After three decades in the scene, DJ Demigod opens up to discuss the earliest days of raving, finding love during the pandemic, and Insomniac Classics.
Just five months ago I was catching the action and taking a trip back in time while watching the Nocturnal Wonderland Virtual Rave-A-Thon on Insomniac TV. Dealing with the first few chaotic weeks of the pandemic was a lot to handle, but the show was giving me a much-needed break from reality. Then, as Pasquale Rotella was introducing and chatting with DJ Demigod ahead of his set I heard something that resonated with me in my core: “Music heals, and in a time like this the world needs raves and the rave spirit more than ever.”
Those words immediately lit a fire inside me that I hadn’t felt since prior to the beginning of the pandemic. They invigorated me to keep pressing on even in the face of adversity. And who better to utter it than a true rave legend, DJ Demigod? For those unfamiliar, Dimitry Granovsky, better known as DJ Demigod, is an artist who traces his roots to the earliest days of the rave scene.
During the past 30 years, he’s seen the rise and fall of different brands, played shows to eager ravers in Europe and North America, and has attended countless festivals and events. Now he’s set his sights on keeping helping keep the scene alive by heading up Insomniac Classics, a division of Insomniac that is focused on preserving the history of the rave alive and educating those who are just now dipping their toes into dance music.
So, when the opportunity presented itself to chat with DJ Demigod, there was absolutely no chance that I’d turn down the offer. Over the course of an hour, we discussed everything from Insomniac Classics and the latest happenings with that brand to Demigod’s earliest days of raving and first memories of walking into a rave. Listen to one of his latest mixes on Insomniac Classics Radio below and read on for the full, in-depth conversation with a true legend in the scene.
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Hey, Dimitry. Thanks for chatting with me today. You’re one of the true OGs of the rave scene here in Southern California, and we’ll be digging into your history a little bit, but let’s start off with some of your recent work with Insomniac Classics. When did the whole idea for Insomniac Classics first really come about, and how did you get the wheels moving on it?
Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate the invitation. I’m honored to be on your show and to support EDM Identity. So I just really wanted to thank you for that. I think, to best answer your question, I have to just give a little context. I’ve been affiliated with Insomniac in one fashion or another since ’93 and as the scene progressed we’ve been storing more and more history, more has gone into the archives of raves and rave culture. And I couldn’t think of a better company to showcase the history of the rave than Insomniac.
So the idea was to create a division within the company that focused on the shared history all of us have as ravers which include the OGs that go back all the way to the early 90s but also includes the ravers that started a couple of years ago, because we all have those moments where we walk into our first festival and we have a special moment and something clicks with us and we know that we found our tribe, this is our home. Those are the memories that above all else Insomniac Classics tries to tap into.
It’s something I think unique to the company itself because we have that history. We go back to the very early days of the rave scene. And if any company or any entity is going to showcase the history of rave on a continuous basis with a concerted effort, Insomniac is just a no brainer.
So that’s really how it came about. It’s a travesty if we don’t harness the history that we’ve all come to make together into a brand, something that people can visit when they feel sentimental or they want to listen to that track that connects into that memory. To put a bow on your answer it encompasses the history of rave culture, more specifically Insomniac rave culture, and it came about because how can that idea not exist? So it was a no brainer that finally came to fruition.
I think that you really touched on something there. It doesn’t matter when somebody joined the scene, because we’ve all had that moment where you walked into your first rave. And it’s so cool to see Insomniac really celebrate this culture because I don’t think that there’s really that many brands that have such a long-standing tradition in the true rave aspect of it all, you know?
Absolutely, and it was built the hard way with blood, sweat, tears, and debt. Those were the elements and sacrifice. All those things came together for a number of years to create this magical under the electric sky that we all celebrate today. It wasn’t by accident. It wasn’t the easy way to go about things oftentimes, but where we are today because of all that hard work is incredibly beautiful. I’m humbled by it every time I think about it. It’s one of the greatest parts of my whole life and it’s something I’m extremely proud to be associated with and be a part of, in my own little way. So, it’s truly been a blessing.
