Jonathan Toubin grew up punk in Texas and learned some lasting lessons–like play hard, play fast, play loud and play with people's expectations. So when he started his own all-45s DJ night in New York City, he brought out something different than sweet Northern soul or slo-mo funky grooves. Instead, his New York Night Train Soul Clap Dance-Offs showcase the raw and wild soul 'n' roll that connects the r 'n' b shouters of the '50s and the hard-ass funk freaks of the '70s.
You shouldn't exactly call it proto-punk, but it's got a gigantic beat and the singers are pretty likely going nuts, and it makes for a dance floor that's hot to the touch. In fact, the very best dancer at each Soul Clap Dance-Off–as judged by locals, represented perfectly here by Dennis from Good Foot, Frankie and Geaux Geaux from Secret Affair and Paige and Christy from Punk Rock Wives–gets $100 and the surely undying envy of their peers. Toubin speaks while en route to the first-ever Long Beach Soul Clap Dance-Off, happening Mother's Day at Alex's Bar. (You should bring a mom–she might win!)
OC Weekly: Who is the Shakespeare of soul music?
Jonathan Toubin: James Brown. You rarely meet anyone whether they're really heavily into music or not that doesn't have an appreciation for that. I'll play a lot of James Brown songs that people don't know, and they'll come up to me and ask for James Brown. I'll say, 'This IS James Brown!' He made a record every week for his whole life!
Do you have the super-rare rock version of James Brown's 'Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'?'
I DO! On 45. I bought it from a German guy so it's in immaculate shape.
What records do you always bring in your box even though you never play them? And you just flip guiltily past them every night?
Lately–Jesters of Newport, 'Stormy.' You can't play it at a soul night! The Gories cover it. It's a crazy garage 'Flight of the Bumblebee' thing. Really brutal! I started doing a thing where I save songs like those for the very end of the night when it's time to get people to go. I think I cut that with 'Rubber Ducky' the other night! Or something else–the theme from Suspiria on 45. You can't play that at a dance party … or can you? If people have to go, you might as well go out smokin'!
What songs do you make sure to play at 10 PM, 11 PM, midnight and 1 AM?
I make an effort to organize the set differently every night. I was getting in a bad habit for a while. I got really good at mixing certain songs together, even in whole sequences for like five or six songs. If you hadn't seen me before, you'd be like, 'That's amazing!' But if you had seen me before … so I decided the best way was to keep shuffling things. You keep putting new combinations together. It keeps to the theory of actually playing records together instead of having it rehearsed. Kind of like playing jazz. One night I might do it by tempo, the next by genre, sometimes by time of night. When there's nobody dancing for the first hour like last night, I'll play firmly mid-tempo music that's not too crazy so if people wanna get in to it, they can slide into the beat more easily. There's nothing worse than seeing someone dropping midnight or 1 AM songs when nobody's dancing! It's horrible! So the beginning of the night is creating atmosphere. But especially in smaller towns, sometimes people are already there at 9 PM. You can feel their energy wanting to go! So I pick it up right away! In Minneapolis the other night, I just started hitting them really hard for a long time.
If someone brought a 45 to bribe you and win the dance contest, what 45 would they need to bring?
First, it'd have to be worth a lot of money to make me a dishonest man! I really like Jack Nitzsche's production of Young Jessie's 'Mary Lou.' It also has this B-side that's amazing. That's about the lowest I'd go, and it's probably worth about $250. If you're gonna print this, I'd also like that Velvet Underground acetate that went on eBay for about a million dollars, or a Honus Wagner T206 baseball card–that would be fine!
NEW YORK NIGHT TRAIN SOUL CLAP AND DANCE-OFF WITH DJ MR. JONATHAN TOUBIN AND DANCE CONTEST WITH $100 PRIZE JUDGED BY FRANKIE THE FACE (SECRET AFFAIR), GEAUX GEAUX (SECRET AFFAIR), DENNIS OWENS (GOOD FOOT) AND PAIGE HERNANDEZ AND CHRISTY SOTO (PUNK ROCK WIVES / DEAD PHAROAHS) AT ALEX'S BAR, 2913 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH. SUN., 9 PM. $5. 21+. ALEXSBAR.COM.