Daniel Villarreal is a widely known and beloved drummer, musician, and DJ in the Chicago music scene. If he’s not Djing, he’s playing drums with Dos Santos, Valebol, The Los Sundowns, or part of Neal Francis 11 piece band. As a DJ, Daniel specializes in groovy vintage sounds. His DJ sets (vinyl or digital) showcase his knowledge of World music, Tropicalia, Vintage Latin Soul, Psychedelic Funk and groovy deep cuts beats.
Villarreal may be most known for his big style and magnetic personality, but to musicians on the scene, it’s as much for his talents as a malleable and reliable drummer, with a deep pocket in many styles and sounds. Through Dos Santos and Ida y Vuelta, he’s demonstrated a range of knowledge and skill in various stripes of folkloric Latin music; but, ironically, he didn’t really play traditional Latin music until he moved to the States from his hometown Panamá City. His deepest roots in drumming are from the progressive punk and hardcore scenes of Central America, where his bands NOHAYDIA and 2 Huevos 1 Camino were active in the late 90s. Those formative experiences are the foundation of his career in music.
After his teen years thrashing on the punk scene, Villarreal started a life-changing tutelage with Freddy Sobers, the drummer of El General and Nando Boom (both known for pioneering reggaeton music in Panamá). “He taught me how to play all kinds of rhythms and told me I didn’t have to just play punk music,” Villarreal told the Chicago Reader in 2021. “He played everything from Rush to reggaeton to Chick Corea to salsa music... He told me if I wanted to be a good drummer, I had to learn all the styles. He took me under his wing, and I learned a lot from him.”
Villarreal migrated to the US in the early 2000s. His first decade was spent living on a farm near Woodstock, Illinois, where he was a social worker, connecting migrant laborers with community health clinics. He also spent that time raising his two daughters, Estelle and Fania. But all his spare time went to nurturing his passion for drums. As he found more collaborators, played more gigs and became more embedded in the music community, in the early 2010s he moved down the highway into the City of Chicago, determined to grind it out as a full-time musician.
After another decade of non-stop sideman work, which included the growing national awareness and success of Dos Santos, Villarreal began to imagine what his own solo record could be. A handful of studio experiments in 2017 and 2018 got him close to the sound in his mind, but it wasn’t until he traveled to Los Angeles for a gig in 2019 that he caught a lasting spark. A simple stereo recording of Villarreal improvising with a first-time ensemble of friends – including Elliot Bergman, Jeff Parker, Kellen Harrison, and Bardo Martinez – inspired him to go into full-on album mode. He spent the next two years doing recording sessions in Chicago and Los Angeles; and by Spring of 2022, he release his debut album Panamá 77 on International Anthem.
Panamá 77 was released to wide praise, including the Chicago Tribune, Remezcla, Treble Zine (who included it in their “50 Best Albums of 2022”), and Aquarium Drunkard, who said: "The debut album by Panamá-born, Chicago-based drummer and DJ Daniel Villarreal, arrives right on time — emitting earthy and humid spiritual jazz. Freewheeling and unmoored by genre, Villarreal and his cast of collaborators, all of whom helped compose the tracks they play on, revel in an improvisatory spirit which transcends the overdub and post-production elements of the recording process, resulting in something that feels truly organic and alive.”
On October 15th and 16th, 2020, drummer Daniel Villarreal was joined by guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist Anna Butterss for two afternoons of recording in the backyard of Chicali Outpost in Los Angeles. For all three musicians, it was the first ensemble recording session they’d done in-person since the pandemic locked the world down just seven months prior. Some choice moments from these sessions made it onto Villarreal’s critically-acclaimed 2022 album Panamá 77, but most of the music remained unreleased.
Lados B is a deep dive into the high-level spontaneous music made by Villarreal, Parker, and Butterss across those two days in 2020. Villarreal is heard leading the group through various rhythmic modes and structures for improvisation – flow as informed by the Latin funk of Fania Records as it is by the otherworldly humanity trance of Brain Records – while Parker and Butterss draw on their extensive experience playing free together (as heard on Parker's recently-released Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy, and the LA side of Makaya McCraven's 2018 LP Universal Beings) to build harmonic buoys for their spontaneous melodicism. The result is a beautifully vivid illustration of context, creativity, and collective composition from a particularly rich moment in history.
Daniel is currently member of:
Rudy de Anda, 2022-2023
Recorded drums for The Botanist
Ida y Vuelta, 2018-2023
Mucca Pazza, 2014-2016, Percussion
Multiple US tours and video performances such as the NPR Tiny Desk segment in 2015.
Wild Belle, 2015-2017, Congas
Supporting musician playing Congas on tour for “Dreamland” album cycle released on Columbia Records.