For me, upon entering the gritty underground community of NYC, I quickly discovered the first artist that I would have signed to my imaginary label…. (hold on world, it will come!) I listened to her early DJ sets and fell in love with her style and the way her track selection oozed sensuality and evoked movement. She has since moved on to develop her skills in production… but we shall get to that in a bit.
This precious gem has gone by the name of Tanja, but is also known by her given name, Tanya Thurman. I have had the pleasure of getting to know her and what she has done for the underground community in NYC. Over the years her style has change and transformed into something entirely new, which has led to her metamorphosis into Remove Hyphen.
Tanya’s background leading up to her migration into DJ’ing is as adventurous as her taste in music. As a born and bred, New Yorker, her life has always involved dance music in some aspect. She grew up around traditional House music in NYC, which is a place very well known for partying, dancing and celebrating. Her brother was a promoter for some of the most well known clubs in town such as, Exit, Limelight, Avalon and the Roxy which first exposed Tanya to the culture. She's a reflection of the last generation who truly experienced those fundamental clubs and she uses those experiences to fuel her present vision.
Tanya fell in love with the dance music genre of freestyle; to her it was the workingman’s techno. However, her progression in the various genres of electronic music was atypical. When she entered college, a friend of hers brought her into the world of drum and bass, which she fell hard for. “It was raw and nasty and I loved the people. The people are still my favorite… they totally live in a different world, so fearless and awesome.” Drum and bass shows gave her that first warehouse experience. However, as she continued to travel into that scene, after 9/11 it began to dissipate.
Tanya was hungry for more experimentation. The city had given her a sense of wonderment that began to stir up a feeling inside. At the age of 19, she bought her first ticket to India. There she would study the tabla, a traditional drum, in Kerala. And after India she migrated to Spain to learn about the flamenco guitar. Her passion for unique sounds combined with traditional origins is what led her to pursue an interest in music more seriously.
She bought her first set of turntables at the age of 20, with her crazy ex-roommate's security deposit she moved to Harlem and stayed there for the next seven years. It is important to note at this time that some pastures don't start out green on the other side. During her time in Harlem, Tanya experienced a traumatic event that led her into a very dark place in her life. Finding herself lost in space after the traumatic event, she turned to music as her salvage. DJ'ing became a part of her healing process and the means to reconnect back to a world she was severed from.
She began throwing some awesome parties in the empty apartments in her building. “When someone moved out, my super never locked the door and when I discovered that, I just began throwing parties…” That’s kick-ass…! The last two years of college for Tanya became a time of hip-hop. Her first experience spinning was dropping tracks such as, Digable Planets' 'Cool Like That' and Buckshot Le Fonque’s 'Music Evolution'. To fill you in with a little trivia, Digable Planets actually stopped by one of her abandoned apartment parties to hear her play.
Tanya’s time as a hip-hop DJ was short lived because she decided to re-focus on her career as a teacher. Attaining two master’s degrees, Tanya spent years teaching before getting to where she is now. “I became a teacher because I loved school. I loved high school, loved college, the atmosphere of a classroom. I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to inspire kids.” However, her experience in the classroom, with the education system and with the students, had left her very unhappy and unfulfilled.
For a long time, Tanya was highly focused on her professional career. As the rose-colored glasses came off and her happiness began to dwindle she eventually found herself back with her first love, music. She attended a few of Blkmarket Membership’s first parties, before they were a frequented event such as today. However, her true home was found at theDanger parties, which had become the veins of the Williamsburg warehouse scene (before the gentrification). These parties were a unique underground experience at the time, an article described them as, “a part throwback to ’80s New York, where there were simply less rules, but mixed with the self-awareness of the new millennium”.
Tanya frequented these parties in between work days and began to meet people and discover this strong community of individuals who seemed to have lucrative and successful lives. They would find themselves living in a much more “free” manner while in the dance. The turning point for her was at the opening of what is now a major hotspot in Brooklyn, Output. There, Tanya experienced a memorable night where she met people who would then take her to various dance events. The same people eventually helped her stumble upon, 110 Morgan.
