Tony Svehla: A pioneer of Melbourne’s early dance and DJ scene 


    By Daniel Brace

    If you went to one of the big parties at Shed 16 in Docklands back in the norties or 2000’s chances are you enjoyed a set by DJ Tony Svelha. His place in Yarraville is covered in posters for dance parties that he headlined. And while he’s worked with the best in the business, it’s the sense of community and love direct from the dance floor that he misses the most. 

    How did your journey as a DJ start?

    As a child I loved playing records. Mum and Dad let me put on Elvis and gospel or whatever I wanted, usually while they made tea or did the housework. 

    When I got older I was really attracted to unique sounds and artists like Jeff Duff and Roberta Flack, who were doing stuff outside of the mainstream. Slade as well. All really different. 

    My big break was at a venue in Adelaide, when the manager and the DJ had an argument and they were desperate for someone to cover. I stepped in and didn’t look back once. 

    You were the number 1 DJ in the gay community in Melbourne at one stage and headlined at Mardi Gras several times, where you got to work with some international stars. What were some highlights?

    I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a high calibre of artists like Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, the Shapeshifters, Louis Vega and so many more. I got to party at a professional level, and got paid to do it. What could be better than that?

    Headlining at Mardi Gras gives you a certain status in the party scene. I have had some wonderful times there over the years, including DJing for Kylie when she appeared in the Royal Hall of Industries in 1996 when she was so popular she sent the place into lockdown.

    What makes a good DJ?

    A good DJ is generous, welcomes new sounds and styles, and is always sharing music. It’s your job to provide something new, special and specific for your audience. You’re always thinking about them. What they like, how they’re feeling, what music they know. That way you can really surprise them, take them out of their comfort zone and give them a thrill. 

    How long have you been in Yarraville?

    28 years plus. I love it. It’s central and close to everything. Great people. It’s home. 

    Shed 16 in Docklands was the centre of gay dance party life in Melbourne. People would dress up, turn up by the thousands and dance the night away. Do you miss it?

    Yes, I do miss the big parties. I miss seeing the reactions of the crowd, watching everyone having a good time. Even the screams when you hit the right notes in the lineup. 

    Even though those parties were huge there was still a real feeling of community. Someone would put the group together and organise the tickets. You might even coordinate outfits. There was a pre-party at someone’s place to get the party started, travelling and arriving at the venue together, and then making sure no one wandered off or got into trouble, and you’d still be together at the after party or chillout session. It felt safe and like people really cared about each other. You even knew your mates phone numbers off by heart, in case there was trouble. 

    What’s going to be playing in the big disco in the sky? 

    There is no disco in the sky. It’s downstairs where it’s sweaty and dark. 

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