs, jokingly referring to the Dutch superstar. “Actually, I don’t know anything about Tiësto, or his music. But look at this shirt, it’s amazing.” He points to the image of Tiësto standing in the middle of a circular stage, elevated above a massive crowd, and smiles.
Daze’s appreciation of quality music, regardless of genre, is apparent in both his artistic productions and his live DJ sets. Early on in his career, he became known throughout Miami as the guy who would mix everything into anything.
“I would play Beastie Boys into Billy Joel, Paula Abdul, New Kids On The Block; techno into an old skater track, into salsa,” he recalls. “I’m still known for that. It’s the way I’ve always done things. Playing just one sound the whole night is boring as hell.”
YOU WANT THE MISTAKES
Danny Daze makes music that is visceral. It breathes, it pulses and it possesses a tactile quality; it delivers swelling sine waves and bass so robust that the resulting vibration moves visibly across its listener’s skin. “That’s what I go for, straight up,” he says. “And since I don’t play keys, I try to counter that by using analog gear that brings mistakes to the table.
“You want the mistakes,” Daze insists. “You want the un-quantized sound of not hitting MIDI notes. You want to be able to go through patches and turn knobs and have a human feel to stuff. I can immediately tell if a guy is using virtual synths, a virtual delay or virtual reverb. That’s why there’s a characteristic to my tracks that’s very human.”
That human element is part of what defines Daze’s sound. Something of a sonic nomad, he embraces his tendencies in a way that is both unapologetic and self-aware. “I’m a bit across the board,” Daze admits. “I think that’s why it’s hard to pinpoint what I do, because I don’t really fit in. I’m one of these guys that kind of drifts into a scene and then drifts out of it.
“I work with everyone, from Jimmy Edgar to Maceo Plex … I just do whatever I feel is electronic enough for me. I try to never really stick to one sound, which is a good and bad thing. For my creativity, it’s a good thing.”
Daze points out that his penchant for diversity also creates lastingness. “Instead of going up really fast and dropping out, my thing is that by the time I’m 50, I’ll still have a career. I doubt I’ll be playing 12 times a month then,” he laughs, “but the goal is longevity.”
Given his current pace, a dozen shows a month is an understatement: the remainder of Daze’s 2015 tour schedule is nonstop.
“My calendar is just nuts,” he shakes his head. He picks up his phone and scrolls through it, reading aloud: “Panorama Bar, Fabric, SW4… in Ibiza … there’s Amnesia, Enter, Kehakuma, and ANTS. Plus a bunch of festivals. It’s insane.” He looks up. “I’d actually have to just send you a list.”
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Passport stamps are part of the game, and if a full schedule is some measure of success, then Daze is winning. But constant travel is a privilege that comes at a price. “I wish I could be in Miami the whole time,” he says wistfully. “This is my hometown and I love it, but it’s completely impossible to do that once you’re playing weekly in Europe.”
A combination of necessity and exhaustion prompted Daze to split his time between Miami, the tropical city he loves, and Berlin—a city that is decidedly less relaxed. On the surface at least, Berlin is the cultural antithesis of Miami: rigid and methodical versus loose and impulsive.
“Berlin is the complete opposite of here,” Daze explains. “Over there, everyone is on time. It’s mechanical, but that’s why it fits perfectly with electronic music. You can tell by the way Germans make music. German techno is perfectly quantized ... very straight on, just like their personalities,” he laughs.
“For me that’s perfect because I’m so used to people being late or just not showing up. When I go to Berlin, everything is on time and perfect. But I like the mixture; for me it’s the best of both worlds.”
Danny Daze’s sole cultural adjustment in Germany has less to do with societal tone and more to do with an apparent dearth of his favorite beverage. “All they have are these little tiny containers of milk!” he laughs. “I drink milk like I’m a ‘ternero,’ a baby cow. I go through a gallon every two days.
“Literally, that’s it. My only complaint … I need more milk."
JUST BLAME RADIO
If Europe fails Danny Daze in the milk-by-the-gallon department, it atones with its high standard of musical accessibility. Dance music permeates mainstream European culture, from club floors to grocery stores.
“In Europe, you’re reaching the masses with your music,” Daze explains. “You’re in a taxi over there and the brand new Caribou record is playing on the radio, and the freaking taxi driver is singing! Here, it’s just Katy Perry.”
The ability of DJs to premiere new records on the radio greatly influences the potential for dance music to infiltrate the broader market. It’s the main reason Daze feels the scene in the United States trails the rest of the world.
“I just blame radio,” he states. “It’s the reason the US is behind. They dictate what a DJ can play; if a DJ plays this or that, he gets fired. Nowadays, DJs can’t break records on air because the records are given to them.”
Daze suggests that this is why today’s new music gets sent across the Atlantic before being played in America: “You’ve got people like Pete Tong and Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, who are all still breaking records. So now, instead of me searching for someone to break my record here in the States, I’m sending it over to Europe where they have freedom to play what they want.
“If radio were to change,” Daze insists, “all of the US dance music scene would change. I don’t blame America, I blame radio. It sucks. Kids want more, and they’re not getting it here. SoundCloud and YouTube are not enough; they don’t reach the lowest common denominator. That is who you want to reach—the masses.”
While he acknowledges that the state of radio in the US is unlikely to change anytime soon, Daze continues to push boundaries and bring the sounds he champions to the ears of anyone who’s willing to listen.
“My biggest satisfaction these days comes from helping out friends who didn’t previously have a path to get their music heard. These are people that should be heard,” he says.
“I don’t need a big house or a fancy car. That’s why I’m here in this tiny room. What I really want is to just be able to do exactly what I want to do, instead of selling out.”
Daze looks around at his equipment and leans back in his chair. “You can make a ton of money and still be unhappy. But there’s no point to life if you’re unhappy. I’m making a living, making the music I want to make now, and I’m really happy. That’s what I wanted, and I have it.”
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.