Meet Ty Sunderland – The Titan Of New York’s Queer Nightlife
Ty Sunderland has been described by fans as the queer impresario of New York City’s music scene; a sort of pied piper for the gays. Sunderland, a south Florida native, has carved out a niche for himself as one of the most in-demand DJs, producers and party promoters in the Big Apple. Case in point: one of his most recent bashes, Brooklyn’s sold-out Planet Pride, drew 9,000 attendees. So yes, Sunderland is known for bringing the LGBTQIA+ community together – much like the music of the icons whose hits he’s known to spin.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” Sunderland says of his rise. “I just wanted to create partiesIwanted to go to because I didn’t feel like there was anything for me. For my first event [five years ago], I emptied out my savings account to throw an underground DIY party – but with high-level sound production – celebrating Britney Spears.”
Sunderland’s first major New York City party Heaven on Earth launched in the autumn of 2017; underground (but not in the literal sense), it took place after-hours at a Chinese restaurant-by-day located above a Financial District TGI Fridays. The nights became known as safe havens for queer dance floor euphoria with big pop tracks along with an anything-goes attitude.
In no time at all, Heaven on Earth became one of the hottest tickets in the five boroughs due to its host’s deft combination of hip vibes and total lack of pretension.
And then the pandemic brought nightlife globally to a screeching halt. “I actually started thinking about other jobs because I didn’t know if it was ever going to come back,” he says. But like the chorus of a song that blasts back into your ears after an extended bridge, as the world dances back towards normalcy, New York’s queer nightlife titan has found himself busier than ever.
Following recent high-profile sets at Coachella and Gigi Hadid’s birthday party, he is spearheading one of New York’s most popular music sets, Ty Tea (an all-day and night outdoor bacchanal), along with a boat party brilliantly dubbed Gayflower, and other FOMO-inducing events. And, as if that weren’t enough, he’s just released a remix; an inventive rework of pop singer VINCINT’s 2021 single Higher. It is the debut of a burgeoning production career in which he’s hoping to be a “sort of gay Diplo”.
Sunderland cites nightlife inspirations ranging from Ian Schrager to Susanne Bartsch, as well as the late Studio 54 legend Steve Rubell. “What would he be doing right now if he hadn’t died of Aids?” wonders Sunderland out loud. “I’m just happy to be at the table, paying homage to people who came before me.”
Rob LeDonne is a culture and humour writer whose work has recently appeared in Billboard, Rolling Stone and Esquire