This is the first installment of 5 Magazine’s DJ Masters series, featuring interviews & companion mixes from influential and legendary figures whose contributions were crucial to the development of the American House Music scene.
I first came to know of DJ Dan from his association with the Funky Tekno Tribe – a crew of DJs and mayhem-makers that spread a kind of viral chaos throughout the early American rave scene. There was something they called “West Coast House” – “a combination”, in Dan’s words, “of breaks, disco, acid house and techno”. It’s not an exaggeration to say it swept the nation: just about every DJ pawed through their record collection at least once, trying to find something that matched this strange new groove blowing out of the San Francisco Bay.
Our interview with DJ Dan follows the exclusive mix below.
When I was a youngling, I read about this group called the “Funky Tekno Tribe” and I thought of a bunch of crazed rave fanatics riding in a VW bus across the country, spreading mayhem in various towns. How far off was I?
Haha. That’s hilarious. I think a lot of people outside California had the same impression. Funky Tekno Tribe was run by two friends of mine (which I introduced) and our concept was to bring the most funky psychedelic music to the Bay Area rave scene.
The original parties started in San Francisco and were very elaborate in decor and always had the best sound systems. The decor was very tribal and organic… like you were in the middle of the jungle somewhere with really fucked up, funky music that you did not hear at any other parties. We chose our DJs well and everyone understood that we were bringing the most underground, even experimental music to our parties. This was our baby and we wanted it to be 100% our vision. That’s why the parties became so popular, people knew we were always going to be bringing something new and fresh every time and we were always consistent.
Funky Tekno Tribe was the first one to ever bring Daft Punk to America and I remember that being a huge thing in San Francisco because at the time, I was really pushing a very psychedelic disco sound and I had been playing their unreleased tracks on acetate months before they came out. Josh Wink, DJ Sneak and Mark Farina were also some of our favorite guests. We had so many great parties and every dj played their heart out, that is what I remember most about the Funky Tekno Tribe parties… the true spirit of the Underground!
FTT gets written out of history a lot. You came a few years after the Storm Raves in New York, I think, but you really did provide a catalyst to a lot of scenes around the country, in addition to strengthening it in San Francisco. What do you feel was the greatest accomplishment, or lasting legacy, or even disappointment?
In that time, my biggest accomplishment was pushing the West Coast House sound. It was a combination of breaks, disco, acid house and techno. I became more known for breaks than anything else because I would push funky breaks into my house sets and everywhere I travelled, people could not get enough of the breaks. At the time there was no better feeling than busting out that rare record that everyone was waiting to hear all night. My mix of house and breaks became very popular all over the U.S. and I remember many people referring to it as the “DJ Dan Sound”. I have collected records my whole life so it has always been my obsession to find and play beats that nobody else has. At that time, I was also playing hip hop dubs on 45 instead of 33, acid jazz records on the wrong speed, whatever it took really to create a sound that nobody else had.
I used to scratch a lot during the harder, more techno parts of my sets too, that always took it over the edge. I’ve always had a passion for creating my own path and not following the trends. At the end of the day, music always comes full circle and I love that I have so many great sources to choose from with all the music I’ve been collecting over the years.
So the new record: it’s very different, a change up from the last few you released (I’m thinking here of “Future Retro”), which were going almost in an electro direction. This is back home. I know it’s kind of an artificial division but we’re gonna measure your music by the landmarks set by albums. What can you tell me about it?
This album was inspired by the music that got me into DJing in the first place – funky samples, great techy beats and pumping basslines. I specifically took on this sound for this album because so much of the music that is being produced right now relies on huge synths, epic breakdowns and over the top electro basslines. I wanted to return to basics and show the true art of sampling and showcase the sexy house groove that got me into this music in the first place.
There’s something on this record for everyone. It’s a bit techy, a bit deep at times and overall just a pure party record. I’m very proud of this album and so far it seems like people are really feeling it.
I believe that your previous album dropped on Nettwerk. How different is it to cut something with DJ Mes & Guesthouse? And how do you know that guy?
I’ve known DJ Mes for years now. We used to run into each other at the record stores over 10 years ago. I’m very proud of him and what he’s done with Guesthouse and that’s why I approached him about releasing the full album. Originally I started off by giving him a couple singles; when those got such a strong reaction, I approached him about finishing up a full 16 track LP. I am very excited to have been able to do this record for Guesthouse, it’s been my favorite house label for the last few years now and it just made sense to have them release it.
Mix tape culture was a huge part of spreading electronic music in the ’90s. I’m pretty sure I heard your mixes before I ever heard you spin in the flesh. It could actually break a guy in a region he had never been. And I’m curious how you approach making a “podcast” today vs. then, because there was a great underground barter system for your fans back then, and I was part of it (I think I might still have eighth or ninth generation cassettes of the 1st and 2nd “San Francisco Project” tapes; it used to irritate me that nobody had any others!)
The mix tapes were great because they were the way that people (outside your immediate area) got to know your sound. It was great too because we used to give the record stores like 50 tapes and get store credit in return. This was the way we were paying for records at the time too so it was a win win for everybody. I loved hearing that people were dubbing my tapes off for their friends because that meant that my sound was getting out there. I can’t tell you how many gigs I got on the East Coast because of a 10th generation bootleg of one of my mixes. Now with the podcast, anybody can get my mixes the second they are uploaded. This is great but I definitely miss the ritual and thrill of the hunt.