[Interview] The Next Chapter of History in Atlanta with Tocayo
As we look to Friday to celebrate the history of house music in Atlanta, it's also important for us to show appreciation to the young gunners in the scene. With a variety of "crews" to choose from in the electronic dance scene, Hernan Piraquive AKA Tocayo, is one of the well-known promoters/DJs currently in the game. Right now he's working with Alley Cat Music Club in Edgewood to bring international and local talent together under one roof. He was kind enough to take some time to chat with us about his mentors, parties and the future of Atlanta.
Tell us about who you are and how you fit into the current Atlanta dance music scene.
First off, I was raised in Atlanta and born at Georgia Baptist Hospital - RIP - on January 8, 1986. My grandmother actually worked there and was in the delivery room when I busted in on the life scene. *laughs* A big misconception is that I'm from Miami, which is my second home, because I’ve spent a lot of time there growing up, but 90 percent of my time has been spent in the ATL. As far as the music scene goes, I started off as a promoter doing the Top 40, VIP club thing. I have always been heavy into all kinds of music, especially the underground and obscure kind. Whether it was punk rock, reggae, hip-hop or hardcore, I really got my pleasure from finding stuff no one else had heard of. Needless to say I got tired of doing the Top 40 thing fast and started booking house, techno and even Brazilian Carioca Funk DJs. I got tired of the promoter game altogether. The scene was pretty bad from 2008 to 2011. I decided I wanted to DJ full-time and so I moved to Miami to refine my skills and knowledge. I’ve never been a stranger to the decks, but never gave it the full plunge so it was definitely a new experience being in a club than in my mom's basement. Now I'm about 11 years in and running my own DJ career as well as booking talent for Alley Cat Music Club, which is my own creation.
Who have been some of your mentors over the years and why?
Karl Injex, the owner and operating manager of the Sound Table, was definitely a huge part of my development over the last few years. Karl gave me a creative space to do my events, Sound Table and Space 2. It was mainly his example and not so much his verbal advice, but trust me it spoke volumes. I learned to focus on the subtleties and minimalism in regards to promotion and things like lighting, and that they can make a big impact on the vibe of a party. Personally, I learned a lot because Karl is not a dude that will go on telling you all the things he’s accomplished, but his persona when he walks into a room seems to tower over and you know there is something special about him. He’s soft spoken and articulate, you can tell he thinks about what he says and just doesn't spit off at the mouth. I respect that about him. A lot of people would benefit from that kind of discipline. I'm looking at you Facebook. He takes a personal approach to every aspect of his business and has real ideas rather than just trying to fall in line and play ball like everyone else, like recycling the same old tricks and trying to pass them off as their own. For example, instead of a ladies night, he gave one night a month to a group of all girl DJs who started a night called BAE. (Read our interview with BAE here) The event blew up and really empowered female DJs in Atlanta. Sound Table has been the launch pad for countless parties, DJs, artists, and he doesn't take credit for any of it. Karl is all about more substance, less hype. As a benefit of the work I did at Sound Table and Space 2, I was given the opportunity to start the Alley Cat Music Club right down the street. There was never really a conversation about me leaving Sound Table. In fact, my idea was to be able to both. It was a very ambitious idea and ultimately all my time was spent on the new project. Not once did I ever hear any negative comments and or cheap shot promotion tactics that one would probably see in that situation. He was cool, calm and stayed in his lane, doing the work he’s been doing. That’s why Sound Table has existed and never missed a step for over seven years. They don’t compete, they exist and create. I can tell you that is one of the realest pieces of advice that could ever be given to anyone in this industry. Karl, I love you for that homie. You taught me what real class is. Respect.
Next is Kai Alce, DJ and owner of the NDATL record label. What could be said about Kai that hasn't been said already? He’s an all-around good guy and one of the most humble individuals you will ever meet. I have seen his name floating around the Atlanta party scene for years yet never made any connection to him until about three years ago when I moved back from Miami. It took a bit of courage to reach out to him seeing as he’s probably the biggest figure we have in regards to house music. I had seen him spin a few times and loved the music, the spirit, the soul, the groove and the lightheartedness. I finally reached out to him to drop in and play a special guest set at one of my warehouse after parties. Now little do most people in Atlanta know, Kai is internationally known and has been a highly respected DJ and producer for over twenty years. But like Karl, he will never tell you that. Most guys like him would come in with a list of demands and expect lucrative compensation, yet he killed it for hours and at the end asked only for gas money. My mind was blown, but he expressed his respect for what I was doing and that he supported my efforts. I think that in these times it's important to know that sometimes just reaching out and making a small connection, and one act of kindness can completely change the landscape. I will always love Kai for that. We have had some deep conversations about other topics and I can tell you he has served as an elder to me in the music scene. He’s taught me about respect and culture and that this thing we called house goes beyond just a musical genre or eccentric trend.
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the support and wisdom from Michael Scott, Dee Washington, and Peter Chavala. Can’t thank those individuals enough.
You've been known to hang with pretty much everyone in the scene. Is it important for you to not be associated with one clique vs. another?
Well, there are crews out there that I love and respect but perhaps we don’t do the same things and therefore it's difficult to work together. But honestly, I love having a variety of different people around me, it keeps me interested. I like to learn new things. Make new moves. It keeps me interesting. It keeps me changing. It’s like old Benny Franklin said, “When you're finished changing, you're finished." In saying that, basically I like to keep all my doors open if possible.
What does it take for a DJ to get booked to play at one of your parties?
That is a broad question because I'm not sure if you are talking about headlining talent or an up-and-coming local DJ. But in general I always look at the music first, do you have a broad range and do you have unique blends? Do you push boundaries and make people dance at the same time? Do you have a following of fans and do you work at getting more fans involved in your talent. I wanna work with DJs that don't fall into the status quo of whatever the latest house or techno or music trends generally are. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you can rock a crowd and get them involved on a regular basis. DJ basics 101.
You DJ quite a bit in Atlanta and other cities. Do you have any plans of producing music at all?
Yes, I do. I find it hard to find time but I'm going to make it a priority in 2017 because I definitely have some things to get off my chest. To be honest, I'm more of a music lover than a music maker, guess that's the DJ side of me because I'd rather dig for records for eight hours than sit in a studio looking for the perfect snare or hi-hat. I wouldn't mind playing out my own jams. That could be cool.
What do you want other cities to know about Atlanta?
That we are real and not just a musical genre facade. Atlanta has so much history and so much of that coming from music but the only thing people know or remember about is that the "TRAP IS LIT FAM." *laughs* Just kidding. Yeah, but we are defined by rap music most times and that is definitely a part of our culture but people gotta know that there are so many layers to this city. Just like Detroit and New York we are survivors and one of the oldest towns in America. This city has literally been burnt to the ground and has risen form the ashes to not only abolish slavery and create civil rights, but also influence the country in ways most people will never know. Atlanta is its own little bubble, different from the rest of Georgia and the South for that matter. Many open minded people from the outskirts of Georgia and bordering states seek creative refuge in this city and I want people to know that we welcome it. Although we are kinda full, traffic here sucks. For the longest time we doubted ourselves because we compared ourselves to too many other big cities, but now I think we finally are starting to accept our culture and are flourishing with it. Forever I love Atlanta.