On The Record: DJ Toma
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Big risks lead to bigger rewards. Believing in his abilities and going for them with gusto has helped define the career of DJ Toma Turner.
Aided by spot-on execution, he loves to show off the infinite ways a club crowd can be manipulated and taken to new heights. If there was a Hawaii DJ Hall of Fame, Turner’s party-rocking exploits more than qualify the talented turntablist as a first ballot selection.
“It’s easy to play the hits but as a DJ, I get the best high when I play music that I know a crowd has never either heard before or are not familiar (with) and they react uncontrollably,” he said.
In typical Vegas fashion, he went all-in and hit the DJ jackpot in the late 1990’s. Turner took on Sin City at a time when the club scene was radically different; superstar DJs hadn’t mixed with the posh bottle service lifestyles of today. His well-textured, universal sound was a perfect fit in the budding nightlife metropolis.
“In 1997, Las Vegas was somewhere that Southern California people would venture to in their middle 30’s,” he said. “Now, it is the international destination for electronic music and the ‘Disneyland’ for all adults.”
With his advanced turntable tactics and music sensibility, the Aina Haina-based music maverick eventually parlayed his risky venture into becoming a reliable fixture at Tao, the number one rated nightclub in the United States in 2006. A year later, he helped open Tryst at the Wynn, the city’s first five-star hotel-nightclub. Throw in regular appearances at prestigious nightspots like Ra and Rain, and the local boy was an established commodity surpassing his wildiest expectations.
“Being (away) from Hawaii allowed me to concentrate 100 percent on DJing,” he said. “I definitely believe that I was meant to travel to the mainland to learn about business, ambition and the opportunity to see the world.”
A compliment from EDM superstar Tiesto about his blending and scratch techniques heads the list of his signature Vegas moments. Next on the list of achievements is spinning with the late DJ AM, meeting Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and an encounter with the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff. (Turner said the incomparable Philadelphia music icon still owes him a set of headphones.)
Family and business opportunities brought Turner back to Hawaii in 2011. Vegas’ loss has been the Aloha State’s gain ever since.
”I love Hawaii and love music,” he said. “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience and help Las Vegas nightlife to what it is now.”
Happy to be re-established in the 808, home is where the heart is for Turner, who still plays Vegas a handful of times a year. With no local club residencies at the moment, he’s one of the biggest free agents in the game.
“(The) number one reason for longevity in this line of work is your passion in everything you do; work ethic, perseverance, practice, knowledge of programming, being courteous to clients, being on time and creativity,” said Turner.
With his legacy intact, mentoring has played a more integral role these days. Turner said DJing in his home state is “pure fun.”
“If I had to stop DJing right now, I would be content, but I probably would still do more of the production side of music as a hobby,” he said. “I have always loved music, doesn’t matter if I’m playing it, listening to it or making it; its all the same passion!”
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.