Dance Music: DELLA talks to Tommy Bones

What Chicago and Detroit established in House, New York made its own with a sound that channeled something raw and urgent from the city into the music. The city’s conic traditions, from the aggressive assertiveness of punk / new wave and the grimy reality of Hip Hop, would leave its impression on House too, shaping the genre around the city in one of the most unique interpretations of dance music. Establishments like Limelight, Tunnel and Sound Factory became the purveyors of cool in New York in the 80’s and 90’s through House, here music from the collections of David Morales, Kenny Dope and Todd Terry soundtracked the city’s nocturnal hours.

Following in these DJs’ footsteps was Tommy Bones, but like many of his generation, it didn’t begin in the booth, but rather the floor… where else? From the age of five, Tommy had been a musical obsessive and a dancer and by 16 he was a fledgling DJ, nicknamed Tommy Bones because of his emaciated appearance. Playing the local roller rink when the resident DJ was let go, Tommy honed his craft, spending his days with dusty fingers in record stores and his nights haunting the likes of Sound Factory and Tunnel, listening to the newest sounds coming out of New York.

In ’94 he took his first professional DJ gig in New York during the city’s golden age of House music, combining his early DJ experiences with his love of dancing, to become a leading light in the city’s darkened corners. From DJing, the natural evolution into production came for Tommy when in the early 2000’s he released his first solo productions. He had found early support for his productions through legendary labels like Strictly Rhythm, Real Tone and Defected and records like his Future Classic’s EP brought the DJ and producer to an international audience.

With that distinct New York flavour punctuating his percussive productions, Tommy stayed close to the sound of the city that birthed his musical career, honouring the sound of House as established through recordings artists like Masters at Work and Kerri Chandler. Deep chords travelling lethargically across effervescent jacking beats with a vocal sample waiting along the next bar, follows the legacy of Tommy Bones through his discography. He continues to be a frequent fixture on New York’s nightlife, and while he might be occupying the other side of the booth today, he’s still a dancer at heart, much like Jæger resident DELLA.

The story of Tommy Bones is a story o DELLA knows all to well as an American DJ that’s carved up her fair share of wooden boards in New York and it’s more than just serendipity that she and Tommy Bones should find themselves in Jæger’s booth this weekend together. In a recent visit stateside, DELLA caught up with Tommy Bones for a Q&A session to talk about the dance floor, New York in the nineties and their upcoming gig together.

 DELLA: Hi Tommy, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Jaeger. I am really looking forward to bringing your New York House sound to our basement at my upcoming Della’s Drivhus. Please, can you tell us a little about your background as a New Yorker and how you got into DJing?

Tommy Bones: I actually grew up 1 hour outside of NYC in Connecticut. I was a white kid in the suburbs that grew up on New York Radio stations. Stations like WBLS and Kiss FM played Hip Hop & R&B. As a kid in the 80’s and 90’s I was a dancer, so I danced to Hip Hop and later House. The DJing part of it came about when a DJ at a local club was fired and I took his place. I always would watch what he was playing after he was gone I would sneak in the booth and play his records. Later I got turntables and taught myself how to beat match. I had to figure it out some how. I’m pretty much self-taught in that way.

D: New York is a key city in founding House music and has turned producers like Lil’ Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, and David Morales into legends after churning up hit after hit from the reflection of the energy found in this incredible city. It must have been pretty amazing growing up during this time. Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium. Can you tell us some of your personal experiences from an era that changed dance music?

TB: My era was definitely the 90’s. I graduated High School in 94. The first club I went to was the Tunnel with David Morales. Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium were mega clubs with several rooms in each club. These places were huge, they were also places where a lot of tourists would go. They were more popular after I first heard of them. Later I ventured to some of the smaller clubs like Sound Factory Bar. Louie Vega was the resident on Wednesdays. Wednesday nights would be industry nights and Louie would break new records from other New York producers. Sometimes they were on acetate or sometimes reel to reel. People were always wondering what he was going to play next. It is important to point out that there were dancers dancing to House Music at the time, not just doing a two step, but styles like lofting, footwork, voguing and many other styles. This gave the clubs more energy for sure! In the late 90’s you had Club Vinyl which hosted parties like Shelter, Afterlife and Body & Soul. Things were changing from soulful deep house to having a more world-influenced vibe.

D: Let’s talk about NYC currently, is the energy and vibe of House still alive and thriving? Any tips for club-goers on spots to hit up next time they are in The Big Apple?

