Jack James Busa talks to DJ and curator Daniel Walters about their collaborative project, The Muses, career highlights and milestone moments, and the best places to party this holiday season.
Slithering through the cobblestoned streets of SoHo, decked out in sky-high platform boots and armed with a razor-sharp wit and a Rolodex of music, fashion, and art references at his fingertips, Daniel Walters has carved out a name for himself as a tastemaker in New York.
Since touching down nearly 10 years ago, this art and community savant has shifted gears from modeling to curating and producing events and exhibitions, lending his creative expertise to many music, fashion, and lifestyle brands. It all crescendoed in 2021 when Daniel’s nightlife stardom skyrocketed with the launch of DJ/production duo The Muses, spinning at nightclubs and exclusive events for institutions like The Whitney, Lincoln Center, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and fashion heavyweights such as Givenchy and Stella McCartney.
By now, you’re probably thinking, “Geez, this columnist must really be into this Daniel person,” and you’d be spot on! I’m biased because not only am I the other half of The Muses but I’ve also been Walters’ romantic partner for seven years. Pretty cute, right?
With his one-of-a-kind perspective both in front of and behind the velvet rope, Walters dishes to GrandLife about his New York and the go-to spots for this holiday party season.
Hey Daniel. I’d love to hear a little about your formative years. Where are you from?
Daniel Walters: Fairhope, a small town at the very southern tip of Alabama best known as the basis for Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, and backdrop for both Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Needless to say, the former shines a friendlier light but all three resonate.
What brought you to New York?
DW: I first moved to New York back in 2014 on a modeling contract. Not knowing a single person and without the usual mediums for making friends—school, traditional workplace, etcetera—I found other avenues to meet people, like, a summer internship at this nightlife concierge company that will remain nameless. I was 19, running around the city, getting to review restaurants, art exhibitions, shows and nightclubs that I was clearly too young to have any real critical authority on in the first place. When my editor-in-chief quit, she offered me her position but implored me not to take it. Too young, too broke and too starry-eyed to read between the lines, I went from unpaid intern to editor-in-chief. She was right.
Fortunately, another contract took me to Milan soon thereafter for several months where my eyes were opened to art, architecture and cultures in ways I’d never really fathomed. The experience prompted me to return to New York with a shift away from modeling to academia, ultimately leading me to The New School where I studied Art Theory, graduating in 2019 and working at Morrison Hotel Gallery.
Each of these pivotal moments positioned me for my present chapter.
Music plays a huge role in your life here in New York. I’m curious to know what music was playing in your house growing up?
DW: If memory serves justice, it vacillated between old-school country and cheesy soft rock. I still hold a certain reverence for both.
What music is playing in your house currently?
DW: John Cage’s 4’33”. This may be an unpopular opinion but, as a DJ, nightlife producer and creative consultant for a number of music-driven initiatives, the restorative power of silence is paramount for me.
What have you been inspired by recently?
DW: Since forming The Muses—which I’m sure we’ll get deeper into soon—I’ve found myself constantly inspired by the city’s creative communities who truly make what I do such an honor.
If your life in New York were a film, what album or song would score that cinematic masterpiece?
DW: Frankie Knuckles lays the groundwork for my New York soundtrack. Honorable mentions include Joe Bataan’s “Subway Joe”, Grace Jones’s Warm Leatherette and, of course, The Velvet Underground & Nico.
When did you start working in New York nightlife? What was the appeal?
DW: As mentioned, I had a peripheral brush back in 2014 as a writer which coincided with my fair share of quasi-club-kid-cum-model-promo-table exploits but it was not until 2021 that I actually began to ingratiate myself into professional nightlife. I had previous experience producing exhibition receptions, brand activations and even a virtual music festival but nothing of the caliber that I am involved in now as one-half of The Muses.
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We started DJing as The Muses in 2021. Can you share the origin story and talk a bit about the project?
DW: I would say you’re 100 percent the lifeblood behind The Muses. I came up with the name but you come with all of the musical talent. You also give a good interview. What began as a happy accident when our friend Liz Vap asked us to DJ an exhibition opening for the late-great Mick Rock quickly careered into a career as clubs throughout the city started approaching us. Within a couple of weeks, we were fielding countless booking inquiries and residency offers when, in reality, we had virtually no idea what we were doing. What we did have, however, was heart, high heels and a handful of really great supporters like Vap, Nur Khan, Spiky Phil Meynell and Jen Shorr who took chances on us. To them, I will always be profoundly grateful.
What are your favorite places to DJ in New York?
DW: That is such an impossible question. Each venue holds certain reverence for reasons entirely unto themselves.
Who are some of your favorite DJs on the scene right now?
DW: We recently played at the Knockdown Center where I had the pleasure of meeting Lina Bradford who left me utterly bewildered. Charismatic, kind, and categorically sickening, Lina is the epitome of everything I aspire to as a performer. Straddling old-school sensibility and new-guard proclivities, we could all stand to take a lesson or two from the artful je nais sais quoi of Ms. Bradford. She is truly one of the greats.
Damn, now I feel I’m doing a disservice to everyone else I am going to mention after that but there is plenty of love to go around. Some of my other local favorites are Samantha Michelle (who encouraged me to start DJing in the first place), Kristine Barilli, Nikki Kynard, Aku Orraca-Tetteh, Daisy O’Dell, Vibeiana and, last but certainly not least, Santos, a newcomer from the Haus of Muse and teeth-cutting savant of sonic and sartorial propriety.
What parties and places are you most looking forward to playing and attending this holiday season?
DW: I recently got back from Art Basel Miami where I played the Givenchy party which was very exciting for me. Earlier this month, I also had the opportunity to headline The Met’s Art & Artist Gala which was a major milestone. There are also a few really special holiday parties that I am looking forward to. This New Year’s Eve, I will be at The Roxy Hotel with Kristine Barilli, Nina Tarr, David Johansen and some other special friends. I will also be closing out the evening with a late-night (early morning?) set at Butterfly, doubling as its farewell party. Butterfly is where The Muses got its start so while it’s the end of an era, I have it on good authority that 2024 beholds its fair share of buzz-worthy beginnings so stay tuned! Have I said too much?
WORDS Jack James Busa @jackjamesbusa