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The Guest List: Daniel Wang digs deep with a unique selection of all-time classics

The Berlin-based maestro enlightens us with an exceptional top-ten from the dance archives

  • Patrizio Cavaliere
  • 8 February 2021

DJ and producer Daniel Wang has a deserved reputation as a purveyor of dance sounds endowed with boundless joy and supreme musicality. The well-travelled artist was born in Oakland, California, spent eight years of his childhood in Taipei, and cut his disco teeth while at university in New York City. He's released wonderful music on countless buy-on-sight labels, including Rush Hour, Environ, DeGustibus, and Sonar Kollektiv – as well as his own Balihu imprint – and behind the turntables has performed across the planet from London to Paris, Tokyo to São Paulo. In the last few years he's further endeared himself to the core of the dance community by way of his educational work with Red Bull Music Academy, and more recently with his informative and hugely enjoyable YouTube tutorials for Telekom Electronic Beats. Who better, then, to provide us with a list of all-time classics from dance music's fascinating history? We reached out to him to furnish us with a top-ten list of some of his favourites, as well as to find out just what he's been up to of late.

With clubs and bars in his Berlin home and beyond shut down due to the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic, Daniel has found rewarding new ways to occupy his time. “I have not flown to any DJ gigs since March 2020,” he tells Mixmag Asia. “Instead, in December, I found a real-world job as a helper in a Covid-related public medical centre; I wake up at 6:30 or 7:00 am every day and meet lots of people from different sections of society here: doctors, soldiers, older patients who lived through World War II and the communist era, and many young people as well whose artistic or technical careers are on pause due to the epidemic.” Despite the near seismic shift in his daily schedule, Wang's new role fills him with its own kind of satisfaction. “After 20 years of irregular freelancing and constantly flying around, it feels good to be working in public service - what a change of pace!”

Fortunately, he still manages to commit some of his precious free time to music production and is currently working on an instrumental house track due for release on DeGustibus Records, under the name S.D.A.P. (Some Drums And Pianos). “This will be SDAP number two, with a classic late 1980s house sound,” he says. “Besides that, I am producing a very special vocal track, a story about this city which adopted me, to be released on Paloma Records which is based here in Kreuzberg, Berlin.” Pre-lockdown, Daniel held a DJ residency at the label owner's hugely-popular Paloma Bar. “The owners are truly nice guys, and their bar had great sound quality, plus an incredible view from the huge windows.”

So, without further ado, read on and listen up to Daniel Wang's uniquely personal and wildly entertaining list of classics, graciously compiled especially for Mixmag Asia readers.

1 Salsoul Orchestra 'Zambezi'

"One could say that the Salsoul Orchestra and MFSB, both from Philadelphia and consisting largely of the same band members, were the very origin of orchestral disco arrangements in the early to mid-1970s. These gems will never fade. Every house DJ has been influenced by their big hits, but I love this particular track which is about 110 bpm and which was co-written by Donny Hathaway ('Valdez in the Country')."

2 2. K.I.D. 'Hupendi Muziki Wangu?'

"Surely there is a special spot in the heart of every connoisseur of “classic dance music” for this track, which is a brilliant purely instrumental arrangement done by one man using an early 1980s drum machine. His name was Geoff Bastow, he was an Englishman from Yorkshire who lived in southern Germany. He died relatively young. I think he was an underrated genius."

3 René and Angela (René Moore & Angela Winbush) 'Free and Easy'

"It feels like this track became a sort of “theme song” in my DJ sets during the past 3 or 4 years. For a long time, I had known that it existed, but I always found the original version a bit too hurried. Using Logic software in early 2017, I did a very subtle time stretch without affecting the pitch, and then suddenly it sounded just right to me and I started playing it at my gigs. It’s also interesting that René Moore released a more electronic, steady tempo version of this same song under the band name Plush."

4 Chantal Curtis 'Get Another Love'

"The female singer here was Canadian and had quite a tragic life. She was also the vocalist on the West End Records 1977 album, Michele 'Magic Love', with the incredible summer disco classic 'Can’t You Feel It'. The energetic bass playing feels like a tight “soukous” guitar line from West Africa, but the vocals are definitely minor and not major. That touch of blues and the sorrow in her voice make this song go so much deeper."

5 Tim Maia 'Acendo O Farol'

"Ironically, I first heard this track somewhere in the UK, and never in any club during my few trips to Brazil! It’s also from the late 1970s of course - from that moment when every nation’s pop stars were turning out ONE big disco hit for the dance charts across the world. The thick octave bass notes and the rich voice of this huge, hefty man give it endless life and energy!"

6 Hector LaVoe 'El Cantante'

"This might be one of the greatest salsa tracks ever. Its magic is in the arrangement - the unusually long structure and the use of a massive violin section in the middle which brings the emotions to an unforgettable crescendo. Simply let it play from beginning to end. It speaks for itself."

7 Blondie 'Rapture'

"A big hit which everyone knows - but I still love it! (And I hate DJ playlists with only obscure B-sides and anonymous instrumentals.) 'Heart Of Glass' was their biggest commercial success, but only recently I read that Blondie suffered a backlash from their original “punk rock” fanbase which hated their efforts to “cross over” into the mainstream. Debbie Harry’s rap vocals are full of inventive humour, and the band matches her with just as much funky, joyful rock-and-roll spontaneity. It’s a truly unique moment from that downtown New York scene in 1981."

8 Richard Sanderson 'Check On The List'

"This wistful pop song from 1985 has something quintessentially European about it, yet the chords and the touches of piano and percussion are full of gentle jazz inspiration. The story of a girl (probably from a cold northern country) who listened to the fairytales of life on a sunny beach and fell in love with a stranger from another world…"

9 Sister Sledge 'You Fooled Around'

"Listening to the sound quality of this 1978 album track by today’s standards, it could almost be a mere demo. But it has everything which is lacking in the slick electronic productions of the year 2021: beautiful chords, a tight solid arrangement, a real narrative, and that soulful voice which is unmistakable. Thanks again, master Nile Rodgers!"

10 MFSB 'To Be In Love'

"This playlist starts with a groovy Salsoul tune and finishes with this divine orchestration from MFSB. The acoustic piano intro, the sensuous female vocals, and the flute solo at the end playing in “call and response” with the violins make it a truly elegant and unique disco classic."

Thank you Daniel Wang for a wonderful list and your generous descriptions.

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