On May 3, 2021, Rob Toma got the call he’d been waiting for. A staffer from the office of New York City’s then mayor Bill de Blasio was getting in touch to inform Toma that live events would be allowed to resume the next month, as the pandemic waned. Toma hung up, and for the next two weeks, barely slept.
Instead he booked shows, putting 13 events on the calendar for when venues reopened to full capacity. Lineups included The Martinez Brothers, Michael Bibi, Sven Vath and Loco Dice playing in a cavernous (and also packed), Brooklyn warehouse — the venue format that’s defined Toma’s company, Teksupport, since he started throwing parties under the name back in 2010.
“Since [after the pandemic], we’ve been gaining a lot of real momentum,” Toma says, “and we really kind of just [kept] turning it up.” This year, Toma and his 20-person, Brooklyn-based team have put on 104 shows at venues including 99 Scott, Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn Navy Yard and various warehouses. In the four days surrounding New Year’s Eve, the company will produce six events. Talking to Billboard over Zoom, Toma is tired — “it’s come to a point now where it’s very, very intense … I just don’t sleep, actually” — but focused.
“10,000 is the new 5,000 and 5,000 is the new 2,000,” he says. “We’re doing like, 25,000 to 30,000 people a month now.”
Toma was born in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, the son of Egyptian immigrants. His first job was at his grandparents’ bagel shop. He was then a busboy at a catering hall run by his uncle. When the hall hosted a teen night, the lightbulb turned on. “‘What the hell is this?’” he recalls thinking. “Like, I could do this.”
He was right. Toma started hosting dry events for teens at the hall, then graduated to New York’s club scene, working his way through venues like the Chelsea mega-club Crobar. In 2010, he took his first trip to Ibiza (“I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’”) then traveled to Germany, where he had his mind blown at Time Warp, the fabled house and techno festival.
Energized by Time Warp’s musical offerings — “In America, it’s usually like nine EDM stages and a dubstep stage, this had all great artists” — he got in touch with the festival’s owner, Steffen Charles, to see about bringing the event across the Atlantic. As Toma recalls, Charles’ response was icy: “I’ll never do New York. America is not ready.”
It took a few years, but Toma convinced him otherwise, and in 2014 Time Warp made it’s U.S. debut in Brooklyn. The show was a logistical nightmare. Toma lost his license for the Brooklyn Armory days before the festival, having to relocate to another venue, The Shed. The event lost $400,000. Toma considered it a success.
“It was just kind of a dream,” he says. “I looked at it as, ‘This is not a loss, this is an investment.’”
The event helped Teksupport distinguish itself as the company that European brands could trust to introduce their shows to U.S. audiences. Toma and crew could draw the right crowd, book the right artists, pull the right permits and, particularly as an independent operator, provide an experience with “heart and soul,” and a staff that would do anything to pull off a party. (He recalls convincing a friend to let him use the warehouse of the friend’s family business, Utz Potato Chips, for a show, hauling seven tractor trailers worth of chips out, then back in when the event was over.)
In 2016, Ibiza born techno party CircoLoco made it’s U.S. debut in partnership with Teksupport. In 2022, the company presented techno legend Ricardo Villalobos’ first solo New York City show. Last month, the company brought Eric Prydz’s HOLO show to New York City for the first time since 2019. This past weekend, Teksupport hosted the first U.S. events from Dutch dance producer DGTL in New York City and Los Angeles. (Toma is a partner in Stranger Than, which puts on parties in L.A.) The company also books a litany of international producers who less-commonly play the city’s EDM-focused festivals and clubs. (Toma is also a partner of the Manhattan club Nebula, and the invite only Hearsay.)
With its efforts, Teksupport has both catalyzed and capitalized on house and techno’s surge in popularity in the U.S. in the wake of EDM. These so-called “underground” genres are now, by dance scene standard, anything but, with parties from Burning Man to Art Basel focused on the sounds. As they’ve bled into the world of fashion and video games, Teksupport has forged a presence in those realms as well. Toma says one of the most surreal moments of his career was being in a motion capture suit while filming his cameo for Grand Theft Auto V. (Teksupport works closely with GTA creator Rockstar Games, which has a partnership with CircoLoco that has resulted in appearances, radio stations and soundtrack contributions by producers including The Blessed Madonna and Moodymann.)
Despite the cultural cachet, Toma says Teksupport is still a family business, made up of many staffers who’ve been around since day one — along with his actual sister, brother and cousin. He and his business partner Mike Vitacco have been best friends since high school, with Toma handling promotion, marketing and bookings, while Vitacco handles licensing and operations. Given the company’s growth over 2023 in particular, Toma is planning to expand the company by bringing in new employees from locations around the world who are steeped in their respective scenes and fans of Teksupport. (He says this is preferable to “recycling people from other producers’ businesses in the space.”)
“You’re only as good as your last show,” he says. “So you’ve got to figure out how to keep it going. That’s my M.O.”
He’s also got another big event on the horizon. On January 3, after Teksupport’s back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back) New Year’s Eve shows, Toma and his two kids — daughter Celine is six and son Rob is 9 — are flying to the Caribbean for a two week vacation. Toma has a plan for how to finally relax.
“I’m just literally not bringing my phone,” he says.
The article “Teksupport Produced 104 Dance Events in 2023, But Founder Rob Toma Isn’t Ready to Rest: ‘You’re Only as Good as Your Last Show’” by Katie Bain was published on 07/12/2023 by www.billboard.com