Daniel Disaster Opens Up About Getting Sober, Trap’s Rise, and the EDM Scene in Atlanta

Image via Heroes and Villains on Facebook
Image via Heroes and Villains on Facebook

I know Daniel Disaster better than most people on these Internets. We’ve played shows together in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Princeton. He’s been a friend since before I wrote about music, and before he was a force in the music industry. And when I met him in person for the first time, Heroes x Villains was a relatively new project. He had just killed his alias “DJ Megan Foxxx,” and looked to be straying from dubstep. The last time he touched drugs was before he flew to Jersey to play a small string of shows that I helped book. He gave alcohol up soon thereafter, and found love with his girlfriend, DJ Speakerfoxxx. His career has skyrocketed in that time. To say that his life has turned around is an understatement. His work ethic is amazing, and his passion is in music.

I recently saw him while I was down in Georgia as he was playing TomorrowWorld, which was tucked just a quick drive away from his home in Atlanta. He killed the set while Pete, his partner in HxV, chain-smoked cigarettes standing right next to him, and dropped (what I thought would be) a forthcoming single with Krewella. We saw photos of Daniel’s mother with his girlfriend’s mother that just made us smile. Things look to be going well for him both musically and personally.

And as close as we are, a late night text session a few days ago reminded me that we’d never sat down for an interview. I was in Northern Cali as he played Webster Hall in New York. My cinematographer was in China as he played SoundGarden Hall in Philadelphia. And I really didn’t want to bother him at TomorrowWorld. But this open conversation was long overdue.

When I met you, you were on drugs. What have been the biggest changes in your personal life since getting sober?
For one, I feel way healthier. Not drinking or having anything in my system has allowed room for a lot of clarity. I feel more aligned and in tune with my core being. Professionally, it’s no coincidence that when I decided to get sober was when my career really took off. I got out of my own way. It is difficult. Sobriety isn’t an easy road, and it’s even harder working in nightlife when you are surrounded day in and day out with substances. The growth I’ve had both personally and professionally is immeasurable though.

That took you a minute to think about. Do you ever think of how different your life was two years ago, or are you focusing on positivity right now?
It’s a very serious question and out of respect, deserves a serious answer. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words because it is close and something that I deal with daily. I do think about how far I’ve come for sure. But I’m not focused on it. When I can achieve it, my focus is to live in the present as much as possible, with an idea in mind of the future and an eye on the past.

I know you better than I know most writers in this industry, and have seen your explosion in the past year from a different perspective. You went from playing trap houses and small venues to headlining SoundGarden Hall in Philadelphia and crushing Webster Hall. How do you go from respected to in demand so quickly?
Do you mean the process, or how I deal with it personally?

The process.
Well, I think we were always just doing our thing off in the corner, and no one really paid any attention to it. Then the EDM scene kinda shifted into the lane we were carving out and people stumbled upon us, or they understood what we were doing more than before. I’m gonna put the same effort and energy into playing for 40 people in a trap house basement that I will for a sold out show at SoundGarden. I think that resonates with people, and they respect it.

You were actually the first person to show me Flosstradamus’ remix of “Original Don,” and made a note that this was going to be a movement months before it popped off. Are you surprised at where trap is right now?
I’m not surprised at all. I remember playing the “Original Don” remix in ATL for the first time way before it came out. The whole climate was dubstep at the time, and this track instantly resonated with ATL kids because it was so familiar to them.

You played Young Scooter’s “Cocaine” at Counterpoint last year. There’s crowd footage where people are either baffled or going nuts. What made you pick this tune for that crowd?
It was a statement. Counterpoint was in ATL, our home. There were DJs playing “trap” music without any reference or respect from where it’s actually from. At the time, that record was bubbling the streets of Atlanta. It was the hardest record out. This was before a video, and before Scooter had a deal. This was some real trap music shit. To me, the DJ should connect the dots for people. That’s an advantage we have over bands. Bands get onstage and have to play their hits and their music, and can maybe perform covers of songs they like sometimes if the moment is special. But DJs can go across the map stylistically, really connect the dots for people, and create a picture, showing their audience where these elements came from.

