Introducing: D.Dan, the Fast-Rising Techno Star from Berlin’s Underground

D.Dan is one of Berlin’s most thrilling new techno stars, whose meteoric rise has been nothing short of extraordinary. Chandler Shortlidge learns how it all came together.

12 min
D Dan Beatport
Jan 26, 2022
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By
Chandler Shortlidge

When D.Dan moved to Berlin to jumpstart his life as a techno DJ and producer six years ago, he hardly knew anyone. “I had some friends I met at the club, but I wasn’t plugged into the scene whatsoever. I kind of winged it a little bit,” he says. Which is impressive, given his rapid ascent from unknown newcomer to Mala Junta resident and Berghain regular. It’s also one of many similar romantic Berlin tales, where a young and unknown producer is plucked from obscurity with no plan and no connections somehow makes it to clubbing’s upper-echelons. But it’s also not entirely true.

The story of D.Dan’s success is one built around practice, perseverance, and yes — even a little bit of planning. And it begins years ago, when his dad came home from work with an acoustic guitar and showed him the basics of how to play. “I must have been seven or eight or something, maybe even six,” he says. “I was instantly hooked.”

Born in Chicago, D.Dan moved with family from Seoul, South Korea to British International School before finally landing in Seattle at age 11. Music was central to his early life — his dad spent his free time playing jazz saxophone and piano around the house, and his mom played piano too. “And in elementary school, every single day when my siblings and I would get home, she’d be playing disco in the living room on the Hi-Fi. Like the Bee Gees, New Order, even the Beach Boys, and we’d have a little dance party or a salsa.”

The same year he began learning to play guitar, D.Dan’s elementary school bought a drum kit. He knew he needed to play it as soon as he saw it. So he skipped recess to hang out in the music room and practice songs by Linkin Park and Green Day — ”punky things that I would hear because I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater a lot,” he says. In Seattle, he began taking formal lessons and learned how to read music, eventually playing snare drum in his high school marching band and the guitar with some local garage bands. “Very psych-rock meets grunge meets stoner-rock,” he says.

He eventually discovered the LA beat scene — Flying Lotus, Shigeto, Brainfeeder — which he now thinks he was primed for by the fact that his favorite bands, like Incubus, had DJs in them. So when Serato Scratch came on the scene, his interest was piqued. “I remember seeing the promo video and it was like, you don’t need to own a whole record collection, you can just have your computer play any MP3 and manipulate it through the turntable. That blew my mind.”

A love for post-dubstep from Hyperdub, Hessle Audio and Hotflush soon formed, and by 2007, D.Dan had saved enough money to buy Technics turntables and a mixer. He began playing high school parties, packing his setup into an Odyssey flight case and lugging it to house parties and garage parties in the back of his parent’s Volvo station wagon, but his selections fell on deaf ears. “Nobody got it. They’re like, can you play like 50 Cent or something?”

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By this time he was dabbling in house and techno, but without any concept of club culture or the clubbing experience. Then, in 2012, Boiler Room came online, opening a window into UK and European club culture for anyone with an Internet connection, including D.Dan. “I was like, okay, that’s interesting.”

After graduating high school, D.Dan left the suburbs to live in the city. He began going to the few club nights on offer, like Electric Tea Garden and Kremwerk, as well as DIY raves in the industrial district. He also scored his first residency in a small bar where he played music from Houndstooth, Night Slugs and Special Request. But most people around him tended to be older and difficult to forge tight relationships with, until he connected with the Second Nature crew in 2013. Made up of recent University of Tacoma graduates who threw DIY raves around the city, the crew offered D.Dan a chance to learn the ins and outs of live events, like sound system setup and programing a night.

Of course, D.Dan had also been producing music for years at this stage. He started at age 13 by trying to record guitars and drums through a DAW, but quickly realized the ease and utility of making these sounds electronically. He became obsessed with the technical aspects, spending hours a day reading online forums. So after a trip with his ex-girlfriend to Berlin in 2013 exposed him to Berghain and opened his eyes to broader club culture, he returned to Seattle and formed a plan.

“The impression I got from the first time that I visited [Berlin] was that it’s really easy to get distracted and get lost, because there are so many people trying to play and produce in the city. And there are also so many distractions,” he says. He spent the next three years figuring out exactly what he wanted to say with his music, which is when the D.Dan project was unexpectedly born.

Up until that point, D.Dan had been producing deep techno as Fugal. But he felt like he overanalyzed everything he made, and was constantly doubting himself. Born as a side project, D.Dan allowed him to simply throw ideas out and see what happened. “Whatever comes out in the moment, just go with it, finish the track. If it’s crap, it doesn’t matter, just move on, make another one tomorrow,” he says. At first, the process mostly felt cathartic but became an opportunity once people began discovering his work on SoundCloud.

“That really taught me that if I just trust myself, if I’m having fun, I’m excited, and don’t overthink the technicalities, people will feel that. The excitement and genuine feeling flow will translate to some people.” Years of preparation met inspiration through improvisation, and things kept building from there.

Following a creative burst in which he made 50 tracks in less than a year, he spontaneously emailed Lobster Theremin a batch of speedy techno tunes in 2016, and heard back from label-head Jimmy Asquith within days. The four-track The Danger Zone EP landed in February of 2017, officially launching D.Dan into the world.

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Weirdly, D.Dan says it was nothing more than a gut feeling that prompted him to send his music to Lobster Theremin. At the time, it was still mostly known as a lo-fi house label. “But Jimmy was like, ‘We want to start putting out more techno and aggressive music, and you just happened to send this to me right at the right time.’” For D.Dan, skill and spontaneity had finally connected with luck.

But things really turned the corner with his 2018’s Covert Operation EP, which features the standout single “Sudan Sedan.” “It still blows my mind a little bit how much that track took off,” he says. “I just remember that year when it came out, like every single time I would go out I would hear it — every single time.”

Bookings began rolling in, and his confidence as a club DJ grew by leaps and bounds. It was also around this time that he met the Mala Junta crew, who he says he connected with immediately. “We became best friends really fast, and they invited me to play at their party. They invited me to be a resident like six months later, so it all kind of aligned at the same time.” Before lockdowns, Mala Junta threw some of Berlin’s most beloved techno parties, making D.Dan an instant star in the city’s underground.

Lately, D.Dan has been a regular at Berghain, playing several events there when the club has been allowed open. He’s also played all across Europe and the US, and has continued releasing killer EPs, like 2020’s Mutant Future, and 2021’s summerpup, which officially launched his label of the same name.

The name summerpup is a nod to his Korean heritage, and came to him during a call with his mom. Worried that COVID-related gig cancellations could take away everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, his mom offered her loving advice. “She was like, ‘I know things are hard, but I think you should try to stay focused on what you want to do.’ And then she said, ‘It’s good luck in Korean folklore because you’re born in summer, near the dog. So just try to remember that — like a pup in summer.”

With big plans for the label, including upcoming releases by friends as well as his own tracks, along with music from beyond four-four techno, including juke, footwork and even post-punk, D.Dan’s future is undeniably exciting. Already his gig calendar is filling up too, with events in the US and UK on the horizon.

At first glance, it might be easy to brush off D.Dan’s success as an “overnight sensation” who was at the right place at the right time, and somehow made it work. But this summerpup has plenty more than luck on his side. Because when skill and opportunity collide, anything can happen.

Chandler Shortlidge is the Editor-in-Chief of Beatportal. He has also written for DJ Mag, Mixmag, Attack Mag, Electronic Beats and other outlets. Connect with him on Instagram or Twitter.

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