We were headed to The Day After Festival in Panamá and we wanted to have a chat with the man who made it all possible, Donnie Estopinal (Disco Donnie). After an almost 45 minute telephone conversation with Donnie, we are excited to share with you the wealth of knowledge instilled by a brilliant man.

He’s been putting on shows since the late 90’s and isn’t stopping anytime soon! Don’t miss this interview with one of Rolling Stone’s Top Most 50 People in EDM.

 

Interview with Disco Donnie:

 

Disco Donnie: “Donnie.”

 

Sam: Hey Donnie this is Sam with Electric Sloth, how are you? Let me just start off by saying, we really appreciate you taking this time for us. First off – you’re currently living in Puerto Rico?

 

DD: Yeah, I was born in New Orleans and I met a Puerto Rican girl, and I’ve been living in Puerto Rico for the past six years.

 

Sam: We saw in a former interview you said your Dad went from being a lawyer to a DJ. I could imagine that that had a fiscal impact on you. Did things change in your life? How did it affect you?

 

DD: I mean it was definitely a different time, I was eight years old, so it’s hard to remember what was going on. My Dad had disappeared… Him and my Mom were having issues. He disappeared for about a year and turned up again, he had given up his Law practice and we hadn’t heard from him. Then when he turned up again, he was a DJ; I don’t know if at a bar or club, but that was his career choice I guess.

 

Sam: Moving on from that, you mentioned he had a huge vinyl collection. What did he play? Were you a fan of what he was playing? We know that you constantly wanted to spend time with him.

 

DD: Yeah like I said I was so little, but when I started listening to the music, he was still playing at the club. He had all the old vinyl in his office. This was in the early 80s so he had all kinds of different stuff: Alternative stuff, Punk… It was going from disco to kind of like a new wave sound. Anything from like ’79 to like ’85-’86.

 

MTV was also kicking off. He spent a lot of time recording videos off MTV onto VHS. They would play the videos at the same time as their songs, so it was kind of like DJing. A lot of the early MTV stuff was more of the new wave stuff, so they kind of went from the disco era to the more new wave sound.

 

Sam: Very interesting! Did you ever have the urge to pick up DJing? I saw that you went on and off with instruments, and nothing really stuck.

 

DD: I liked music from a very early age. I went to my first concert when I was a freshman in high school, and I kind of just fell in love with it. My mom took me to a Jazz fest and I wasn’t really catching on, but once I got into the environment where it was you know… music and we were dancing. I really took into the band scene at the early 80s.

 

Vintage-Disco-Donnie

Sam: You said you were a little lost getting out of college; you knew what you wanted to do, but not really. Do you have any advice for kids in that situation currently or about to be?

 

DD: Yeah, I mean I have a lot of advice for those schoolmates. I think that the way the world works these days is totally different than twenty years ago, but when I got out of college, I was twenty-three years old with kind of my whole life planned out for me- I’m going to get married, have kids, white picket fence, you know, I take over my mom’s farm.

So everything was kind of mapped out. But it still felt like there was something missing. But I think when I talk to younger people, and they’re like, “Ahh I’m twenty-two, I’m lost, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life.” I just think of how young they really are and how many opportunities there are. I think the pressure right now from what you read with the media and stuff; people being so successful out there… I wouldn’t try to compete against somebody else, just do what’s best for yourself.

Find something you love to do and try and take that path. You might have to take a path that might not make a lot of sense, but it might end up being something that makes you happy.

 

People right now get so stressed out about not being successful at twenty-two, and it’s a crazy theory. They should know they have a long life ahead of them and a lot of choices to make, and they can still be successful even if they don’t know exactly what they’re doing at twenty-two, twenty-four, and twenty-five.

 

Sam: That’s fantastic advice. Moving on to these events and festivals you’re running, you say fan safety is number one priority. Do you strive to ensure the organizations to these events are up to par as well?

 

DD: You know that’s what we want to be, we want to be perfect. No one ever puts on a perfect show, but that’s what we strive to be!

We’ve been doing this twenty- one years. So we’ve had our share of mistakes, and we always kind of reevaluate after every show, what we can improve next year, and in our next shows.

We’re constantly evolving, we’re constantly learning. A lot of promoters get into this thing where they think they’re doing everything perfect and they’re not. We know we’re not perfect. That’s just our goal; to keep learning, and improving. If we make a mistake, we apologize, and we move on. I do know that we still have a lot to learn, we don’t know how long we’re going to do this stuff-we’re still growing.

 

Sam: How do you guys go about finding these up and comers and DJs for festivals and shows? Do you have a team devoted to it? How does that work?

 

DD: Well obviously a lot of people send us stuff. I listen to a lot of it, I send it out to my team because you just never know who you’re going to discover. A lot of stuff needs a little work, and they say, “Hey what do you think about that?” and we say, “Okay keep doing it.” A lot of times music comes from our local promoters.

Cleveland, they’re blowing up right now, they’re really good and we’ll listen to it, and we want to help these people out.

It comes from all different streams: from local partners, from the agents, from the managers, from the forums, from Soundcloud.

Everybody is looking for new talent and there’s so much good stuff coming out right now. It’s almost hard to keep up with it. But we do have a group of four or five young people, who basically are going and tuning in. I can really depend on them also to tell me what they like. If they like it, that’s the crowd I’m shooting for. If I played just what I liked, then it wouldn’t be a festival that the crowd wants. That’s basically our goal.