TB: Yes for sure though more clubs have moved to Brooklyn. You have Output, TBA, House Of Yes, Good Room, Brooklyn Mirage (A 5000 capacity outdoor venue with an indoor club opening this October), Analog, and Black Flamingo. These clubs have opened doors for more diverse crowds that are now listening to dance music.

D: In your biography you mention that you are a dancer and that it was your dance moves that kept you from being harassed as a young skinny white kid. I too share this passion of yours, but I rarely hear or read about DJs expressing their love for the actual movement itself, dance. I mean it is called ‘Dance Music’ after all, yet the actual dancing part is hardly mentioned by those conducting it. How does dance influence you both as a producer and DJ? And, do you feel that those DJs who shake it on the dance floor vs. those standing along the edges or in the DJ booth actually make for better DJs and/or producers?

TB: As far as dancing and DJing it is a part of me from when I grew up. I never really understood why DJ’s would just stand there, though I have heard many rock it either way. I think it is amazing to watch someone having fun and being free with the music. As far as in the studio I produce tracks that make me want to stand up and dance to my own music. If it doesn’t make me dance I’m not doing my job!

D: Since moving from the wooden dance floors of NYC, as both a dancer and DJ, into the production area in the 2000s you have released on quite impressive labels: King Street, Real Tone, Strictly Rhythm and Defected. How did you approach these reputable labels or did it all fall into place through your years of involvement in the scene? Any tips for young House producers on how to get recognized by epic labels such as these?

TB: I had been passing around a few demos of tracks I had been working on. My first project on King Street was a remix given to me through a friend that believed in me. I produced the record with fellow NY producer Louie Balo who taught me how to use Logic. From there I taught myself keys as well as the whole production process. I later solo produced South Africa Deep in 2006 for MKL’s Lion1music label. South Africa deep landed me some licensing deals with Kerri Chandler and Dennis Ferrer compilations. This gave me more confidence in the studio. I’m still learning every day. The best thing for new producers is to learn basic theory and learn how to play keys. This will help you make musical music and shine above the rest.


D: Weekly, you host a live DJ podcast on ReelHouseTV called ‘4-4 Studio’s NYC.’ Can you tell us a bit about your show and how you prepare for these broadcasts? Also, does your broadcast only feature you weekly or do you bring guests into the studio with you?

TB: Broadcasting live is amazing! You can reach a whole different audience by going live. It actually is really inspiring and I look forward to it every week. There is an opportunity to reach thousands that you have never reached before. Musically, it takes me up to 6 hours a week researching to find quality music. I can go through thousands of songs in a few hours. It is difficult as there is so much music being released every week. Somehow I pull it all together soulful music all the way to Techno! I have brought in a few guests so far and I’m looking to have more!

D: Recently, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on “vinyl only” club nights or “vinyl only” DJ sets. How do you feel about this debate over format? Do you have a personal preference?

TB: Vinyl only is cool. It does have a sound that is it’s own thing and on a proper system it sounds amazing. I’m not much of an audiophile in that way. I just like to hear music that makes me want to dance no matter what the format is.

D: Since we are on the topic of vinyl, what are your favorite spots for digging in NYC (or worldwide)?

TB: I haven’t been digging in a while. I did stop by A1 in Manhattan recently. I was impressed by their selection so I would definitely make a trip back.

D: Luck was on our side for bringing you up to Oslo because we were able to catch you on our side of the pond while attending ADE. Tell us little about what you have going on at ADE. Is this your first attendance? Would you recommend this journey to be made by those working in the dance music industry?

TB: This is my first time here… I’m out here to help promote some new music I have coming. One is on Kenny Dope’s new Dopewax and friends 6 disc vinyl compilation. I also have 2 Dopewax EP’s set to come out this fall as well as new material on Nervous Records. I would totally recommend ADE. It seems to be more of a place to schedule meetings with people you don’t normally get to see face to face and get some serious business done.

D: Lastly, can you give us 3 selections in the kind of sound we can expect to be hearing from you at this upcoming Della’s Drivhus?

TB: I can tell you this… It will be amazing. I play soulful to deep and all the way to techno NY style. NY Style meaning we like to play it all, genre free!

D: Thanks again Tommy for taking us inside your world of House music. Personally, I cannot wait to get my groove on to the raw cuts you will be delivering this weekend in the basement. My dancing shoes are ready and waiting!

TB: Thank you for having me… I will have my dancing shoes ready as well. Just in case!


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