Currently one half of the hit DJ duo The Carry Nation, Will Automagic has had a storied and celebrated career spinning some of NYC’s most vital venues and parties, and has had several fascinating factors influence his work. Thotyssey and Will look back on a legendary DJ’s life and career.
Thotyssey: Hey DJ Will! Thanks for chatting with us today! How was your holiday?
Will Automagic: This holiday season was great. I love to stay in New York at this time, as the city really empties out and the clubs take on a different feeling…. less crowded, but super fun crowds.
You DJed the Dreamhouse (formerly The Spectrum) in Ridgewood this past Saturday… one of the last parties there, as the venue’s closing this year. That must’ve been a bittersweet experience.
The night was incredible. Everyone played their hearts out, and the international guests, Gideön of London and Whitney Weiss of Paris were amazing. I adore that space, and my team with Nita Aviance (who also played that night), The Carry Nation, was pretty much born at The Spectrum as a party. We used to do 12 hour events, midnight to noon at the old Montrose space. We could not have started at a better spot. It was and has continued to be just one of the most exciting places. We’ll be sad to see it go, but we know that the geniuses behind it, Gage and Danny, will continue to excite and inspire us with whatever they do next.
Glorious! So if it was entirely up to you (and I’m guessing at this point it usually is), what type of music do you play at your gigs? And do you listen to stuff at home that’s different than what you play?
The Carry Nation is a coming together of two minds, and somewhat different but very overlapping and simpatico sounds. When we play together it never sounds like when either of us would play alone, and we LOVE to serve what comes out of the witches’ cauldron of our togetherness. I also love to play as Will Automagic, and when I do you will always hear my disco roots, (as I started as a disco DJ in this city in 1998). And you will also definitely hear my excitement for emerging genres and new sounds, and house music through the ages. My intention is to always connect those dots in my sets so that all of these sounds exist in one place seamlessly… or surprisingly.
At home, I listen to jazz and soul, apart from the many hours of music prep and research for my gigs.
Is it a lame new trend that Spotify-friendly pop music is basically what you hear at most gay bars, or has that always been the case?
This is a case of the common problem of forgetting that We Live In New York. Don’t forget what that means. This city is FILLED with ever-changing magic. I am guilty of not having seen that, and of forgetting it again sometimes after I saw it (false nostalgia). But I’m very glad some friends slapped me back into shape about the fact that If you live here, you are cheating yourself by not exploring New York’s many corners that are FILLED with every variety of gay magic. We got five boroughs, bitch. I even had a Gay BLAST in Staten Island with James Andersen, and I can’t wait to go back. Brooklyn? TEAMING with gay magic. Just ask around. The very question about gay bars playing tired pop, or even good pop… not to worry. Leave your neighborhood, or your regular bar that is pissing you off, and see what this city is READY to serve you.
To answer your question directly: yes, it’s always been the case of tired music at some bars, but no one is making you go there. Get INTO New York City. We have it all RIGHT HERE.
Shout out to Jackson Heights in Queens: five amazing gay bars (all walking distance) going off even on weekdays serving you everything. And for underground dance culture, do your research: Brooklyn is and will continue to be burning for dance music.
Where are you from originally, and what was the first music you remember getting into?
I grew up in Austin, Texas. A town known for live music. I was a punk, goth, and reggae kid. Live shows all the time in Austin… we were too young, so if we couldn’t get in the club, we’d hang in the parking lot behind and listen from behind. When I could finally sneak in the club with a fake ID or knowing the doorman, I was definitely going to goth and industrial and New Wave nights.
As a child though, my mother constantly played me Stevie Wonder records. I would watch those records spin round and round, and take in and learn from every sound.
Did your DJ career begin in Texas?
When I was in early middle school, I haunted record stores. I made friends by playing music for people, non-stop; some people got sick of it quick. If I was invited for a sleepover or a simple get together, I would bring stack of records… whether they liked it or not. This is, like, sixth and seventh grade, I think.
One time at a girl’s birthday party, I was doing my thing and one of her parents’ friends was a mobile DJ by trade. We are in Texas at this point… he saw me with my stack, playing records on the one turntable, and walked up to me, looked at me, then without saying a word looked through my record stack and said, “You are a DJ.” I was like ?? “radio? what? I don’t know what to say on a mic.” I didn’t get it at all. He explained to me his business and asked me to work with him. The prerequisite, though, was that I had to have a drivers license to help drive the mobile DJ van when he needed to sleep. I was years younger than that. He gave me his number and said “call me when you get your learners permit.” Obviously I kept it and years later I called… number disconnected. I heard he might have been in jail by then. Who knows?
Cut to years later. I was sent to boarding school, the premise being that my parents were convinced that I was a Satan worshipper, so they sent me to religious Episcopal School. The dorm master noticed that the only way I knew how to talk to people was to invite them to my room to hear my record collection. By the time the first school dance rolled around, he told me “you are the DJ.” He rented all the equipment, two turntables and a mixer, and I had 30 minutes to teach myself how to use it before the school dance started. Juan Flores, you made me become an actual DJ, and I thank you!!
