Danny Daze Goes From Westchester to Miami's Most Influential DJ
It's 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, and Westchester is relatively quiet. Somewhere in Brickell, a group of scantily dressed girls are doing shots in preparation for a wild night out, but 15 minutes west, in the grassy armpit of the Dolphin and Palmetto Expressways, leathery Cuban men gather on sun-bleached porches under buggy lamps to play dominoes. A young woman cradles a baby on her hip and a phone to her ear. Warm air rustles the squat palm trees. The lights of planes landing and taking off at the nearby airport nearly outnumber the stars.
At the end of one block stands a bigmouth bass mailbox, its gaping maw full of flyers. Pass it and turn into a driveway that's littered with machinery and a red truck bed connected to nothing. Enter the two-car-garage-turned-guest-house, and you're confronted with a glowing semicircle of Roland drum machines and modular synthesizers.
This is the inner sanctum of Danny Daze, who in the next few months will spin records in DJ sets from Australia to Spain, Paris, London, and Berlin, where he'll be hailed as one of the most influential techno and electro DJs in the world. But here in Westchester, he's Daniel Gomez, the kid who used to break dance in the street and teach West End Park summer campers to play basketball.
"He's one of those artists that somehow channels and represents the great dance music heritage of his hometown while simultaneously having his own unique and fresh take on things," says Mixmag editor Duncan JA Dick, one of the leading and longest-running authorities in dance music culture. "He's constantly surprising, unafraid to take risks and give people what they need rather than what they expect. He has courage — a rare and underrated quality in a DJ these days."
You won't hear Danny's music on the radio. Nor will you catch him playing the main stage at next week's Ultra Music Festival. But ask Ultra 2017 headliners Maceo Plex, Seth Troxler, or Jamie Jones about "Danny from Miami," and they'll have more than a few stories to tell about how inspired they've been to watch or go back-to-back with Danny on the decks. It was Jones who broke him onto the international scene by releasing 2011's "Your Everything" on Jones' influential label, Hot Creations. The danceable groove shines through a dark and dirty bass line, like the light of a nightclub sign reflected in gutter water. And after being premiered by legendary DJ and BBC Radio 1 host Pete Tong as the "massive" tune of that year's Winter Music Conference, "Your Everything" went on to be the dance music underground's song of the year.
Since then, Danny has been in high demand around the world. He played more than 90 cities last year, including some of the biggest clubs and festivals in Amsterdam, Paris, Ibiza, London, São Paolo, and Tulum. Tong named Danny's 2016 track "Swim" an "Essential New Tune." Danny lives most of the year in Berlin out of necessity. It's easier on the body and mind to tour Europe from within than to fly out of MIA every weekend. But he spends a good four months a year here on this unassuming Westchester block, a full 22 seconds' walk away from his childhood home. His mom, Maria, still lives there and sometimes makes his favorite "peasant food," like arroz con chícharos, for dinner. It's about as far as possible from the neon lights and EDM beats of South Beach.
"Every time I travel the world, I like to come back and feel like I'm at home," says Danny, a raspy-voiced 30-something with dark features, glasses, and a distinctively retro fashion sense. He's fond of a dangling gold cross earring in his left lobe, and though he's skinny and stands a hair taller than five feet six inches, his confidence immediately commands the room. "I remember the struggle, and I remember all the missions I had to go through to get to where I am now. Every time I come [home], it subconsciously motivates me to keep working hard."
Danny spent his childhood playing baseball and basketball until he was scouted by a stranger for his tennis talents.
Courtesy of Maria Gomez
"You really don't want your kid to be a DJ," Maria Gomez says. Sitting at her small dinner table, she speaks with her eyes and her hands while she fidgets with a couple of gold rings on her fingers and a left arm full of bangle bracelets. "You want your kid to be a doctor or an attorney, an engineer, or something." Above her head hangs a line of ceramic house fronts, each one designed and painted in the traditional style of Mykonos, Barcelona, or some other exotic locale. Danny brings one home to his mother every time he visits a new country, and she displays them proudly.
