The Journey of Disco Donnie; FestPop’s Exclusive Interview

Photo Credit: The Day After Festival

I got to take a look into Disco Donnie’s life to find out how he went from being president of his fraternity in college to throwing the craziest parties all over the world. He is truly an inspiration to be “you,” striving to be different and try new things.  I learned how the scene has evolved from when Donnie first started to now, how Donnie used his creativity to make his shows different, memorable and and how to create once in a lifetime experiences for people.

Photo Credit: The Day After Festival
Photo Credit: The Day After Festival

So you started throwing parties in New Orleans?

I did my first party in 1994 in New Orleans where I was born and raised. New Orleans is a very interesting place and I was very lucky to grow up in that town and start doing parties there. With everything going on, including the French quarter and the Mardi Gras vibe, it really went well with what we were trying to do.

What is the first party you threw?

 It was called Ultra PHAT. We took the Ultra soap box- it was the artwork of the day. There were 400-500 people with local artists only and it was $5 at the door.

Did you start out booking local artists?

I started booking locals and then booking regional talent. There was no internet at the time so there wasn’t a lot of info available. The only way we knew what was going on is if we got flyers from New York or flyers from Atlanta. Texas had some things going on. That’s how we knew who the big DJs were. I started booking local DJS and then started booking DJs in Dallas and Houston, then graduated to booking artists from New York, Chicago and LA.

So without internet you had to get more creative with marketing your events?

We have it easy these days compared to what we did before. We were passing out a flyer with an artist name that no one knew who it was. So your giving them something that’s like chinese- so you really had to sell. Each night you had to go out and explain to people why they should come to a party. You really had to convince them to go. It was definitely a whole different ball game than putting an ad on facebook to everybody looking for dance music. Nobody knew what this was.

Did you always throw parties as Disco Donnie?

We had a bunch of different aliases at the time. It wasn’t cool to throw an event every week because people wouldn’t support it so I had all kinds of different aliases but it was still me. There was Disco Donnie, Low potrol, free base society. Then we had a bunch of other smaller things. I would do a show 9 weeks in a row but under 9 different names.

Were you ever interested in DJing or just throwing the shows?

I dabbled in it. I bought Vinyl but at the time I just saw the guys. My roommate was a DJ so we had turntables in the house. They were spinning all day, all night and I was like man, what a waste of time. In the original day, back in the day, the promoter made $500 and the DJ made $100 bucks. Now the DJ makes $200,000 and the promoter makes $100 so I guess looking back at it I should have been a DJ. I didn’t have the attention span to do it.

You can always start now

I know, I’ll be the world oldest DJ!

Can you tell us about some of the themed parties that you have done?

It was all about fun in the 90’s and people had all these names that people use for their raves.. It was always like “something land” or “something phat” or “something super” so I just started playing with all those words and coming up with silly names and themes. I just combined stuff from my childhood and also at the same time creating crazy themes that made fun of the other rave names so it was like a three pong attack. I had “psychedelic pimp daddy land.” We had “super phat hong kong fuey”, “Vampire stripper sluts from outer space” I was just taking a bunch of words and putting them together but it made a theme at the end. “Attach of the 50 foot raver zombies.” Those are some of my favorites. I can play with it every year- one year I’m doing a comic book. There are a lot of different things I can do with those so it made for interesting times.

What is one of the craziest parties you have ever been to?

Electric Forest is a really nice Festival in Michigan. I was involved in it the first three years and even though we were kind of working, we played a lot. It’s a good festival and there is a lot of stuff to see.

Where do you get your Disco Donnie Pants?

I used to get them at thrift stores. Luckily I was buying them 20 years ago so I was able to get a lot of stuff. I would go to a different thrift store every day. I would get there early in the morning and some of these places were huge, they didn’t have sizes and stuff was like 25 cents. A pair of pants you would get at a high-end thrift store today would be like $200, but cost 25 cents then because nobody was into it. Anything that looked like it might be my size I put in my basket and tried on later. I didn’t sit there and try the stuff on. I’m a big guy so it wasn’t easy to get stuff that fit me so I bought a lot of stuff I never wore so I would just fill it up. I just loved to go every day and I had special spots in my places where there was nobody looking for what I was looking for so I was free and clear to get the good stuff. These days it’s a little bit easier. There are some shops in New York and LA, online and stuff where I can just go and I know there is going to be good stuff. It’s expensive but I still have a lot of the stuff. I’ve lost a lot of stuff unfortunately…A lot of great, amazing clothes but I can still go and get stuff. I don’t shop as much as I used to but I can still do it.

Did you get your name Disco Donnie from you Dad, Disco Jim?