 

Sam: I was going to save the Panama questions for the end but what would you say is the sound that people are looking for in South America? To me, it’s really looking like Beatport Top Forty or mainly Progressive House. What are you gathering from it?

 

DD: From my knowledge about South America, they’re very in tune to what’s going on. These kids are very in tune with social media; if you look at a fan, or look at an artist, you see that their social media profiles are coming from South America, these kids are always on their phones. They are open to new music; they are not just open to the top 40. They like house, they like underground music, they do like the big guys as well, but they’re more open and want to see new things. By bringing the Beatport stage to Panama this year, we’ll be providing that sound.

 

Sam: So this is the second year it’s taking place at Figalí Plaza. How did you go about choosing a venue in Panama? And what future ideas do you have for upcoming shows for the rest of South America?

 

DD: We went to look at different venues in Panamá and we’re going to look in Mexico and do a little something there.

Panamá just seemed like the best country to launch something. They take the American dollar, and it’s filled with tons of Europeans, Canadians, Americans, etc. It’s a very clean city, a very safe city, it’s easy to get to, there are beautiful beaches and great hotels. We found the right partner, which is ShowPro, which produces everything from Justin Bieber to the Dali Lama. We found the right partner and just thought it was a great fit. Last year was great, the artists loved it, and this year is looking even better.

 

Sam: Wow. So going off on a different tangent; What’s your role in current operations these days? What happened with the SFX Merger?

 

DD: I had just come out of the whole insomniac deal and I was looking for a place to land, like create a deck- which kind of involved bringing a lot of independent promoters together. So Bob Sillerman got into the plan and we launched SFX. Currently were looking to build a new strategy going forward; building it out from 2015-2020.

 

Sam: What model do you follow for throwing events? You obviously started out at warehouse parties, these smaller parties; did you just sort of learn as you went? Is there a specific someone in your life who guided you?

 

DD: For me it was basically a learn as you go type of thing. There was no Internet, there was no handbook. There were definitely always some promoters that I learned the good and the bad from. I don’t know if any of them are still around, but I definitely observed other people, and what they were doing. There were a lot of people that helped me throughout the years: promoters, artists, venue owners, and friends. But it was trial by error, so the only way you could learn was by doing it yourself.

Like I said earlier, it’s still a work in progress which makes it kind of exciting every day; I know I’m going to learn something new. Nothing ever goes right in this business, so it’s my job to try to put the train back on the tracks.

 

Sam: It always is… I wanted to ask you, do you ever get the chance to ever attend these festivals or events as a fan? Or are you constantly working?

 

DD: I don’t go to a lot of festivals as a fan. I try to, but it’s hard to “go” to my own shows; I try to look at it as the fan point of view: I will go in through the front door and walk around at the club shows.

At the festivals, I definitely walk and look around from the fan’s point of view to make sure the experience is what it’s supposed to be. In order to see if anything needs to be improved.

At this point, because I have to travel so much, it’s hard for me to pull off going to another festival. I went to TomorrowWorld the last couple of years, I’m trying to go to Rock in Rio this year in Brazil. I try to go to new things that I haven’t been to, but it’s really hard because I already have my own schedule, and I have a family so it’s hard to tell my wife, “oh yeah I’m going to another festival this week.” It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to her…

 

Sam: I could see that. Lastly, I saw something discussing a DEA raid, would you mind discussing that with us?

 

DD: Yeah, I mean that was 2001. Basically they were following me and had my phone tracked for like eight months.

They raided one of my shows at the Steakhouse Theater, in August of 2001, and luckily I wasn’t there. I was basically getting ready for the show; and they called me and told me to not come. I didn’t come to the event because they had a bus loads of agents, so I set up my office in a restaurant next to the venue. We had sold a ton of tickets that night, so I was trying to keep everybody there. I had my promoters and coworkers and run out and tell everyone, “don’t leave! The party is still going to happen!”

Eventually, the DEA got tired, they didn’t find any drugs that they thought they were going to find- it was like a hundred agents. They raided the place at maybe eight o’clock or nine o’clock and were there until midnight, so now they’re starting to get tired.

Their theory was that they would find all these drugs in the sound systems and stuff. After they interviewed everybody, I think they found like one joint in the whole place, which was on a bartender.

They didn’t find anything, and they had wasted three or four hours so it was time for them to go home. So basically, they left and we opened the doors and still had a party that night and they were pissed! I was in the restaurant sitting there, running everything from the outside, and they were looking for me. They were surprised I wasn’t there. Best part was, a bunch of them came into the restaurant I was at, to eat after the raid. So I had to sneak out of the restaurant while they were ordering… the rest is history I guess.

 

Sam: That’s incredible! I mean you went from throwing warehouse parties, to being voted one of the top fifty most important people in EDM by Rolling Stone, so it just goes to show…

 

DD: Yeah I know it was definitely crazy times; it’s definitely changed since then.

 

Sam: Just to finish off, if you had three words to describe yourself, what would they be?

 

DD: How about this: silly, kind, and fair.

 

Sam: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us! Hopefully we will be able to link up in Panama. I know you’ll be running all over the place!

 

DD: No, I’ll see you there!

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Donnie is a man of his word, as he DID in fact see it there! We got to spend a little time with this genuine individual, and it was honestly fantastic.

Be sure to keep up with his latest news, and of course – upcoming shows!

Disco Donnie Presents Website

 

Photos: Vice, Rukes, Magnum PR