By the looks of the Friday night crowd at Brooklyn Bazaar, you’d suspect DJ Jonathan Toubin to be spinning Top 40 hits or ’90s-pop throwbacks. Yet, the tracks he plays most likely come from the younger crowd’s parents’ or grandparents’ generations.
Toubin isn’t your average New York DJ. By spinning ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music on only original 45-inch singles, the Brooklyn resident says he uses his unconventional nightclub scene as a weapon against the “mediocre” (aka typical) pop/rap club music of today.
His late-night Soul Clap party has been attracting attendees as young as 17 (and a scattering of those pushing 70) since its debut 12 years ago. A first-timer can expect to step into a smoke-filled room, where go-go dancers sway to jive-inducing rhythms behind a silk screen. Parties last through 4 a.m., as attendees groove to an infectious music variety.
At any given night, he’ll mix songs by ’50s R&B singer Larry Birdsong and ’60s soul group The Contours, among others.
“I don’t want to think, ‘Oh, I’m throwing a soul party,’ ” says Toubin. “I want to look at it like all the good parties I’ve been to in my life.”
The DJ was inspired by the whimsical parties he’s found himself at in New Orleans, which he says typically feature an amalgamation of friends’ bands, comedians, burlesque dancers and even puppet shows. It is the essence of these come-as-you-are events that Toubin looks to evoke in this Soul Clap residency at Brooklyn Bazaar, where he plays monthly.
“For Soul Clap, it’s more about the different personalities involved more than the genres of music,” he says.
The Texas-born musician and producer didn’t discover the deep tracks of soul and funk until after becoming a DJ in 2006: Toubin began spinning at rock ‘n roll bar Motor City Bar on the Lower East Side, choosing to play "oldies" only every so often. He found his niche after a friend took him to a garage-sale-style junk shop in the city, where he sifted through hundreds of records from decades past.
“I didn’t know much beyond James Brown and Otis Redding,” Toubin says. “There were hundreds of really amazing records for like $3, from the ’60s and ’70s … underground soul music and funk and rhythm and blues and stuff. So, [although audiences] didn’t really like that as much as the rock part and I played soul every now and then . . . I decided to do a full night where I would just play that."
Toubin launched a small soul-rock fusion party in March 2007 as he continued to play Manhattan venues such as Beauty Bar, Motor City Bar and Daddy’s Pool. However, interest in the rock party didn’t pick up. Once he switched to a soul party there was no turning back.
“We did a party at the Glasslands. It was so big like right away, like the second or third one. We had giant crowds,” says Toubin. The parties got even bigger once he started hosting a 1 a.m. dance contest, complete with a cash prize. “People who do all solo records are really serious and it’s kind of sacrilegious what I did. They don’t play, they’re real serious about the party music, you know. So I came in with this … really brash dance contest.”
The dance contest eventually garnered so much attention that people came from out of town to attend, he says. As the grand prize was half of all proceeds at the time, brawls would break out over an $800 or $900 prize, in which some competed for their month’s share of the rent.
Over the years, Soul Clap has become a staple at Manhattan’s Home Sweet Home as well as Brooklyn Bazaar. “It’s a community event,” says Toubin, who boasts that every part of the crew — from the go-go dancers to the judges of the dance-off — is a dear friend of his after a total of 2,000 gigs in 12 years.
“One thing about this party is that it’s one of the only parties from its era that’s still around. That’s really it,” says Toubin. “I don’t think there are very few things from 2007 that are happening in nightlife in New York or anywhere.”
If you go: Jonathan Toubin will be spinning soul, funk and everything in between from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday at Brooklyn Bazaar, 150 Greenpoint Ave. Brooklyn. His parties are typically held on the last Saturday of the month.