DJ Ty Sunderland on clubbing, chosen family, and why everyone needs to get vaccinated

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Ty Sunderland (Photo: Luke Norton/@nortography)

The New York-based DJ and club promoter Ty Sunderland, 31, has become one of the Big Apple’s most keenly watched movers and shakers over the last few years. This is largely thanks to parties such as Heaven on Earth, Love Prism, and Gayflower.

Unsurprisingly, and like so many in the nightlife industry, the Covid-19 pandemic knocked Sunderland, who’s originally from Fort Lauderdale, off course for a little while. However, as restrictions begin to ease, he’s storming back.

His Ty Tea gathering, a Sunday afternoon tea dance at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn, is one of the city’s must-do events.

Related: Gay bars and clubs in New York

“I started DJing in college at Purchase College,” he tells GayCities. “So my first gig was in a sweaty dorm room. My first event, like proper event, was a Friday night weekly residency at Lit Lounge which became the Cock.”

 

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Sunderland, who often wears a signature black and white cap, says he’s been inspired by some legendary nights – many of which he was too young to visit.

“I’ve always been inspired by things I never got to experience. The fomo of Studio 54, MisShapes, Paradise Garage, Beatrice, Palladium, Limelight. I have lots of books that I pour over. But I’m mostly inspired by culture, as lame as that sounds. What people are talking about in terms of music/memes/tweets.”

“I would give anything for a night at Studio 54. No phones just vibes.”

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Sunderland relocated to New York City eight years ago, at first interning for a big fashion company. However, he quickly realized he wasn’t suited to a corporate job and was having much more fun DJ’ing.

He says the last 15 months have been “pretty challenging”, but sees some silver linings.

“I’m thankful for my chosen family for being there for me and for the time I’ve been able to spend with my biological family. My work pretty much stopped and I was like okay what’s two weeks, but then it started to get really real. DJing and event producing is my only job.”

 

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At the moment, much of his energy is focused on Ty Tea.

“I don’t have much else happening because NYC is only just reopening and lifting restrictions. As of right now, I’m focusing on outdoor things because I know I can do them. Inside things, I’m just starting to plan again for later in the summer. Most restrictions in NY have been lifted, it’s just planning events doesn’t happen overnight!”

Sunderland can’t wait to start hosting indoor clubs again properly and would encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

“I would say to trust the science,” he says. “Herd immunity is the goal and we cannot achieve this without high vaccination rates.

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When it comes to putting an event together, Sunderland’s aim is simple: To make it “As fun as possible for the attendee. I’m not trying to take anyone on a mystical journey of light and music. I’m just trying to have as most fun as possible.”

He’s against cliquey crowds and all for inclusivity at his nights, telling Paper in 2019: “I try to think, ‘Who is this party not reaching? Who does not feel that they’re invited to this party?”

 

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“I’m a white, cis-gendered, homosexual. So my reach is mostly to white, cis-gendered, homosexuals. How do I make a party feel inclusive to more people, than just people like me? I actively try to hire people not like me, which is trans people, people of color, cis-gendered women. All of my door staff is mostly cis-gendered women. I don’t know why, but that’s just how it works. And a lot of the people that I started hiring when I first started out have become my nightlife family.”

Ty Sunderland (Photo: Luke Norton/@nortography)

As someone with their finger on the pulse of the NYC scene, is there anywhere – besides his own parties – that Sunderland recommends to friends visiting the city?

“I feel like Le Bain is so special,” he tells GayCities. It was the first nightclub I went to and there’s nothing like it. And it always has great music/views of the city.”

Like all of us, Sunderland, who is currently single, is also looking forward to traveling again when it’s safer to do so. He namechecks Japan as somewhere he would love to return to when he can. As for immediate plans, he’s keeping his cards close to his chest and says he can’t make any detailed announcements just yet.

“I’ve partnered with a pretty large entertainment company to produce a very special residency in NYC which is set to start later this summer/early fall.”