In Conversation with DJ Sonikku

Emerging musician DJ Sonikku makes music with the soundtrack from Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. We talk to him about travelling the world, camp DJ sets and gay anthems.

The soundtrack of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog game seems like an unlikely starting point for a musical career, but for Tony Donson aka DJ Sonikku, Sonic has inspired his name and his signature sound. “I do genuinely love Sonic the Hedgehog, hence why I incorporated Sonic into the name Sonikku. He represents freedom and adventure.”

He combines gaming music with pop music to create a score of laid back house sounds that make you dream of summer and sunshine. “I’m fascinated by computer game soundtracks like Sonic and Final Fantasy,” says Donson. “And I love pop and underground music. I love 80s New York music – there’s a big 80s influence in my music, that sort of post-disco period. I love to create a hybrid of the two.”

Donson was on track to be music journalist until he “realised that I wanted to be the one that people were writing about,” and now he plays sets across an international scene, from Oxford to Belgium to Sweden. “I love taking the music into a live setting with real people and to places you’d never imagine going. I dreamt of going to Japan as a teenager and then I got to go there with my music. I have quite an audience in Japan and I love Tokyo.”

Donson isn’t musically trained but has been “messing about” with music software since he was 14. In 2012, he moved to London to pursue a musical career and hasn’t looked back. He does admit, however, that, “London is becoming increasingly difficult as a young person moving to the city – I’m scared as it becomes less accessible.”

His EP Secret Island was a summery, tropical debut, followed by All My Friends, which had more of an Italo-disco vibe. “I wanted to create soundscapes that are personal to me, a reflection of me,” says Donson. These EPs put Donson on track to creating an album, “but it has to be at the right time. When you do an album, you have to go away for a bit and I’m not ready to go away just now.”

As with all the arts, the creative process can be a frustrating and elusive one. “When it comes to making a song, I go a month of trying and trying and nothing comes out, and then I’ll sit down one night and it’ll happen in five minutes,” vents Donson. “It would make life so much easier if you could schedule inspiration. When you have block, that’s your mind telling you to rest and you need go out and get inspired and not sit there and stress. You need to be creative when you are creative.”

As well as album ambitions, Donson also wants to build up the spectacle of his sets. “I’d love to be more creatively involved with the lighting and staging – I’d love to step it up with projections and dancers. I think it needs something a little camp – Tom of Finland camp rather than pink feather boas camp.”

Having that gay appeal is something that Donson wants to bring into his music. “When I play a sample of California Girls by Katy Perry, the straight guys don’t really let go. But when my gay friends are there, they let go and dance crazy. The gay crowd lets go of its inhibitions.”

Maybe a gay anthem is in the works for DJ Sonikku? “To have a gay anthem, you can’t say, ‘this is a gay anthem’. The gay community chooses its own anthems. When you make a song saying, ‘this is for the gays’, it feels very transparent. I just try to create an inclusive environment that everyone can listen to.” That’s an attitude and a soundtrack that we want to hear on repeat.