What were some of your favorite DJ moments and inspirations in those early years?
Driving to Houston, TX, to a club (still under age) called Power Tools, and they played “Smack Jack” by Nina Hagen, and in the video she was in Leather Man drag. I froze, watched and cried with joy.
Also, seeing Skinny Puppy live (I think in San Antonio) and hearing the most insane sounds I’d ever heard from synthesizers and being SO inspired, then suddenly being more or less permanently scarred when on the video component of their live show, they played footage of a snuff film of a man sticking a gun in his mouth, pulling the trigger, and blowing his brains out. It was real footage. My friend I was with for that concert ran to me and held me in his arms as I collapsed; he knew this was too close to home at the moment, given my parallel family experience from only months before. The music from that night was deeply inspiring, and I guess the emotional component of that experience made it stick all the more!
In the high school dances I played Book Of Love and Depeche Mode, etc., and they replaced me halfway through the year with a senior in the high school who played rock music. When I was too young to be playing in those early days in NYC, I’d have to sum my music up with two songs; “Barely Breaking Even” by The Universal Robot Band, and “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” by Idris Muhammud.
You had experiences at The Loft during its later years, a very legendary and influential NYC nightclub that predated Studio 54. What exactly was happening there?
I had a music production team for 14 years before The Carry Nation called Automagic, (with records on King Street and Buzzin Fly, and David Morales’ label and many others). My Automagic partner was named Bryan Wright, and when we first met he said “I need to bring you to The Loft.” He did, and I loved it.
Not too long after that, Automagic made a record called “Smoking It.” David Mancuso (the DJ and founder of The Loft) caught onto this record, and for some insane and uninformed reason, asked Automagic to perform it LIVE at The Loft. We were like “!!!??? How do we pull this off?!” We somehow did, and David and I became friends. He liked my music taste, and started asking me over to his house to have listening sessions of new records. He was getting old, and the five story walk-up of his apartment was wearing on him. Me and a couple of others were happy to bring and play him new records we digged; he liked about one fifth of them. We would listen to the whole record from start to finish, and we never knew what he was gonna say ‘til the end. He hated so many of them and told us why. I learned a lot from him in those moments. The ones he loved he told me why, and it was always unexpected. Always learning.
I have a theory of heroes. They say “never meet your hero,” I actually think DO, but know that you don’t have to see eye-to-eye. In fact, it’s likely better that you don’t. David is one of my heroes, and we loved each other so much because we often disagreed and had the courage to say why to each other. I am honored to have learned form him, and very honored that he constantly made it clear that he learned from me as well. We knew we were different from each other and we valued each other for that.
I also secretly did the “behind-the-scenes” door at the Loft also for years. I am glad for that experience too, because it makes me love and respect the door magicians we have at our party that much more.
You DJ’ed many events in the fashion industry over the years. How did you get mixed up in that scene?
I went through a period in the late 90s and early 2000s when my bread and butter was music for fashion. I was not familiar really with the world but somehow landed in the middle of it. My Monday night residency at Wonderbar at the time for some reason was a fashion industry hangout. Not being too fazed by these folks and just doing my music strangely might have helped me keep working in that world… I just seriously didn’t know the weight of some of the people I was working with. Then when I saw where I had landed, I observed that they mostly hated adoration on a professional level. So I just kept it cool.
I did all of Hedi Slimane’s music during his YSL days. He was wonderful. I did Issey Miyake, Armani, Calvin Klein, Diane V F, and many others. There were up–and-comers from that era who went on to have huge careers like Barbara Bui that I worked with a lot. I did parties for Vivienne Westwood and Valentino.
Also, Visionaire… they would have me DJ all the time, but wouldn’t once let me attend a party I wasn’t working. Statedly, I was not to be around unless working and was treated coldly unless I was literally creating the atmosphere. Often coldly, even then! Not really a big deal in the big picture, but it was my first clue I was in the wrong world. Their attitude towards me and other “expendable” talent turned me off from working in fashion anymore, and I left it behind.
Some good stories from that era though. I found myself in an unreal circumstance where I was meant to help Linda Evangelista DJ, though she didn’t know how. Basically, I just played and she would grab the headphones and have her picture taken. She was very fun though, and we got wasted on champagne together! At the beginning of that same party, Karl Lagerfeld was “playing bartender” as a kind of joke, and I got a martini from him. It was in a martini glass but it was NOT a martini. I think he might have poured Bailey’s Irish Cream in it.
I spent a lot of high stress days in the “tents” running shows, etc. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, but am very happy that that is in my past. Glad to be calling my own shots now.
[Photo: Sam Pulcer, NY TImes]
SPANK was a roaming underground party in conjunction with an indie magazine of the same name that was distributed at the party. It was epic, and so many important people and moments came through those nights.
It was exciting. When you asked about pop music in gay bars earlier, it feels like there are so many amazing options now that this currently not a problem. I think when SPANK started though, it was a response to the fact that it was a big problem then. We had to go to straight clubs to find music we liked, and Sean B and Jason Roe and I just put our heads together and said: “Let’s make a party we wish we could go to.“ We invited artists of all kinds, and put their art in a zine that we would xerox and staple and pass out at the next party every time. People felt involved and they saw themselves literally in the “pages” of the party, as the zine and events were intertwined.
