Heroes: Interview with Daniel Wang (Balihu, Berlin)

000

We are extremely happy to present you our next hero after a very long break: boss of Balihu, a man-dancer, the fire of all disco parties in the world, the iconic and inimitable Daniel Wang! We had a great time with the legend discussing stories of his gradual emergence as a DJ and musician, the secrets of perfect edits, the difference between the parties of 90s and today situation and more. So turn on, tune in, drop out!

Hi Dan! Where are you at the moment? Are you in the middle of DJ tour?

At home but in studio 3-10pm then to Japan in the morning..

I heard Daniel Grau EP with your remixes and brand new Oto Gelb 12″ but I didn’t hear nothing new from you for a long time before. What’s happening in your universe at the moment?

Yes the Daniel Grau is my first remix in a long time! I did it with my good friend Jules Etienne, a french-born Berliner who is a good acoustic guitarist as well. I also just finished a remix of one track from the Todd Terje album, it will be released some time in the next months. Basically I moved into an old 1960s East German apartment in 2009 and spent the past 4 years renovating it and making a new home in every detail. Not luxury, just comforts like nice colours and lighting and finding the right furniture. I’ve always worked in my home studio, so now finally I have a studio again.

Why Balihu? What does it mean?

Balihu is a joke on the old English/Irish word Ballyhoo, meaning a big noise or fuss over nothing. In the 1990s when I started, everything in house music was hard dark deep or spiritual afro conscious. I wanted humour, irony, string sections, nonsense. So I chose a nonsensical name.

P4040437

How many languages do you know?

Properly I can speak 6 pretty well. Two latin languages two germanic and two east asian. I am not supersmart, I did study each language for many years and always felt as a child that I didn’t want to be labeled an ordinary Chinese person — the Chinese communities in USA and Europe tend to be introverted and closed-minded about their neighbours. And being gay, of course I fantasized about fashions in Paris, Nagisa Oshima movies in Tokyo, etc. Languages seemed to be the key.

Which city always amaze you with musical finds? Where do you like to dig? Do you have a favorite flea markets, shops? Tell some stories about it.

Wow. For record digging, USA and Germany most of all. I mean also cities outside of New York or Berlin, like Detroit, Frankfurt etc. But that was in year 2000-2004. Internet has changed our shopping habits so much. I think Discogs is amazing. And yes, I love flea markets. There is too much stuff in my house lately but honestly I started digging for African artefacts last year.. paris Clignancourt, New York Harlem and West 26th Street.. There are marvellous worlds in those flea markets.

Where did you get such passion for disco music?

Disco music — as a child already, I loved the TV show Dance Fever, and the pop hits like Diana Ross — Upside Down or Patrice Rushen — Forget Me Nots. To me it’s more strange that people like heavy metal or monotonous gangster rap music, or aggressive boring hard techno. I understand that humans are all just different brains seeking different thrills and comforts… They want to identify with some group and so they buy the image music etc. But the good side of «real» disco music seems to me an extension of the best elements of classical, jazz, African rhythms. I love lots of other things too, but for fun and dancing, it’s mostly disco and its variations. That includes a wide range of «real music» from the 70s to maybe late 80s. But laptop techno, tracks made by DJs — that stuff is just not music.

P4040440

Tell us how it all began to turn in your life? How did you start to visit clubs at first time? How it all began? What there were the parties?

I am not sure things really changed suddenly in my life. A fascination with music and dancing seems to be an absolute constant in my life. My father took a photo of me when I was 5 or 6 with my Snoopy doll and record player. He wrote on it «Danny likes to listen to music all the time». When I was 13 I was running out to underground discotheques in Taipei. This was 1983, public discos were actually illegal due to fear of bad effects of alcohol and immoral sexual behaviour! The change probably happened in university around 1988, when I noticed that the African American students at my school were into a deeper, more profound kind of electronic music than the europop (like Bananarama or Pet Shop Boys) which I knew until then. These were my first contacts with House Music, records like Lil Louis — French Kiss, and in 1989-1990 voguing in New York and the NYC vinyl scene like NuGroove and Strictly Rhythm.

What is the radical difference between the parties of 90s and the current parties in your opinion? What does irritate you, and what does please? Tell us about it through the lens of your experience.

I am not nostalgic for the 1990s as some people might imagine. I already saw and heard a lot of negative things in that time. Most house music, even mixes by Tony Humphries or DJ Pierre or Steve Silk Hurley already sounded very commercial and musically insufficient to me. I was into Masters At Work dub mixes for a short while and then soon realised it was the Emperor’s New Clothes. There never was any musical substance in their tracks. Some great beats yes but just endless harmonic nonsense and mistakes. The egotism of big name DJs like Junior Vasquez was unbearable. Their music was aggressive, druggy and without wit or beauty. Around 1994-1997 I escaped into the retro / «classic disco» scene in NYC with DJs like Francois Kevorkian, Danny Krivit, David Depino. I learned a lot from them. These were parties where mostly gay black men and their friends came together.