I was just thinking back on all of the pictures from Graveyard as you were spinning as DJ Megan Foxx while texting on your phone… what else are you doing right now?
Actually I wasn’t texting. I was playing on CDs, and half the time I would write the tracklist of what songs were on which disc on my phone (laughs). But I just made some tea. I’m not good at multi-tasking in the moment.

Most people don’t really know about your background as an engineer… how do the records you had your hands in then inspire you now?
I just learned so much… the process of the music industry, and how records are put together. Now when I hear those songs I think of countless hours in the studio, recalling mixes, dealing with artists, and clearing samples. It was a great learning experience. I always want to learn. That’s why I try to work with people in different fields as much as possible. I don’t ever want to stop learning.

Do you ever go back and visit drum & bass for inspiration on sound design?
Never (laughs).

But you used to play it out… and dubstep. How often do you go back and listen to those songs?
Of course. I produced and released dnb records. This was another learning experience. I learned how to engineer from dnb. Then I applied that knowledge to rap music, and learned even more. But I moved on. Drum & Bass wasn’t interesting to me anymore. I moved on a long time ago. The stuff that interested me in that scene was what dBridge and Instra:mental were doing. The really minimal clicks and bass style stuff. But ultimately, I just moved on and wanted to grow.

Do you find it interesting, though, that there’s a stack of producers that are popping now that were known as drum & bass producers years ago?
I think dnb was an amazing boot camp for production and engineering, and it’s no surprise to me that some of the biggest names and biggest records in the bass music genre today were made by people who were at one time dnb producers.

Were you laughing as “Let Me Find Out” and “Hoodrich Anthem” got covered by dozens of EDM blogs?
I was happy they picked these records up, but the irony isn’t lost. Two years ago, that would’ve never happened. I laugh more at the argument of “what’s real trap music and what isn’t.” Blogs wouldn’t fuck with us for the longest time, man. Shit, a lot of blogs STILL don’t fuck with us. So I’m super appreciative when they do. Like I said, I feel like we’ve been off in the corner just doing our own thing.

I saw you kill it at TomorrowWorld on a Friday. Two days later you show up and Mannie Fresh appears out of thin air. How the fuck did he end up backstage in the Mad Decent tent?
His lawyer texted my girlfriend Speakerfoxxx and asked if it was possible for them to come. I texted Manny and he appeared. Manny is the homie. I’ve known him since I worked at Grand Hustle. He is a legend and a pioneer. Not to mention he has an amazing energy. I DJed with him at his birthday party last year in Miami, actually. Or maybe that was this year…

He seemed super humble, too. Have you ever talked to these pioneers about their opinion on electronic trap music?
All the time. A lot of times, they’re just trying to understand it. It’s such a different world than they are used to. It’s a culture shock. Even the idea of DJs being the stars or the main performers is a very new concept. When I DJed with Manny, half of his set was EDM trap. The other half was filled with his classics

Waka Flocka is working on an “EDM” based album right now. Do you have any involvement in that? And do you think rap and EDM will continue to compliment each other as time goes on?
We don’t have any involvement with that as of right now. That may change, but right now we aren’t a part of it. The two biggest most influential genres of music worldwide right now are EDM and rap music. There’s no question as to whether or not they will continue to compliment one another. We are just at the beginning of this.

  • John SomeJerk

    Chai smoked cigarettes = chain smoked? Or are we chai smoking things now?

  • Brittany Bowen

    This truly shows Daniel as the amazing producer and person he is today. <3 GREAT JOB.

  • Dj Deliver

    Geeat interview..Big respect and salute to Daniel. I’ve had several music convos with him and they’re always very insightful .. His future in music is super promising so i suggest the world get ready for his onslaught.. – Dj Deliver

  • Angus

    More articles like this!

  • scarter

    Ok , so i can recall the first time i heard the term “emo”, which i thought was an acronym for some indie trendy shit i was out of touch with, and this girl next to me was all like “omg, emotional silly”. I felt really old at that moment. To be honest, if daniel came to my crib and played this edm stuff, id be like, whats this acronym mean? And im embarrassed to admit this via social media. I can say that any time ive heard him play a set, his passion and love for music is what most moves me. Im a die hard trap fan, born and raised in the a. Ive known daniel a short time, and he has always left me with much to think about. His sobriety and his ability to rationalize his decisions are an inspiration. This interview was both interesting and extremely well written. From the questions to his amazing answers, once again, im left feeling good just by listening.