Q&A With DJ Dara: "I'm A Raver At Heart, An Old-School Raver"
Irish drum & bass jock Darragh Guilfoyle, known professionally as DJ Dara, emigrated to the New York in 1994, right as the first American rave scene was lifting off. He quickly befriended fellow ex-pat DJ DB (from London); two years later, the pair would open Breakbeat Science, America's first (and only) all-drum & bass store, which hung on for nine yearsamazing, considering the U.S. dance industry's slump during the mid-2000s. Dara also mixed a quartet of CDs for the L.A.-based indie dance label Moonshine between 1998 and 2002.
Tonight Dara and DB, along with San Francisco's Gridlok, headline Step in the Arena, a party in the new Elmhurst, Queens venue Arena, featuring the sound and light system from the now-shuttered Don Hill's in Soho. SOTC spoke with the animated, highly articulate Dara on the phone.
Are you originally from Ireland?
Yes. I'm from Dublin. I had already been DJing for probably about four years before I moved here. The whole jungle/drum & bass thing was just starting here. I had already been DJing for a few years, so I was in the right place at the right time.
There was no such thing as drum & bass when I started in 1990. At the time I was into very noisy stuff like Throbbing Gristle and SPK. I was a huge Psychic TV fan. I had a brother who was a professional drummer. He played some timbales, so I was into a lot of percussive ethnic music like African and Latin American music. I had a friend who lived in London at the time, in late 1990. He used to record tapes from the pirate radio stations and send them over. When I heard this music, it had all of the percussive elements, and also weird noisy elements, it was over for me. That's when I fell in love with it.
I still have a real love for the old-school house and techno sound. I'm still a huge collector of music from that era. It was a very special time, because there were so many seeds planted at that point, which spread into the various subgenres since then. It was a very everything-goes mentality in those days. There were no rules. People were just doing it because they could. It wasn't a business as such yet. I think it comes across in the music from that era.
When you moved to the States, how many records did you bring?
When I moved here first, I really just brought my jungle stuff, probably about 500 [records]. Then I shipped pretty much everything else over the next two years or so, the other 2,000. I've actually I bought more old-school records in recent years than I did back then, 'cause I didn't have the money back then. I went through a period in the early 2000s for about five years where I was just spending a fortune, [laughs] to the point where I have about 10,000 records now.
Why New York? Just because it was New York?
The same reason that most men do anythingbecause my girlfriend at the time wanted to move here. [laughs] In Ireland, I was DJing a little bit and working at a comic book store. But it was really easy to get a green card in Ireland at that time, so basically myself and all my friends got green card. I had never even been to the US at that point, so I was like, "I'm not exactly doing that much here so, yeah, I'll go." We had intended moving to San Francisco. I don't know why. I had some notion that I would like San Francisco better than New York. My girlfriend had two brothers and a sister here, so we were just stopping in New York to earn some money to move to San Francisco. Eighteen years later, [laughs] I'm still in New York.
When you got here, was the jungle scene was very separate from the rave scene? Were they different sorts of audiences or entities
I don't think it was necessarily a different entity. There was definitely jungle at raves. Generally, the side room at a rave tended to be an ambient room. There was a point in 1995 where it switched to being the jungle room, which sucked, because it generally meant you were on the shitty sound system. You were an afterthought, which we always felt was a little unfair because the people who were coming to hear jungle were paying the same ticket price as the people coming to hear the main-floor DJ, yet they were getting shafted on sound quality and lights and stuff.
There was a slight difference in crowd, particularly in 1995-96, because hip-hop was being sampled so heavily in jungle at that point, it attracted a hip-hop crowd that wouldn't have been interested, necessarily, in house or techno, but [were interested in D&B] once they heard a lot of the Wu-Tang samples. There was definitely a lot more of the hip-hop crowd was into jungle than would have been into the rave scene as a whole.
Did you and DB connect as fellow ex-pats?
I think there was a certain connection in that we spoke the same slang and stuff. Somebody told me, "He works at Temple Records on Tuesday afternoon." A month after I got to New York, I went up there. We definitely connected as friends, and he worked at Sm:)e Records at the time, and he said, "You should by the office and I'll give you some records." Our friendship blossomed from there. Definitely there was this connection that we were both from "over there," so to speak. We've been great friends since, for 18 years; he's my oldest friend in NY. We started Breakbeat Science in 1996 together.