Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 | Sounds
Daniel Wang’s leftfield disco label Balihu, laid the groundwork for what was to come 15 years later, with artists/labels like Hercules & Love Affair and DFA citing Wang’s works as influences on them. Daniel provides us with his thoughts on modern production techniques, Nu Groove and life in Berlin.
Q: What was your first exposure to disco & house and what were some of the first tracks that blew you away?
A: I’m quite sure I was exposed to disco in my childhood, in the late 70’s. I remember going to a laser light show with my parents in an almost-empty stadium in Taipei, and the background music was ‘The Chase’ by Giorgio Moroder. Also, around 1980, I heard ‘Upside Down’ by Diana Ross & Chic on the in-flight radio flying from Taipei to California and kept listening for 9 or 10 times. In middle school, I thought ‘Forget Me Nots’ by Patrice Rushen was the coolest song ever, and the other boys who liked rock and roll sort of teased me about this. (But, they were all into Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’, which we now know is the ultimate disco groove.)
Q: How did you get into producing music? You must of had good access to equipment during your time working at a synth repair shop?
A: I bought all my equipment from that shop ‘Dr. Sound’ in 1992, while I lived in Chicago, and then I ended up working there 4 years later after moving back to New York City. At first, producing music was just a way for me to make a statement to the DJ world. The first record was only 17 samples. But having a proper keyboard soon made me realize that I wanted to make original tracks and not just sample everything.
Q: In a recent Juan Atkins interview he said that getting a new piece of (old) equipment often lead to the creation of new tracks - you too have echoed this sentiment. Do you feel that some of the magic has been lost with software based music production techniques?
A: Absolutely yes. Software makes much more sense for people who have used all that gear in the real world and then seek to find their laptop counterparts. And still, the feeling and the interface are inferior. I feel strongly that there should be musical education on a wide level with real instruments for children in school, as well as for young music producers in all genres.
Q: I feel in certain ways that Balihu continued in the tradition of Nu Groove - releasing left-field, disco infused electronic music. What labels did you look to for inspiration and who did you view as your contemporaries at the time. How was it running a label during those years?
A: That is totally correct – I loved Nu Groove! I really liked many tracks on Strictly Rhythm and Nervous too, but their concept was already quite slick, whereas Nu Groove had a kind of raw silliness, even the graphics and colors on each release were different. I don’t see myself as having managed a real label, however. I was the only artist for the first few years, it was just me and my credit card and some photocopies for the label. It was just a way to get heard and to practice making tunes by myself.
Q: Does it ever strike you odd that a genre that you helped define has become so popular in recent years? What labels/artist do you feel are continuing in the path that you helped create?
A: No, I’m genuinely glad that I’ve contributed to people getting back into joyful, interesting, ‘real’ disco music, although I see the role that I played also only in retrospect. I mean, I was just a lone voice in the woods in 1993, it seemed like everyone else wanted stupid hard techno & tribal house music. I hardly knew 5 people who felt the way I did back then. I don’t need to name names, I think, today everyone knows Lindstrom, Todd Terje, Hercules & Love Affair, DJ’s like Horse Meat Disco and Disco Bloodbath and so on and so forth. They’re all wonderfully entertaining.
Q: You currently live in Berlin which is known as a techno city, so, how’s the disco scene there? Are there any locals who are as funky as Niagara?
A: I almost want to say, Techno is for the tourists and the working class natives (nothing wrong with that). As for the queers, the people in Mitte (artists, designers, etc), their tastes are as diverse as anyone’s in London or Paris. There are some AMAZING disco DJs here like Hunee and Emil Angelov, and plenty of people like Nd Baumecker (Berghain) who never played only techno, they have always played an eclectic and fun mix of music since the 90‘s!
Q: In what way has living in Berlin changed your view and approach to music and dj’ing?
A: It is a great relief to be outside of USA and not feel the false pressures of racial representation or political correctness. I meet plenty of Germans who enjoy soul music just because it is great music, not because it is for or against ‘black American culture’ in North America. It’s wonderful walking through German forests and fields and realizing that a Beethoven sonata or a Debussy prelude really sounds like this, it is not some construct of ‘European high culture’ which is how it is mostly presented outside of Europe. I can take my time, I’m not out to DJ to compete with or impress anyone, as it often was in NYC.
A: Instead of ‘homage’, I prefer to say, I ripped off the string section because it sounded nice! Ha ha. Everyone knows those Loft Classics bootlegs, and I love almost all of them. But it is pretty hard not to.
Q: A lot of producers look back to music from the 70’s and 80’s for inspiration. Do you feel that popular music these days lacks enough substance to provide inspiration for future producers?
A: Yes, I think so. Popular music today is mostly just commercial product. It is made by musicians who are mostly NOT half as good as the sessions players of the late 70’s, and then it is over-processed digitally by engineers who don’t understand how to preserve the human nuance in the recording – they ruin it via Pro Tools, rhythm quantization, and pitch correction. In fact, there hasn‘t been much since 1987 which anyone can really look back on, is there? Are people going to cover or sample Haddway ‘What Is Love?’.
A: Christiaan and Antal from Rush Hour always supported Balihu even when it was quite unknown. They were always honest with accounting and supportive with selling it throughout Europe. Christiaan showed up in Berlin with his graphic designer, I said yes immediately. As for the future… I have to fix up the studio first in my new apartment in Berlin!
Buy Best Of Balihu at Beatport