A veteran DJ of disco infernos and bear affairs, Jonny Mack has been slaying our summer with a new HK weekly… and will soon set sail for a fan favorite kiki on the high seas! [Cover photo: JJ Mack]
Thotyssey: Hello Jonny, thanks for chatting today! So, summer is nearly behind us… how did the season treat you this year?
Jonny Mack: Much better than the last couple of summers. It’s been wonderful watching New York come back to life after the darker days of the pandemic. Monkeypox was a bit of a damper midway through, but now that most of us are vaccinated and the viruses at least feel a bit more under control, people are coming out. The crowds seem a bit more energized, and fun to play for.
Absolutely! It very much feels like a rebirth. What’s your favorite music genres to play at your events?
I play a mix of House, commercial dance, NuDisco — which is modern house remixes of disco classics, disco covers and modern songs reimagined as house/disco remixes — remixed 80s and 90s throwbacks… if I have to choose a favorite, I definitely favor a solid house beat.
That’s def the soundtrack of the moment! Have their been any new music releases this past summer that you’ve added to your repertoire?
Well, I have to admit to having Beyoncé on constant rotation since her album came out. And then she surprised us all with “The Queens Remix” which kind of brings house, throwback and contemporary together in a way that really tickles my soul.
So tell us a bit of your origin story, if you will. Where are you from originally, and has music always been a part of your life?
Oh, wow… that’s a bit complicated. I was first a military brat, and then an airline one. We lived all over the world, and then moved to an apple farm in New Hampshire.
Music was always a part of my family’s life. I played piano, sang in church and school, and played various instruments. But then I went in a different direction afterward, professionally — though I loved the clubs and music and dancing. For a while I danced, you know. I was a hairy bear dancer, and that’s how I met Corey Craig. I would hang out with him in the booth, and we would talk music… and ultimately he got me set up DJing twelve or so years ago. Since then, it’s been quite a ride. And a lot of fun, too.
What have been some of your favorite or most memorable gigs over the years?
The most memorable is the first, really. It wasn’t my first time DJing professionally, but it was my first time with a proper floor and lights… and that was for Shep Pettibone’s Paradise in Asbury Park. I was so nervous and excited; the crowd filled the floor, and we went straight past closing. It was such a great night. Afterward I couldn’t sleep, I was way too pumped. I couldn’t get the music out of my head, so I wandered out to the beach and watched the sunrise over the ocean.
I also have really loved playing for different types of things, tops among those playing on a float in the Pride parade in New York. I thought I had everything covered… then the beat hit and everyone was jumping, and my whole setup was bouncing up and down. I had to hang on for dear life!
And then there are the cruises, especially the bear-themed cruises. I can pull out the stops and take everyone back in time, and they really appreciate it. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when the floor is filled with joy and singing.
You’re married to nightlife photographer JJ Mack, and the two of you often work events together. How did you meet, and what are the joys and challenges of being a nightlife supercouple?
Supercouple!? Lol! I never thought of us that way. We met just over 20 years ago in simpler times… at the gym. I saw him in the mirror; I remember thinking he’s cute, in a dorky kind of way. He caught me looking at him twice, and later struck up a conversation in his heavy accent… and I was hooked.
Our nightlife careers have been interesting; we can be out all hours of the night. It worked maybe a bit better when I was dancing and he was photographing. Dancers and photographers come in when the party is going, and leave usually hours before it ends. The DJing has been harder for JJ. DJs are there from the start when the doors haven’t even opened for some parties, and go until the bitter end. There have been times I’ve found him sleeping in the car at the end of the night, poor guy.
Mostly though, we both have a lot of fun. There are all those people you meet, from other nightlife characters, promoters, dancers, DJs and — of course — incredible drag queens, to the partiers who often come out repeatedly, become your friends, get to know you. If there’s a real reward, it’s the unexpected friendships that reach far beyond the dance floor that really enrich our lives and grow our community family. If that makes sense…
These days we can usually find you spinning “The Mack Attack,” new bar Thirst’s Friday night party.
Honestly, thatt’s been a little challenging… but it’s growing. It’s a small but beautiful new bar in Hells Kitchen, which is already home to a growing number of gay bars in this post-Covid era. Every week the bar fills up a bit more than the week before, and I am constantly switching it up with the music. Plus, it’s a really cute crowd — very diverse in both backgrounds and ages, or types, represented. It allows for a more mature music selection. They and the staff are a joy to play for. And of course there’s no cover, and they do this late night happy hour that keeps the party fueled well into the morning.
You’ve also been frequently spinning for The Urban Bear events, including their monthly kiki at Rockbar. This week is their big annual series of events, The Urban Bear Weekend! On Friday, you’ll be spinning their “Roar on the River” boat party aboard the Circle Line!
I love the Urban Bear crowd; whether Gay Pride or any given Saturday or Urban Bear Weekend, they always bring it. Rob Valin really knows and loves the bears, and how to throw an extraordinary party them. It’s such an honor to get invited to play for them, too.
And as I’ve said before… I really love playing the cruise. There’s so much thinking and planning to do. It’s just about three or four hours of cruise, plus an hour or so of boarding and pre-departure music that has to be a great tease… but not the full on meat and potatoes. And I like to plan a couple of “set pieces” to drop along the way.
A good portion of the music is in the moment, but I often have one or two groups of three to six tracks I’ve pulled together and plan out around a theme of some sort. On the summer cruise, I dropped a segment I called “Pop Princesses of the 80s” with Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Belinda Carlisle, Madonna and Laura Brannigan among others. Later in the cruise, a tribute to Olivia Newton-John that I had teased in social media ended with a terrific remix of “Xanadu” that brought tears and cheers to the floor.
Right now, I’m toying with possibly a collection of classic 80s movie songs, and possibly a Pet Shop Boys-centric 80s pop dance classics segment — think music we used to listen to at Uncle Charlies and Private Eyes back in the day. I’m still working on both. People will just have to sign up for the cruise and come out next Friday to find out what I do with those two themes.
Tickets are available at The Urban Bear’s site. It’s the Circle Line from Pier 83 at 43rd Street on the West Side. We sail an hour later than the summer cruise, boarding at 7 and sailing from 8 to midnight. It is going to be a lot of furry fun!
Anything else to add?
For me, music is all about love and joy… and the journey from where you are when you first set foot in the club, to when you realize the joy has taken over your body on the floor. I don’t like to talk on the mic. You won’t leave knowing my voice and recognizing my face on the street. But you will know me better from the music I play for you, and the smile you carry home with you… as well as the tune you find yourself humming in the shower the next morning. Love and joy. And a good house beat!