Back to Back with DELLA and Danby Choi

DELLA and Danby Choi are two pieces cut from the same cloth. They might have travelled divergent paths to occupy two sides of the same two-headed coin, but their obsessive love for music all stems from the very same place… the dance floor. DELLA cut her teeth in the US, dancing to the likes of Doc Martin and DVS1 before moving to Oslo, Norway where she rose to prominence as one half No Dial Tone before setting out on her own as the producer and resident DJ we call DELLA today.

Danby Choi’s musical obsessions gestated in an era of UK Bass and Hip Hop in Norway through the sounds of the Kids Love Bass crew, where the next generation of dance floor provocateur were waiting in the wings. Dancing led to DJing for Danby, but it was the word that left its mark on Danby and in recent years he and his magazine, Subjekt have become the cultural voice of a generation of Norwegians that share similar musical obsessions.

On Saturday DELLA and Danby will be in the booth together for DELLA’S DRIVHUS, but before they do we asked them to go back to back in a Q&A…

Who is Danby Choi?

Graduated in journalism last summer and love to write. Both personally and professionally I’ve been engaged in music as a DJ and journalist, with a background in communications at festivals. Now editor-in-chief for Subjekt with s/o Live Drønen, Una Mathiesen Gjerde, Truls Berg-Hansen and other great arts and culture journalists.

Sounds like business.

OK, so … Personally, I’m very transparent. Leaking secret information about myself to just about anyone. I can’t hold myself back on opinions, and really don’t care too much about being liked. I communicate with over 30 people a day (I’ve counted lately) but still feel quite «alone». I Love dogs more than people and I Consume more culture than your aunt. I have great interior taste :) I am just a victim of the present. You would notice all these things about me the first time you meet me and also the last time.

How long have you been DJing?

Quite long now, actually. It’s been six years of playing quite regularly, I’d say. (My first club gig was when I was 18, two years before I was even allowed to be in a club. Throwback to Fugazi!)

I wouldn’t count my first gig: I used to be a dancer and said yes to play a gig at a freestyle hip-hop dance battle in 2009. I had never touched any DJ equipment before then, but just knew that it was going to be easy. It wasn’t, but that’s my take on the most.

And what was the turning point for you to why you started?

I started going out as a 17 year old (look, I’m still alive.) Uh, wait, can I just mention how much easier it was, just then, to get in to places … I mean … It’s a war these days >:( I didn’t even use a fake ID, I just walked confidently in. Anyways, I went to see Kids Love Bass at Blå, (like every time they did anything there) and saw Daniel Gude (DJ Nuhhh back then), Seth Raknes (Seth Skizzo back then) and Skankin’ Earl. They really did some great bookings, club nights and club sets, and inspired me to listen to, and play, UK underground dance music. Genres like grime, funky, bass, garage, etc. Already then I understood that great producers are not necessarily great DJs: I always thought that the Kids Love Bass crew did better than their international bookings.

Hackman used to be my favourite musician around then, he was probably the first producer that I gave a lot of plays to. It’s fast, but easy to play, easy to like. Still genius, I think. Kids Love Bass booked him, and I was like «wow, can you make a living of this». So I tried. Conclusion: No.

Still — Daniel Gude is one of my all time favourite DJs, and six years later from then, Jaeger is a club that has proved so many times for me that good producers are not necessarily good DJs. Dax J is an exception that I can remember, but like … Can I give a shout-out to Oslo veteran DJs like Daniel Gude, Olanskii, G-Ha, Nils Noa, Charlotte Thorstvedt and of course also DJs that I’ve booked, like you, DELLA, Thorgerdur and Tonchius? Boy be travelling worlds and rarely experience better music than in Oslo.

I’m always convinced that resident DJs are best at any club because they are «at home» and don’t think like «Oh, Norwegians, they are vikings, and cold, so I play hard and cold music». Maybe a little of an exaggeration, but also truly felt. I think many DJs coming to Oslo think like that. And also that they often are booked by their hits (even though good bookers should look past that). I would never book Mykki Blanco to a live show because of his songs, but because of his live shows.

Not only are you a DJ but you are a promoter, journalist, and creator of Oslo’s cultural website, Subjekt. How did Subjekt arise?