Yeah, you guys are doing such amazing work. I think that it’s also really nice with the radio show that you tell stories where headliners can talk about their first time and artists can bring up songs that really meant something to them. It’s really cool that you guys are doing that on the music front to really preserve that aspect of it. And you guys just reached 40 episodes, right? That’s huge.
It’s incredible because when it started, it was really supposed to be a complement to the record label that we were working on Insomniac Classics Records, and the radio show was a build-up to that. But here we are, North of 40 episodes and still going strong. Something that began as a complement to something else really has created legs of its own, and it stands by itself in such a beautiful weekly way.
People know that Thursday at 2pm PDT, they can tune in to Insomniac Radio and there’s a chance that I’ll hear a track that reminds me of that special moment, raving with my friends or my family or strangers, and it’s great. Each episode is different, I try to really mix it up. Just like raves were and still continue to be unexpected, I wanted it to translate into the show and the show to be representative of that.
And I think thus far, just based on the feedback, it’s been successful at that. There’s so much great music over the last few decades, there’s a lot to choose from. So in that regard, it’s not surprising that here we are on Episode 43. But yeah, the radio show is kicking off better than expected and I’m really proud of what we’ve turned that into.
And you should be! I absolutely love tuning into it. You were kind of touching on it there but what’s the curation process like? Do you pick and choose songs with a specific theme in mind?
You know, that’s a great question because it does change from week to week as far as the approach to what music will be featured in that episode. So for instance, on Episode 30, the idea was that we were coming up on the 30 year anniversary of raves here in LA, of Insomniac in a few years. 1990 was really kind of the start of the rave scene here in Southern California..
So the idea for that episode was let’s make a chronological order starting from ’90 going up to today one track per year, mix it all together, and take it on a 30-year trip. So that episode was unique, other episodes depend on who the special guest is. We had Chris Lake on for a previous episode, so I constructed that episode to be representative of the song he picked as his favorite rave track.
Sometimes it’ll just be like a normal DJ set. I’ll start with a track and then start just feeling it. And although it’s mixed differently than actual DJing on CDJs, the concept in the idea is still very similar. I’m trying to take the audience on a trip and That’s really I think, to answer your question the best, the first thing I do is I want to make sure I take the audience on a trip. Everything else takes off from that position.
That’s awesome. Yeah, I was actually listening to the Chris Lake episode last night. That was the EDC Orlando one, right?
Yes. Yes, it was.
That was a fun episode. I liked it.
Thank you. I actually interviewed him walking up the stairs to his set, I think it was at circuitGROUNDS at EDC Mexico, but like right there, so you can hear all this commotion back. I interviewed Fisher at the baggage claim at LAX.
So you’re just hunting artists down wherever they are!
Well, I tell you it’s like I feel sometimes awkward asking people what their favorite rave track is. Because that’s the whole key part of that one segment, the special guest segment, is “what’s your favorite rave track of all time and why does it resonate with you?”
But I know the answer to that question is difficult. I know I’m asking a very difficult question that makes me uncomfortable when I’m asked that, so I hesitate when I ask. So usually, what I do is if I don’t have a rapport with that artist I build it up, and then I just kind of wait for the right opportunity. So with Fisher, it happened to them when we’re standing there for 10 minutes waiting for the luggage to come out of the baggage claim.
It’s one of my favorite segments. I haven’t been able to do it recently because of COVID. I tried it a couple of times where they sent me the file, but I missed the whole interaction part. So that part of the radio shows but once things clear up the interviews will start up again. But in the meantime, we’re focusing on the music.
I feel like COVID has really wrecked a lot of things this year in the scene. So it’s been interesting to see how everybody’s been adjusting to it and hopefully, you’ll be able to use Zoom to get that back.
Yeah, it’s definitely gonna be reintegrated back into the show. And I have a pretty awesome list of people that are going to be featured in future episodes and the way things are going it might be a while so yes, Zoom might have to take the place of that for at least a minute.
