DJ Dave Ralph
by Matt Kalkhoff

Few people in the music industry are as well-rounded and accomplished as British superstar DJ Dave Ralph. Even fewer are as candid and forthright with their opinions and observations of the constantly changing world of dance music. Currently touring the United States to promote his recent compilation CD, Love Parade: Berlin, Ralph plans to take a few months off over the holidays to settle into his new home in Miami, finish preparations for his January wedding to long-time girlfriend, Kristie, and begin building his dream studio.

Dave Ralph’s expansive career in the music industry began 23 years ago in his hometown of Liverpool, England, where he schlepped records around town as a mobile DJ. To make ends meet, Ralph worked as a truck driver during the day until the late 80s when his father passed away. With a new focus on his DJ career, Ralph landed residencies at a variety of pubs and nightclubs around England, including the influential Cream. Over the next several years, he tried his hand at and succeeded in just about every role in the music industry, including club manager, producer, and recording artist. Arguably his most recognized work to date, Ralph wrote, remixed, and provided the vocals for the Bassheads "Is Anybody Out There?" He also enjoyed a successful 10-year run as an event promoter, during which time he founded two DJ management companies and the independent label, Glow Records.

The style of music Ralph plays at live events has continually evolved over the years. Drawing on influences from rock, Motown, and disco at the beginning of his career, he began dabbling in techno and acid house, and eventually settled into his current love of lush, progressive trance. This cycle could very well repeat itself. "I come from a rock background," he says, "So to work with Peter Gabriel or Creed would be amazing. I want to do some rock music – electronic rock – combining rock with a melodic vibe in the studio."

At least for now, the focus remains on dance music, and Ralph is optimistic about its current path in the U.S. "I think what’s going to happen is that in the next few years, dance music will become mainstream. It will become more commercial and more corporate," he predicts. "I just hope that America stays true to the way it is right now so that the emphasis will remain on listening to great music."

This is in stark contrast to what Ralph believes is happening at home in England. Although the U.K. has enjoyed a long run as one of the top exporters of cutting edge dance music, Ralph has observed some unfortunate changes. "Since I’ve been coming here for four or five years, America has shown such an amazing and fresh vitality," he notes. "I really think that England has gone stagnant now." Ralph attributes this trend to the over-commercialization of the party scene, and the resulting shift away from the music.

"It upsets me to see magazines with this week’s or this month’s drug surveys in them. They think that they’re going to sell – well, obviously they are selling magazines by putting lines of coke on the cover thinking that it’s really cool – but I just think that’s sad," Ralph regretfully reports. "They’re just glamorizing the whole drug culture. I mean, drug culture is very much a part of what I’m about – not to say that I would condone it or dismiss it – it’s just a part of what I do. But it’s moving away from music and into some sort of corporate world that I don’t really dig. It’s just moved so much further away from music than it should have."

Whatever distaste Ralph expresses for certain aspects of the dance music scene is clearly outweighed by his passion for it, and the respect and admiration he exhibits for his peers. When asked which mix-masters have influenced him the most, three well-known names are quickly revealed. "Sasha, because he’s the most innovative person that I’ve ever come across; Laurent Garnier, because it’s his fault I’m here now. He gave me the passion for this whole music thing, and turned me onto trance in 1992; and Paul Oakenfold, because he gave me a break." (Ralph toured in support of Oakenfold both on his 1996 Perfecto Tour and his 50-city U.S. Kinetic Tranceport Tour.) Another highlight in his prolific career occurred during his stint as a club promoter some 10 years ago when Ralph convinced Paul van Dyk to pack up his records and head west for his U.K. debut. We all know the tremendous results of that brilliant move.

Returning the favor, Paul van Dyk invited Ralph to Berlin for what would become one of the most profound experiences of his life. "The magnitude of the party just blew me away," says Ralph, recalling the first time he played at the infamous Berlin Love Parade four years ago. "Two million people at one time in one place dancing to the same music certainly says something very important. [The parade] actually came from gay culture, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the Berlin Wall coming down."

Ralph describes the Berlin Love Parade as "the achievement of a generation of people that are committed to enjoying themselves with as little fuss as possible in a safe environment." Citing the low numbers of arrests and almost non-existent violence, despite being the single largest dance festival in the world, Ralph attributes the event’s immense popularity and success to the sense of freedom and unity it creates in a city that not long ago was deeply divided. Remaining true to its original concept throughout the years, this annual celebration of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness unites a massive and diverse group of people through the one true international language – music.

Following the success of Tranceport II, Kinetic Records was anxious to work with Ralph on a follow-up project. Inspired by his revelation in Berlin, Ralph first pitched the idea of doing a DVD to capture the essence of the 10-hour Love Parade. Due to cost restraints, however, a continuous mix CD was recorded instead. The CD does, however, include a video clip of the event (the very first to feature live footage of the parade). It may only be a brief visual of what Ralph refers to as "the single most significant party on the planet," but he is hopeful that it will entice people to experience this "amazing achievement of humanity" for themselves.

Ralph is truly excited about his plans for 2001. After settling into life as a happily married man in sunny South Florida, he will set out to revolutionize the nightclub experience by introducing innovative visual technology into his DJ sets that will incorporate video projections and computer graphics. When he’s not traveling around the country, Ralph will concentrate on remix projects and original productions in his new studio.

A lot has happened to Dave Ralph during his 23 years in the music industry, but through it all, he has remained true to himself and to his fans. "I’m still the same person that I was when I started out, but I’m more aware of my personal time now," he says. "I realize now that I can’t give everything; I have to keep a little bit for myself. That’s the only real change that I see in myself. That, and I’m a lot wiser now [laughs]." It sounds like Ralph may have actually found the ideal balance between work and play. This will no doubt help him continue to break down barriers as he entertains and inspires countless people around the world with his remarkable talents and love of music.

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© 2000 Matt Kalkhoff

A version of this article was featured at in December 2000.