Soul Clap and Dance Off
In just six years, Jonathan Toubin—rock and soul DJ, proprietor of the New York Night Train enterprise—has charted a career that is culturally and commercially unparalleled. With a visionary take on nightlife and an obsessively curated collection of obscure 45 rpm records, he has sold out clubs and performed at major rock concerts and festivals not only in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but across the U.S. and around the world.
Before New York Night Train, 7-inch vinyl from the 1950s and 1960s was the stuff of collectors and small specialty parties. Having begun to DJ in 2006 using mostly 12-inches, and a few CDs and MP3s, Toubin found a box of 45s in the street, loved the way they sounded (“like a punch in the face”) and began to play more of them. Soon he was only playing 45s.
His sets were so successful that he was able to quit his day job and dedicate himself entirely to discovering, obtaining, and learning to play what Toubin calls “the ultimate sonic medium”: recordings from what Toubin considers “the zenith of American popular music” in the best- sounding format of all time.
Initially, embracing 45s meant replacing the music he already owned in other formats. But his career as the only full-time professional touring 45s DJ in the United States has been lucrative, and he has channeled nearly all of the proceeds into collecting, something he has done almost every day for nearly five years. Furthermore, working nearly every night from 2007 through 2012 afforded him a laboratory for practice and learning which of his recordings best achieved their function—getting people to dance.
45s made Toubin’s work stand out in a landscape dominated by laptop (and, later, iPad) DJs, not only because of his records’ full, warm tone, but also because the music available on 45s made his parties inherently different from the work of his current-day-hit-playing contemporaries.
While there was indeed a small community of record collectors playing obscure 45s before him, Toubin had emerged from an underground music culture — regularly touring the world and making records with both independent and major label rock bands for over a decade. The bohemian aesthetics of the post-punk subculture he grew up in aren’t only evident in his rawer, weirder, more up-tempo selections, but his status as an eternal nightlife fixture show through in his lively beat consciousness, tastefully universal sound, and strong communication with the dance floor.
These distinctions from both contemporary and retro DJs provided Toubin with a niche in which to create an entirely new nightlife culture. And that niche has proven sizable: His gigs have included weekly residencies in boutique hotels like the Ace, dive bars like the Lower East Side’s Motor City, and dance clubs like Santos Party House. He has been handpicked to DJ during concerts by everyone from Jack White and the Black Keys to Erykah Badu and M.I.A., and at festivals including SXSW, All Tomorrow's Parties and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, in addition to countless loft parties, corporate events, raves, museums, weddings, seedy after-hours and fashion events.
Of the 1200+ gigs Toubin has performed the last six years, the ones that have earned him his reputation as a unique cultural figure are his own parties—the ones he conceives and produces himself.
This aspect of his career was born soon after he began to DJ full-time. Now that he was attending dance parties and less rock shows, he not only found the music bland and mediocre, but also felt the presentation of nightlife lacked of excitement and flair.
Toubin made it a priority to create a vibrant array of new parties. His most popular, the (now internationally touring) Soul Clap and Dance-Off, debuted in March 2007. It consists of explosive 1960s soul 45s with a dance contest in the middle determined by a jury of local judges.
That same year, Toubin created his first New York Night Train Happening, an ambitious grassroots multimedia spectacle in the spirit of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Club 57's New Wave Vaudeville and other long-gone NYC nightlife icons. The Happening is a themed dance party involving DJs, live music, performance, visuals and décor. Also in 2007, Toubin developed Shakin’ All Over Under Sideways Down, a no-nonsense weekly dance with a raw R&B format that navigates countless varieties of rock and roll from the 1950s and 1960. All three of these parties continue to play to sold-out crowds to this day.
Over the years, New York Night Train has added several irregularly occurring events to the repertoire: Polyglot Discotheque (foreign language beat, freakbeat, and psych 45s, go go dancers, live bands and visuals), the Ya Ya Yacht (floating soul party on a boat in the East River), Boogie Night (electric blues dance party with live bands), Tardy-Gras (all-Louisiana music with bands, performance, king cake, decor, etc.), James Brown Night (only James Brown compositions and productions and live music by no wave legend James Chance) and, most recently, Land of 1000 Dances (the multimedia 60s dance craze party that doubles as a dance class). Aside from playing the records and dreaming up the concepts behind his variety of shindigs, he handles virtually all of the promotion and production aspects of his enterprise, including fliers that are themselves works of art.
On December 7, 2011, Jonathan Toubin checked into a ground floor room Portland, Oregon’s Jupiter Hotel to get a little rest, having already played in New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles that week. He was taking a night off before a Portland gig that was to be immediately followed by a red-eye flight home for a corporate event at Bowery Hotel before his weekly Home Sweet Home engagement, a few hours of sleep, then a trip to Montreal for a Soul Clap and Dance-Off. For Toubin, who was at the height of his popularity, this wasn’t an unusual schedule.
The next morning, a taxi crashed through the wall of his Jupiter Hotel room and landed on top of him, breaking most of the bones in his torso, cracking open his head, puncturing his kidney and spleen and crushing his lungs, among other injuries. He was sedated for over a month and woke up in 2012 to find that his accident had become an international news story. Dozens of benefits had been thrown in his honor Across North America, with artists including Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ariel Pink and Margaret Cho donating performances. His booking agents cancelled his appearances at holiday parties, the Bruise Cruise Festival, his European tour, South By Southwest, and other gigs, while they waited to find out if he would ever be able to work again.
After four more months of healing and intensive therapy in Portland, Toubin surprised everyone by recovering in half the projected time and making his official return at Brooklyn Bowl on May 7, 2012.
Thousands made reservations to attend the event.
Though he is taking on a much less grueling schedule than before—averaging “only” about eight local and tour dates per month—Toubin is back at work and feeling more on top of his game than ever. And he is performing to even bigger audiences. In addition to taking his Soul Clap and Dance-Off on a North American tour this summer and fall, and weekly Shakin’ All Over parties in New York, upcoming highlights include prestigious festivals like Lincoln Center Out of Doors, (NYC) the Village Voice's 4 Knots (NYC), All Tomorrow's Parties (Asbury Park), NXNE (Toronto), Sled Island (Calgary), Pop Montreal and Musicfest Northwest (Portland).
This fall, the New York City Soul Claps and Happenings will move to the 600+ capacity Brooklyn Bowl, giving his fans a better sound system and a wooden dance floor, and giving Toubin the biggest space for his recurring parties that he has had since the beginning of his enterprise.