When Daniel Wang left the US four years ago he wanted to find a new perspective on life. Instead, he wound up totally rewiring the disco music software in his brain.
Born in California and raised in Taiwan and all over the US, the cult disco DJ got his start playing house music off cassette tapes at college parties in New York circa 1989. In 1993 he founded his own label, Balihu Records, as an outlet for the kind of soulful, retro and weirdo disco he wasn’t hearing in the city’s gay clubs.
Balihu has since released several 12-inch records, earning a cult following, and Wang has become a respected figure in the dance world, producing for Morgan Geist’s Environ label and working with Toronto expat DJ Brennan Green. Disco fans will get a chance to sample his eclectic repertoire at his long-overdue Toronto debut this month at 7th Heaven, Will Munro (Beaver, Vazaleen) and Jaime Sin’s (Shack Up) disco party.
Wang has a lot to say about electronic music history, music theory, acoustics, wavelengths, DJ politics and pretty much anything you ask him about. When discussing the birth of electronic music at Red Bull’s exclusive Music Academy in Melbourne earlier this year he cited Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Emperor’s Nightingale as a metaphor. He’s equally loquacious when discussing the ideal soundtrack for a hardcore gay sex party in Berlin, his home base for the past four years.
“The gay scene is absolutely awesome [in Berlin],” says Wang. “It really is what New York was in the ’70s. Musically, maybe it’s not where New York was at in the ’70s — very few scenes nowadays can match that. But there’s a level of freedom here; you have six or seven naked sex parties every night. You have 20 or 30 bars, which all cater to all different tastes. You have wild fetish parties and orgies….
“And a lot of classic disco and house gets played. It’s inspiring to think of music in its natural context, as giving people pleasure, and not as some kind of academic construct, not as trying to be politically, racially and socially correct by saying, ‘This is black music’ or ‘This is Asian music’ and ‘This represents that.’ It’s just about pleasure and enjoying in a very open, neutral way.”
While many US superstar DJs are content choosing samples from their vast sound libraries and then looping endlessly, Wang produces his music from scratch. His forthcoming sophomore album boasts funny lyrics, funny rhymes, conceptual instrumental tracks (he plays the theremin!) and an upbeat pop sensibility akin to Chic’s legendary disco producer, Nile Rodgers.
The cynical attitude that first led Wang to embrace disco’s gender- and colour-blind 4×4 beat also led him to leave New York in 2003. He cites the move to Europe, as well as “happy” parties in Japan (“where everybody is hugging and kissing”) for his brighter sound and brighter outlook on life.
Perennial European touring has also exposed him to a variety of cultures, social scenes and nightlife and softened his attitude to the kind of abrasive, hard-edged music he found so off-putting in the early ’90s.
“I used to think this hard techno is not terribly interesting or fun. But it is what it is and it’s probably right for certain occasions,” he says. “Like if I’m at a hardcore gay sex club, I don’t want to hear a soul diva screaming her head off, telling me how soulful she is and how beautiful Mother Life is. Maybe I want to hear hardcore techno music because that works for the environment.”