Toronto DJ Tony Price is changing the city’s nightlife as we know it

Without seeing him play live, you really wouldn’t know what Tony Price looks like — there are maybe three pictures of him floating around the Internet. And even when you do see him in person behind the decks at a club cool enough that you will finally be free of men dressed in Essentials hoodies, it’s dark, the music is blaring, and it doesn’t register that at that moment he’s realistically the most powerful person in the room. He’s conducting the way your night will go. And if it’s up to him, you’re not going home early.

I first heard of Tony Price when Toronto podcast host Josh McIntyre mentioned him on an episode of Cold Pod. “He’s truly the best in the city,” he said. The best? In Toronto? Must be a hyperbole.

For people like me in their early twenties in a transitional time in their life, nights out look and sound a lot like this: gather at a friend’s apartment, get moderately drunk, go to a sweaty bar meant for recent grads, dance to an awful mix of throwbacks relying too much on nostalgia, go home. The monotony is grating. The soundtrack of your nightlife gets suddenly tiresome. My friends and I struggled to find somewhere we could go where we could actually have fun and where the experience could somehow be new.

After listening to Price’s latest album, Hit Piece, I followed Tony on Instagram, saw he was playing at Juice on a Friday and took my friends to it that night. I was astounded. Tony pulled from a collection of vinyl sitting in boxes. I didn’t know a single song he played except his own. The bass vibrated in the air, it was almost tactile. It was funky. It was new. It was different. Was McIntyre right? Is Tony Price really the best DJ in the city?

Price, whose real name is Anthony Nemet, has long been a fixture in Toronto’s music scene. After finding moderate success with his band Actual Water, Nemet fell out of love with the guitar and began the Tony Price project. After long stints in London and New York City, Tony returned to Toronto during the pandemic. Hit Piece is fun and sexy, with ridiculous bass lines that can make even the most mundane acts feel cinematic. Since his return, he’s released a handful of albums and has been playing the DJ circuit at the likes of Juice, Standard Time, and as well as many other clubs and venues — just check his Instagram. 

Well, not his, exactly, but his label’s, Maximum Exposure. “I started Maximum Exposure to create a way to exist on the Internet that’s kind of removed and kind of taking the piss out of it, making fun of it and critiquing it and at the same time using it to promote myself and being the person that I’m critiquing,” he says. His lack of personal presence online is just as interesting as a well-curated Instagram feed.

Price taught himself how to use music production software Ableton at 24.  

“I just started making electronic music only because I was living in London in a small apartment. I didn’t have anything with me,” he says, though he concedes that this wasn’t a totally random development. He started recording a friend’s band as a teenager, later teaching himself without the aid of YouTube how to use GarageBand and Logic. Price taught himself to play guitar too, buying his first guitar at a flea market near Scarborough Town Centre.

“I just had to buy it. $15 [for] this guitar. It was really bad, too,” he says. Before long, he was selling CDs of his own music in Little Italy, where he’d frequent Soundscapes, a record store that closed in 2021 after 22 years of business. Starting from when he was a teenager, he’d pop by “just to see what was up, to see what was new.”

Over the years, Price has developed a reputation of being somewhat of a sound maverick: he makes his own (very good) music, he’s produced and mixed records for U.S. Girls and Young Guv, DJs from a funky collection of vinyl, and still somehow has time to revamp the Cash Man jingle.

These days, it’s projects like the last one I’ve listed that he gravitates to most. “I honestly find that a lot of those jobs asked me to go way further out in terms of getting creative than any artist was asking me. Some of the craziest sound design and avant-garde production stuff I’ve ever done was for Pat McGrath for a Christmas ad.” 

He can trace this interest back to his childhood.

“I grew up on MuchMusic — all of us in the city did — and I can remember distinctly when something interesting would sneak into an ad or a segment musically or aesthetically and it would blow my mind as a child.”

Price prefers listening to music on his wired headphones to being at a concert, to even playing live. He recognizes that it’s a necessary evil. Music is created to be consumed, and house music is especially meant to be heard in a live space, where you can dance and drink and find someone to sleep with. It’s the sonic background to having fun, out in public, unlike most other genres of music. This is why it’s fascinating that he’s so allergic to it. 

“I don’t like being looked at. It comes back to that. But this is just a personal opinion. I think that live music should always exist,” he says. “Music now exists to support an identity brand that you show off online. People like to say they were at an event. They like to say, ‘I support this artist and what they stand for or their aesthetics,’” he says. 

We need to ask ourselves: What is music used for?

Price’s answer: “It’s not used to be listened to. Your music, if you’re speaking from the perspective of an artist, is now about way more than how it sounds. It’s about what it looks like. It’s about how people could associate themselves with something on a digital platform.” 

Price knows what his music is for. He envisions bigger things for Maximum Exposure.

“I want it to be a production company that’s more about that space between art and commerce rather than just a music company.”

But at its core, it’s all about the music. Nothing is more apparent than when you see him live. As much as he hates it, he has to admit he’s really good at it. “I want to keep house music alive in some kind of form that is pure to what it is about. It’s just about drawing lines from the past into the future. It’s important to me, because I’m from here, and I want Toronto to be a destination city for dance music.”

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