Tony Touch: the original mixtape king with hundreds of mixes to date of Hip-Hop, Reggaeton and House. From his Rock Steady Crew affiliation to his work with a staggering who’s who of Hip-Hop royalty, Tony Touch aka Tony Toca is the man.
But this musical chameleon has also firmly solidified himself in the world of House music with his ridiculously successful Sunday night party FUNKBOX. Based in New York’s Sullivan Room, his 5 year old residency has boasted some of the biggest guest DJs in the world. But that’s not what makes this party such a success. Packed every week from open to close, Tony explains the formula for what makes Funkbox the party that it is. Promoters take notes.
I know you have quite the versatile musical background, especially being raised in a city like New York. House was in everyone’s life blood.
I started DJing in ’86 so when I first started playing music I was already buying House records along with Reggae, Freestyle and Hip-Hop. I was always into different genres of music from the beginning. Even my mixtape series featured all those different styles.
The rap shit took off you know, I produced albums with it, so people associated me more with the Hip-Hop or even the Reggaeton Spanish stuff. They’re not used to seeing guys switch up from genre to genre like that. There’s only a handful of guys that really do it like Spinna, myself, Jazzy Jeff, Rich Medina. It’s a blessing, I love it. Plus I have a short attention span so I like to switch up, you know?
So was your party FunkBox what really cemented your identity in the House community?
How FunkBox came about is I just saw a void in the New York club scene, there weren’t enough Deep House parties being produced. A lot of them were monthly parties. The only weekly parties were Roots with Louie Vega and Shelter. And those were the two parties that inspired the Funkbox. I just wanted to have something of my own. I started small at a downtown Lower East Side spot called Drom before we went to the Sullivan Room. I didn’t see it getting this big, I just wanted a Sunday chillout lounge.
Who exactly made up the cast of your original crew?
Voodoo Ray, Evelyn Santos (she’s a House veteran), Father Chris – those were some of the original guys. Khahim is also my partner. Then Melanie Aguirre, she used to be down with the House of Ninjas so I got a relationship with those guys and a lot of the dancers in general. And me being with Rock Steady Crew, I was very tied into the dance community.
Was that hard for you to be accepted? Because I know people like to classify – okay, you’re either House or you’re Hip-Hop. But folks seem to be more open-minded in New York.
I didn’t get that much resistance. There was some, people raising their eyebrows like, “What? He’s playing House?” But when they come they see how deep I can get with it. So you’ve got to make them a believer when they come in person.
Funkbox is not really DJ-driven, it’s more on the brand. It’s the people’s party.
That’s hard to do a weekly residency, it requires a lot of stamina and it’s hard to maintain week after week.
Well I align myself with people that share the same vision. It was a team basically. I mean I was hanging out at the Shelter and at Roots for years before I even started doing this party. So I kinda already knew who was who, heads were already seeing me hanging out in the House clubs all the time. I used to and still play at Roots every 6 months or so, I’ve got a really great relationship with Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge, you know I’ve been working with Masters at Work for years. For years I’ve been tied in with the Dance Ritual stuff, either DJing or hosting for them.
With all of it’s success, have you ever thought about doing a Funkbox tour?
Yeah we’ve done some Miami dates, me and Mr. V. When I’m not around, Mr. V will hold it down for me. He’s like my co-pilot when I’m not there. We’re both like Little Louie Vega proteges. Also Brian Coxx is another one.
But yeah other than Roots we’re like the go-to party and what makes us different than all these other parties in New York is that we have guest DJs every week.
The night I played for you, you also had AB Logic which I thought was really cool because they play a whole different style of House from what Funkbox is known for, and it turned out really well!
Yeah they’re good and they’ve got their own parties they do here in New York. That’s the thing – we try to tie in with other people that also have their own little movements. We go from guys that play stuff like what they play, to guys that play a little more afrocentric like Osunlade or Boddhi Sattva, we’ve had everybody… Louie Vega, Kenny Dope. We have no boundaries with it, because sometimes DJs with different scenes will bring in their crowd. So every week we’re introducing Funkbox to a new set of people because of the guest DJ element.