Maria divorced Danny's father, also named Daniel, when her son was barely 10 years old. At the time, she was a stay-at-home mom, caring for Danny and his then-3-year-old sister, Kristina. She didn't want to move her children from their home and their friends, so she took a job as a loan specialist at a bank and supplemented that income with whatever work she could get. The family lived off credit cards. Danny remembers eating mac 'n' cheese every day for months at a time and splitting a gallon of milk in two and adding water to the half-empty jugs.
Danny is a first-generation Cuban-American. His mother came to the United States in 1965 when she was 5 years old. Along with Danny's grandmother Hilda, she traveled through Mexico before finally settling in Miami, where Danny's grandfather had already settled; he passed away three months after the family moved here.
Hilda was a girl from the Cuban countryside and had an eighth-grade education. She spent her life working in Miami factories while raising her daughter. Maria had a strong example, so she worked hard to give Danny and his sister the best life possible. Hilda shared those responsibilities — she and Danny are still very close.
Danny's mother is Cuban through and through. Play for her the moody groove of Danny's "Your Everything," then play the harsh electronic beat of "Silicon," and she'll tell you they sound the same. "It's all tiki-tiki music," she says. "I'm Cuban — I like salsa." Those rhythms influenced Danny's syncopated beats, but he was more shaped by the electro sound of Miami Bass that flowed through the community during his '90s childhood. He vividly recalls a moment watching Beverly Hills Cop when the theme song played. He turned to ask his father what people called that slick, bouncing synth line. "That's 'Axel F,'" his father said. It started Danny on a never-ending journey to dig deeper into electronic sound.
Daniel Sr. wasn't around much. He didn't pay child support but always showed up wearing new alligator shoes or a gold chain. Danny says he soon realized if he ever needed a favor, his father wasn't the guy to ask. Instead, he found ways to make his own spending money. His mom was his first investor. She bought him clippers when he was about 13 so he could cut fades into all the neighborhood kids' hair.
"I gave a lot of people some really shitty haircuts," Danny laughs. But his mom points out that he was successful. One of his customers was little Armando Perez, who would grow up to be the internationally acclaimed Pitbull. Back then, she explains, he was just "Armandito," a kid only a few years Danny's senior who showed up to play basketball with the older boys.
"He used to come by with this guy named Freddy," Danny says. "I cut his hair like three times."
Danny wanted to be a jock, one of the cool kids who played baseball and dated the cheerleaders, but he admits to being studious, "an absolute nerd, especially when it came to geometry," at South Miami High School. He loved fishing off the bridge down the street. He taught himself to break dance because he thought it was cool, and he took every chance to show off his skills. (A video his sister uploaded to YouTube shows a young Danny seriously busting a move in the middle of a classroom.)
He thought band was geeky, but he spent hours sifting through vinyl at record stores. His mom noticed his passion for music as soon as he learned to speak.
"One time he was dancing, and I said, 'Danny, what you wanna be when you grow up?'" she says. "He goes, 'Musiqueto,' a musician, but that's not how you say it in Spanish. It's a word he made up."
Maybe that's why she agreed to buy those $2,000 turntables when he was only 13. Danny considered DJing a way to make money, like the fade clippers. He needed something to get him through the school months. During the summer, he was better off. He headed every day to West End Park at SW Second Street and SW 60th Avenue, a 12-minute bike ride from his house. He worked with youngsters and played all kinds of sports, including tennis.
He knew his taste was superior. Why else would his friends always let him pick the music at parties? He promised to repay his mom for the equipment, and after a couple of months performing at weddings and local events, he did.
"He had parties almost every weekend," Maria remembers. "He didn't drive. Remember he was 13, 14. I had to take him to all these, pick him up at 1 in the morning when the parties were over, and sometimes when he gets a little bit cocky, I tell him: 'Hey, remember the old, little green Caravan that I had to take you to the parties? So chill.'"
At age 14, he was living a double life. He'd been scouted during his West End summer camp days for natural talents as a tennis player. Then he was one of 20 who were chosen to participate in a tennis camp for underprivileged youth in California. After that, his lessons were sponsored by his mom's boss, Mark Fleming, at Eastern National Bank. Fleming, too, was a tennis player, and without children of his own. He saw something in Danny he could nurture. Danny fell in love with the sport, competing at school and around the region. He ranked high with the United States Tennis Association.
