Jonathan Toubin

Jason Diamond

Photo by Jackie Roman

Enter Jonathan Toubin, and his simple-yet-visionary approach to revamping the entire landscape of New York and Brooklyn from midnight till the after hours. His New York Night Train parties have become stuff of sheer legend due to the simple fact that Toubin actually seems to care about what he is producing. His meticulous approach has paid off quite handsomely as pretty much each and every party with the Jonathan Toubin stamp on it seems to be the biggest party going on for that given night.

I get this feeling that by now, you have attained the rank of world class DJ? Is that true?

Ha! I guess since I now get to travel the world playing records – yeah! As for class, I'm still not sure if I have any – but do go on about this “world class DJ” business – it makes me sound so… legitimate!

When did you know it was your destiny to be a world class DJ?

Let’s see… A gypsy woman told my mother before I was born…. But really, I never had any idea this fate awaited me. I was obsessed with rock’n’roll and records and Kiss (ha!) since I was a small child and did my share of college radio and record store jobs and occasional gigs at clubs between bands or whatever – but I was always a musician and never really thought much about DJs either way. Though I saw a few cool ones I guess the image of some guy in comfortable clothing and a baseball cap cutting back and forth on a crossfader at a dance club always came to mind – and that whole scene never really had even an iota appeal to me. And neither did the whole dusty retro-night record collector time-capsule scene. Nope, this occupation snuck up on me and took me by surprise…

By surprise?

Yeah! There were these isolated incidences the last few years but it really wasn’t until my friends at Motor City Bar kept inviting me back to play records every week and then other places started asking me and soon I recognized that my calendar was full enough to quit my day job. Though I threw down some soul and garage tunes and kept a broad mix, I started out playing primarily punk, noise, and other subcultural genres mixed together – so obviously I had no career plans, as one can't very well live in New York on $100 a week – but I did start working it and honing my aesthetics, concepts, and methodology in terms of format, presentation, and promotional strategy once DJ-ing and party/show-throwing became a matter of food and rent.

If you had to pick, is there one party you have set up (specifically in Brooklyn) that stands out in your mind more than others?

Whaaaa! That’s a tough one. I did over 300 last year and can’t remember. But, if you don’t want the parties where patrons tried to assault me or I had adventures acting as security, the most eventful have definitely been the Glasslands events – I'll have to pick the Soul Clap and Dance-Off that ended in a riot. I don’t really know what happened as the 45 DJ is always on his toes with the short jams, but one of the judges, my favorite DJ Josh Styles, wound up dumping the judge table over and audience and judges were throwing stuff at one another and fighting and a variety of objects were flying at me, hard, soft, wet, dry, shattering, exploding, etc.

Booze was getting in the mixer and hundreds of people were still managing to dance either oblivious or just into the wild energy and somehow the new huge bouncer at the club wound up giving me the boot from my own party for trying to prevent the most passive of the judges from getting ejected. While I saw everyone else morph into total maniacs, her only crime was defending herself by returning an ice volley. The funny part is that, while I was arguing with him at the door, I noticed music was still playing and the same girl that was supposed to get ejected was now the DJ! And I think I had to spin a fist-pumping late-night electro rave immediately after armed with only my soul 45s. Ouch!

In your mind, what make New York Night Train parties different than others?

Well, in my mind it’s because they’re simply aesthetically, musically, and socially superior than others! Ha! But in reality, at their best, the parties bring together a variety of previously disparate subcultural groups, offer them a unique experience, and bring dancing into the mix. Typically discos and the music within are totally alien and unappealing to rock folks like myself and rock culture, where shows and bar hang-outs are a bit dull. With New York Night Train I've made a conscious effort not only to make these traditional social spaces more lively and interesting, and to bridge together these subcultural groups, but also to bring together various generations, geographies, and disciplines. For example downtown art girls and Brooklyn rock boys make a great mix if you can get ‘em on the same dance floor.

How much have you traveled in the last ninety days?

Urgh! How much haven’t I traveled? I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t also working practically every night in New York when I’m not out there but, let’s see… Last month I brought my Happening to Baltimore and DC, spun two parties at Sled Island Festival in Calgary and two more at Toronto’s NXNE festival. I did a 60th birthday party in Jersey! Ha! In May I was in Portland for a number of gigs, a couple in LA, Vancouver, San Francisco, San Diego, etc. In April I was also on the West Coast and also Texas and Las Vegas for the Beauty Bar Anniversary Parties and my favorite festival in the world, the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. I have an amazing booking agent, Michelle Cable at Panache and she keeps me plenty busy and does an amazing job.

As a DJ in New York, you probably keep strange hours, and I know some of your gigs are “after hours”, what is your typical post-DJ'ing routine? Do you go straight home?

Ha! I wish I had a routine but everything is too scrambled! Sometimes I stick around with the bar staff and have a drink or two. Sometimes I have a bite or a drink with a friend. Sometimes I stay out until the next afternoon/evening. Sometimes I get in a car to the airport. Sometimes I go home and work on a flier or catch up on correspondence or some promotional schpiel that is past due. But most of the time I just put on a record or two and either read a book or pass out – pretty dull, huh?

Do you ever go straight home from a party you put together and cook breakfast?

You know, I don’t recall making early-morning breakfast lately – I’ve always loved the kitchen but become a bit estranged from that particular room since I got so busy.

What’s the most you have ever paid for a record, and was it worth it?

Oh man. I’d rather not talk about it. I used to pride myself in being an excellent thrift shopper with a $20 ceiling at stores, then a $30, $40, $50, $60 ceiling! And now… Oh brutha – ask me in a year whether I make that much more money for gigs now that I buy expensive records… and how many of them haven’t been scratched or broken by my beloved rowdy public…

What does the future hold for you Mr. Toubin?

If I don’t drop from exhaustion, heart attack, stroke, bizarre gardening accident, etc., I plan to perfect my “Maximum Rock and Soul” aesthetics and 45 library, to continue bringing dancing, merriment, and flair to rock bars and venues that never had it, and simultaneously to bring wild, immediate organic music to dance clubs that never had it, to destroy the mash-up and the 12-inch remix, and to continue to spread my good times/good taste gospel to every cool man, woman, and child around the world! And maybe in the process finally get a day off! Ha!

And in a more immediate and literal sense, next week I’m bringing my Happenings to Detroit and Chicago with Awesome Color and my crew of go go artiste Anna Copa Cabanna, projectionist Spencer Bewley, and performer Hula Hoop Harlot Melissa Anne, and, later in the month, Soul Clap and Dance-Off up and down the West Coast interspersed with some dates with Quintron and Ms. Pussycat, a Mexican tour in August, and, in the fall Pop Montreal, CMJ Festival, Fun Fun Fun Festival, Vice’s Garage Rock Festival, and Happenings with Shonen Knife, Chain and the Gang, and hopefully the Contortions reunion if they can get it together. Of course, when I’m in town I plan on sticking with all the good folks who believed in me when this was all unimaginable – my Wednesday night at Motor City, Thursday at Beauty Bar Brooklyn, the Thursday I curate at Enid’s, Friday at Home Sweet Home, and all the other local special Soul Claps, Happenings, and other parties at Glasslands, Live With Animals, Market Hotel, etc. But, most importantly, in the next few months I hope to discover love, the meaning of life, and the ultimate 45 while getting one step closer to perfection every night by playing an artfully arranged yet pragmatically improvisational cycle of 150 songs over and over and over and over and over….

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