Interview: DJ divaDanielle
“I don’t care who you are, if you’re listening to divaDanielle, your booty is shaking!” ❤︎ LadyBinX, LostinSound.org
Known for her dynamic performances and infectious energy, divaDanielle started her career after catching a record that the infamous Darren Emerson threw into the crowd in 2003 (Grant Nelson’s “Free & Switch” for those who were wondering). After many years in the LA underground scene, she started releasing original tracks through InStereo Recordings. Her debut track (and now Diva theme song) “Work” spent 6 months on the Beatport House 100. In 2015 she struck gold with “I Got A Man,” a collaboration with DJ Dan, spending a month in the House Top 10. She has since released on labels such as WyldCard Records, Fort Knox Recordings and Wulfpack as well as put out numerous bootlegs.
With a fierce desire to promote women in music alongside an affinity for unicorns, Danielle trail-blazed her way through the California music scene with her self-dubbed brand, ‘Music 4 Unicorns,’ a mix of House, Tech House and Nu Disco. Much like the mythical creature, divaDanielle is one of a kind.
divaD has rocked Northern Nights, Lightning in a Bottle, Coachella, and so many more.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
When I was 3 years old, I was telling people that I was gonna be Olivia Newton John when I grew up. So some mixture of Grease and Xanadu might have gotten me into music! I don't really remember exactly when it all started but I clearly remember listening to my Dad's old records on a record player in giant 80s headphones. I could spend a whole day doing that. I always loved music. I play the piano...not very good but I play! My true love was always singing. And as I got older, I loved to dance.
When I was 17, I went to Europe for 2 months before I started college. It was there I remember hearing dance music for the first time. I remember thinking to myself, "What is this?!?!?" I just dove into house music after that.
I went to film school in Boston. Even though I was studying film and have also had a career as a film/video editor, I spent my nights going to see different artists from all over the world, working as the coat check girl in the biggest club in the city. When I moved to LA, I had parallel lives in the film industry and the underground music community.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I have to admit, I'm one of those people that always has something to do, something to cross off my To do list. So it's the moments that I go hiking or go to the beach or play with my dog or sit in meditation that really create the space and the clear head to let creativity in. It might sound weird to some people but I find silence to be such a deep well of creativity. Giving my mind a break. I cherish those moments.
I love traveling and seeing the world. Seeing what other people listen to and, also, eating what other people eat, seeing the colors and fabrics of a different country, hearing the languages and meeting new people. People might be the biggest influence on my creativity of all. Whether you connect with people or feel disconnected, there's emotions there. Emotions which can be felt in music. Every song, even dance songs, make us all feel some sort of way.
How long has music been your career?
Wow, it's been 19 years since the first time I picked up a record and played it. In 2013, though, I started making my own music and quit my 9-5 day job to tour.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
I am now based out of Oakland, CA. I lived in LA for 20 years though. I think Los Angeles likes to get down and dirty on the dance floor. I hear it when I play. Notes of 90s SoCal hip hop peppered in over bouncy beats. When you are in LA, the sun is out. You just wanna be by the beach with no cares in the world. I definitely hear my sound getting a little techier since I've moved to Northern California. But I'll always have a bit of funk and bounce mixed in.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Oh goodness. Ok, best set I ever played. I think I've narrowed it down to the Top 3. Sunrise at Burning Man in 2014. Something about it felt magical. My friends were making grilled cheese out by the trash fence. If you've been to the Burn, you know what I'm talking about. Friends were drinking champagne. I've played a ton of beautiful sunrises but something about this one felt different. Even to this day, people from all over that I meet tell me this was the set that got them into my music. It's almost as if I could feel it in real time that something special was happening.
I think Lightning in a Bottle 2017 and The W Hollywood last July 3rd (2021) come in close second and third places. I cried at the end of my set at The W. It was really the first crowd I had played to since Covid. I had moved out of LA and it felt like coming home. I expected people to show up but it was so much bigger than I had ever expected. People were so full of joy to see one another. It was that moment of coming out of 2 years of seclusion...even though we had to go back in a few months later. Ha! But for the moment, it felt like such freedom. And Lightning in a Bottle, it was just a dream come true. People were hanging off the rafters of the stage and I had a live drummer with me.
Now for the worst show, I try to forget those. ahahaha It's true though. You know, the nature of life is that you win some, you lose some. So I try to learn and move on. It's hard for me to remember the exact worst moment.
