2015 seemed to be the year people woke up to the imbalances within the music industry, specifically within the dance scene in the States. There were regular open discussions over the lack of coverage of females and people of color in the modern press, we saw the launch of the nap girls movement, and we are slowly (very slowly) starting to see more diversity on lineups throughout the world.
2016 is going to be an exciting year of progression that hopefully sees an active change in the dance music environment. Last year was the discussion, this year is the action. Chicago-based journalist and DJ, Dani Deahl’s announcement of becoming DJ MAG’s new editor-at-large is an awesome step in the right direction. Check our talk with Dani below, where we discuss the current state of blogs, her new position, and finding music before the internet.
NHQ: To start off, how many years have you been writing about music?
Dani: I’ve actually been writing longer than I’ve been producing music. I started DJing when I was around 16 or so, and I started writing shortly after. I was offered a feature in URB Magazine; I just self-edited my own interview. At the time, I didn’t know that people didn’t do that! They were really impressed by that and asked me to come out to the magazine. Shortly after that I told my parents that I was interested in making music and they got me a copy of Logic for Christmas.
NHQ: Where were you at the time?
Dani: Always Chicago, born and raised.
NHQ: How have you seen the music scene grow and develop since you’ve been there?
Dani: It’s interesting. When I started, I would go record shopping every week. I would take my allowance and my baby-sitting money and take the bus up to Gramaphone Records and proceed to freak out if I saw Derrik Carter, Paul Johnson or any of those guys hanging out in the store. It was different, you had to really search for the parties; you had to go stores and physically pick up the flyers, call the info lines, go to checkpoints to figure out where the party was actually happening. It was all super underground but I really identified with it because, at the time, we were all misfits; everyone who was part of the industry were people that had problems finding their way in regular social circles. Now it’s really popular, and when I started it was not.
NHQ: Where did you go besides record shops to find out about new music?
Dani: Clothing stores. There was a store called “Untitled” and they would have a bunch of flyers. I also used cafes and internet forums.
NHQ: What were some of the bigger forums back then?
Dani: Midwest Ravers, and The Pure message board was another really big one.
NHQ: How did that love of music turn into you writing about it?
Dani: I always had an affinity for writing. I’ve never been really good at talking to people, so as a kid I wrote into a journal a lot. I think it’s because I had problems relating to people in real life and it was just easier for me to put words down on paper. When it came to journalism, I kind of just fell into it. Like I said earlier, the job with URB Magazine wasn’t even planned. After I got that position I started pursuing actual positions with other magazines.
NHQ: Were there any writers or publications that you were looking up to that helped shape and influence how you were writing at the time?
Dani: I really looked up to DJ MAG and I’m thrilled to now be writing for an institution that has been a part of my life for so long. URB magazine really taught me how to do my job. I had no background in journalism. It’s really rare to see someone hold several editorial positions in a magazine who doesn’t come from journalism or at least an English degree. I used to submit my articles and then compare them to what was actually being published. I learned a lot through just comparing my own work like that.
NHQ: What do you think about the current state of music journalism, specifically within dance music?
Dani: That’s a loaded gun, and you know it! (laughs) I assume that you saw the article that this kid Josh wrote on the state of blogs and dance music? If you haven’t read it, you should. Basically it was about how we’ve really created a world of acceptable payola. I have no issue with someone paying for press, so long as it’s simply marked as advertisement. That’s what it is. As you know, a lot of blogs were recently kicked off of The Hype Machine because of things like double dipping, where PR companies were working for blogs and writing about their own clients, or they were getting paid to write about people under the table, trading posts. It became a kind of currency. I think it still happens to a degree, but one of the things I love about writing for DJ MAG is that, as a physical publication, there is a much greater level of accountability for what content is put out. I missed that a lot! What do you think about it?
NHQ: I think that people in general aren’t as concerned with finding new acts. They’re fine with writing about what is already being written about. I think that when I was growing up and checking out blogs, whether it be Discodust, Missingtoof, or any of the first sites to come out of the bloghaus boom, I was hearing music that I’d never heard before. That was the exciting thing about it and the reason that I kept going back. The focus now for a lot of sites seems to be less about the music and more about the easy returns and clickbait.
Dani: I agree with everything that you’re saying, and it’s funny because I was just talking to Party Favor the other night, and he said that my blog was one of the first blogs that he really paid attention to and followed because we hunted for music. He actually didn’t like to tell people about the blog because it was almost like virtual crate digging.
NHQ: I think that’s almost exactly what it is. Or should be. I grew up past the age of physical music, and I also grew up in Nashville so as far as electronic music goes, the selection was very slim. The whole blog thing was very much like crate digging. For NEST HQ, writing about smaller artists that we believe in is a model that has really worked for us; developing relationships with small artists and continuing to write on them is a model that can be just as successful as writing about successful acts. Taking risks can be just as rewarding.
Dani: It also has to come from a source that people trust. It’s sort of like the unspoken rule of DJing, where, if you give them two or three songs that they know and can sing along to, you can slip in the one that no one knows. Maybe there needs to be more outlets with higher visibility (like you guys) who can take those risks and show that they’re not really that big of risks.
NHQ: Yes. How did the opportunity with DJ MAG come about?
Dani: I just asked them if I could write for them. I wrote one freelance piece, and just really loved getting the print version of what I wrote. I really wanted to write for an actual physical magazine again. There’s just something about it. I asked if I could write a couple of freelance pieces for them and immediately Sarah Polonsky, the editor in chief, asked if wanted to have a permanent position for them. Basically I would be dumb to say no, and I said yes.
NHQ: Do you have any goals for 2016? Is there anything that you’re excited to be able to do now with this large of a platform, which you might not have been able to do before?
Dani: My first formal issue with them is printing in February, and once you see the overall theme of the print you’re going to laugh but it was not planned at all. It’s cool because they are letting me propose things that they might not have originally covered. I also really enjoy doing interviews for them because I think I come from a unique background of having been both the interviewer and the interviewee many times. I get to talk to artists on a level that normal journalists might not be able to. For February, I actually got the cover story, and the person that I interviewed said that it was their favorite interview that they had ever done. It was really cool.
NHQ: Do you think that 2016 will be the year that the male domination of the industry begins to change? Do you think we will see more female DJs and producers coming up?
Dani: Yeah, I mean, even when I did my TEDxTalk, I tell everyone that I’m doing this talk with the intent that people viewing this in five or ten years will think that it was really stupid that it had to be done. The tide is turning a lot faster than I anticipated it would, and that is awesome. I see this issue happening a lot more here in the States then I do in Europe, and I’m not really sure why that is, but I’m happy that the scales are tipping. It’s not just women in music, its equality in music that has to be tackled. One of my friends that works at Complex said, “We don’t have a ‘lack-of-women-in-music’ problem, we have a ‘white-male’ problem.” There is a lot that needs to be tackled. I am happy to see that women in music are advancing very quickly, but overall I feel like there is a lot that needs to be addressed still.
NHQ: What do you think are some of the most effective ways to bring about that change?
Dani: Talking about it. What Krewella did for example, speaking about their opinions of the industry knowing they were going to get shut down. I think that was really courageous. There are a lot of female artists who I think would rather not bring things up because it feels like they’re rocking the boat. In the past, things never got changed because people were complacent.
NHQ: Well Dani, I’m really excited for your new position and I’m excited to see the new piece.
Dani: Me too!
Words: Fan Fiction