You also mentioned that Insomniac Classics radio was really the build-up to the label. So what details can you share about what’s happening with that progress?
So the focus of Insomniac Classics records is going to be one on rereleasing original classics remastered. They have to be bangers and they have to translate to the now. So there are a lot of good classic tracks, but either because of the production or the arrangement just doesn’t translate into the now. Those aren’t going to be the tracks that we re-release, it’s going to be the ones that maybe someone who has never heard it before will have no idea that the track is 20 years old.
We’re also going to do both big-name known artists remixes of those tracks as well as up and coming producers doing different interpretations of all-time classics. We’re also going to be doing sample packs. We have our first one done, it’s the first-ever Insomniac sample pack for producers. That thing is loaded, I’ve used that sample pack already a couple of times in production. So it’s another thing that we have for the label.
There’s so much support in the company for the classics, so it’s hard for me to give your question justice because we have all these creative people working there. So many of them see the history that Insomniac has been doing for two-plus decades, and they’re so behind Insomniac Classics, that it’s going to grow more it has more potential than I can sit here and say with any accuracy. So yeah, it’s really awesome to see the potential of where this is taking off.
I also feel that it’s almost perfect timing in a sense too, because when I listen to a lot of the music that’s coming out now they’re using a lot of those like acid tones and old ’90s sounds. A lot of people in the scene are really hungry for those sounds, those styles, and they want to just dance, they want to really just vibe out with the music.
I think one great representation of what you’re saying about how there’s such a hunger for that classic sound is the Nocturnal Wonderland Virtual Rave-a-Thon. That was focused on classic rave music from the 90s up until the ’00s. Most of the artists devoted at least part of their set to the classics.
Going back and talking to people, looking at the chat, there was such enthusiasm from so many people from what they heard whether it be a classic riff, vocal, or track. People were so excited about it. So I agree with you, the hunger for the classic sound is building right now and the more time goes by the more history we create as a culture. It just all plays into what we’re trying to do which is connecting people to their feelings. So, it’s my job to find those seminal tracks, timeless tracks, and help share them with as many headliners as we can.
Yeah, and that is so important to like the legacy of the rave to do that too. So that’s why it’s just it’s so amazing to see that happen. The Nocturnal Wonderland Rave-a-Thon was awesome, by the way. Having played these, what was the experience like? Was it kind of weird just looking at Pasquale the whole time?
As a DJ a big part of how I play is to vibe out with the crowd. I read the crowd, read the energy in the room, read the faces, and adjust my set accordingly. The music I play, how I mix it… it’s a lot of give and take, it’s a mutual relationship that happens between the DJ and the audience. So I don’t go in with a pre-planned or a pre-recorded set, I think that’s a disservice and really underestimates the audience to try to pull that type of shit off. Although I have parameters of what I want to play and I hope to play, I always leave room to maneuver.
So with the Virtual Rave-a-Thons, Nocturnal Wonderland specifically, I gotta say that going into that I thought it was going to be awkward. There was going to be no crowd, how am I going to play if I can’t vibe with the people? Knowing that there are tens of thousands of people actually watching and listening though is a very surreal thought to have.
Once I started, I looked up and I saw Pasquale this wave of familiarity and comfort kind of swept over me because it was really no different than back in the day when I would kick it at his house or he’d come over and I would play records and DJ, we would just chill. The first song I dropped was specifically for Pasquale because that’s one of his all-time favorite tracks, Eon’s “The Spices Must Flow.”
So even though the audience wasn’t there, I think that the set itself I’m really happy with. The song selection I think really portrayed what I wanted to do with that, which was to navigate through the years. I started in 94 and I ended up in the late 2010s because I really want to give homage to all the generations of ravers. I want them to all connect and I want them to all have that special moment.
Nocturnal Wonderland is my favorite rave of all time. It’s my number one up there through the years consistently. So it was an absolute honor to play it, which was a much different situation than EDC, but it really was a great experience that I look back on fondly. I’m so happy that me and the other DJs that played the classics had the opportunity to expose so many different people to all those beautiful songs that set the tone and continue to set the tone of the rave scene.