When we outgrew our small licensed spaces, we moved to illegal lofts in Manhattan. The very last party we did in Manhattan before moving to Brooklyn was shut down by the cops. Ana Matronic was scheduled to perform, and she showed up for her show just as the cops were shutting us down. That rainy night and the shutdown of Mr. Black around that same exact time came together to form her spoken intro to “Let’s Have a Kiki” by Scissor Sisters.
We then moved to bigger loft spaces in Brooklyn. It grew and grew, and we got away with a lot that I still can’t believe we even attempted. Like, once we literally had industrial fans during a show by a beloved San Francisco queen that I won’t name lest we invite legal trouble; she passed out about 20 joints while lip-synching, and has a cigar-sized joint which she lit and it produced so much smoke blown from those fans into the crowd that you could NOT be in the room and not be fully stoned. The number was “Tyrone” by Erykah Badu.
Between the venue history of that party and the modern struggle of DIY spaces like The Dreamhouse… does it seem more impossible to get a good dance party going in contemporary NYC?
Every venue is a struggle, and most have their unique magic they bring to the party-goers and DJs. We are simultaneously blessed and cursed by how many amazing venues there are currently. We have options, but things are spread out. That said, we should enjoy it now as these things tend to come in waves. Ebb and flow.
Congratulations to you and Nita on The Carry Nation’s recent GLAM nomination for BEST DJ!
Yes thanks! It’s the first time The Carry Nation has been nominated.
I understand that Mistress Formika played a big role in the creation of TCN.
OMG you heard about that!!? Yeah, Mistress and I were friends for years before that, and once I walked into Opaline for her party, and she grabbed my hand and screamed “I gotta introduce you to MY NEW DJ!” No one can claim credit for the magic that is Nita, but Mistress definitely gave her an amazing stage with that party. I was immediately captivated and angry. Nita had a top-ponytail, swinging it side to side whilst working the cross-fader, and took a minute to shake my hand and smile. She was respecting Mistress’ intro, but she was busy. We did not connect right away, but I was literally like, who is this BITCH, and why is she so good?! We secretly went and heard each other DJ for YEARS after that before starting to work together. She didn’t know I was going to hear her play and I didn’t know she was coming to hear me, all the while hiding in the corner. We laughed about it years later.
That’s adorbs! Initially I thought “The Carry Nation” had something to do with “carrying” like what the kids say today, but obviously it pre-dates that. It actually has to do with Beyond The Valley of The Dolls, right?
It’s a triple gag! There is a historical woman named Carry Nation who as a pre-prohibition anti-alcohol Christian terrorist. She used to bust up speakeasies with a SLEDGEHAMMER. The Carry Nations were a girl band from the movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and we are a Nation of children (and adults) CARRYING; so that’s the triple gag right there.
You spoke earlier about how The Carry Nation’s sets are very different from Will Automagic’s sets. Are you and Nita on the same page musically, or do your opposites work well together?
When we started working together, we kept doing so because we were SO on the same page, without having previously known it. We are individuals though, with each our own magic, and so naturally we each find and grow our own different musical paths. This many years in though, we have learned what to bring from our own stories to our very special collaboration, and the years of being together make that just so natural. We love to continually surprise and gag each other, and use that gag to create something new: together. That’s what keeps it going.
Did you ever have fights about whether or not to a play a certain track (one of you loves it and the other hates it)?
Simple answer YES. But the fun thing is, the song either of us hate that the other played, we seem to always come to love and sometimes even adopt after hating it at first. This has happened countless times from both angles.
We feel so at home at Good Room. They have upgraded the sound system to world class levels, and we have a dedicated crowd that brings so much fun energy. The last hour of the night always surprises me. People say that that last hour is strangely cosmic… It is not only the music, it is the catharsis of those who complete the journey to the end and bring pure love to that last hour.
And a New Years Eve tradition is nearly upon us once more: The Carry Nation and another celebrated DJ duo, WreckedNYC (Ron Like Hell & Ryan Smith), will join forces for the end-of-the-year blowout at Analog, Get Wrecked & Carry III!
This is a combo we have done for several years now, and that we have loved bringing together. We learned from last year that we actually need to open before midnight when there was a line AT midnight, which was the opening time last year. When we saw that we opened a couple of minutes early to get everyone in for a toast. As a result, this year we decided to open at 10pm. It’s a 12 hour party, as always, and Wrecked will play the first half and The Carry Nation the last half.
What else do we need to know?
I’d say for people to keep their eye on our Soundcloud though, because we have tracks and remixes coming out right a after the new year on Batty Bass label out of London and New York’s own Sweat Equity label.
Okay, lastly: that crazy blue sky over Astoria the other night! Was it really a cover up of an alien invasion?
I heard it was a new club opening in Queens testing their innovative new lighting system. I hope their sounds system is as awesome as their lighting rig!!
Ha! Thanks, Will!