Well-Rounded DJ Enjoys Clubbing As Much As Gallery Hopping
Queens native Tony Jackson Jr., aka SKYPE WILLIAMS, knows his way around a borough. From the clubs of the Bronx and Bushwick to the galleries of downtown Manhattan, the 29-year-old DJ-cum-gallerina has never met a scene he couldn’t steal. (Just look at that smile!) PIN–UP editor Felix Burrichter met with the self-described “goofball” over gin and MSG margaritas to discuss clubbing, gays, and his forthcoming EP. Photographed by Camilo Fuentealba.
You grew up in New York City. Where exactly?
Queens, Queensbridge. Not that far from Moma/PS1.
FB: Have you ever played there?
TJ: Yeah, in February of this year.
FB: It must look nothing like your neighborhood from when you were growing up though?
TJ: No, back in the 90s it was fish markets, hardware stores, and electrical stores, and all that stuff.
FB: I’m always curious what it feels like growing up in New York, and to still have all your family live here. Would you invite them to come see you at PS1, for example—since they live just down the street from it?
TJ: They’d come for sure. But PS1 means something completely different to me than it does to my mom, and my dad, or my sister. I remember telling my dad that I was playing PS1 and he was like, “Oh, cool.” Whereas all my friends were like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing!” It’s grounding and I actually enjoy that they’re not super excitable. They’re proud, super proud, but not excitable. It takes a lot to really shake them. But I was very happy to be playing at PS1. It was funny because I’m so used to playing for gay people, and the people that came to the PS1 party weren’t necessarily gay so I had to tone down my set. I didn’t realize how gay my sets sound sometime.
FB: You think you play a very gay set?
TJ: I always play at 130 beats per minute, which I think is kind of gay. Straight people like it a little slower.
FB: Like 120 bpm?
TJ: Yeah, maybe even 115 bpm. [Laughs]
FB: How did you get into music?
TJ: Growing up in New York I started going out pretty early. I was always observing and soaking up a lot of stuff. When I was 17, 18, 19 I’d be going to the clubs in the Bronx and Harlem, like No Parking, Castro, El Morroco, Kokonuts. Then, a little later, I discovered GHE20G0TH1K when it was still at Gallery Bar, downstairs on Orchard. I would also go to The Box, the Cock, Nowhere Bar. Sway. And Greenhouse, do you remember Greenhouse?
FB: LOL, yes.
TJ: I would go there and I would drink and not really talk. Literally kind of not talk. I was just observing and kind of interested in how shit was working. I remember going out and seeing Le1f. I was probably like 19, and Le1f was at this party and I was so fucking in awe of him. But it took another couple of years for me to actually do something myself. I think when I was like 22 that I met a group of people that were my age and they were making music, and making fashion…
FB: Who were they?
TJ: Ms. Boogie, LSDXOXO, Don Christian, Cakes Da Killa, Rahj Royce, Rey Pena, Nigel. I remember seeing Princess Nokia, Dai Burger. And Le1f, of course. They were all around my age, and it was all very exciting. It’s around then that I started making music myself.
FB: So you always planned to produce your own songs?
TJ: Yes. DJing is just a part of it, because if you know music, you know how to DJ, I think. You just know music in a way that other people don’t. You know what a crowd will respond to if you know how to make music, like actually produce music. But I felt like a lot of people when I was starting off making music were making music that seemed more important than what I was making.
FB: Such as?
TJ: Le1f is the ultimate because he seemed super proud of being gay, or queer; here was this black person that is kind of punk rock and being LGBT and making music. At the time I was still in the closet, so I just kind of felt like whatever I was doing wasn’t really important.
FB: Oh wow, really? You were in the closet throughout that entire time?
TJ: Yeah. And I remember I had to write up in Interview online and the guy that contacted me was like, “Do you have a picture for the article?” And in my head I thought, “I don’t know, because somebody’s gonna actually see it.” Because I knew he was gonna write, “This is a gay rapper from New York,” or something, and I was uncomfortable with that because I thought that if somebody sees me on this website, they’re going to tell my parents that I’m a faggot. So in the end, Interview put someone else’s picture. [Laughs] So I had to stop making music for a while, and that’s how I got into DJing.