This is the first year in what, almost 25 years that Nocturnal Wonderland isn’t happening right?
The 25 year anniversary was supposed to be this year.
I think that for the past 10 years, at least, we’ve been really chugging along with these festivals happening consistently. With these not happening does it feel different to you?
It feels like a bizarro world. To go this long without raving is… this is no exaggeration, but it hurts. It hurts me emotionally, spiritually, mentally, probably physically because most of the workout I do is dancing till dawn. The absence of raves has really left an impact on me over just the last six months. My last rave was EDC Mexico. I was supposed to go to Okeechobee the next week, but just in that one week, the Coronavirus started exploding. Here we are so many months later and there’s no end in sight.
So has my life changed? Tremendously. I miss going to [Insomniac] HQ. I think I miss that the most. I would spring out of bed every morning. One of the greatest parts of my day when I was walking into those doors and just knowing I’m surrounded by my Insomniacs and we’re just going to work to create magical experiences for everyone. I miss staying late. I miss the camaraderie there. It was such a creative hub of rave culture and spirit that I tremendously miss it. I miss the people.
The only thing and it’s the biggest thing ever that has made all that easier was that I fell in love with my soulmate, my life partner, during this quarantine. And that has kept me sane, more than sane, it’s brought the most beautiful happiness I could have ever imagined in my life. So I think I’m one of the lucky ones because I was able to find my soulmate during this time of missing raves and missing [Insomniac] HQ. So the impact has been greatly lessened on myself, but just me in terms of missing raves. I miss it tremendously. I miss all of it.
I feel that. I think that there’s a hole where most of my life was. It’s just been gutting and I’m glad that you’ve been able to find love, it’s like kind of a silver lining of everything.
Yeah. So shout out to Krista. I love you. You’re my sunshine, and you motivate and inspire me every day. And I adore you to the ends of the world. Love you, Krista! Thank you for allowing me to do that.
That’s some pure, real emotion right there. You are the epitome of what everybody’s feeling right now.
I also have to give credit to raves because I’ve been raving since I was 15 and a huge part of me, who I am as a person, the type of man and type of human I am, the type of friend I am, is thanks to raves. It’s brought me so much happiness, joy, positivity, insight, and awareness. It’s one of the things that defines me to myself. So thank you for what you said, but I have to attribute a lot of who I am as an individual and how I live my life, hopefully, trying to be the best person that I can be in a very genuine way.
I give so much credit to raves and rave culture and ravers helping create who I am today, and I take that so seriously. Raves are a party in a sense and they’re meant for fun, but there’s a part of me that takes it so seriously because of what it’s brought to my life. I can say early on, it probably saved my life because I was a lost teenager. I was disgruntled with myself, not really having a direction, didn’t have my tribe, and it brought me all those things and so much more.
So all love to the raves and ravers because I say raves but it’s the ravers that make raves so special. Whenever anyone asks me what I think about a rave, like Pasquale, I went to Electric Forest last year and he asked what I thought. And my answer as it always is, it’s the people. It’s the ravers that make it special. It’s the ravers that make me want to go back every year because the music changes, a lot of production changes, things change.
But ravers at the core of their hearts are those beautiful people that attracted me first to the scene and it’s what keeps bringing me back year after year. And that’s why I’m slowly dying inside. Because there are no raves.
Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly about that draw. I had a very similar experience even though it was like in the more recent era of the scene, everybody was just happy. Ever since then that’s what keeps me coming back to these shows. “All Are Welcome Here,” right? Although I kind of prefer the “Come in peace or not at all.”
Both sayings grew out of necessity. “Come in peace or don’t come at all” grew out of an era where there was even a dangerous element that sometimes would visit raves and it really was please come in peace because we don’t want shit to go down. “All Are Welcome Here” is also out of necessity because the world we live in nowadays a lot of people feel disenchanted with their communities with their circles. Again, I take raves very seriously in that I know how much good it does for people. I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it, and I miss it dearly.
