DANTE THE DON: REACHING A NEW MILESTONE
He is arguably the benchmark in the Chicago Club Scene that has the complete package. Recognized for his talent behind the decks as “2009 Best Chicago DJ” by Chicago Magazine and his partnership in Windy City Syndicate and involvement with Crooklyn Clan, his progression and productivity are nothing short of remarkable. Since then, the renowned DJ/Producer has seemingly raised the bar with each new endeavor by not only aligning himself side-by-side with other members of Deckstar (DJ AM, Homicide, Kevin Scott, etc.) but establishing his own marketing and promotions firm “Premiere Event Marketing.” If you don’t think that’s impressive enough, he’s also recognized as official tour DJ for recording artist Sam Adams and is also responsible for programming the music format for several Chicago bars and records bi-weekly mixes for the Chicago Bulls.
Dante took a moment to share with us in his busy schedule some of the things he’s been working on and the new milestone he’s reached in his career.
READ AN INTERVIEW WITH
DANTE THE DON:
P7: Hey Dante – I couldn’t help but notice your Boston accent, which is one of the first things I remembered about you 7 years ago when we first met. What was it like growing up in Worcester, MA?
DANTE: I didn’t grow up in Worcester, I went to High School there and it was one of the best 4 years of my life. I went to an all boys catholic school. It was a sports mega power, so that’s what everyone there focused on besides girls. We had these legendary dances once a month that were open to girls from all over the state but only guys from our school could go. My friend Mario and I somehow finagled our way into spinning one of them and were such a hit (and a discount) that they continued to have us back regularly. From there we started getting other school dances, formals, proms, sweet 16’s etc.
P7: Nice! So was that how you got into DJing?
DANTE: Going off what I just mentioned, ever since my first job I became obsessed with collecting music (CD’s and Cassettes) and baseball cards. That’s pretty much what I spent all my money on when I was young and I still have a crazy collection of both. Whenever I would be at one of our dances Freshman year and there was some 40 year old wedding DJ up on stage playing and everybody standing around bored, all I could think to myself was “I would be blowing this place up right now!” My friend Mario had family that were in the business, so together we had the idea to combine my music collection (remember this was years before anybody even knew what an mp3 was) with his hookup on equipment and form a DJ team. There was also this sick DJ a grade above us in High School (DJ Ross Rosco BK, NY) who we had help us out big time. He always hooking me up with impossible to find vinyl and rare wax pressings. I still remember he had “Be Faithful” on the original 12-inch it was pressed too. I heard of Crooklyn Clan before hearing that but once I heard it was hooked on trying to make “regular” songs sound unique.
P7: That’s dope! So what’s your favorite club in Chicago you play at right now?
DANTE: I love all our venues in Chicago, but I would have to say right now Stay and Proof are the tops for me. The Friday night party at Stay I have been running for years now is still incredible. The place goes from not even open to slam packed in less than 5 minutes and the crowd that shows up there comes to dance their asses off and go crazy. It’s great! Proof is also great because it’s new. The staff is great! They never tell me what to play, they let me do what I do and it’s getting better and better every week.
P7: I’d have to agree that Proof is a dope spot and it’s one of my favorites as well. I know you’ve played at some of the top venues in Chicago, so what’s your favorite place in Chicago you’ve played at of all time?
DANTE: Easy question. Reserve! All the people that never got to experience it or visit it back when it first opened have no idea how ahead of it’s time it was. No club in Chicago since has even come close to replicating what we had going on over there. All the bad shit aside, I have never been apart of a club that was run better or tighter. The staff was the best of all time from the GM down to the bar backs. They began the whole guest DJ thing believe it or not that was eventually beaten to slow death and on life support right now. They were essentially the first NY style bottle service club in Chicago. All these spots that have opened since and continue to open are basically trying to emulate Reserve. Some spots get it popping and can get VIP’s to blow it out like nobody else could but the combination Reserve was able to pull off of people spending insane money along with throwing an incredible party for the regular club goers and combining the two under the same roof were unmatched. Throw in a guest DJ that was actually worth spending the money on and it was prime time. Every night there was like an event. It sucks looking back because that was my first “real” gig in Chicago; my first residency. I was spoiled as hell at the time and had no idea. Haha. Without a doubt I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for Reserve, the staff and people behind Reserve, and the opportunity’s I had there and relationships I formed.