FB: The first time I saw the name Skype Williams pop up in a line-up I remember thinking, “Whoever came up with this name is a genius.”
TJ: Thanks. I had a different stage name when I was 21. It was Buddy X.
FB: Why Buddy X?
TJ: Do you know Neneh Cherry? She had a song called Buddy X that was about Lenny Kravitz because she was friends with Lisa Bonet and Lisa Bonet used to go out with Lenny Kravitz. He was being a fuckboy, so Neneh Cherry wrote a song about her friend’s fuckboy boyfriend. And that song was Buddy X. I remember when I was 18 and I heard Neneh Cherry’s album, Raw Like Sushi, for the first time and... you don’t know what that album did to me. It really tore my ass out. It really completely dismantled everything that I thought about music and then built it up again. So I thought, “If I name myself Buddy X and then I have a song that’s a little bit of a buzz hit maybe [Neneh Cherry] will reach out to me and say ‘Hey, cool name.’”
FB: “Hey, meet my lawyers.”
TJ: Yeah [Laughs]. I actually think she’d be a lot cooler than that.
FB: You curate, you DJ, you produce your own music. When someone asks you what you do, how do you answer?
TJ: Music... I make music.
FB: And do you consider that an art form or a form of entertainment?
TJ: Well, it’s both. Making music and DJing is kind of an answer to my 21-year-old dreams and aspirations. I always saw art, and music, and fashion, and all that stuff as an escape from Queens. I think that may come across as kind of corny, but that is such a common thread for everybody that I know.
FB: In all of the things you do—whether it’s DJing, producing, performing, curating, putting together shows—you really learn how to read space. Would you agree with that?
TJ: Yeah, that’s true. It’s actually about reading context more than anything. But as a native New Yorker you kind of always learn how to read the environment that you’re in, so I don’t think of it as a special talent that is innate to me. When you’re in New York you get on a train, or you walk around your neighborhood, and you just know how to read your environment.
FB: I always think that New York is an incredibly segregated city.
TJ: I think it’s segregated, but I think it’s different than for example Chicago, where you’re segregated involuntarily. In New York you can choose how you segregate yourself, you can choose where you want to be, or with whom you want to be.
FB: Do you have any role models?
TJ: Yeah, you. You’re one of my role models, for sure. [Laughs] Also Simon Rasmussen from Office magazine, where I’ve worked for a little bit. And David Fierman, the guy who owns the gallery I work for— he’s one of my role models. When I used to think of art people I always thought of really fancy people who have uptown dinners and so on, but David is just a normal working person with a life, with his friends, dating, his jobs and interests—and he’s gay. It really put things in perspective for me that you can just be a person, and own your own business, and be gay. I feel like I’m still figuring all that out.
FB: You’re still figuring out what being gay means?
TJ: Yeah. It’s a constant learning process. When I started to figure out what being gay really meant it was like, “Oh, I don’t necessarily have to get married, I don’t have to have kids, I don’t have to do all these things that I was conditioned to think I was supposed to want.”
FB: So is your current relationship your first “serious” relationship? Or your first “serious gay” relationship?
TJ: No. I’ve been in relationships before with gay men that have been serious, but this is the first relationship that I feel like I’m putting effort into and trying to maintain, and getting the gist that if my partner is happy then I’m happy. I didn’t get that before. Growing up I was conditioned to think that love was possessive. And I had to unlearn that. When I was younger I always felt like, “I can do what I want, but I don’t want this other person to do what they want to do.” Now it’s very much like, “No, I want you to have fun and I want you to enjoy your life, because I want to enjoy my life with you.” He has to be happy, and productive, and working, and doing the things that he likes, and getting the things that he needs.
FB: We’re almost running out of time and we haven’t talked about your upcoming EP. Do you already know the track list for it?
TJ: Yeah. There are going to be five songs, “I Hope You Don’t Fuck It Up” and “Not Your Nigga”, along with some others. It’s coming out this autumn.
FB: And what is the EP going to be called?
TJ: Sorry, I’m late.
TJ: It’s going to be called, Sorry I’m Late.
FB: Oh! Why?
TJ: Because I should have got my shit together and put out an EP a long time ago. I’m late. I can’t help it. I’m a Gemini.—