"The most important thing I learned about tennis is to have patience and not get upset when mistakes are made," he says. "Tennis is about centimeters, calculated decisions, and technique. It's strongly synonymous with the way I handle my career. It's extremely hard for me to get upset. I tend to try to stay as rational as possible when making any decisions."
These diurnal responsibilities kept him from giving in to the temptations of the party scene. His deft mixing and extensive collection of underground techno and electro records landed him a regular spot at late-night raves at Malibu Castle Park at 7771 NW Seventh St.
Where today some featureless concrete apartments now stand, there used to be a massive amusement area with two minigolf courses, batting cages, go-karts, bumper cars, and more than 120 arcade games. At night sometimes, each section of the play palace transformed into a rave den. One room was dedicated to the hard, tribal beats of jungle drum 'n' bass, and another was blissed out with progressive house and trance, Danny remembers. He grew up in the dark caves of the techno and electro rooms.
He still worked weddings and parties for cash, and his time at raves soon gave way to all-ages clubs in South Beach. Years passed. He graduated from South Miami High School and began taking classes at Miami Dade College. His mom was earning a steady $35,000 to $40,000 a year, so Danny didn't qualify for financial aid. In 2003, he could no longer afford tuition and took off a semester to save money. He was working at Home Depot around that year until he was in a nasty car accident. Unable to drive himself to work, he spiraled into desperation.
"I usually wouldn't wanna do anything illegal," Danny recalls. "I'm very scared of going to jail."
Then a girl he had met in the rave scene hit him up on AOL Instant Messenger. She wondered if he knew where to find 200 pills of Ecstasy. Her friend was throwing a boat party for Winter Music Conference, and everyone wanted drugs. Danny says he didn't generally deal, but as a DJ, he knew the dealers well enough.
It was an opportunity for a quick buck, he says. He'd grab the drugs, charge a finder's fee, get his car fixed, and return to college. But things went awry when he handed the pills to an undercover detective.
It all eventually led to nine months in jail. (Records of those proceedings are not available.) "I wanted to punch that girl in the face," he says as he rams a fist into his palm and narrows his eyes. "It ruined my life. It ruined my mom's life. I went $70,000 into debt. My mom aged tremendously. It put a big stain on my personality. I went and did this crazy shit... but the lesson I learned is that nothing comes easy."
A teenage Danny practices the DJ skills that would one day take him around the world.
Courtesy of Maria Gomez
The sun is bright in Westchester even as it dips behind the trees on a Monday afternoon. Danny walks backward, his hands in the pockets of his cuffed black slacks, a gold chain and white wifebeater peaking through his open black-and-brown bowling shirt. He's walking to his mom's place with his old friend and photographer Angelo Dominguez. He plans to show off his childhood home for a series he's uploading on Instagram for Resident Advisor, a website for the most educated and invested house and techno fans.
"I'm thinking you take a shot of [a reporter] taking a shot of me with the stop sign in the back," he says to Dominguez, who holds a camera. Danny is the art director of his own life. For DJ press shots, Dominguez snaps photos and then sends them to Danny for editing.
"One thing I don't like is when someone tells me what looks good," Danny says. He prefers the black-and-white aesthetic, but if color is necessary, he likes things washed out and a little grainy.
He recently ordered a box of about a hundred disposable cameras to take on tour. "Disposable cameras are basically what I see my music looking like," he says. "It's superanalog and dirty. It's not clean."
It's no secret that Danny is picky and doesn't care for music industry politics. Nor does he want fans coming to his shows just because they like "Your Everything." He's wary of anyone who asks him to surrender control. Maybe it's a trait he picked up in jail.
"You don't even need to talk about it," he says, shifting in his seat. "Just say that I got locked up or whatever."
For a year after he was released from jail, Danny was on house arrest, and as uncomfortable as that time was, he says, it made all the difference. The first 18 years of his life were a struggle, but he'd been free to follow his ambitions and talents. Jail ruined his tennis career, his chances for a college education, and his professional prospects.
