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?
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?
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.
You say "we"... I think a lot of people are under the impression that Heroes x Villains is a one-man operation. We only see Pete when you guys are playing festivals. How do the roles you two play work?
HXV was always intended to be a platform for us to execute creative ideas. Whether it’s music, film, fashion, or whatever we decide to do, we collaborate with different artists, or brands. Pete and myself are at the center for sure. I've been the one that goes out and DJs the majority of the shows, and steers HXV creatively. Pete has chosen to not come out as much. Only at the big festivals and things. This may change, but ultimately its up to him. We also have Julian, who is our MC for live events, and he comes to almost every show. He is also the storyteller of HXV. It's his role to connect people to the shared human experience, just as it is Pete’s role to challenge, refute, and reframe concepts. It’s my role to harness our collective creativity and imagination. We each play to each other’s strengths. C Will (a.k.a. BLKKMORRIS) is also a branch off the HXV family tree. We do VAVLT BOYZ together.
That leads me well into the next question… VAVLT is a brand that you haven't let go of. Do you have plans to turn this into an official label or a bigger entity?
Right now, it’s an MP3 label. VAVLT is its own thing. It’s a testing ground for new ideas and new concepts. It’s like an incubator where we can just throw things at the wall and see what sticks.
You and BLKKMORRIS have stayed incredibly close. How did the two of you meet?
We met like six years ago, maybe more, in the ATL nightlife. We are both into a lot of the same things, and he has a highly-developed aesthetic. We both hit it off and have been friends since. Our after parties for VAVLT BOYZ shows consist of drinking tea and reading comic books (laughs).
How has the electronic music scene changed in Atlanta in the past few years?
Before, with the rise and reign of Le Castle Vania, it was all electro house. He had the ATL nightlife staple party called "FUCK YES," which became a right of passage for a lot of teenagers. This was all electro house. Then you had Sloppy Seconds, which Klever and myself have both been residents at. When Klever was a resident, Baltimore club was popping really hard. And when I was a resident, I was playing all rap music. It’s shifted from electro house to dubstep, and then to trap. I should also mention the party Mayhem and I did back in 2009 called HEAVY, where we were taking early dubstep records and playing them side by side with rap records and rap instrumentals. These were the early beginnings of EDM trap as we know it now.
I know this is probably a sticky question for me to ask, but what's your single favorite venue in Atlanta?
MJQ is the nightlife staple of underground ATL. It’s been around forever, and will hopefully always be around. I also love El Bar. It’s a tiny hole in the wall venue that fits about 100 people. My girl does a Friday night there and it’s incredible. You'll have everyone from Three 6 Mafia and Big Boi to world-renowned graffiti artists and "old Atlanta" royalty come through there and turn up. My favorite live venue is Terminal West, without question. Strip clubs? I would have to go with Onyx or Follies right now.
You recently designed a Heroes x Villains shoe for Adidas. Was this part of your initial agreement with them, or something that just happened organically afterwards?
Something that happened afterwards. They reached out for me to be a part of this sneaker switch project. I couldn't do a lot of custom work to it, but it was fun anyway.
You do have your hands in FRESH.i.AM though, right? I imagine the possibilities are endless there...
C Will, Tunde, and Oni are FRESH.i.AM. We are a part of the same family. We work very closely together, but FIA is it’s own thing separate from HXV. However, there is a lot of overlap. We have done music for their lookbook videos, I wind up being in a lot of their promo campaigns, this kind of thing. We are doing a really dope project for Art Basel this year in Miami called CHAPEL, and we worked together in designing the next round of HXV merchandise that will be coming out in February. Being creatives in Atlanta, we are all just trying to move the ball forward together to make an impact on culture.
You played an unreleased Heroes x Villains tune with Krewella at TomorrowWorld. When and where is this coming out?
It was a remix we did of Headhunterz and Krewella's "United Kids of The World." Unfortunately, it wasn’t approved. So it's never coming out.
I don't mean to kick a dead horse, but didn't you have a Rihanna record last year that didn't come out? I remember you telling me about it, then reading about it, and never heard word about it again.
Yeah, that kind of shit happens. I’m used to it. We sent it to her. I think she was the one that cut it. We got great feedback on it, but this is why we don't rely on placements. We just forge our own path with our music, and if something we work on with another artist makes it on an album or whatever, it’s like an added bonus to what we are already doing. There’s so much red tape in the music industry to cut through. I don't feel comfortable placing all our hopes in this song getting on this album, or whatever. When A&R's are putting these albums together, they are looking at the records that work for the whole of the album. Not just record by record. Listening to her last album, I can see how our record would’ve fit in, but what they chose fit better.
I couldn't help but notice as the trap ambassador jumped from the genre as it got trendy. Carnage did the same thing. Do you think fans understood what you were doing?
I think when I say "trap ambassador," and when this title was given to me (by Creative Loafing), the definition of trap was trap rap. Not EDM trap. As the idea of EDM trap kind of of took over the original definition and genre, I didn't like the meaning it held anymore.
Do you think you'll ever be able to drop people's perception of you as just a trap producer?
I've managed to break through people’s perceptions of me as just an engineer, as just a producer, as just a DJ, as just an EDM DJ, and as just some junkie. I think I can do whatever I put my mind and effort into. I’ve been placed in one box or another my entire career. My life’s mission is to die empty. I don't want to leave this earth without saying everything I need to say creatively. I also want to encourage others to do the same. I want to help them achieve their dreams and nurture their creativity. And hopefully when all is said and done, and I have this body of work I've amassed over a lifetime, I’ll just be known as a creative person who made art for a living and encouraged and supported other creative. And hopefully something makes a lasting impact.