This is totally not Tony Touch coming to play House, this is “Tony Touch and friends” so I’m kind of getting the co-sign from all these other guys as well. So they’re coming in, they’re bringing in their movement, people are seeing the party and they become new fans. It’s a wide array of DJs that definitely have different styles. It’s not always soulful and vocal, some guys are a little more techie, a little more on the jack side, some more afro… and that really makes it work.
That’s a really good thing you’ve done because oftentimes parties focus too much on who the guest DJ is. What I’ve noticed is that people will go to Funkbox because it’s Funkbox.
It’s not really DJ-driven, it’s more on the brand. It’s the people’s party. Again, I always go back to teamwork. Teamwork makes the dream work. Everybody that’s down with us, that works with us, we all share the same vision. Obviously we know that soulful Deep House is not this huge money-making machine either. So if you keep that in mind, and you’re cool with just being consistent and you know you make a little something every week, then it works for everybody. I didn’t do it for the money which is probably another reason why the party is successful.
You get booked to play all over the world constantly, I mean your tour schedule is ridiculous. And I see that you come to Chicago quite a bit to do all the Hip-Hop parties… Are you getting booked to play House as much?
Mostly it’s always Hip-Hop. But I wanna shout out Shabazz and Skor from the Bassment Records in Chicago – they’ll book me for a Hip-Hop party and then tie me in to play House somewhere. But yeah most of it is Hip-Hop, or with the Puerto Rican community I get hired a lot to even do Latin stuff like Reggaeton events.
So I know with getting booked as a House DJ comes production. Right now I’m putting out a Funkbox album. We’ve got features from Bucie, Peven Everett, this artist from South Africa Andy Boi, Soni, Quentin Harris did production on the album as well. So it’s like a Tony Touch presents, but I’m doing a lot of production on it. This will hopefully open up more doors for me and make people believe.
How do you feel about the fact that House tunes today have no real longevity? That you can put in so many months and years of hard work on production and it may be here today gone tomorrow? No one is really making any money of production and yet thankfully that’s not stopping them.
I mean again it all boils down to me just doing it for the love. I just love it. I’m not doing it for the money. Even with the rap shit, I got into this whole thing from the beginning for the love of it. It’s great now I’m making money, it’s dope! But I guess people saw how genuine I was and how I approached it and that’s probably why I get the love out there from the House, Hip-Hop and the Reggaeton communities. Because it’s genuine, it’s from the heart. By me putting out this album, I just want to put out some quality music, show and prove I can produce some real House shit and that’s it. If some money comes out of it, some DJ gigs come out of it, awesome. At the end of the day I’m just content with myself that I was able to put something out.
Tell me about some of the tools you use for your production.
Oh you know ProTools, and as far as my outboard gear I’m using the Maschine a lot now. I still got my ASR-10 I do beats on that, I’m on the machines every now and then, the MPC if I need to.
I love sampling, chopping up, filtering stuff, I’m totally into that. I’ve paid a pretty penny too over the years of sampling, especially the rap stuff. Nowadays you’ve got to clear everything. And I do, I clear all my stuff. But yeah I’m totally into sampling.
I’m very happy to have interviewed someone with a more positive outlook of the Soulful side of House, I really am because that’s where my heart personally is.
In terms of my sound it’s always evolving and the thing about our party is it’s more Soulful House driven but at any given moment when I’m playing I’ll go left. I could go techy, minimal, even the stuff that’s coming out of South Africa right now (for some folks that’s relatively new). I’m always switching the vibe up. Not to make the dancefloor lose their step, just to not keep it one thing. Sometimes I don’t want to do too many vocals or too many instrumentals.
And that’s the other plus of having guest DJs, they come in bring in their sound, I’m getting new records off of them that I’ve never heard. So we’re in a great place right now the New York House scene.
As far as that deep, soulful funky shit, that’s always going to be in effect. You know why? Because it’s warm and it feels good, it hits the heart. The other shit might be interesting for a minute, it might trigger other things in the brain and people get into it. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like Soul music.
So all the heads that are discouraged, don’t be. Just line yourself up with people, which is what I did, that share the same vision and that are into what you’re into, and you can create your movement that way. That’s what’s up!