"I just felt like a total loser," he says. "[But] I knew that I was a smart guy."
In a weird twist of fate, AOL Instant Messenger, the same chat platform that tempted him to make the biggest mistake of his life, was his only window to the outside world. Danny's closest friends became fellow members of the online forum Electro Alliance. It was a place DJs and producers from across the globe traded industry insights, tricks, and ideas. He grew close with two producers in particular, members who went by the monikers Dark Vektor and the Wee DJs.
"I think they just felt bad for me," he says. "I was this superyoung kid that had been arrested. I was definitely depressed, and they noticed it, but they also noticed my love for electro music."
Unable to leave his mom's house and with nothing else to do but think and chat, he began taking music production lessons from Dark Vektor and the Wee DJs. He had learned how to make basic edits during his career DJing at weddings, where he used software such as Sound Forge. People wanted a souped-up version of the "Electric Slide" or the "Macarena," he says, so he would add a harder kick drum. His Electro Alliance friends helped him hone the craft and find his way around more sophisticated programs and analog synths.
"I don't consider myself a musician," he says. "I like to twiddle stuff. I like to turn knobs. I don't play keys, so I need things to touch and wiggle."
In 2006, the court allowed him to shift from house arrest to "community control," which meant he could leave his mom's place for work if he went straight home. But the drug charge meant some employers were wary, and he didn't want to work in an office. The best job he could get was in pest control. So for two years, he spent hot days crawling under homes in Coral Gables and eating facefuls of dirt to chase rats and snakes for manicured housewives.
"I knew I had committed a big error in my life that took me away from school, my tennis career. I was like, I'm going to pursue something that I feel I can really love — or at least like better than killing cockroaches."
In 2005, he put together a mix that blended Debbie Gibson and Madonna with Stevie B and the Beastie Boys. He worked in electro, pop, rap, electroclash, and other styles in what he calls "a cooler, adult version of what I was doing at weddings and parties." He sent the mix to Diego Martinelli, a local party promoter on MySpace he'd never spoken to.
"I'm not too sure what compelled me to click 'open,'" Martinelli remembers. "He was just superpolite. [The mix] had such brilliance in it, such depth, such nuance, and insane selections. It was such a schizo mix. I immediately gave him a job."
Danny began DJing Fridays at Cafeteria, a restaurant and bar that drew youthful hipsters to the space where the Guess store now stands on Lincoln Road. Always on a mission to stand out from the crowd, Danny would DJ in bright blazers and bow ties. That style was, he says, a way to prepare people on the dance floor for the wild mishmash of music he would unleash. Two months in, Danny's front room was packed every week with 500 to 600 people dancing on tables and losing their minds to some of the wildest open-format mixes Martinelli says he had ever heard.
The promoter says Cafeteria owners asked him: "Where'd you find this kid dressed in a bright-pink blazer and a bow tie?"
Danny Daze poses in his personal studio, a 22-second walk away from his childhood home.
Photos by Angelo Dominguez
"He was a fucking star right away," Martinelli says. But there was more to Danny than outrageous outfits and maniacal mixing. Over breakfast after the club had closed, Martinelli remembers geeking out over "really high-level" music with Danny. Meanwhile, the pop-forward, multigenre open-format style he rocked was opening big doors to monetary success. Danny nabbed a residency at LIV.
He made personal edits and remixes of pop songs for his mixes. Then he discovered other DJs doing the same thing via illegal downloading services such as Napster and Limewire. He reached out to a couple of them, Minneapolis producers Gigamesh and Joe Maz, with whom he formed the group DiscoTech. Soon their remixes of the Police's "Roxanne" and Kanye West's "Homecoming" gained international notoriety. Danny and his collaborators were booked for shows around the world.
He was able to repay his mom for all of her help during his arrest and incarceration, but he was making "bullshit music," he says.
"I got sick of that after a while. I didn't like open format. I didn't like the music that was coming out. No offense to Katy Perry, but I really don't like Katy Perry... I felt like I was in the same position as killing cockroaches."