A close second would have to be Crescendo the first time it opened up. The same group that ran Reserve ran it if you remember and it was so dope when they first opened. It was a late night spot that would have lines down the street at 10 PM. That is unheard of even for some 2 AM spots. We did Wednesday’s over there and every week it seemed we would have somebody huge like T.I. dropping unannounced to party with us.
P7: Speaking of the 2 clubs you previously mentioned, I know you’ve worked with some of the biggest DJ’s in the game at both of those spots, so what was the biggest take away working with Deckstar DJ’s such as AM, Homicide, Kevin Scott, Spider, Aoki, Fashen?
DANTE: It would take half the day to answer this question, but I can’t put into words how lucky I am to know these guys. To break onto the scene and learn from these guys was invaluable and something you could literally never put a price on. Aside from the tricks and tips these guys gave me, the knowledge of what bad habits NOT to develop were probably some of the best things picked up. Without a doubt though the thing I most value about learning from the original Deckstar guys was how to carry yourself. The craziest thing I would always think to myself when working with them was “Wow these guys are some of the best in the world at what they do.” But when you talked with them you would have no idea. They carried themselves so humbly and professionally. They let their DJing do the talking for them. That was the coolest thing ever to me. They were also all so willing to go out of there way to help me out. We would do dinner before work, get breakfast at Michael’s or Tempo after work and just talk shop for hours. To them it probably didn’t even register but those are conversations I will remember forever. Maintaining relationship with guys like Kevin, Scene, Spider, and Fashen also means I have some of the best friends anybody could have. Those guys are legit! Always there for you with the biggest and smallest thing and always willing to help in anyway they can.
Having the opportunity to open for AM all those times and stand there next to him watching him do what he did better than any other person living on the planet was like setting a pick at the free throw line for Michael Jordan or blocking the back field for Barry Sanders. I think back to those times and the biggest thing I can remember is how blown away and literally “awe struck” I would be the entire night. Some of the happiest moments of my life were when I would ask him for some crazy song he played in his set and wouldn’t hear from him for days. Then out of nowhere 4 or 5 days later there it would be in my inbox. I felt like a kid in Christmas! AM was without a doubt the best of all time. There will never be another AM ever!
P7: Dude is definitely a pioneer of the industry and will always be remembered for his talent and willingness to help others. So what’s your thought process when putting transitions you use in your club sets?
DANTE: What do you mean? Like transition edits? I only use them if I need to get low to high really quick or vice versa. This usually happens when a club owner or manager is on my ass to switch tempos or genres really quick to please somebody that is spending big money. For that they are incredibly useful an helpful. When I am out and I hear DJ’s just playing one transition into another and even 3 or 4 or 5 back to back to back it makes me cringe and shake my head. Keep your day job kid!
P7: Lol. Oh geez! So how do you handle song requests?
DANTE: It’s definitely got a lot better lately. 9 out of 10 people that approach me now with song requests do so with money in their hand. My rule now is if the song they ask is flat out horrible I will tell them politely I won’t play it but if they have something better in mind I gladly will. If the song requested is borderline but playable I will take the money and thank them and work it in at as good a time as I can. If the song is great or it’s something I haven’t thought of playing in a while I will tell them keep their money and work it in as soon as possible. It’s cool when you get asked to play something you haven’t dropped in awhile or forget about. People surprise you sometimes and that’s always good.
P7: I know that song requests can sometimes throw off the direction of your set and some DJ’s are total d*cks when it comes to it, but what do you think is the biggest downfall of most club DJ’s?
DANTE: Becoming too comfortable, becoming easily rattled, kind of like anybody else doing any other job. Always remember “everything in moderation.” You will never be able to please everybody in the club. But figure out who the most important people on THAT night are and be sure to please them first and foremost. Sometimes that the owner or GM, sometimes it’s the bachelorette party crowded around a small table. You get the point. From there go down the list and find a way to make everybody happy with yourself being at the bottom of the list. It’s easier said then done but there’s always a way to make everybody happy by playing music they like and send them home pleased. One thing most DJ’s fall into the trap of is thinking “I’m the DJ, I’m the artist. I’m sick. I can and will play whatever I want if people don’t like it f*ck them.” Wrong! Unless you are DJ Vice or Aoki or on that level you are replaceable. And believe me there are a million rookies looking to take your job. Don’t give anybody any reason to replace you. You’re an independent contractor and it’s your job to do the service you are contracted to do. I evaluate myself on how well I am able to 1 – bring a crowd in and more importantly 2 – how long I am able to keep the crowd in the venue. I always know I did a good job if the place stays busy until the lights come one and tabs are closed.
