by Chanté LaGon
Dara is nice. His "Trouble on Vinyl" T-shirt bests the Hilfiger design it mocks and he says "thank you" after my compliments. What the record label didn't know is that the man donning its shirt is beyond nice. He's the illest.
That would be starting at the end of the story. Anybody want the rewind? With Dara, although he rarely employs this Rapish technique, the answer is junglisticly yes.
The Strand on March 22, 1998, was just too closely Connected. The line wrapped around the building and warped itself once inside, pulsing and flashing and gagging into bits of Felix Da Housecat. Our first rave in Atlanta, and me and my best friend were bored. A Long Strip of Dara would change that.
I chose the cardboard-enclosed tape from a mess of others, figuring I could support the females in the scene with my $10 contribution. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't find out Dara was a guy until much later.) Anything would be better than what was crashing its way through my ears, and since my boy was getting claustrophobic, we'd listen in the car.
With the first galactic chimes, I gripped the wheel tighter. When the first space knife cut into the melody, my smile grew wider. As the first bass bubble exploded in the soundscape's distance, only one thought seeped through my mind: It's so on.
And on and on. Dara was our tour guide, leading us through the annals of drum and bass without apology or flaw. On Interstate 85, cruised out, lost, laughing, fearless, scared, confused, unbelievably happy. Through Crackville, heads nodding, pupils paralyzed, bodies moving, minds reeling. Downtown, swooping, flying, flipping, swirling and generally freaking the fuck out.
He went there that never-ending night, and was nice enough to take us with him.
That's the thing about Dara. If you asked to tag along on one of his trips, he'd probably let you and not think a thing about it. He'd even tell you stories and make you laugh along the way.
Dara's journey to the U.S. from Ireland was one of the most involved, and perhaps most rewarding. Apparently, six years worth of relationship pulls a lot of weight. Had it not been for his ex-girl's prodding, headz might be stuck paying $800-plus to see Dara spin in Europe. "It was actually her idea to move to the States," he said. "I was like, whatever, I'm really not in it. But she was like, fuck it, I want to go. She had two brothers and a sister living in New York, and at the time I was working in Dublin in a comic store. I was DJing a little bit, but not a huge amount.
"At the time, they were giving out green cards wholesale to people in Ireland. It was like 'Come on over, we really want you.' And the Irish government were like 'Yeah, get the fuck outta here,' because there was so much unemployment. So it was more her thing that made me move than anything else...you gotta thank her for it."
(Thank you very, very much Sinead.)
"When I got to New York, I was like [slowly and with emphasis] 'What the fuck is this?' I had never been to America before, so it was kind of a shock to the system for about three weeks."
Nine months later, in November 1994, Dara was ready to head back. He was doing the same shit, just in a different place.
Though Dara jokes that he's "the one who comes by and gets the free records" at Breakbeat Science, the premiere drum and bass store in New York, the friendships and opportunites stemming from it have been life-altering.
DJ DB, Breakbeat's founder, kept Dara from catching that flight.
"When he offered for me to work one day a week in his record store [Temple Records], that was the thing that made me stay.
"DB has very much been a catalyst in a lot of things. He very much put me in a position to get where I am now. Even though it wasn't intentional, like 'OK, I'm gonna blow this guy up.' Just a lot of the things he did for me helped me to get where I am."
Dara is now one of Breakbeat's owners, along with Paul Morris and Sean the Shooter, who runs thangs day-to-day.
Doing shows in Atlanta, Sacramento and Miami in three days. Dropping gems on wax, co-designed by The Shooter, for Breakbeat Science Recordings. Visting his lady love in London.
Dara is mo busy than lottery lines.
True, the man is making a living. He could still be waiting tables or running the bar he co-owned with his ex-girl and her boyfriend. Even worse, he could be a garbage junglist jockeying for a chance to get sliced by DJ HotShit.
Of course, this is not the case.
Spinning at parties that makes headz want to put together a scrapbook keeps Dara from doubting.
"It's kinda this reciprocal sort of thing. If I'm playing and people are really responding, then that makes me sorta play better, and then they respond more," he said. "If I'm playing to people who aren't into it, well, then I can't get into it either."
Honest empathy and a list of random acts of kindness almost outlast Dara's artistic duties.
Taking pictures with strangers in Chattanooga, Tenn., Marlboro red and Heineken green in hand. Pausing the interview to accept compliments from the Vault's manager and thanking her for providing the venue. Sneaking a couple newfound buddies, who happen to be underage, into the club.
While Dara is busy being nice, his fans are eating it up. Not only the music, but that he's so approachable. At Fidelity Flip's Pulse in Chattanooga, Kaie Warren had a plan. She'd write him a letter and give it to him after his set.
