Tom Colontonio Affair
STEVE VAI AND ARMIN VAN BUUREN MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, BUT FOR DJ AND PRODUCER TOM COLONTONIO THEY HAVE BEEN BOTH INSTRUMENTAL IN HIS JOURNEY TO TRANCE STARDOM, AS SCOTT HENDERSON DISCOVERS.
There’s nothing quite like being described as the “man of the moment” by one of the pre-eminent figures in your genre to turn heads. As a teenager Tom Colontonio dreamt of hearing these words come from legendary guitarist Steve Val; fate would send him down a different path, however, and it would instead be a certain Dutch DJ by the name if Armin Van Buuren. Worlds apart, but same result: people take notice, especially journalists.
With a surname like Colontonio you might assume that the up-and-coming trance DJ and producer would be a rising Euro star instead of an Italian American superstar hailing from the Garden State of New Jersey. Colontonio is quiet and understated, as is often the case with the best trance DJs, hardly renowned at the wild men of dance music. Answers to questions are straightforward and to the point from the friendly voice at the end of the line, honest and austere.
Not exactly considered a hub of music, New Jersey seems as good a place to start as any, yet only reveals how much smaller the world has gotten. “The dance music scene here isn’t that big” explains Colontonio, “there’s pockets of people who listen to dance music and trance is not very popular here – the same for Philadelphia, which I’m very close to. It’s kinda gone downhill as it stands now. I’m close to New York though and New York is always good.”
Lately though, Colontonio says he has been seeing the world increasingly through the eyes of an international DJ.
It was just four years ago that he started producing his own tracks and remixing others, which has seen him receive huge support from Armin’s fellow trance elder statesmen Paul van Dyke and Tiësto. Radio play and gigs around the world from Germany to Argentina have followed, and as we speak the DJ has just been packing his gear to tour Australia for the first time.
It’s a long journey to have made for the 11-year old kid who first picked up a guitar and started to teach himself, becoming a studio musician inside five years. Music, it seems, always came easy to Colontonio – but not without putting in the hours: “I got a teacher locally when I was 13 and he was a classical guitar player, jazz player and I started studying music, it was a big part of my life. I would spend hours on end, sometimes eight hours a day, sitting there learning stuff. When I was about 16 years old I started doing musician work at a local studio, and branched out doing it all over the place in the area. People would pay me to play the guitar and most of the time it was during the night because studios are cheaper then, then at high school at day I’d be falling asleep at my desk.”
It was in the mid-’90s that Colontonio first put his guitar down, picking up a set of decks and spinning house records under the moniker DJ TommyBoy. Sometime around 1998/99 a couple of the DJ’s friends brought back some trance tunes from a trip to Europe and he was immediately hooked. “As soon as I heard it I knew that was exactly what I wanted to play. So I went in that direction, listening to guys like Armin, van Dyke, Ferry Corsten and what he was doing with System F.”
At the time trance music was really blowing up in the UK and this writer had Ferry Corsten’s Ministry of Sound Trance Nation mix on repeat. Colontonio agrees; as compilation CDs go, it’s still one of the best. “Corsten was a big reason I got into trance. I was just really taken by it and the rest was history. Ferry actually played one of my tracks on his show last week and that was definitely a good feeling for me to have support from Corsten; he’s a big influence.”
It’s easy to tell that Colontonio is still as much a fan as he is a purveyor of trance. Meeting the likes of van Dyke and van Buuren has been “surreal” and having the people who influenced his style of his music and his life has been a “great feeling.” As much as for his fans and the dancefloor, Colontonio says he loves the music and makes his contribution for those guys as much as anything else.
That being said, Tom Colontonio is fast becoming one of the names influencing and leading a new generation of trance DJs and producers while still going about making his own mark – through his own productions or his radio show. “There are a lot of younger producers now doing trance. I actually just got a promo for a guy who’s 17-years old. I was really impressed like ‘wow, this guy’s only 17′ because I didn’t start producing till about four and a half years ago. These younger guys are doing some stuff and trance music is on the up and up as a result.
With a remix of Sean Tyas’ Seven Weeks a co-production with John O’Callaghan (“it’s and absolute ripper”) on release as well as a new EP called Sparkover and an album in the works, Tom Colontonio is still very much a star in ascendance. Not just satisfied with the status quo of his trajectory, the producer is returning to his musical roots to find new ways to develop his skills and knowledge.
“I’m getting back into the piano now, trying to learn and get my music back together in that sense,” he says. “I think creativity comes from your heart but having the knowledge of what can go where and why helps you make music, there’s no doubt about it.”
Heading directly for the heights of his trance heroes, Colontonio still holds onto those icons who inspired him as a teenager. “I suppose you could call them the Shredders. I still follow what Steve Vai does and guys like Eric Johnson. I really aspire to be like them.” With such a unique background, it’ll be interesting to see where Tom Colontonio will take his own brand of trance music in the future. The man from the Garden State might just be the man of the moment for a little while yet.