Toy Tonics was formed in 2012 as a sub-label to German experimental powerhouse Gomma. The latter, inspired by James Lavelle’s Mo’ Wax, had continuously tried to push the envelope artistically for over a decade. “It sounds super pretentious, but with every record we wanted to try to start a new style,” laughs label boss Mathias Modica (aka Munk and Kapote). Over that time, Gomma became a home for Danish no-wave band WhoMadeWho, Ramellzee’s “industrial hip-hop”, the “crazy freak folk” of Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy’s Box Codax project, and electro-punk superstar Peaches, among others.
Toy Tonics was launched almost in opposition to that: where Gomma was all over the place sonically, Toy Tonics would be focused strictly on the funky house music Mathias liked; where Gomma worked with wild visuals from artists and designers the world over, Toy Tonics would have a simple, memorable aesthetic.
Like all good children, Toy Tonics has since surpassed its parent. “Four years ago we started to be really serious about the label... on the one side, looking for very exceptional original artists that do dance music — but somehow different — and on the other side, bringing a lot more real instrumentation into the dance world,” explains Mathias.
The label’s primary sounds are house and disco, infused with the vitality of real piano, guitar and bass, with complex chords and rhythms played by traditional musicians. “Most people who aren’t musicians probably don’t see what this music is made from... they just feel it’s different,” he continues. “It’s different because: one, it’s a family, everybody knows each other, they DJ together; and two, they are musicians, and everybody brings electronic production and instrumentation.”
Key members of the Toy Tonics family now include Italian duo Black Loops, Munich’s COEO and Rhode + Brown, Frenchman Mangabey, and Berlin-based Brit Cody Currie. The likes of PBR Streetgang, Luke Solomon and Dimitri From Paris & DJ Rocca have also made stops on the label over the course of its 100-plus releases.
Taking the live instrumentation aspect to the next level are New York outfit The Phenomenal Handclap Band, an ensemble headed up by former keyboardist for Amy Winehouse, Daniel Collás, and featuring musicians who’ve been part of Mark Ronson’s band and other big projects. Last year, Toy Tonics released their album ‘PHB’ — 10 tracks of glittering, funky disco that draw on the standards set in the ’70s golden age, but feel sleek and modern.
“A lot of people call it organic now, but to me it’s just a musician thing,” says Mathias. “Organic, warm, lo-fi, whatever the words are — basically it’s because they are musicians playing and that’s an organic thing.” Mathias explains how the band fit into his vision for the label: “There’s the digital DJs working with musicians, and there’s the real band working with the digital label — it’s two angles coming together.”