He wrote her back right there on the stage.
"It really makes a big difference. I don't know whether they're kinda intimidated to come up and say 'I really enjoyed that' or whatever, but for me, it really makes a big difference for people to come up to me and say that, to know you're appreciated.
"People might really enjoy it, but if they don't come up and tell me, then I'm like, 'Ah, well, maybe they weren't that into it.' So it is really a very important thing for me to get feedback from people."
Getting feedback and being the object of groupie love is something different, however. At that same Chattanoogie party, a girl asked if she could have a piece of one of Dara's midback length, Oak tinted dreads. "I was like 'I don't think so, but if one of them falls out I'll be sure to send it to you.' "
Dara hasn't experienced that orgasmic set. Smaller parties excite him more than the massive ones because of the close encounters between DJ and partiers, and also because most of those partiers are there to hear good music.
"Physically [there are] more people present at the bigger parties, but spiritually, there's not because half of them are concentrated on where they are in their fuckin' head or talking to their friend."
Once you get past that and start to check the sound, understanding and digging the fundamentals are just as important. Latching on to one of dnb's tentacles in no way captures its essence, he said. "I noticed that when the whole hip-hop element was really strong in jungle, in like '96 maybe when every second record had a Method Man sample in it there were all these kids who used to come buy the records. And then six months later that had kinda faded a bit and the kids were like 'Well, I'm not really into the music anymore.' But it's like, you were never into drum and bass in the first place. You were into hip hop."
"Drum and bass is about drum and bass, and whatever elements are put into that, that's what it is at the time. It's always gonna change," he said. "You've gotta be into the core element of the drum and the bass or you're never gonna to be satisfied."
That exposes the Dara dichotomy: Challenging listeners doesn't always equal pleasing them. "Sometimes I'll play a gig, and people just really aren't into it. I don't know whether they expect me to play Aphrodite records or stuff that's more familiar, hip hop-based things or whatever."
But then, "I might be playing to 500 people, 499 of them might enjoy it, but I'll focus on the one who didn't."
Enjoyment and exposure must co-exist. As he strives to find a balance in the types of music he plays, Dara applies the same idea to his technique.
"My particular philosophy with music is a lot of tracks are really outstanding in their genre, but they have to be played next to tracks that are different from them," he said, "Otherwise, they don't stand out."
"You may have a really heavy, droppin', hard track, but if you play it next to three or four other really heavy, droppin', hard tracks, it doesn't have that impact anymore," he said. "I just couldn't go in and say, play all hard stuff or all jazzy stuff or all jump-up stuff because there's good in all those fields and they sound better when they're played next to each other."
Being a former dance fiend, Dara also considers those working it on the floor. "You can only take people up for so long, and then you have to take them down again. Give them a rest and then take them back up again," he said. "Peaks and troughs is my...catch phrase."
The best present Dara's mom ever gave him was life. Christmas Day, 30 years ago, Darragh Guilfoyle was born. (He used the first name for a while, but Americans apparently don't have the capacity for silent letters.)
Put together the meaning of his first name, oak tree, and the day he was born, and a subsurface idea of who Dara is and what he looks like simmers to the top. Strong, root-thick locks line his White-Jesus-Portrait-Over-the-Mantle face. He's not what the ladies would call diesel, but you sense that he doesn't tolerate anybody fuckin' with his. Not to mention he'd have crazy reach on those that dared at 6-foot-3 and a half.
That wouldn't be a problem, but his niceness is. Taking things to heart is something he's struggled with for years. Humility. What a refreshing concept among a batch of DJ's that ego trip more than De La.
Rather, Dara is normal. For those that have seen him perform, they might have noticed his nearly constant companion, Heineken. Drinking away nervousness? Enjoying the taste? Whatever the reason, the effects were apparent by the end of the night. Rather than hugging up on headz and telling them how beautiful they were, Dara probably chuckled a bit harder and slurred a bit more. Maybe that's why he admitted to recently ordering four (yes, all four) animal attacks videotapes.
[laughing] "I couldn't help it! I just saw the ad on TV. I was the first 1-800 fuckin credit card, 'Gimme those videos!' One of them was like, 'When Good Pets Go Bad.' So I'm kinda into that sorta snuff TV idea that seems to be getting more and more popular and it's kinda scary in America now. Everything's gotta be real now. It's like, 'Fuck that dramatization, we need some real shit.'"
With Dara, no doubt, you're gonna get the real as in everyday, regular Joe, you can do it, too live shit.
That, my friends, is what makes Dara the illest.
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