[INTERVIEW] Tony Y Not Talks Recent Releases, Mental Health, Her Upcoming Set At Elements, + More

Tony Y Not, Elements

| July 22, 2023

Tony Y Not's career as a DJ and producer was just taking off when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, which put a brake on her momentum, and even endangered her life with chronic illness. In the interminable downtime, she turned her hardship into creative magic through a burst of production that continues to dazzle with each new release.

Her 2022 EP Send Me Up is pure wish fulfillment, a series of tracks that melt away the misery of COVID-19 and lift you into a bright excitement for tomorrow. Her latest EP Live at Robert Johnson pares down the soundscape to sleek, synth-heavy movement that gains depth with galloping bass. 

Tony Y Not splits her time between her native Germany and New York, where she's making the rounds of the hottest clubs in Brooklyn, including Brooklyn Mirage, SILO, and Public Records, playing alongside artists like DJ Seinfeld, AME, and Sasha.

In August, she is playing the Elements Music and Arts Festival, which she credits with being an important stepping stone on her way to making music. iEDM recently spoke with this musical innovator in the lead-up to Elements. We learned about her recent projects, her podcast on mental health in night life, and the mysterious little sheep that seems to be mixing the songs at all of her shows.    

Check out iEDM's exclusive interview with Tony Y Not below.

Tony Y Not

iEDM: What do you love about New York’s club scene?

Tony Y Not: I love all the small venues that have popped up in the recent years, really bringing it back to club culture. Nothing is better than a small, intimate club setting with fog machines and a packed, steamy dance floor.

As a DJ it is nice to see internationally known DJs like Justin Strauss or Eli Escobar being heavily involved in the local New York club scene. I think it’s big right now to have one act on from open to close and it’s a real skilled craft doing that as a DJ. Also, it is amazing to witness a performance like that.  


iEDM: Having grown up in Germany and spent time there during the pandemic, in what ways does its culture and musical trends influence your work?

Tony Y Not: Big time. I grew up with music by German producers like Westbam, Paul Kalkbrenner, and Marusha. My first experiences raving and going out listening to electronic music were in Germany and there is something about German club culture that you won't find anywhere else. It's a business that everyone working in takes really seriously and is very professional without making it about the business or money. You can tell it’s the manifestation of love, freedom of expression, and freedom in general after the wall came down.


iEDM: You’ve played a lot of local NYC clubs like SILO, Superior Ingredients, and Public Records, while also joining the bill of bigger events like Cityfox and Innervisions. What’s your process like when it comes to creating sets for these different types of events? What are some of the factors you consider? What stays constant?

Tony Y Not: I have a few tracks that always make their way back into my sets, no matter what I prepare. I do have different playlists for different settings and playing in an intimate setting vs a very big room requires different styles of mixing, different styles of music. The bigger the room the more reverb-y and wet the music gets for me - if that makes sense.

iEDM: What are some songs you’re obsessed with right now that we should know about?

Tony Y Not: Pretty much everything that Elfenberg is making. Luckily he is a friend of mine, so he sends me his new music. Also, I am obsessed with the latest releases on the label Hommage that’s run by my homies Ryan Clover (who is such a talented producer) and Fabi. Nyra is also an absolute fire producer.


iEDM: HÖR Berlin is a legendary pitstop for DJs worldwide; the tiled room with green neon lights is unmistakable and has even turned into a meme. What do you remember most about this experience? And are there HÖR sets that you would recommend?

Tony Y Not: HÖR is a funny one. It got famous real quick right before and then especially in the pandemic. The timing was perfect. When I lived in Berlin, there was no online radio like this and I thought Berlin should probably have something like that. Now there are a few radio stations like Refuge Worldwide. But HÖR is the only one that streams video as well.

With all the overflow of artists and DJs that pilgrim to Berlin to live there and “make it”, there is so much fresh talent. I am actually playing there again tomorrow. I am not sure how their booking works and who decides who is playing. I just know it’s definitely not about how famous you are or how many followers you have - which makes it so much more interesting. Begrhain is going for a similar booking and giving a lot of young, new talent a shot. 

iEDM: The vocals in your recent single “Your Exile in My Mind linger in the background like a memory buried beneath bright keys, airy synth, and calm, steady bass. In the Jorkes remix, the vocals are pushed to the front of the song, adding an ominous edge and transforming its meaning. Did you put out a call for remixes and this came up or did you invite Jorkes to remix this track because of their distinct style? More broadly, how do you think about remixes, both making and receiving them?

Tony Y Not: I worked closely with the label Live at Robert Johnson to find remixers for this EP. It was actually a very long process to find the right fit and we looked at many options. Luckily all three remixers (technically it's five people) are friends, whose music I absolutely love. They all picked their top track and all remixes turned out so well.

It's interesting that you bring up Jorkes' remix because in the beginning it was a miscommunication between me and him and he thought the name of the track was “Your Exile on My Mind,” which obviously changes the meaning. Remix vocals are always tricky because in an artistic way, the original artist is very protective of the way the song was made and what it means.

When another artist comes in and changes the meaning to their interpretation, I can see how that can create conflict. With us, it magically worked out, because as much as I want to keep control over what my art means, I want to leave space for a remixer to do their magic and put their artistic stamp on it. 

iEDM: The Live at Robert Johnson EP is your first EP since last year’s Send Me Up on Man Power’s MeMeMe, which you said you wrote during the turmoil of the early pandemic days. Now that clubs have largely reopened, what sort of mindset were you in when writing this latest work?