Bla, bla. I’m a drop-out, I quit high school after just one year. Was studying media and communication at a high school level, and was really bored. I wanted to prove that I could do media and communication without school and made the print magazine Subjekt (playing on «Subjective» as I made all the content and design myself.) 18 and very rebellious :)

It was launched on paper, with support by Fritt Ord, in 2013. The second issue came in 2014, and then we launched online in January 2017 (every issue with support from Fritt Ord) and now we’re celebrating one year online with Red Bull Music, presenting Mykki Blanco, Brenmar (which was an artist I discovered around 2011, at a Kids Love Bass night!) Ah, it all makes sense when you write, I love writing, circles are closing, ah, it all makes sense.

Tell us a bit about the content on Subjekt.

Status for cultural journalism is really bad, and we want to do something about it. We look up to financial journalists and want to have the same take on culture: Interview objects should be afraid (almost) of journalists, but they are all friends in culture. And the interview objects actually edit the journalists. We aren’t afraid to ask stupid questions and represent the people reading, not the interview objects. As soon as journalists are friends with the public people, the world is fucked. The independent medias are people’s strongest tool for democracy, but we take them for granted.

Now, you are fairly young and quite the newcomer in the tough and competitive Oslo DJ circuit (welcome), do you feel intimidated by your age against those who have 20+ years experience behind the turntables?

I’ve been partying for so long now, I actually look at the kids and think the same. I think DJs consider me as a grown-up, or at least I’ve begun to do. But no, I’m fan boy-ing most of you, lol. Really looking up to the great DJs of Oslo, just genuinely. I’m like there dancing four days a week, as you, my mom, my colleagues and my professors have noticed. But in the beginning, like three years ago, I didn’t feel welcome at all. Everyone were so strict. They snitched about my age and got me thrown out of clubs. I feel very welcome now.

With today’s obsession with technology, the birth of the social media PR infused DJ has given quick success to many just starting out. You being of the social media generation, any thoughts?

Yes, I feel offended. Or, I used to feel offended.

I spent 20 hours a week dancing, my whole youth, till I was 16. I actually won the Norwegian Championships (hehe) in the Junior Boys Elite class, participated in International Dance Organization’s European Championships and held weekly classes for young people that are known worldwide as dancers now (not just because of me). But music has always been my whole life. I then started blogging about music, for a magazine called Smug — and then was out clubbing, before I was legal, and am still writing about music, communicating festivals, promoting parties, booking DJs, debating for clubs, etc. No-one ever invited me in to this interest, and no-one taught me to DJ ever. But still they are like «he’s just a good promoter». Lol. Promoting their hate <3 How may anyone in my generation prove a genuine interest in music …

You really are offended.

Hehe. Maybe. I can tell a positive story, though. I chose to continue DJ-ing after playing one of my earlier gigs at Turkish Delight (RIP!!! Oslo’s best bar ever!!!) when Daniel Gude actually came and said I played some great tracks. I remember all the three songs I played in that marathon, it was this , this  and this. It was like all the motivation I needed, in a sentence, by one person.

To answer your question: No-one other than myself put me onto the DJ path, I’ve always been genuinely interested in music. Ask the kids after me!

By the way, I also read the article on Vice or Fader or something, criticising the new generation’s DJs, as they are not only good DJs, they are also graphic designers and good promoters. Which of course wake questions if these DJs steal the focus. «Underground DJs», more like not DJs shared it a lot, and I felt really offended by the critique. I’d rather say these designer-DJs are just especially devoted to club culture. The poster aesthetics around clubs have always been important, and says so much about the club aesthetics and culture, and I really appreciate that. I geeked in Photoshop to make DJ posters, and I learnt promoting to DJ.

But, that said, it shouldn’t be necessary for a good DJ to have these skills, of course, because good DJs really shouldn’t have to be good promoters. In fact it ain’t even true. Best DJs are not graphic designers and good promoters on the side. I accidentally am. (A DJ that design my own posters and hype them in my channels.)

And as a promoter, do likes and Instagram followers have anything to do with decisions on who to book?

No. Or of course, for businesses, as they are designed to earn profits. But I, as a person, would never promote anything that I can’t stand for. Mostly, I do the booking for the things I promote. And the things I book is simply good music. From there I pack it in as something to sell, as the promoter. I really wouldn’t promote anything that is not qualitatively good enough for my own taste. I’m an editor and promote certain values. My job is to pick the best, offer subjective opinions and critique, and to tell people about it, arguing why they should buy it or not. Tell people why they should listen to this, when majority, money and fame says something else.

