In Italy I’m the American DJ, but here in America, I’m the Italian DJ
It’s the type of surreal scene that is more and more common in an economic downturn. A young man who once had a promising career in the fashion business, now rides an L.A. city bus into the night with a few homeless people trying to get some sleep and, I imagine, with a couple of overworked dishwashers finally done with their shift.
This bus scene is a portrait of Daniele Tavella halfway through his journey. It is after he successfully completed his law degree in Bologna, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe and it is after he led a successful double life that combined a day job in Milan with DJ gigs across Europe.
If you only know where Daniele’s journey started, then this portrait might look kind of sad, but if you know the final destination of his ride, the story looks quite different. Daniele is on the bus before his resident DJ spot at the ultra-popular Hollywood club Playhouse, before his featured profile in a section of the Gazzetta del sud normally reversed for Maurizio Costanzo and Maria de Filippi.
The truth is it would have been easy for Daniele to follow the path already set out for him in Italy, and join his father’s law practice while playing music on the side (his father even bought him DJ equipment to try and convince him to stay close to home). The incentive didn’t work, and what happened instead was that after studying in Bologna, then working in Milan, Daniele moved to the US where he now plays under his own name and with fellow Italian Carlo Astuti as part of The Italian Fellas.
How did your story with music start?
My passion for music started when I was very young. When I was 10, before I went to bed I would listen to the national and Sicilian radio channels. I was able more or less within the first second of a song, after I had heard just the first bar of the tune, to identify what song it was. I was really obsessed with music … I have music in my blood.
At around 14 I started mixing with software and with the computer. All of my friends said “Wow, great! You should be a DJ,” but you know, for whatever reason I just didn’t start doing it.
After that, when I was 18, I was at a tourist resort not too far from where I lived … I was always hanging around the DJ saying “I want to learn, come on, I want to learn” and then one afternoon in about half an hour he showed me how to do it with some vinyl records and I realized that after having watched so many DJs over the years I already knew how to do it.
The next day I was hanging around the DJ as always and he launched me as a DJ- “And now here is … DJ Daniele!” And I thought he was joking. In fact, I said “What! Are you kidding? I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done it before.” He told me not to worry about it that he had heard from everyone that I was really good and so I spun my first record. There were all my friends, all these people … from that moment on I just didn’t want to stop.
[After I started DJing] I went to Bologna because my father wanted to give me some distance from the music since I just wasn’t able to focus on my studies. But the day after I arrived in Bologna I had already found work as a DJ in a pub in Via Zamboni [the center of the university area]. After that I met a promoter who gave me the opportunity to play at one of the biggest clubs in Bologna, an after-hours club, and from there I started playing more exclusive clubs.
And your parents were okay with this?
Well, to tell you the truth my parents didn’t know the first few years…I just always told them that I was going to enjoy Happy Hour, but really I was going to play at Happy Hour … If I had told them I was going to play they would have said “What! You went there to study and instead you’re back to playing music?”
Once you were done with university and you were working in Milan why did you leave your job?
I felt very unfulfilled. I had been somewhat disappointed with the work I was doing because I always need new stimuli. So I was looking to work for an even bigger company than the one I was with … I was offered a job with a well known company … With that job I would have spent 6 months in China and Japan and 6 months in Italy. I wouldn’t have had a house. I would have lived in hotels, restaurants, cars. An exciting opportunity that any guy in his late 20s would want to have … but when I went to sign the contract the whole thing fell through. So I returned to music.
How was it looking for work in the music industry?
With music it’s not easy … From thousands and thousands of DJs, many of whom have already proven themselves, it’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. In fact, most of the people I know went hungry for years or they depended on their families, which is something that at a certain age I wasn’t comfortable doing. I didn’t feel good knowing that my father had to give me money.
What was it like coming to the U.S.?
Well, I went to a lot of clubs and I didn’t like the music anywhere … I went around a lot at night all alone. I went around to all the clubs, I tried to build as many connections as possible with the various promoters. Facebook was useful for this because it was through Facebook that I managed to personally contact those people who I always saw around the clubs who I knew were promoters, or sometimes the owners of nightspots. That way I let people know who I was. I wrote a bit about me , about where I had played, about what I had done…
After two months I was offered the chance to play at a club in Hollywood – without being paid – and from there people began to hear about me. They started saying “this kid is good – he’s Italian.”
Maybe somebody else would have given up, but I believed in this, in the possibility of becoming a DJ here, in what was a new and completely different world for me. It was hard … but then I am hard-headed and won’t give up … It took about 8 months [from the time I first played in Hollywood] … sometimes I think about it and I can’t even really believe it happened, above all because there are people who have been here for years and have achieved success after three or four years. They’ve told me they were only able to start playing after a year and a half.
Has being Italian helped you?
It helped me because people know that Italians have style in everything even in music – because I’ve noticed that American DJs in an hour long set they take you through four or five genres – they don’t have a set style that they follow – but for the first time I did have a style. This captured people’s attention … When you ask “Who played that night?” it’s definitely easier to remember “an Italian DJ” instead of just “a DJ.”
…Italians have style in everything – even in the way they present themselves, the way they act behind the turntables. All you need to do is come to one of my shows and you will see the kind of energy I transmit to the audience … It’s not just about the music. The factors are complex, there are many things that matter - your showmanship, knowing how to interact with the audience, being ready to give them a CD when they ask for one, a whole series of things that creates a positive DJ image.
What I like here is that in Italy I would have been one DJ among many. Instead, here I’m an Italian DJ, I’m the Italian DJ. I like it a lot and it’s what pushes me to do better.