P7: Who are other club DJ’s in Chicago who you think DJ well?
DANTE: Chicago is awesome man because we have so many DJ’s and they’re all so different. It’s not really like that in other big cities. Either it’s a small group of the same guys running everything or it’s a ton of guys all over the place that all kind of sound the same. We also have some of the most amazing House DJ’s in the country that are playing right in our backyard. I am the biggest Tony Arzadon and Nathan Scott fan in the city. Those two guys are stupid good! Victor R is also amazing! He plays stuff that NOBODY else in Chicago could get away with playing and has an incredible ear for breaking new songs. Big Once is mad under rated and super talented. Plus a super good dude. Jem and Jordan V are also dope open format guys who stay on the house die for the most part and continue to get better and better every time I hear them. You got Wicker Park guys and girls like Skyler and Dani Deahl who are great because they play stuff you’ve never heard before and have no problem experimenting and trying out new stuff. They also share sick music. Guys like yourself (Dj Fixed), Jesse Seely, my guy Bobby Lite, Gordo and Sye Young all dope DJ’s that will eventually break out and become household names. Guys like Rock City and Pullano that have been around for awhile will continue to stay on top because they’ve got talent. At the end of the day that’s what separates the men (and women) from the boys (and girls). You can buy the best equipment in the world, spend the most money on music you possibly can, and land the best clubs in the city. You can also practice every hour of every day and try and fake the funk as best you can. But if you don’t have talent and aren’t in the business for the right reasons you’ll eventually be exposed and people will figure you out. Trust me. All the guys that want to be DJ’s for all the wrong reasons and are somehow able to get their feet in the door all fizzle out the same way. I see the same thing every year. They’re kind of like annual flowers. Or weeds rather. As long as you have talent and work harder than anybody else you will always come out on top. Always!
P7: So you’re in this group Windy City Syndicate, which is featured on CrooklynClan.net, what can others plan to see from you guys in the future?
DANTE: We’ve both been so busy lately its kinda sucked in terms of being able to put out new edits and remixes. I’m working on getting Bobby Lite more involved on the original production side of things and trying to team him up with some artist. He has been honing his skills with Logic and mastering project now too. I would like to eventually get to the point where we can start releasing more work on our own through free sites like soundcloud.com/windycitysyndicate or our own blog www.windycitysyndicate.com and putting out a monthly installment of our mixtapes. For now thou you’ll have to stay tuned to crooklynclan.net/dantethedon
P7: What are your 5 most favorite tracks of all time?
DANTE: Damn. My all time list is HUGE. Off the top of my head here are 5 good ones though.
1. Guns n Roses – November Rain (Greatest song by my favorite band. Such a shame they were so short lived)
2. Oasis – Morning Glory (My favorite band when I was in middle school. 1st concert I ever went to and when the performed this song it was a focal point of my life).
3. Bruce Springsteen – One Step Up (I have a million Springsteen songs that are my favorite. He is the greatest song writer and story teller of all time. Hands down!)
4. Notorious B.I.G. ft. 112 – Sky Is the Limit ( Absolutely amazing song by the greatest rapper of all time. I listened to this song on repeat when Life After Death came out and I still listen to it on a regular basis to this day.)
5. Michael Jackson – Human Nature (I used to run around my house when I was wicked young singing every song on Thriller but my family would get the biggest kick out of this one because I would get so into it. I still think its one of the best Michael Jackson songs ever and love it whenever I hear it somewhere.)
P7: So I gotta ask so all the ladies know what to do when they read this one…What do you drink while at your money gig?
DANTE: Coffee Patron. DJ Klutch got me hooked on this stuff when I was spinning in New Jersey a few years ago. We did a couple shots and I was like “Yoooooooo!” So many people used to be like “Dude that stuff is disgusting, what are you drinking?” Then I would have them try it (Chilled! Always have to be chilled otherwise its rough) and they became hooked. My guys in Iowa City go through a case on a regular basis at their house alone ever since I got them on it. Stuff is fantastic!
P7: And since you’re a huge sports fan, do you think the Bulls are going to win the championship?
DANTE: Yup. Bulls over OKC. I predicted it back in February!
P7: Well Dante, it’s been a pleasure sharing the decks with you in the past and talking with you now, so before we close out where are your residencies and how can people follow you?
May 16, 2011