As a DJ, there have been moments where for whatever reason I just didn't connect, especially when I was just getting started. I played in an empty room or cleared the dance floor. So much of DJing is learning to be really present with the crowd, feeling into the vibe. And exuding something of yourself that the crowd kind of unconsciously wants to follow. It's hard sometimes. Bright Lights. Loud music. People spill drinks on your equipment. Something distracts you and you hit the wrong button on the CDJ and everything goes silent. I've been through it all. Everything that can go wrong, does eventually. I just do my best to roll with the punches and not beat myself up too much.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I mean you can't really beat a sunrise at Burning Man! But, I have to say Public Works in San Francisco feels like home. Whenever I step on that stage, I feel like the crowd is right there with me ready to go. It's been like that from day one. One of the reasons I moved to the Bay Area is because all of the clubs here take so much pride and care in their sound systems. Monarch, Halcyon, Audio, The Midway. This is an amazing place to be in the dance music world.
I have a dream of playing at Club Space in Miami. Then maybe it will feel like I've really made it! But then again, I want to go to Ibiza! And play Movement in Detroit! Meow Wolf in Sante Fe! There's still so many places to go!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I have such a DJ drush on Green Velvet! One day! If I could be on a lineup with Green Velvet, Honey Dijon, and my mentor, DJ Dan, that might be the dream!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
You can try to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what everybody else likes. Make what you like. Put your creation and your love of music first. Then it never feels like work. I don't care if that's a cliche, it's absolutely true.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I think I was always afraid of speaking up for myself. When I started, I was always walking into what felt like a boy's club. So I kind of followed their lead or let someone else take center stage when their egos or whatever were hurt. I was always afraid of calling out the inequities in pay and in line-ups. A lot of the time, I'd be the only female DJ on a line-up. I wish I had spoken up sooner but I was afraid of the backlash and of losing gigs. I wish I could tell myself not to be so afraid. In the end, no gig is worth staying silent. Shine your light baby Diva!
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
"Work," was the first track I ever released so it holds this special place in my heart. I was working on it in my bedroom and DJ Dan was at my house visiting my roommate at the time. They were old friends. He heard it through my door and walked in and said, "Whatever that is, finish it. We're going to release it on InStereo." It was not only my first release but also the beginning of a friendship and a mentorship. Now, I run that record label! I got to see Dan play it at EDC on one of the main stages. To see your music in front of that sort of crowd. There's nothing like it.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I made a bootleg of Lizzo's "Truth Hurts." Without a doubt, it gets requested the most. You can't really go wrong with Lizzo. I did a remix last year of a song called "Get Off Ur" for DJ Denise. It's probably my favorite song to play. In what I humbly consider a stroke a genius, I had the whole song drop to silence for a beat. That moment of silence, it's always a BIG moment on the dance floor. It adds an element of surprise to the track. People just go crazy. It
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Hearing music that I love whether it's streaming or I'm out dancing, that's usually when I get stoked to write.
The whole process is different every time. Sometimes I have a melody stuck in my head. Sometimes a drum beat. Sometimes I hear a vocal and I just know I've got to use it. I love collaborating with other people too. I find people inspiring. I get pumped just talking about ideas. If I get stuck, they can take over and vice versa. I love the act of sending music back and forth. Adding a drum here, a bassline there, or maybe just some weird sound that one of us has created. It's so cool to watch something grow out of nothing!
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
My music is fun and bouncy. I think there's a light-heartedness there that reminds people to dance, to laugh, to smile. So much of dance music is about just letting it all go. Let out all the stress and worry and come back to a place of joy. I certainly hope that's what's coming across in my music.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Honesty. It's hard sometimes. I used to be more scared. But I'm more confident now. Not necessarily confident that I'm right or anything like that. but confident that I have a voice and it deserves to be heard. Working with a collaborator that is open to whatever needs to be said is key. Like any relationship, there needs to be open communication. That combined with a desire to create something that everyone feels good about is key
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
The world is opening up again. I'm starting to travel again. It's been great getting lots of music out there over these past couple years but I'm also just excited to see all those smiling faces on a dance floor again. I've got a busy May. I'm playing at Dead Ringer in Reno on May 6th, Public Works in San Francisco on May 13th and Wisdome in LA on May 20th. I'll be back in LA to play July 3rd at The W Hollywood Pool again this year and that's always one of my favorite sets of the year. As for music, I've got new releases coming out pretty much every month. The best way to hear all my new music is divaDanielle on Spotify and Beatport.
@divadanielle on Spotify