Soon, though, Danny began to comprehend the depth of dance music. He found inspiration in Miami by watching DJs Oscar G and Lazaro Casanova find success with a tropical brand of house. Both were traveling the world without having to rely on cheesy pop tricks. So, he says, he began moving in that direction, releasing groovy tech house with a taste of the Caribbean, like 2011's "BAHBAhBah," a driving, repetitive house tune with a tribal vibe, and "Ghetto Fab," a similarly looping dark-house track most memorable for its hysterical, sassy vocal about "hoochie mamas."
The transition was welcomed by house fans, but he still wasn't comfortable. He made these tribal beats for about six months before moving on. He wanted to express his passion for techno and electro influenced by Detroit and Miami bass, he says. He finished "Your Everything" 12 hours before he left his mom's house to take in the celebrations of 2011's Winter Music Conference. Not even 24 hours later, it was popping up on YouTube videos of huge house DJs' sets. Commenters scrambled to learn the name of the mysterious new tune.
His mom had a hard time comprehending what came next. "I really don't know how it happened," she says, tapping her fingers on the table to mimic Danny on his computer. "He would play there on my sofa, start doing music, and all of a sudden, he got this song 'Your Everything,' and that's what blew him up. All of a sudden, he's traveling the world... but he is a hard worker. He works 24/7."
He was booked to play festivals and parties throughout Europe alongside house DJs Art Department, Lee Burridge, and Damian Lazarus. People expected to hear soulful vocals and funky grooves, but he began pumping the dark, pulsing techno more akin to stuff the DJs dropped in the smaller rooms.
"I didn't even know [a market for techno] actually existed, that you could make money doing it," he says, "but I just flipped my hat and said, You know what? I'm gonna go full force. And I went full force."
Danny used to give fades to kids in the neighborhood. Now he gets his hair cut at the neighborhood barbershop.
Photos by Angelo Dominguez
"I don't like exponential growth, like how I had with 'Your Everything,'" Danny says. "It's bandwagon... it's not a foundation of people who have actually held you up, come to your shows, support you, know what you're about, and know what to expect."
That's the foundation he now works to build — and not only for himself. In 2015, he founded the label Omnidisc. He did it anonymously. It would be another year before he revealed himself as the label head. He wanted the music to speak for itself. It's a label that releases strictly on vinyl, "for the heads," he says. It's distributed by Kompakt and Clone, prestigious vinyl distribution companies, and sold at Rush Hour in Amsterdam, Hardwax in Berlin, Technique in Tokyo, and other major record stores around the world.
Danny runs the label with his old buddy Angelo Dominguez. He also does work for Miami artist Deroboter and aims to help others like him whose dark, idiosyncratic beats don't fit into the otherwise pop-riddled, shiny house landscape of Miami dance floors.
"I'm trying to open the door for people in Miami to break out and understand there's something else going on in the world," he says. "I feel kinda lonely. I represent Miami as much as I can, but I wish I had more people, which is why I started my label. It's the movement that I'm trying to start here. But it's really hard being the first guy to break out."
But just because something is difficult doesn't mean Danny is discouraged. It's that struggle that turns his gears. That's why, no matter how far he flies or how high he climbs, he keeps returning to this unassuming neighborhood in Westchester, begging his mom to cook huevos fritos or arroz con chícharos.
On a recent evening, he and his mom sit together. Each has a right leg crossed over a left in the same relaxed way. They lean back in old porch chairs at his mom's house, across the street from his place with the bass mailbox. That was a place he told his mom years ago that he would buy for a studio.
They talk crap about Donald Trump and reminisce. It's his usual home scene. He's at his most comfortable. Danny hands his new iPhone 7 to his mom. He wants to demonstrate the camera's high-quality depth of field. He asks her to take a few shots of him in front of the palm trees in the same yard he played in as a child.
This is the Miami that Danny represents, and it's the world his music reflects. It's not as pretty as South Beach, and it's certainly not glamorous. It's gritty and hard, but honest. The people here are real. Danny embodies this darker side of the Magic City. It's his mission, he says, to shine a light on what's hardly seen.
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