Yeah, he was a lawyer when I was in grade school but he disappeared for awhile. When we found him later he had quit his law practice.. he shut it down.. we found him a year later. He was DJing at a club or bar.. I don’t even know what it was under the moniker, Disco Jim. I had a lot of clothes that said Disco, shirts and stuff like that. That became my rave name.

How is the scene different now from when you first started?

It wasn’t as big. It was kind of more of a niche scene, like a counter culture. Like an underground, cool type of thing and there were no cell phones, no Internet. We had a voicemail where people had to call in for information so it was a totally different time. We were doing shows in warehouses with no permits. We were letting in minors, we were selling alcohol. Anything you could do that is illegal, we were doing itstupidly. Nobody was paying attention so it didn’t really matter so that gave it a different kind of feeling.

Were you ever worried about the cops shutting you down?

We actually hired a cop so if anybody came, that cop would sit out front. If any other cops came he would give them the old “Keep on rollin.” I didn’t know what the deal was but I figured that we were safe that way. I mean I was worried because there was one warehouse and it was like 6 stories and we had no security and people were on all six floors throwing stuff out the windows. We didn’t have permits or insurance so there was a risk. Once it started getting bigger.. when you have like 300 or 400 people its easier to control.. When we started to get up to 700 people I knew we needed to take it to a legal venue. That’s why we moved everything to the safe house theater. It was definitely different times than it is now. When you talk about production wise, we would rent TVs from the rent a center and play a VHS tape. If we had a projector, we would get a sheet from Wal Mart and stretch it out and then project on to the sheet. It was really rinky dinky.. A couple of strobe lights, a couple of track spots or some American DJ lights. That’s different now when you have these huge stages and these huge productions and CO2, fireworks, LED walls and designs. We were trying to do that as a group by adding production elements to each show but we didn’t have the crowd we have today and we didn’t have the technology.

So you were in a fraternity in College?

I was president of Phi Delta Beta at LSU.

Were you the party thrower of your fraternity as well?

Yeah I started off as social chair. That was my first office. I then moved up to pledge master. That’s when I started dabbling into events. I did this party called Jellorama where the first year we bought all of this Jello from all the grocery stores and made it ourselves. We had this huge pool of Jello. The second year we used chemicals. We had a lot of crazy stuff going on.

I feel like every theme you could think of, you’ve pretty much done it.

There’s still got to be something out there I’m not thinking of. I’m working on it for the next one.

Well if I think of any crazy ideas I’ll let you know.

Yeah let me know. I need help.

It would be cool if you brought back all of the crazy themes from your original parties and did a Disco Donnie reunion party.

We talked about that. I just don’t know if it connects with today’s generation but it would be interested to see.

Did you have a puppet show once?

Yeah, it happened in New Orleans and basically I was going out every night promoting shows so I would just know who anybody was or anything going on. There is a lot to see in New Orleans and there is a lot of stuff in some of those far out neighborhoods and kind of crazy stuff going on. I was exposed to a lot of different things that I thought people should be exposed to as well. So I just used these shows as a platform to show people that there were other things going on out there. Anything that I saw that I thought was interesting, I would just plug into the show at some point. One of the things they had was a married couple who had their own club in their house. They were Mr Quintron and Miss Pussy cat and he does this drum buggy organ type of thing and she has a puppet show and so I would just put it right in the middle of one big DJ going on..people are going crazy raging and then all of a sudden this puppet show comes out and people are just… I don’t know what they thought. People were just like what the heck is this? So I just always like to have something like that in the shows to try to kind of confuse people, blow their minds and introduce them to something new.

Is Something Wonderful one of your new festivals?

Yes, that’s one of the new ones that we launched for 2015. We did EDC and Meltdown in Dallas. We hadn’t done a festival in Dallas in about 2 years. I’ve been in that market for probably about 14-15 years now so I just wanted to do a festival there to kind of back up the club shows. I wanted to start fresh with a new brand so I thought of making a sister brand with Something Wicked in Houston and now we launched something wonderful. The response has been great so far. It’s just a new brand and no talent announced yet.

Who are the OG’s of EDM?

There are so many of them.. DJ’s, promoters or agents?

Let’s go with DJs

I always gotta start off with Frankie Bones. He is definitely one of the guys who was always pushing out music. He was throwing the storm raves back in New York. Those were definitely legendary times. He doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.

Derrick Carter in Chicago, who was always pushing that house sound. The techno guys in Detroit like Derrick Mays. You got the whole LA thing going on with like Doc Martin. Those are some OG DJs that are still around and actually still very relevant.

Where do you live now?

I live in Puerto Rico now. I ended up marrying a Puerto Rican girl so I have been living in Puerto Rico for about six years.

Are you involved in EDC Puerto Rico?

Yeah. I brought that down here. I’m not involved anymore but I did bring it down.

Written by FestPop Staff Writer

Suzanne Ledford

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