Anton Tumas | Cover Your Cameras and Dance

The Los Angeles nightlife legacy talks social media, music festivals, and how to know when it’s time to go home

Written by

Annie Bush

Photographed by

Jonathan Hedrick

Styled by

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Anton Tumas speaks to me in the midst of answering a swarm of emails. He’s a busy man– Tumas is a DJ, an owner of event company and record label, Subtract Music, and the facilitator of a bevy of music festivals across the country. You may not have heard the ambidextrous producer’s name, but you’ve felt him: the steady thrum of the downtown warehouse at 4am? That’s Tumas, whose company rents complex sound systems to party organizers across Los Angeles. The kinetic dreaminess of the Long Beach air, imbued with culture and desire for community? That’s Tumas, who organizes not one but two events in Long Beach (the annual  Love Long Beach Festival and the more frequent Subtract on the Pier events).

Tumas, a talented musician in his own right, has orchestrated the best parts of nightlife and festival culture for over a decade. In the recent uptick in nightlife and techno culture stoked by social media and equipment accessibility, Tumas is a gravitational life force: knowledgeable, even-handed, and well-connected, Anton Tumas sits gracefully at the reins of an inherently chaotic vertical, and he has no plans to loosen his grip.

Let's start by talking about Subtract on The Pier. How did you come to discover that venue? How has it evolved over time?

I found this venue by chance. There’s a guy who has a lease to operate a little hot dog snack booth, if you will, with the city. I went over there for their holiday party and I was like: “Oh my God, this is the coolest party venue ever. Do you guys do parties here?” And he's says, “Nah, just our little holiday event. I knew we could throw a great dance party there. It’s a thing I always struggle with as an event organizer– it’s always sound focused, and neighbors are sensitive. We always want to bring very high output powerful sound systems to give the artist proper justice with their music, so when I go to a new spot I'm always concerned with the fact that somebody might hear the bass and shut us down. When I found this place I was like: “Yeah, it's gonna be epic.” it's a quarter mile from the shore, and on top of that we’re basically by the water. So I started just by doing a free party. And we had 500, 600 people in it at the first event. He was on board after that, because obviously their bar killed it. We had a great party and it's going to be its nine year anniversary this year. 

Speaking of venue space, the way that sound is received by an audience is incredibly dependent on the ambient space. How do you ensure that  the space and the music being played in the space are amiable towards each other? 

That's critical for sure, especially with our sound rental businesses in a warehouse setting. We’re very careful to make sure the sound system and the space will work together. You don't want to just activate the whole room and have that sound bouncing all over the place. Our speakers are very good at controlling the sound. If you aim them at the dance floor and not at the walls or ceiling, et cetera, then we're just winning half of that battle already. For my own events, I focus on the outdoors where 90 percent of that issue is pretty much gone because you're not inside of a building and I just love the outdoor vibe. Doing these events on the water is pretty much a dream come true. It's really hard to try to do a warehouse party. My bar is raised so high. I know it's not going to go higher. Unless there's some crazy warehouse where somebody builds out  soundproofing, studio, and sound panels... That's what I would do if I had a warehouse and I just had unlimited budget to do it, but I have not seen that done in LA yet.

How do you decide to book talent?

Now, there's a trend–everything's about hype: how hype the artists is on social media especially. People are just booking based on that, based on how many tables they can sell. That’s never been my approach. If I personally can’t create an enjoyable vibe, that’s what the event is all about. All the events are social, but when there’s an Instagram element, it gets weird.

Right. You want to enjoy the moment without documenting your proximity to fame.

We're going to roll out a no-phones. Rule. No cameras. No pictures. No video. It's gonna be a little bit of a fight, but I'm gonna just have somebody basically working all day to put stickers on people’s camera at the entry, so that's.

Do you feel that the ubiquity of social media has changed the nature of  techno music? It's become a lot more popular post pandemic– everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be a producer.

