The fierce beats and relentless grind of industrial music drives the DJ sets of Tommy Suftko into the stratosphere. The 32-year-old selector, who performs as LSDJ, regularly drops hard-charging hits from Front 242, Skinny Puppy, and VNV Nation into his mixes, blending heavy sounds with bass flourishes to keep rivetheads tromping and stomping on the dance floor.
While industrial (as well as darkwave and EBM) is considered to be a niche genre, which had its heyday in the '90s, Suftko still feels it's a lively and relevant, which is why local fans flock to weekly events such as Digital Addiction on Fridays at Anderson's in Scottsdale and Fallout Shelter every Wednesday at Sanctum.
Despite living in Tucson, Suftko -- a longtime fan of the genre -- frequently visits the Valley to work said gigs, helping to continue the torch along with fellow local industrial stalwarts like Noiz.Fkr, Self.Destrukt, Defense.Mekanizm. We recently interviewed Suftko about his Phoenix gigs, as well as how absurdist director Terry Gilliam has helped his sound.
Name: Tommy Suftko
Preferred genres: Synthpop, EBM, electro-house, and industrial
Why do you dig those genres? The structure, those electronic genres produce -- in my opinion -- actual songs with melodies, lyrics, movement, and meaning... all of which you can dance to.
How did you get into the DJ game? When I was in the Air Force, I was on an eight-month tour in the Middle East. The entertainment had been delayed, so I was asked to play music for about 800 GIs. I downloaded the virtual DJ software and played my first gig on a laptop in the Middle East. This was late 2005.
Why did you continue DJing? I had been a music and clubgoer since I was 17, knowing what it was like to be on the other side of the booth started more as a curiosity. Once I got a taste of playing for a crowd, I was hooked.
What does you DJ nickname mean? Life's Slow Digital Journey...it was the name of my first music project.
So it has nothing to do with lysergic acid diethylamide, right? I actually had a kid hit me up on Facebook trying to get me hook him up. The answer is no, but having those three letters in my DJ name has caused that issue more than once. I shrug it off. My other option is DJ Tommy, which is rather generic and the controversy doesn't hurt getting my name out there. For the record though I don't use nor do I condone the use of illegal drugs. I'm a Jack and Coke guy, plain and simple.
What bygone club do you miss the most? Asylum by far. It was in Tucson but [was] hands down the best industrial club I had ever been to. Atmosphere, drinks, the size of the venue, the look, the feel...everything. Also it was home to the best industrial DJ [that] I've ever heard to date. Second would be the [old] Nile, but I think that's more for nostalgia reasons than anything else.
What's your opinion on the industrial/darkwave scene here in Phoenix? I think that Phoenix is lucky to have as many options for venues and DJs for the industrial scene as it does. That wasn't the case 12 years ago. However, with so many options does come the issue of a lot of competition. The industrial/darkwave crowd is only so big and there are only so many days in a week. The good thing is you can be in Phoenix and always have some where do dance and drink.
Was the industrial much bigger in the mid-90s? I feel like it was, but I was a younger person then. I could just be my youthful perception at the time. Everything was bigger and larger than life when I was in my late teens and early 20s. The Nile Theatre was the center of the Phoenix industrial scene, so it's not that it was bigger, it was just focused to one spot.
Do you think industrial music as whole is a relatively dead genre? Industrial music will never die. There are new bands and old: Assemblage 23, Faderhead, CHROM, And One, X-RX, VNV Nation, De/Vision, Mesh, Rotersand, Imperative Reaction. The list is endless and they are all making new music that blows me away.
Is it the redheaded stepchild of EDM? Uh, no. I think it's the least mainstream. If industrial had the coverage and universal outlet of other EDM genres it would be held to the same light. All EDM has its gems and fair amount of crap, it's just a matter of finding the good ones. Industrial, like all other EDM has its gems, it just comes with an undertone of subculture bias because it has a darker and harder reputation. Good Music is universal. People should learn to broaden their horizons. Industrial surprised the hell out of me the first time I heard it and now it's just a part of who I am.
Explain the difference between industrial, EBM, and darkwave? The nuances. To me they all fit in the same bucket, but -- generally -- industrial is harder and more tangible. EBM takes industrial and adds [a] more electronic-based dance feel. And darkwave is the same shit, but with a more somber undertone.
What's your favorite track of the moment? The Noise Inside My Head (Grendel remix) by Assemblage 23.
Do you have any guilty pleasures musically? Don't we all? I grew up on Tom Petty, hair metal, and punk. My theme song in high school was "21st Century Digital Boy" by Bad Religion.
How much planning do you put into your mixes? A lot and at the same time none at all. I spin almost everyday at home just to familiarize myself with what mixes well with what, what you can beat-match, and what you should not. When I play a show though, I wing it. I go in with a general idea of what I'm going to play but I always leave room for change depending on how and what the crowd is reacting to. It's one of the dynamics I love about DJing, I never really know how the night will progress and by affect what I will end up playing.
How have your mixes varied? I've played some shows where I was really heavy with electro-house for an industrial crowd and they lost their shit. Other times I play one song out of genre and the floor clears in under a minute. It's all about reading and adjusting to your crowd, they pay the door fee and they buy the drinks, so I play for them.
Your mixes feature several drops from Terry Gilliam movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Are you a major fan? Yes, have been since I was kid.
Do such clips fit well with your sounds? I like how unique his style is and there's always a theme or a lesson, I like that his imagination shows in his movies. And yes some of the mono-logs and sound bites fit very well is my mixes and original tracks. Soundbites like that can sometimes really help set a tone with set your mixing.
What are some things every good DJ should do? Respect the music first, your crowd second, and always remember at the end of the day you're just someone playing someone else's music. When it comes to the venue and other DJs, being someone people like and want to work with goes a long way for getting more gigs. Attitudes get you nowhere. It should be as simple as having FUN and enjoying the fact they you get to help facilitate a few hours of people letting go of their shitty week to unwind and go nuts.
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Craziest shit you've witnessed at a gig? The craziest and funniest shit I've ever seen was back during the days of Asylum [in Tuscon]. An old car was driving past the club and backfired. Everyone and I mean everyone in the club hit the floor instantaneously. I had never seen that many people move in unison before.
What's been your best experience as a DJ? It's a culmination of all of it for me, not just one gig. I get a lot of music thrown at me now just because I'm a DJ. The people I meet, the ridiculous amount of dancing I do, the different venues I get to see, [and] the free drinks are nice too. I truly enjoy the music first and DJing throws me in the middle of what's honestly just a good fucking time. The day that stops being the case, I'm hanging up my headphones.
When will we see you in the valley next? Hopefully in August. After that is up in air, but I'll keep making the drive as long as the Phoenix venues and DJs will have me.