In what industry else you want to try yourself? Maybe you have some passion for which there is no time enough.

Other possible careers? Haha. I still have fantasies about being a school teacher! Working with plants, translating books into Chinese. Or from German into English. But one cannot be too greedy. I do a lot of visual arts in my apartment but mainly for decoration and pleasure.

P4040484

Could you name a few iconic moments that have completely turned your life?

A few iconic moments? First time in Kyoto Japan and seeing all those temples. Around 1997 maybe. I woje up early and sat there enjoying the famous RyoAnJi rock garden ALONE for 20mins… the moment I met Pamelia Kurstin, who taught me how to play theremin. and I suppose the death of my dear grandma a few years ago.

What are the 5 points of a good party?

Five points for good party. Good acoustics in the dance space!!! Expensive powerful speakers are useless without good acoustic treatment!! Forbidding mobile phone and camera. Just turn off all devices, stop talking, enjoy the music. Good mix of people, a crowd which produces some aesthetic and sexual / physical tension and interaction on the dancefloor. Good music mix of course. A DJ who is not egotistical, who is empathic with the people dancing. Also a free sense of time. Ending at exactly 2am or 4am can be too early, too sad, too limiting.

What is it for you a great edit?

My opinion: it should not attract too much attention to the fact that it is an edit. It should respect the flow of the original. It really should respect the original chordal structure, I feel that this is the essence of that «feeling of infinity» with good extended versions. Todd Terje and that Japanese edit project COMBI have made a lot of good edits in recent times. But Danny Krivit really did it first with James Brown, MFSB — Love Is The Message etc. He really is the «ancestor».

Please explain the difference between cheesy and not-cheesy disco for you? You are playing a lot of classics like MFSB and Salsoul Orchestra.

Difference between cheesy and non cheesy is an appreciation of jazz, both rhythmically in improvisation and variation and especially in chordal modulation. A lot of «eurodisco» like the Donna Summer hits, Amanda Lear, italodisco, Bobby Orlando, also Patrick Cowley, were written with a competent but incomplete understanding of things like jazz voicings, use of 7th/9th major minor diminished chords etc. They can be fun too, I definitely play them, but the level of artistry was higher with those producers like Ashford and Simpson, Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones, Vince Montana, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (MFSB), Bert Reid etc. As a DJ I think the mix and tension between cheesy and non cheesy or «soul» vs «euro» is good! But my heart is with jazz.

P4040495

What do you like the most about travelling? What’s your must to-do list in a new town? Tell more about your last favorite trip?

Culture, history, nature and food obviously. I can really understand why people think that DJ is this dream profession: you have nonstop fun with strangers who pay for you to travel around the world. But it can be a bit melancholic if you do it alone too much. Luckily I have been able to travel with my german boyfriend to Japan, China, Brazil… But I always look for the flea markets. There is nothing left to buy in shops in this global economy which is «authentic and unique to the region» except for those strange tools, clothes, objects at the junk markets. Especially in USA, northern Europe and Japan. There you find beautiful junk from yesterday. I have too much of it at home already :)

What’s your opinion on social media nowadays? You saw it just from the start, how does it affect on everyday life / night life?

I don’t imagine myself as being above it — I am one of 3 billion net citizens! I also fear too much porno and Facebook addiction… But my life also benefits from it. I worry a bit for teenagers though. This world has become fixated on photographing itself.

P4040497

What still filling you up (in energetic meaning of the word) in a «DJ» or «artist» life?

When I was younger, I was afraid of getting «bored» with dance music and imagined getting into more serious academic or classical music. But now I know that there is no contradiction. Like with literature, music is an art which is so much better when you don’t overly intellectualise it but rather you should put your own body and soul into it. Then it is real and alive. And when I see people getting together, having sex, making love and dancing in a group or a circle together at parties, that inspires me more and more!

Imagine you are living in the Middle Ages, what object/thing/gadget/instrument from today life you need the most?

I suppose a mobile phone or anything electric is useless, since they dont have electricity. I would bring a flush toilet with me. I believe that people were quite unhygenic in Europe. They threw the shit and piss into the streets in London. Although I read that they already had complete sewage systems in Japan which kept Edo (Tokyo) city clean… Toilet. And a modern toothbrush :)

Follow Daniel on Facebook
Check Daniel’s discography

Words by Sasha Tessio & Artem Super Ikra
Photos by Mr. Ace Blair
Cover drawing by Sasha Tessio