D.J. Tony Touch has been a very busy man lately. Inteligencia spoke with him over the phone recently to see how he was handling COVID-19 and keeping his fanbase moving.
“How did you get into music?”
I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, between East New York and Canarsie. I grew up around a melting pot of races – Spanish, Black, Italian, Jewish – so there were a lot of influences, which to this day plays a role in my DJ style. I have a musical family – my uncles had salsa bands and my grandfather wrote lyrics for them. My mom was really into disco and brought records home, so I had a decent vinyl collection at a young age and learned how to work turn tables.
My first love was really dancing; when the whole b-boy scene started in the early 80s I gravitated towards that and fell in love with the whole hip-hop culture – the art, the music, and the dance elements. From then on I’ve been living it, man – I’ve been DJing since like ’84 and I would say eating off music since ’86, 87.
“Are there any music genres closest to your heart?”
All of them man, it’s when the mood strikes. Sometimes I just want to listen to some old-school Cheo Feliciano, sometimes Beenie Man, maybe switch it up with Future or Drake, some Kool G Rap. My taste buds have to be constantly catered to, and I have a short attention span, so imagine [laughs].
Personally, my go-to crate is definitely music from the 70s, it could Latin, James Brown, R&B, funk, reggae, even some of the classic rock records – they nailed it in the 70s.
“What new music are you excited by?”
I really like where a lot of the underground NY-style hip hop is going. Lyricism has taken a back seat for a while, but it seems to be on the rise, for a minute now. Artists like Westside Gunn and Conway are bringing back the gritty, NY sound with lyrical conceptual music which is exciting to see.
I also really like where the house music scene has gone, the art form and producers have really stepped up. I’m driven right now to the afro-centric, afro-soulful house – artists like Boddhi Satva, Black Coffee, Cairo, they’re putting out music with energy that feels more spiritual – Feel-good House.
“What does a typical week look like for you?”
My week starts Sunday with one of my two NY club residencies, Funkbox. We’ve been doing it for 12 years, and we feature guest DJs, painters, and a whole slew of dancers and different crews that come through. It’s deep, soulful house and we’ve built a following out here in NY. Mondays are usually my day off. Tuesday I have a radio show on Sirius called Toca Tuesdays that I spend the day preparing, and then Tuesday nights is the Toca Tuesdays club residency that we’ve been doing for 12 years as well. That also has guest DJs – we’ve featured everyone from local guys to guys like Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri, stuff like that. That’s the theme for both parties – community driven parties, everyone gets to shine. Toca Tuesdays is a classic hip-hop party, not that I don’t love new stuff. I play the new stuff on my radio show, to break new hip-hop artists, but my club nights are geared toward an older crowd. Wednesdays and Thursdays are studio time, working on my music projects. Friday and Saturday are my weekend travels. I don’t go out for weeks at a time, I usually do weekend runs and then come back home for Funkbox. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to tour the world the last 25 years from Japan, Europe, Australia, you name it.
I’m also part of the Originals [group of DJs consisting of Tony Touch, D Nice, Rich Medina, DJ Clark Kent, and Stretch Armstrong] and we’ve been doing a monthly party for the last eight years in NY but also travelled all over the world with it. The format with the Originals is the five of us change places as DJs every 30 minutes, coming on one after the other. I usually bounce off what the guy before me was doing, the zone he was in. I take the set where I want to go, and then I’ll also keep in mind who’s coming on after me and I’m able to set them a little bit, a little alley oop.
“Speaking of the Originals, one of your partners, D Nice, has been a breakout star during the Covid quarantine time, doing his Club Quarantine live sets watched by tens of thousands of people. It must be great to see him get the recognition.”
Oh yeah, I was hanging out with him when he did the first few streams [on IG live] – Me, D Nice and Clark Kent would sometimes go on the streams and go song-for-song. D Nice had already had such a great run over the years with high profile gigs like Dave Chapelle and the Obamas, and also had a long history in the music business producing and rapping, so to see everything come together was beautiful. I was there when he cracked 100k people watching his set for that party in March, and I was so happy for him. It was so great to see what that party turned into, a whole global healing and inspiring people to come out and enjoy live streams.
“How have you personally been handling the Covid situation?”
It’s some real Twilight Zone stuff – I never thought I’d see the day we’d be living like this. Seeing the numbers of people getting sick, all the stories you hear are so traumatizing. Thank God no one in my immediate family got the virus, but I’ve had friends who lost family members. It was definitely eye-opening. To tell you the truth I ‘turned a six into a nine’, trying to not let it affect me too much. With the music, I’ve been able to escape a bit from what’s going on in the world. I’ve also been able to spend some time at home which I hadn’t really been able to do in many, many years.
“How have you been using new forms of technology to reach audiences during Covid?”
I got into live-streaming early on because I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to play music for self-therapy and therapy for others, people who are used to hearing me play every week. It then turned into a bigger thing. It’s great to see people tuning in from Europe, Australia, it really bugs me out.
“Do you approach these IG sets the same way you do club nights, given you can’t feel the audience’s energy the same way?”
In a sense I do feel the energy, it’s just a different type – you’re paying attention to comments the way in the club you pay attention to the dancefloor. In the club you got to pay attention to the dancefloor to see how the crowd is reacting and vibing to what you’re doing, and you have to figure out if you need to go in a different direction. With the comments in the IG Live sets, I’ll sometimes be curious to hear what people want to hear because it might remind of a song I haven’t heard in a while. Other times it will open up an idea, trigger something.
“How have you been dealing with the George Floyd murder and the protests?”
A lot of time in my sets, I do themes based on how I’m feeling. Like when it rains in NY, I’ll put on records that talk about rain. Even days of the week – there are certain “Friday” records you play on Fridays. In my salsa set the week after George Floyd’s death, I played a lot of songs like Eddie Palmieri ‘Justicia,’ Gran Combo’s “Fuego en el 23,” certain records that represented that struggle, that movement, and I turned the whole day into it. I had a lot of people giving me feedback that it was helping them get through the situation. Right now I just want to spread love and throw some positive energy out there through my streams and posts. We’ve had this problem [of racism] here in the US and all over the world for a so many years, it’s like the same old song. People are just fed up, particularly after being locked up for two and half, three months. People lost their minds when [the Floyd death] happened, social distancing went out the window – people needed to protest. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back – that video was too blatant.
“Coming out Covid, how do you think the music industry will change and what are your plans?”
I don’t know what to expect, but I know it won’t be the same. We have to see how we adapt to the new ways of the world. The IG live thing will expand and develop – I see myself still playing venues but probably going live more while I’m at the venue. Now the whole world can listen you at the same time. The road has been good to me and God willing we can get back on the road and do some good work again.
Right before Covid broke, we had finished wrapping up a movie we shot, it’s a documentary on the mixtape culture. Universal picked it up, we’re getting really good push behind it. We’re 95% done, and there will be a soundtrack to go with it, which is also recorded.DJ Doo-Wop helped me out with it and lots of the other big mix-tape DJs will be featured – Ron G, Kid Capri, way back to Brucie B, up to Khaled, Drama, Lil Wayne. We have some really great cameos and stories. It really breaks down the impact of the mixtape culture, I can’t wait to drop it. It’s coming really soon, along with the soundtrack album.
“What advice would you give to a young person trying to break into the industry now?”
Go against the grain, be original, be creative, think outside the box. Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. Try to come up with you own sound, your own signature style. But don’t go too far to the left, you have to find the balance of appealing to what’s going now while making something your own. Sometimes it takes a while to get to that place.
Words by Ben Sanders
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