“110 Morgan was a life changing experience. It was a tiny warehouse…so gross and dangerous. It was every single NYC dance collective, coming together, dancing and playing for days.” The label, Beef Cuts, eventually took over the parties at 110 and it became a phenomenon, the premiere afterhours in Brooklyn. However, Beef Cuts, like many labels began to get selective. Other genres couldn't use the space and they would showcase DJs that they personally had preference to.
Shows to Tanya were far from a social hour. She spent most of the time quiet and observing the DJs (and dancing) because she would ask herself, “What is this?” At this point, Tanya bought her own equipment in secret and began experimenting at home. She was shy about letting anyone know. “The problem with the scene is that there are some people who are extremely judgmental and think that they own the scene and that is absolutely the wrong idea.” Tanya wanted to immerse herself in the music and the culture, so she took a sabbatical and went to Berlin by herself.
In Berlin, she met people and frequented events. Dragging her equipment with her overseas, she took any opportunity to practice and she would play for anyone who would listen. When she returned, Beef Cuts had ended. Sebastian, a member of the original Beef Cuts team then approached her about resurrecting the label and make it a, “2.0”.
The notion of bringing together the community again was what motivated her to agree to bring back the party. It took some time to take hold, but in due time the party shot right back to success. Her first official DJ gig, was at the Beef Cuts party. “It was a difficult party, during time warp weekend. Who would even think to throw a party then? ...But, people showed up. It was the first gig I ever played and I still think it was one the best gigs I did.” But like the ever changing flow of time, due to creative differences, Beef Cuts again was dismantled.
But from within the ashes another Phoenix rises.
After Beef Cuts, Tanya retracted and focused on her technical skills and exploring new sounds. An opportunity arose itself, which allowed her to start throwing her own locally known, For the Fools afterhours in Bushwick. She was approached and offered a space to throw parties. Her intentions were never directed at being a party producer, but the advantages of throwing her own party swayed her to take the chance.
“I suggested Thursday nights and no one thought it was a good idea. I grew up in New York City and I knew Thursdays would be a great night. I didn’t have any doubts about it…” She angled her parties to focus on booking local DJs, it was both due to budget constraints, but more importantly because she believed that NYC was crawling with talent. “I didn’t have the budget for other people, but also because I believe in my city. And it’s bullshit when we book people from outside, when we have so much talent right here.”
The name, “For the Fools” originated from her observation of the underground scene and its “politics”. “For the Fools was meant to be satirical… Because no one knows what the fuck they’re doing. None of us own this and no one has this shit on lock!” Tanya maintained the intimacy of shows by greeting attendees and taking the time to remember everyone’s name. She collaborated with two artists, Jack Dove (graphics) and Ben Moon (installations) to make her shows much more dynamic and creative.
“People came who were about the music and it was refreshing … people danced, raved, raged, all hours of the night and into the morning. They were having fun and were enjoying themselves. I booked DJs, that unleashed themselves onto the crowd…they were free to experiment with their sound.” Community and collaboration were important elements to her events.
She also made it a point to never charge beyond $10 a show, however over time her partners didn’t agree. After twelve successful events, the party was discontinued because she refused to increase the rate of her tickets. “I didn’t want that bullshit, I wanted a grassroots party. Back to the heart of things.”
“Dance music is political… it's about destabilizing the structure of society. That is the core of why I want be in this. It is the best way to give a ‘big fuck you’ to the establishment!”
Tanya has since begun a new acid-style project dubbed, Remove Hyphen. Under this new name she is developing her own production style and focusing on cultivating a new sound. Inspired by producers such as, Inxec and Jay Tripwire, she's dropping her work on her Soundcloud page and even created an exclusive mix for Magnetic Mag to debut.
Only time will tell how Tanya's story will come out in the end, but for now I have a lot faith in what she can bring to the NYC sound. There seems to be a lot of love lost in her past relationships, overshadowed by big egos. It's now completely up to her to bring back the simplicity of good music and good vibes to the scene that very much needs it.
“We are fools whether we dance or not, so might as well dance” – Japanese Proverb
Tanya's next show will be at the DUB & TRILOGY Presents: Dope Underground Beats with Lauren Ritter, Tanja, Sam Jaspersohn, Nightden on October 23rd at The Gallery at LPR on Bleeker Street.
Check out her debut as Remove Hyphen on the Magnetic Mag Soundcloud.