A lot of people kind of go in with a negative tone...Oh, this used to be better. And everybody's always saying that it was better 10 years ago: they say it was better in the 80s, 90s, etc. Everything's always going to change. You can't control it. The more cool stuff will just kind of go underground more as certain things get more popular. I can’t battle that. I can only control the elements that I create, what I’m looking for in my events. Of course I wish things were more about the music and less about the hype, but that's what we do. Everybody has to make their events viable, and profitable. I get it. 

What’s your stance on the party scene in LA?

There's more people liking this music, but the overall quality of the parties is down, the fun factor. I'm also like the jaded old Raver at this point. I’ve been around these parties for almost 20 years. So I've seen a lot. I’m harder to impress. Everyone should be there to dance, not to take videos of the DJ.

Speaking of DJs, how have you evolved as an artist?

I started DJing when I broke my leg. I was going out dancing, and then I ended up breaking my leg in Miami in 2005.  I owned a tire shop back then.  So I was just doing auto business. I was going out to these parties with my friends, because I found some cool house music stuff. I was listening to Crystal Method and things like that– drum and bass, electronica. And so, when I broke my leg, I couldn’t go out because I was on crutches. I basically learned to DJ because I was stuck at home and couldn’t even go to work. I started learning how to DJ and collecting tracks, and just went down the rabbit hole and found new artists. I am a guy that likes to know all the artists, being behind the music, kind of finding them online and seeing the kind of person that’s making these kind of tracks that I like. Interesting people make interesting music. 

Is that how you choose tracks? You research the artist?

I do a lot of research. So when I find these songs that I want to DJ, I want to play them for the next 10, 15, 20 years. I feel a lot of DJs say: “okay, what's the hottest right now?” They just buy those and they play them out. A lot of stuff gets played out a lot–and that's fine because they are great tracks, but I want to play something around 10 years from now and still not get tired of it. My music doesn't sound dated because  if you're playing stuff that spans a wide range of years, they're all going to have the kind of different vibes that were popular back then, and then it creates a sound that's in a way timeless. That's kind of my approach. With my label and with my DJing.

I was talking to somebody the other day, and he mentioned how the skills that are necessary for DJing are also very similar to the skills necessary for being a good writer. I was wondering–, are there different muscles that you flex across all of your career endeavors that end up being the same thing across the board?

A big one would come up is our ability to make critical decisions under high pressure, situations., I started my own business at 19 out of my mom's backyard.  And I did that for 10 years, and it grew pretty successfully. It’s about hammering away those issues and then learning how to focus on solutions when things are falling apart. Doing sound at Burning Man was another lesson (talk about things falling apart while they're coming together). Last year– the rain, the mud, and the year before that was one of the dustiest years on record, was just insanity. I would say just the ability not fall apart under pressure, and to actually be coherent and to make important decisions, to see things clearly and not, not to get overly emotional about, you know, what's going on is huge.

What is it like running a label? What’s coming up for Subtract?

I haven’t done anything on the label since 2019, but I have a bunch of stuff built up that we're working on. During the pandemic, we basically just took a break from it. Now we're going to put stuff out, there’s really good things lined up. I’m not rushing it. There's a lot of formulas that don’t work, and people try to just make things popular. But if it's a copy of a copy, I'm going to go for the original. Things are so disposable– you have to make the quality worth it.

What keeps you up at night?

Oh, gosh. Hopefully nothing because I like to go to bed at 10pm. But I would have to say, I get nervous thinking that my guys miswired something during one of these sound gigs and things are going to blow up because they didn't listen to what I said. 

Finally, the age old question that plagues most partygoers. How do you know when it's time to go home? 

I mean, for me, it’s not that much of a challenge. If the music or the vibe is not that interesting anymore, just cruise out. I have so many chances to experience music every weekend. And I know what the general baseline is. I like to be far, far above that baseline if I'm going to be enjoying a night out.

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Anton Tumas, Cover Your Cameras and Dance, Music, People, Annie Bush