Sunshine, Underground


Few things could be more depressing for a local DJ than getting his biggest hometown headlining gig to date canceled mere hours before it began. But that’s what happened to Tommie Sunshine this month on that most cursed of days, Friday the 13th. Just two hours before showtime, he got a call that the venue, Pacha, had been shut down by the police.

Of course, in Clubland, the rumors started swirling immediately—some insisted the closure was police retaliation for a bouncer–cop fight, which the club had videotaped; gossip-blog speculated that an O.D. had occurred there.
Turns out the West 46th Street and Eleventh Avenue club was shut down using the famed Nuisance Abatement Law, first introduced in the ’80s to shut down prostitution rings masquerading as massage parlors. The Pacha charges: drug sales on the premises, including small amounts of Ketamine ($40), Ecstasy (five pills for $110), and pot (a $20 bag). The summons also notes a March 25 incident in which “two undercover police officers were assaulted and injured by bouncers during a confrontation which took place as the officers attempted to gain entry.”

As for the drug charges, “We had no knowledge of it, and none of our staff had anything to do with it,” says Pacha lawyer Terry Flynn, who adds that the emergency closure was based on arrests, not convictions. “It’s very unfortunate the defendant doesn’t get a chance to be heard before they close them down, and there doesn’t have to be a conviction. Everything is on an allegation basis.”

As for the bouncer–cop altercation and video, “I can’t speak to what the motive behind this was,” says Flynn. “I don’t have knowledge. I do know that the club keeps video. I don’t know what specific incident you are addressing.”

Police spokesmen did not return several calls for comment.

Darrick Sampson, the president of the West 46th Block Association, says Pacha is a good and accessible neighbor. “We have phone numbers to get in touch with them,” he says. “But there’s been no reason to be in touch with them beyond the roof deck they were thinking about adding.”

Later in the week, a deal was struck between the city and Pacha, and the club reopened last weekend. (Jeff Mills appears there Friday.) But that’s small comfort to Tommie Sunshine. Though his gig has been rescheduled for some time this summer, he’d been gearing up for this night for months: the record-release party for his two-disc Ultra.Rock Remixed mix CD, released by Ultra Records in March. For weeks, posters of the DJ have been plastered all over the city. In a parody of classic Ultra CD covers that usually feature bimbos in Playboy poses—not exactly known for its cool factor, Ultra is considered a cheeseball label among the cognoscenti—Sunshine’s cover shot featured the suited, sunglassed, and bearded DJ with his bikini-clad girlfriend, Daniela Morselli, clinging to him adoringly.

The iconic imagery worked. After an event one night, we had an impromptu dinner at Florent in the Meatpacking District—soon thereafter, we were stopped by a highly informed man who nonetheless appeared to be homeless. “Tommie Sunshine! Tommie Sunshine!” he shouted. “You’re playing Pacha! You’re a rock star! Say hi to my man (Pacha general manager) Rob Fernandez!” Tommie handed him a greenback.

The Ultra disc and accompanying gig seemed to be a turning point for Sunshine, who moved here four years ago from Chicago, where he’d long been a fixture of the Midwest rave scene, growing up watching masters like Derrick Carter spin. (“That motherfucker told a story with records,” he says.) Sunshine appeared on Felix Da Housecat‘s 2001 breakout record, Kittenz and Thee Glitz—as a result, he became fashionably cool for a while, playing downtown parties at the Tribeca Grand while rubbing shoulders with Fischerspooner and the art crowd. Soon, though, he lost his exoticism. He’d become just another local DJ—one of a million plying their wares at small bars and eking out a living.

Tommie’s Ultra CD features seven original songs (he even sings on a few of them), highlighted by a collaboration with Peaches, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, and Sounds bassist Johan Bengsston called “Dance Among the Ruins.” But it’s also heavy on remixes (done with longtime collaborator Mark Verbos) of rock bands like Panic! At the Disco and Good Charlotte, which is a bit like raising your middle finger to a crowd of hipsters. “I would much rather be where I am now,” Tommie says as we talk over IM—now he’s in Wollongong, Australia, his third time Down Under, in the midst of an eight-date tour that ends May 7. “Being cool doesn’t make you money. You know what being cool gets you? It gets you laid, and it gets you free drinks and free cocaine.” The sober and unavailable DJ has no need for any of these things.

And indeed, that ill-fated Friday the 13th, British “nu-rave” band the Klaxons were being toasted across town at Studio B. That’s the show everyone I knew was attending that night, and where the media would be. I suggested they reroute the gig over there, but Tommie said Studio B had passed on him during the tour’s booking, saying that they didn’t think he’d sell to their crowd. He’d crossed the line. Not that he cares. “Brooklyn haircut hipsters don’t fucking buy records,” he says. “They steal them from the Internet. I’m trying to reach real fucking people who work for a living. I’m the Bruce Springsteen of electronic music.”

Sunshine often makes bold, outrageous pronouncements like this. It’s why I like him, and why I often feature him here. (And why I asked him to play my recent anniversary party). But what do you expect from a person who took their DJ moniker from Orange Sunshine LSD and shoots down iPod DJs with statements like “These kids should be ashamed of themselves. It’s like showing up to golf with a baseball bat”?

Later we come back to the topic of selling out, and Tommie goes on one of his patented piss-and-vinegar rants. “The sickest part of the Lower East Side party scene is that right now all of these kids in the basement of Ruff Club and parties like that get fucked up and dance to
Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé and Britney, and pretend that isn’t the music they really like—that’s just the music they get fucked up and party to, but they really like
Justice and Joy Division and the Pixies,” he says. “When in reality, [Beyoncé] is really the music they like.”

He similarly has no patience for DJs who play things because they’re supposed to, just because it’s cool: “Anybody who plays a single record they don’t like is a fucking sucker,” he says. “That’s a sellout. Someone who does something because they think they have to and goes against what they really like.” Evidently he’s not willing to sell out just to ensure sellouts; maybe next time he’ll be luckier.