So we sort of touched on it earlier, but you’ve been with Insomniac since the very, very beginning. Can you put us inside your mind when you walked into those Friday weeklies? What was that whole vibe like?
Underground. It felt like I had opened up a portal into another dimension, somewhere under the streets of LA. It seemed like we weren’t supposed to be there. We were doing something illicit. We were not supported in any way beyond the people that were in that room. So we all supported each other, but we knew just outside those doors from the neighbors to the authorities to our parents. They all shit on raves. They didn’t understand them. They were scared of them.
So that brought us really close together because as far as raving was concerned, all we had was each other and everyone else was against us. That created a really close-knit group dynamic with the ravers. I mean, it definitely still happens now but it’s a bit different because there was this lawlessness factor associated with raves back then and rightfully so. It was exhilarating. Not necessarily because we were doing anything bad because we weren’t doing anything bad. We were dancing, listening to great music really loud, and staying up until dawn.
You know, no one was hurting anyone, we were just enjoying life and trying to live life as our best selves. We did that. We were very successful at it. But we were only successful at it because we had a lot of roadblocks that we had to hurdle over the years in order to get to where we are today.
And the hurdles that I refer to are sort of like the obvious ones. There were three periods during the rave culture that the government tried to crack down. There’s the crack house law, there’s the RAVE Act, and before that, there was a dark transition from ‘92 to ‘93 that kind of threw the whole shift of raves into a different path. But the RAVE Act and the crack house law specifically, were a direct attack on our culture.
I have to say, now with the election coming up, I’ve been hearing so much about the RAVE Act which Biden enacted in ’04. It really hurt the rave scene at the time. I went from playing every weekend to every few months instead of two or three every weekend. So I was hurt by this disconnect that was happening between what was really going on in our community, which was a promotion of peace, love, unity, and respect, and how it was seen by forces outside of our community, going all the way up to Congress and the Senate.
What I’m doing now is I’m going back with an open mind and an open heart to try to understand what were the intentions of the policymakers? What was their perspective of rave culture that caused them to be so hard on us to basically destroy it for so many people? Some people never recovered, a lot of entities didn’t recover from those laws. So, we’re exploring how rave culture is viewed by people outside of our community and I think we have a long way to go to full-time acceptance.
I think a lot of communities tolerate raves and festivals because it benefits them financially. But I think there’s still a lot of misinformation going on about what this culture is all about. So, that’s also a big part of what I hope happens in the rave scene, just more true acceptance of the beauty that we all strive to create. Which, as you said earlier, is PLUR which is the backbone of our scene, and what I think the world needs more of now, more than ever.
We’ve talked about Insomniac, you said that Nocturnal was your favorite show, but what are some of your other favorite events that you’ve been able to go to over the past three decades?
I’m definitely going to sound like a homer here, but my favorite events over the years consistently have been Insomniac events. There have been other events that really stand out to me as well. So CPU 101 Southern Cali did an event called Ghetto Basic in ’96 at the Orange Show [NOS], which was legendary. To this day people still talk about it. You go back a little further and there’s Armageddon, there are other ones that stand out.
But I’m going to be a homer but do it with all honesty and integrity. Over the years Insomniac has consistently put on the most memorable raves that I have attended. Now, there are events that are on my bucket list for sure that I haven’t been fortunate enough to travel to yet. But when I did tours in Europe when I used to DJ consistently and that was my living, I would always love that moment of coming back to my first Stateside rave. Specifically, an Insomniac rave, because of the enthusiasm and the energy of the crowd, the sound systems, the flyers how we started off by talking was always top-notch.
But to answer your question more accurately, last year my favorite rave was Electric Forest. Being out in the forest like that was amazing. I brought my daughter out there who is 11 and that was a magical experience to be able to rave at night, all night, and then your daughter’s in a couple of cabins down and then you hang out with her during the day. It was incredible, my head was just flying off. And EDC Mexico has been one of my favorites recently. The people that attend are so nice. I think that’s the best word to describe it. I feel so welcome and at home.