Tony Y Not: Both of those EPs were written in the pandemic. I wrote a lot of music in the pandemic because there was nothing else to do. I had way more time to put all my emotions into it. I wrote not only club music but a lot of synth-y pop-y stuff as well. Now that the pandemic is almost over, I write music with a much happier mindset.

One of the tracks on the Live at Robert Johnson EP is called “The War Is Over But The Fight Goes On” and it’s not about an actual war but about the pandemic and now that it is over the fight is still going on for a lot of us that directly had to deal with covid - my Long Covid experience is written all over it.


iEDM: What have you learned since starting the Safe Spaces Series? Why do you think it’s important to center the discussion of mental health in the world of nightlife?

Tony Y Not: The podcast is my baby. I realized it is something that not many people were talking about. Especially during the pandemic the topic of not being well mentally, was hushed away and a lot of artists think it had no place in the brand of an artist - especially in their online presence. This mindset is still around. I want to bring awareness to that and communicate that it is ok to ask and get help. It is okay to not be okay all the time.

I’ve been getting such amazing feedback from others working in the industry or just fans. I always say, if this helps just one person then the job is done. I will keep going no matter what. There are so many conversations to be held to make this industry a safer place for everyone.

Tony Y Not, Elements

iEDM: One of the latest episodes features an interview with 4AM NYC, hometown hero, DJ, booker for Jupiter Disco, and advocate for sobriety in night life. It begins with a discussion of the wildfire smoke that pervaded New York in early June, a shocking reminder of the ways in which the climate crisis impinges on and shrinks our daily lives. How does climate anxiety or concern for the environment affect your understanding of mental health, especially as someone who travels for work?

Tony Y Not: This is tricky because this is a topic that concerns us all. There are so many battles to be fought, against climate change, for mental health awareness, human rights, animal rights etc. Even though the environment is very important to me and I partake in initiatives like the Green Rider, my main focus right now is on mental health but in a sustainable way. I am just so happy to be traveling again because for such a long time I couldn't - because of my health issues.

While I am really enjoying it, I stay conscious about how I travel, what I eat, what I buy etc. that feeds into sustainability. I think post pandemic we are all more aware of what we consume, if it's news, food, people, etc. Because a not working climate can also cause mental health issues, the guilt of not doing enough, the guilt of having fun while the world is burning - those are real feelings. I think the solution is being more practical and pragmatic about how we go about our day, without feeling guilty that we exist.


iEDM: How has chronic long COVID changed your understanding of disability rights in the context of night life?

Tony Y Not: It is something I never really thought of. My way of thinking was quite ignorant in that regard, really. I always thought going out was so cool - the wilder the better. I didn't really understand when people didn't want to go out, if it was over stimulating for them or if a club setting was too much for them. When someone is in a wheelchair or has a broken leg, the limitations are so obvious.

For someone who deals with an invisible illness like Long Covid, it is not obvious what their limitations are so it's all about communicating and hoping that people will understand. Until April I always required a bar stool to sit on when I'm DJing. I didn't necessarily want to tell everyone my whole story, so I sometimes said I have back problems.

There is a lot of shame around living with limitations - at least for me. As I am recovering it gets easier but it's been a three year journey. Sometimes the issue is also not just physical but also neurological. I get overwhelmed easily and lights and sound can be overstimulating. It is a hard but a humbling experience and now I am the first one to detect or understand when someone is struggling at the club. This was obviously the number one influence for my podcast. 

iEDM: The Elements Festival has a stacked lineup. Who are some of the artists that you want to see? And beyond that, what are you looking forward to at the festival?

Tony Y Not: I was at the very first Elements Festival in Lakewood in 2017. Not working as a DJ but facilitating the healing space together with the Collective BAE that I used to be involved with  (where my whole DJ career started). It is amazing to see this community project grow and blossom and it’s such a big production now. I am very proud of the founders. 

I definitely want to check out LP Giobbi. I have followed her music for years and can't wait to finally see her in person.


iEDM: Is there anything you can hint at for your upcoming set at Elements for your fans to get excited about?

Tony Y Not: Nope, all surprises. Let’s get trippy. Couzin S will be there. 🐑


iEDM: Do you have any good luck charms or rituals that you do before a set?

Tony Y Not: I love that question and I hope I will not get too deep into answering it so you don't think I am crazy. My luck charm is definitely my little sheep Couzin S that I bring to all my gigs - people recognize him now. He is the nephew of my son Baby S, who I used to bring out a lot but now he is grounded because he partied too much. Couzin S is still somewhat well behaved. There are more little creatures that are part of my family but that's for another time. Yes I am still talking about little stuffed animals.

iEDM: Who are some local artists that you want to see shine in the months and years ahead? Which artists would you love to collab with for the first time in the near future?

Tony Y Not: I think Jorkes has so much potential. He isn't a NYC local but lives in Vienna. His releases are absolutely banging and just what he represents is really amazing. I would love to see and collaborate with my friend Justin Strauss. He is an excellent producer and DJ and carries so much of New York's sound of nightlife. But I would also love to see Juan Maclean and Lauren Flax play again. Can't go wrong with that  :-)


Photos courtesy of Tony Y Not


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Joe McCarthy


Joe is a writer based in Brooklyn, who resides with his wife and two chihuahuas. You can find him dancing most weekends at the Knockdown Center, Elsewhere, Good Room, Brooklyn Mirage, and other prominent house and techno venues. Joe is constantly searching for new artists who experiment with genre and is excited about the ways in which EDM is evolving.

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