San Francisco-born Berlin resident Daniel Wang has never been a slave to fads. He opened my ears to the full power of melodic, orchestrated disco when he first played Sydney in 2005. Even though he'd made his name with the celebrated Balihu re-edits, his set back then was an edit-free zone. He showed no fear in deploying the most dramatic melodies, the most dripping-in-romance lyrics. But what he did last Saturday in his three-hour performance at the Sydney Festival's spectacular new festival bar—located within the grandeur of the city's restored Town Hall—was something that went far beyond that exuberant performance seven years ago.
From the very start, with the cavernous hall still mostly empty, Wang didn't just play music that would connect his passions with ours, he also put himself out there. Working the mic, he skipped to the front of the stage, talked to the crowd, told jokes, spun stories and provided capsule reviews of the music he was playing. And then there were the dance moves—from slightly graceless pirouettes to salsa and variations on the chicken dance. And of course there was the singing.
Wang managed to dominate the room with his persona, despite hitches like low sound levels and a space probably too large to create the right kind of intimacy. It was like he was breaking the fourth wall, making us relate to him personally and not just the beats. Within this frame he effortlessly wove together over 40 years of dance music. From the brassy funkiness of Crown Heights Affair to the modern disco of Todd Terje's "Inspector Norse"; Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" into obscure acid; and the smooth disco of Norma Lewis and Cerrone through to the pop cheesiness of "Stuck In The Middle With You."
Being in the unenviable position of following such a showman, Darshan Jesrani did the sensible thing and captured the now-heaving dance floor with his own revisionist take on dance music history. Also dominated by obscurities, his set made nods to modern disco (Todd Terje's sublime Hot Chip remix), mid-'90s Dutch techno (Orlando Voorn), Detroit house (Omar-S's "Set It Out"), British Acid (Richard Norris's "Meet Every Situation Head On") and an obligatory finale of proto-house dubs (Samson & Delilah's "I Can Feel Your Love").
For three years running the Picnic crew have delivered Sydney Festival shows featuring that rare breed—the DJ's DJs, the educators and historians (Weatherall, Harvey and Garth among them). But this year they did something more by giving us Danny Wang, who's something of a DJ's anti-DJ. Now, that's entertainment.