We met Daniel Dennehy in Mayfair, West London. A part of the world where the ultra rich reside, visit and play. Regency style architecture is home to hedge fund offices, boutique investments banks and members clubs. It is the location of members clubs like the famous Annabels, were membership costs £1250 per year plus £1000 entrance fee (that’s £1000 every time you attend). It also has the highest cluster of five star hotels which explains why Dennehy asked us to meet him in the lobby of The May Fair Hotel.
Dennehy is a hugely successful freestyle footballer and music producer with an enormous online following. Whilst we waited for him we sat on the plush furniture examining random pieces of modern art placed perfectly around the glistening marble floor. Sunglass wearing guests strided across the lobby purposefully in clothes that looked freshly bought. The doormen timed the opening of the door so that they didn’t have to break their stride, then the door of their luxury vehicle opened. Their driver sat stoically whilst his passenger melted into the leather seats. Once the doorman closed the car door with the blacked out windows they sped off.
Several minutes later Dennehy bounded in wearing a tracksuit with a colourful backpack fixed to his shoulders. He’s twenty-four years of age and has the slim naturally muscular body that athletic men tend to have at that age. His bright blonde hair is the first thing that strikes you, then his huge warm smile, then his height, then a slight American twang through his Irish accent and finally the speed at which he talks. He is quite literally bursting with energy which conflicted humourously with the rigid formality of our meeting place.
‘I used to infuriate my football coaches because they just wanted me to get rid of the ball, all I wanted to do was crazy tricks!’ First let’s explore more about the sport of freestyle football. It is a form of expression by doing moves with a soccer ball. ‘You stand against your opponent on a circular stage. You each have to take turns doing thirty seconds worth of tricks till a whistle blows, there is three rounds of that. It’s like a dance off. Then there is five judges, sometimes three but always an odd number so that it can’t be a draw.’
He’s philosophical about who get’s to judge. ‘Some freestylers say, it’s got to be all freestyler judges because they understand the technical tricks and difficulty. But sometimes you have a big brand sponsoring it like Red Bull and they want a big name like Fabio Cannavaro (Italy’s football captain when they won the World Cup). I always say to them, would you rather have five freestyler judges and have three-hundred people watching. Or would you rather have Cannavaro as one of the judges and have five thousand people? I know which one I’d prefer.’
The most talented countries in the sport right now are Poland, Japan, Brazil and Norway in that order. It also has a healthy number of women competing, ‘the world champion right now is Melody, she’s from France. She would beat 90% of the guys. I’d probably lose to her right now I’m not going to even lie!’
Finding His First Freestyler Mentor
From when he was a child to a young adult he always had a soccer ball with him, it consumed him. He was astute to know early on that football was too restrictive, ‘I didn’t know that freestyle football was a thing. I didn’t know you could actually just do the tricks and have competitions and battle against other freestylers. In 2008 I found some videos on YouTube, and I realised then that it is it’s own sport. It has it’s own subculture. I just got sucked into that and never looked back.’
The first freestyler he found in Ireland was Mark Tiernan via his YouTube video. Overwhelmed with what he was watching he messaged him to ask to meet up, Tiernan invited him to do some tricks with him on Grafton Street in Dublin (a pedestrianised commercial street). ‘I met him but I was terrible at this point. Absolutely terrible! I had no experience doing anything in front of anybody and he told me that we were going to do a street show! He threw me in at the deep end, but I thank him for that because it made me really thick skinned. I was making mistakes and people were watching. You could just tell people were thinking this guy is not even good and then there were some lads walking by shouting, you’re shit!’
He continued to do the shows on Grafton Street and firmly believes that it has helped him with competitions because he believes it’s the hardest thing to do.
‘I’ve had a dude kick the ball away on me. I was bouncing the ball on my head laying on the ground, and he just ran up and kicked it full strength. If I moved my head, he would have just kicked me in the head. Crazy stuff,’ he laughs.
Now that he has graduated to international competitions he relays what it takes to be at that level. ‘You need to be a high-performance athlete. You need to be training many hours a day to stay on top and always learn new tricks. Elaborate different combinations, come up with signature moves and have stamina and mental toughness to not crack under pressure.’
He studied communications in Dublin City University and adds with a cheeky grin, ‘I picked a course that would give me the most free time to keep doing freestyle!’ But it is that education that is coming into play in his life now. He is not content with the idea of competing in freestyle for the rest of his life, he loves the sport but he sees himself moving more towards the business side of it.
‘I realised from competing around the world that all the best freestylers are just my friends. There is a lot of trust there. If you want me to call the best guy in Peru right now I’d just take out my phone and call him. Malaysia, Ecuador whatever.’ Dennehy likens the freestyle culture to surf culture, there is a mutual respect and bond.
He is keen to focus his efforts on creating more freestyle events. He also has a natural acumen for social media, all his images and videos have consistently high engagement numbers, he understands his value to brands. ‘Some brands send freestylers free clothes and ask them to post them on Instagram, just to get some free promo. Unfortunately, most people just settle for that because they think it makes them look cool. They will give a brand a huge shout out to their 80,000 followers. A lot of kids idolize these freestylers, for example 80% of my direct messages on Instagram ask what shoes and what ball should I buy?’
You get the impression from Dennehy that his down to earth nature is one of his biggest asests as he can cut through the marketing veneer. ‘People don’t really understand their worth sometimes. I’m like dude you have 100,000 followers on Instagram don’t just shout stuff out for free for huge corporations.’
Dennehy’s father is from Kerry and his mother is from Rio de Janeiro. He was born in San Francisco and lived there till he was ten, then the family moved to Brazil for a year then they moved to Kerry for four years. Next they moved to Dublin. He always was surrounded by music be it the drums of Brazil to the Irish ballad songs with his uncles.
The bass and rhythm of his childhood influenced him to create hip-hop beats. ‘I was eighteen when I started to write raps. I was looking up to people like Jay-Z. I just kept doing it. I released an album last year called Free Spirit. I self-produced almost the entire thing. Mixed it all myself, mastered it all myself just because I had no choice. I didn’t know anybody who could mix songs to a good quality so I just had to do it.’
What is incredible about Dennehey is his work ethic and outlook on achieving success in music, ‘I put my beats on YouTube for free with a tag over it so even if they rip it I’ll still get the credit. I like just putting my stuff out for free. I don’t think it’s a good thing to be too protective of your material. Just get it out there and if good opportunities are going to come they’ll come.’
Amazing opportunities have indeed arrived at his gifted feet. Famous YouTube blogger Casey Neistat who has 1.3 million subscribers started using his beats. ‘The first day he posts he’ll hit 700,000 views on his blog. Loads of people found me after that because he puts my music in the title with my name. Then a bunch of other famous YouTubers started using my beats so I’ve somehow became this guy who makes and sends beats to these You Tubers!’
Then out of the blue, the manager of New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap called him looking for exclusive beats. ‘He’s probably the most famous rapper right now in America. He just blew up overnight. His song Trap Queen, is huge. Apparently they had been following my beats on YouTube for a few months. He said that Fetty Wap likes my beats, and they want me to send them exclusive stuff and if they use it they will sign me to do their in-house production stuff!’
After the interview Dennehy led us through Mayfair to find a spot to show off his skills. Expensively dressed and bred people paused to look at Dennehy do his tricks in front of the Bentley showroom by Berkley Square. It was a bitterly cold day as he maneuvered his body skillfully through his moves. He loves what he does and he loves to perform in new worlds with his talents, that’s why he will continue to get noticed.