Looking back over the past three decades of raving, are there things that you genuinely miss about the early days that you wish would make some sort of return or are just things that you could never really get?
I can’t help but answer that question is as a DJ. What I miss most is when DJs would create, with full intention, a trip for the audience as opposed to having new music that they want to showcase. Sort of like personal agendas as opposed to creating a vibe in the room and I miss that focus by the DJs to create a vibe. Which I get, I mean, that’s how things work. But I miss the art of the trip.
And I think that the audience either misses it or doesn’t know that they miss it, because they’ve never fully experienced that to the extent that a lot of early ravers from the ’90s and ’00s grew up on. A big part of that was because of vinyl. You couldn’t create edits on vinyl like you do digitally where it switches up every 10 seconds. You have to switch records, you have to play out songs a little longer so you have to focus on creating that trip with those constraints.
So I get technology has a lot to do with that, but it’s even easier now to create a trip for the audience if that’s your intention. There are peaks, plateaus, ascending, descending, vocal parts… you have an hour, what do you do with that hour? So that’s what I miss the most. I kind of miss a little bit of the fashion. We used to get cereal boxes and make backpacks out of them. I kind of miss the baggy pants a little bit, but not too much.
Well, I never had JNCOs because those were so huge. I mean I did rock the Kikwears, the Fresh Jive, and the Clobber, so fashion a little bit. But as I was saying earlier, ravers are still ravers at their heart. So if I close my eyes now or back in the day, I think that feeling, that energy in the room, those smiles and those good vibes are still the same. That’s the most important thing. So would I make a time machine and go back? I would, but I wouldn’t stay there because I think where we are today is pretty incredible. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
It’s been such an amazing time chatting with you and it’s been such an honor to be able to pick your brain on everything. So wrapping things up, do you have any final things you’d like to plug or any uplifting message you’d like to say to people out there who might be kind of experiencing some down feelings because of the pandemic?
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity. I think I’d be doing a disservice to the people I work with if I don’t actually do a little plug. So I’ll do that first, Insomniac Classics radio is Thursdays at 2pm PDT. It’s on the Insomniac App, just one button you press that takes you right to the station or at InsomniacRadio.com. Each episode is different, and I invite people to send me a message on Instagram if they have a cool story about a track and why it resonates with them.
The Insomniac Classics label is launching this year. We have a compilation, we have an EP, and we have a sample pack all lined up. We also have merch that’s in the works and hopefully, once things clear up, we can continue towards fostering Insomniac Classics events which we’ll start off by being inside festivals as we grow it. But it’s going to be some of the biggest artists playing classic tunes. So we have a lot of really cool things planned for that.
If you want to hit me up I think the best way is just on Instagram at @DJDemigod. I welcome any feedback that you guys can give on on the radio show, and I promise that we’ll try our best to integrate it. It’s for you guys, so let me know what you guys are thinking and I really appreciate everyone who tunes in every Thursday.
Finally, I do have a project that I’m working on outside of DJ Demigod called Lightwork. We have some really, some music coming out soon. I don’t want to say too much about it. But I think if you’re looking for inspiring music that will bring a smile to your face that’s what we’re trying to create. So be on the lookout for that.
Awesome, fantastic. I’m stoked to check it out.
Thank you. Yeah, I’m really excited for it too. What’s gotten me through this whole quarantine, among other hardships that I’ve come across recently is the belief and faith that love exists out there for me. You can’t lose track of the possibility for true love and finding that person that helps to be your best self, and together, you guys can go beyond expectations. That person exists out there.
So if anyone out there feels that maybe the shot at true love has passed them by, don’t give up hope. Keep your heart open because only open hearts are able to receive that love. Keep the faith because love is the most powerful force in the whole universe and if you allow yourself to be open to it, it’ll come your way. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to my story. I really appreciate it.
Well, thank you again for chatting with me today and you know love really will find a way like 100% I believe it so yeah, hopefully, we can chat soon again pretty soon.
Thank you, I’d love to!