Who are your greatest influencers in dance music? And do you prefer a certain genre when DJing?

Hard one. I love when clubs or concepts reduce my very wide music taste, just so I can focus on something for a night. To mention names, I love DVS1’s take on techno, Hackman’s take on bass, Alexander Robotnick’s take on production, but am also very influenced by jazz, «world music» (South African jazz, Nigerian jazz, Argentinian tango nuevo, Malian desert blues, Ethiojazz and more), boogie, disco, what not, really …

I actually like to play at clubs or at concepts that reduce my library, so I can focus at — not genres but — a tempo or a feel. I think dynamics is the most important criteria for a good DJ set, but this night with you I’m warming up, and I’m actually happy to go in to do an «opening gig/warm-up set».

Is this your first opening gig at Jaeger? Please let us know how you prepare for your DJ sets.

Yes, it is! I’m so honoured, really.

I’m very systematic and love to place music in genres that I make up myself in my iTunes library. I’ve made so many lists, and my goal is to make them as full as possible. They are not like «boogie» and «techno» but like «rhythmical boogie without vocals». And from all these, I just make out a set that doesn’t quite respect genres (but still a build-up), but it’s easy for me to find them in that order. Besides that, I never prepare for a DJ-set, just evenly through a year complete these lists so it’s easy for me to find the tracks when I’m in the booth and spontaneously find out what I’m going to play.

Give us your top 3 tracks at the moment.

These three beauties:

Christian Morgenstern – Girl Got Rhythm

 

Maximillion Dunbar – Cassette Arabic

 

Auto Repeat – Needle Damage (DJ Sneak remix)

 

Any questions for DELLA?

I actually don’t know too much about you personally, I just booked you to our boat party after I heard one of your sets, which was amaze. Tell us a little?

Who is DELLA? Very good question. As far as a DJ, I have around 15yrs under my belt and 20+ years in rave culture. I started buying my first records at Doc Martin’s infamous Wax Records in Los Angeles (RIP) and have been influenced by the best of the best in House music over the many years of getting down on dance floors. It was especially during the years I lived in the City of Angels though that inspired and taught me the most. I was living in quite the dream (and still do).

In 2005 I moved to Oslo and formed No Dial Tone with Vibeke Bruff. We held crazy parties called Lipstick and eventually moved up the ladder in the international scene with our first major release out on Classic Music Company. We started advancing rather quickly with Defected Records PR team behind us, but paths change and we decided to lay No Dial Tone to rest.

DELLA was born in 2014. Soon after this I became an official resident of Jaeger and have added more releases to my discog on powerhouse labels as Paper Recordings and Moulton Music. I have also shared the DJ booth with, more than I can count, top DJs, and I travel often to play. I especially like playing in USA where the real House-heads live, haha. The devotion to House in USA is not like anywhere else. It is a serious soul thing and peeps know how to GET DOWN!

What was your turning point to be a DJ?

When a friend basically told me to go out, take my credit card, and buy two Technics because she was tired of me talking about all these DJs all the time. “It’s time for YOU to be a DJ.” So, I took her advice and bought 2 Technics and a mixer the following day. The rest is history.

What is a good DJ?

Someone who knows how to get people to dance. Someone who is not stuck in a safety net and pushes themselves. Someone who is NOT in it to feed their own ego, but to spread the knowledge of our music and to unite our tribe in the music we all love. Someone who musically knows how to play a story and free hearts. Listen to Mark Farina, he is the best House DJ there is in my ears (he is the king of Mushroom Jazz, need I say more?).

One of my all time fav mixes from Mark Farina – ‘Seasons’ 

 

What would you say if I play those three really hard tracks before your set? :P

Haha, I am all about bringing the energy, but one of the greatest tools to learn as a DJ is how to be a good opener. How to read rooms, how to create vibe for the headliner. It is not easy prepping the floor for someone else to take over, it is a skill that takes practice. I am giving you a shot here boy, so don’t disappoint me! :)

Hehe, I agree, exactly why I asked. I’ve shared these tracks now, so I will play an opening set. Or, well, let’s mention that we’re playing back to back from 2:45 to 3:15!

Yes!

You say house music is a spiritual thing. What values do you put in «spiritual»?

Gratitude, acceptance, light, and love. And of course, non-stop House music.

 

For more on DELLA:

https://soundcloud.com/delladunn

https://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/della-no

https://www.facebook.com/djdella

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