This week we’re featuring a DJ I respect, admire and love; I also call him a friend. This DJ and I met a few years ago through a mutual friend, and our friendship developed but via social media!
Time flies! This person and I have known one another for many years, but it feels like we just met. I remember the first time he and I met for lunch. We hit it off instantly. He and I laughed a lot but mostly shared our love for music during our lunch. We had both been through some struggles but on the road to reclaim our space in life after both taking breaks from the NYC club scene! During the time away from the scene we each learned so much about ourselves, developed new interests, but we never lost our love for music.
DJ Ted Nieves has a strong passion for music and his craft as a DJ. He has become a very important part of the gay community here in New York City. We’re happy to recognize this superb DJ. You’re in for the ride of your life. Enjoy our interview and special mix created specifically for this interview.
When did you start DJing – what were your early passions and who have been your influences?
I started DJing as a hobby probably sometime around 14 or 15, so at risk of dating myself, around 1985. I had a summer job and saved up so that I could buy myself two turntables and an inexpensive mixer. I used to connect them to a boombox in my room and those were my speakers. LOL. Back then, I loved listening to a lot of freestyle so I had been listening to a lot of DJ Animal and Jellybean Benitez on the radio.
What do you personally consider to be some incisive moments in your artistic career?
One of the most incisive moments was during a conversation with my manager at G Lounge one night. I had just gone through a breakup and one of the reasons given to me was that I had let go of my ambitions and some of the things that defined me when we met. Including DJing. I told the manager this and he said that he would have left me too if I had let go of my ambitions. He softened the blow when he asked me to give him a demo and he’d see if it was good enough to maybe get me a guest spot. Turns out, it was and I started my current DJ career due to his extra push in the right direction.
What stories or messages (if any) are you telling through your music?
I like to focus on messages of unity and strength. I especially love tracks that use the spoken word/poetry to deliver their message. I find that to be very powerful. Afrolatina by producer David Montoya using the poem Afrolatina by poet Elizabeth Acevedo to be a great example of this and is to this day, one of my favorite tracks to play with it’s empowering message.
Do you believe in the ability of “reading an audience” – and how do you put it into practice?
Absolutely. Of course, it can also depend on the venue. I happen to play at a lot of smaller, bar-like venues and it’s really important to be able to read the room and determine the energy that they are open to throughout the night. Of course, being a DJ, I’m also responsible for creating a journey. You have to be able to read the energy, feed it and slowly guide it in the direction you want to go in and then you take full command of the room.
What has been your favorite city and/or venue to DJ?
I wish I had a long list of cities to choose from but NYC is my home and my favorite place to play. My favorite venue energy-wise has to be The Hangar, soundwise I really enjoy The Deep End in Wyckoff, Queens.
How many years before you did your first residency? Where?
Wow. My first residency came about in 2015 at Barracuda on Saturday nights and followed shortly after with The Hangar starting on Tuesday nights and then quickly moving to Saturday nights as well. I’ve since also got 2 additional monthly residencies at RockBar with my Purgatory party Hosted by Mr. RockBear 2019, Kory Harmon and Soaked hosted by Matty B & Julio Rios.
What do you consider to be your most successful gig? Why?
By my measure of success, I would say that my gig on Saturday nights at the Hangar for (r)Evolution which I alternate with DJ Mando. The audience there tends to be an older crowd with a lot of house heads that really love that deep, afro and tech house that reminds them of Paradise Garage. Playing that music and getting the response I do is incredibly cathartic for me.
Rekordbox or Traktor/Serato? Why?
I haven’t ventured into Rekordbox so I can’t give an informed opinion there. When I went from DJing with CDs to fully digital, I learned on Serato with CDJs and have never strayed since so I’m a Serato DJ through and through.
What do you think about the status of nightlife in the LGBTQ community? Especially with the rash of gay bars and nightclubs closing across the country. How has that affected your work if at all?
Nightlife in the US has been changing a great deal. With equality becoming more of a reality, the need for “safe, LGBTQ” space has been reduced. I came up as a young gay man in the 80’s and 90’s during the heyday of NYC nightlife when our spaces were far more diverse. You could be on the dance floor at Sound Factory (the original, not the Bar), walk around the club and come across straight couples, gay couples, pier queens, voguing queens, trans persons, muscle boys, banji boys and girls, and entire houses hanging out. All of these groups in every shape, color, size, and gender you could imagine and it was just normal EVERY WEEKEND. There was a sense of unity. I think that the Giuliani/Bloomberg crackdown on nightlife here in NYC destroyed that irreparably.
What would you consider to be your ultimate goal as a DJ or music producer?
My ultimate goal as a DJ is to know that I was successfully able to take an audience on an amazing journey of joy and unity. That is what the artist in me wishes to ultimately achieve.
There’s been a shift in the type of music being played at some of the larger events across the country and a lot of big name DJs have moved away from circuit sounds. Where do you see big room music going in the coming years as this shift continues?
I think that we’re seeing people reconnect with the soul and grooviness of house music. Deep house, nu disco, Afro-house, and tech house are all being reintroduced to audiences and I think we’ll find that this will take over some of the larger events and spaces. That isn’t to say that the sound that we recognize as circuit will go away, but we will see more variety and diversity of sound. And the beneficiary of this continued change will always be the crowd.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? Would you still DJ?
I would absolutely still DJ. There are things I would definitely handle differently on the business side of things but yeah, DJing is LIFE.