DJ Dan’s sets are like an exorcism. Born Daniel Wherrett, he’s been a staple on the West Coast and national rave scenes since the 1990s. He toured with Carl Cox and reigned over San Francisco as part of the Funky Tekno Tribe during the heady late '90s tech boom. But it was in the shadows of downtown Los Angeles, as far back as 1991, that he helped light up the future.
His excellent new Remix Collection is an acid flash through his madcap style, combining house, techno, breaks and disco-funk. This year also marks the 20-year anniversary of “Loose Caboose.” Produced with Jim Hopkins as the Electroliners, it’s a dance floor anthem that has rocked raves around the globe. A tech-house update kicks off Remix with an urgent velocity.
At a local show in Hollywood earlier this month, Dan kept everyone guessing on the groove. A stranger explained to me over the loud beats how he caught Dan at Burning Man in 2013. He “laid waste” to the whole playa, he said. New to house music, the convert told me Dan is “as close as I’ll get to church.” More than two decades on, he’s still raising spirits.
L.A. Weekly: Hearing you DJ again, you bring in so many elements, it’s sort of mind-boggling to hear you play live. There is always this moment of “What’s going on!?” It’s mayhem.
DJ Dan: For me, I view all music as the same. It’s different keys, different moods. It’s all the same to me and it’s all energy. I don’t care if I’m going from a really dark vibe to a bright one. I don’t care if I do it in a second. I want to create an organized chaos on the dancefloor. I want people to sit there and go, “There’s no way this is going to mix in.” And then, yes it does and it works. I love doing that.
So what are some of the influences that have gone into this new collection and last year’s album, Nothing But a Party?
About a couple years ago, I had a big party at my house. And Barry Weaver played for six hours, and it was all just underground disco. The house was packed. It was vibrating. And then Frankie Bones showed up with his records and he played. It was this disco throwdown. So I started ordering all these 45s, 7-inch vinyl records. I have 200 coming to me in the mail. They’re all original disco.
Not a lot of people know the history of dance culture in the U.S., including most Americans, but for all the great DJs I’ve met, on some level it’s a higher calling.
For me, it was….One of my favorite parties was at Union Station. It was a Paw Paw Patch party. There were blacks and whites and drag queens, the most bizarre mix, the craziest group of people coming together, and everybody just rocking out. And that’s when I knew, “You know what, I went to school for fashion design, and I always wanted to tell my story through a form, and this is it.” It changed that night.
Your name is now starting to penetrate with the younger crowd. What are some of your favorite parties you’ve played in the last year or so?
One of my favorite parties I played was in Baltimore. It was the Hamilton Street Festival. It was during the day and everyone brought their kids. There was a stage in front of me and all the kids were breakdancing with each other and I played an all vinyl set. The kids were just loving it. It was the first time I had seen both the past and the future together in one. It just reminded me it’s all good.
You’ve been living in Eagle Rock since 2000, not long after you moved back from San Francisco. What’s your take on L.A. right now?
Eagle Rock is literally 15 minutes from downtown L.A. I never ever imagined there would be a heart in the center of L.A. because it felt like an abandoned city when I first moved there. Whenever I go to New York, you feel the spirit and the pulse of the city. Downtown L.A. was lacking that for a very long time. It’s a very beautiful city. But I think people are actually bringing it back to life with music and art and food.
I remember the first party I ever did down there. It was a three-day event. There were huge rats in the alleys. It was so hardcore. I remember just being like, “Wow! Who hangs out down here?” That party was called Altered States. It was myself, Doc Martin, Barry Weaver and Ron D. Core. For everyone who told me L.A. was such a horrible place, I actually saw the opposite. I saw a place of beautiful, amazing people who love music and have a passion for life and dancing.