Papi Juice!

CommunityMonthly Muse
June 2021

Collage of Papi Juice.Collage of Papi Juice.

In this interview series, we introduce you to the people who inspire us most: creatives, educators, activists, community leaders and the everyday super-humans who keep us on our toes. We’ll take you inside their day-to-day lives, homes and workspaces. We’ll talk motivation and inspiration and of course, all things style.

Meet this month’s Monthly Muse(s): DJ Adam Rhodes, illustrator and art director Mohammed Fayaz and DJ Oscar Nñ—individually, inspiring artists in their own rights, and together, Papi Juice, an art collective that aims to affirm and celebrate the lives of queer and trans people of color. Occupying the intersection of art, music and nightlife, the collective’s legendary NYC events are proof of the revolutionary power of parties.

In honor of Pride month, we sat down with these three pals to talk visibility, accessibility and intentionality. Read on to learn more about them in their own words.

Left: Portrait of the Papi Juice collective standing outside. Right: Close-up of Papi Juice merch.Left: Portrait of the Papi Juice collective standing outside. Right: Close-up of Papi Juice merch.

How did the three of you meet?

Oscar: We all met on Tumblr! In 2013, we were all sharing our unique interests and developing our aesthetics outside of what media was feeding us, whether it was peculiar foreign language movie stills, photos of iconic Black and brown models or selfies redefining our self-esteem. It’s where we discovered ourselves and each other. An unbreakable bond for us was our love for the late Mark Aguhar, an artist that inspired us and taught us so much about dismantling systems of oppression. It was on Tumblr that we first gained language around cross-BIPOC solidarity and the beauty and power of our many identities. I don’t know if it was some sort of algorithm that brought us together, but we started following each other and became friends that way.

Love a Tumblr friendship!

Oscar: You know it’s old if it started on Tumblr.

What’s the story behind the name “Papi Juice”?

Papi Juice: Oscar and Adam were batting ideas around for a few days, brainstorming for something that felt cheeky and also alluring. One of the first ideas came from our friend Joelle, an artist based out of Chicago, who suggested we call it "Dominican Baby Shower!" That was the exact vibe we wanted, but it felt like a mouthful. A few tequila sodas and weird ideas later, we landed on "Papi Juice" and knew it was perfect.

So what exactly is Papi Juice?

Mohammed: That’s a big question… Papi Juice is an art collective and creative studio that aims to affirm and celebrate the lives of queer and trans people of color. 

Adam: One day we were gallery hopping and Oscar was like, “We should throw a party together.” I was like “Yeah, we should,” not knowing exactly how deep the rabbit hole went. We talked about the idea of affirming and celebrating our own identities, as well as those of our friends and loved ones. We talked about how we weren’t seeing the kind of visibility we wanted to see: more queer DJs, more trans DJs… so that’s what we set out to do.

Oscar: Adam always says we're part of a long history of people that have been doing this work. We're part of a long tradition in nightlife—our work doesn’t function in a vacuum. We're part of a large constellation of people that make nightlife vibrant, not only in New York City, but, as we’ve noticed in the last year, around the world. We've built community literally all around the world at this point—from Australia to Estonia, South Africa to Vietnam.

Portraits of Oscar Nñ, Adam Rhodes, and Mohammed Fayaz.Portraits of Oscar Nñ, Adam Rhodes, and Mohammed Fayaz.

Why was there a need to create an intentional space for QTPOC?

Papi Juice: For a lot of us in the LGBTQIA+ communities, nightlife is our entry point to meeting new people. There is something sad about waiting your whole life to turn 21 and enter allegedly queer spaces and be met with tension or feelings of being ignored, or worse, fetishized. This describes many of our late teens and early twenties. We know these spaces validate some, but they are also not built for so many more, and so as we divest from them, we’re more interested in how we can create nightlife that’s more empowering to the most marginalized, without pandering.

There were many intentional QTPOC spaces in New York before us, and a robust cultural landscape was the perfect incubator for Papi Juice to be born in. We saw ourselves as an alternative to traditional LGBTQ (read: gay white male) spaces in Williamsburg and Manhattan, and in community with a large group of people that was hungry for these spaces. We all wanted to be in spaces that affirmed our music and cultures, and places that were playgrounds where our many genders and identities could be held and reflected. These affirmations could go from the posters to the DJ booth to the security to who’s behind the bar—every small detail is relevant.

What measures do you folks take to make Papi Juice a safer, more inclusive space?

Mohammed: Quite a few. Before any event at a new venue, we find it important to have a meeting with security, just a quick introduction of who we are, who our community is, what type of people might be coming through, things that might be different compared to other events. People who’ve worked will often hear from new security teams something like, “Oh, I've worked a gay party before,” and we have to remind them it's not just a gay audience, there's all sorts of people coming through, including folks under a queer and trans umbrella, which can cover so many identities. Setting the ground rules with security in that way helps create a protective spell over the space, so security isn’t looking at us as just some folks coming through, but as people who are actively working to make sure the space feels good.

Our programming varies quite a bit. When we’re able to gather in person, it's really important for us to hold free daytime, all age, outdoor events throughout the year. For events like that, in the community notes we'll list what kind of seating is available, where the closest bathrooms are, stuff like that. We try to understand how folks show up to a space, so if club lights are something you can't engage with, we run a ton of other events that it would be possible for you to attend.

Adam: We also include notes on the accessibility of the spaces that we engage with. 

Oscar: We have community guidelines for every single one of the events that we hold and we ask everyone to read them ahead of time. We've been running Papi Juice for eight years now, and intentionality has come a long way for us. It starts from the moment they see Mohammed's art to the moment they exit our doors and get into their car to go home. And that's not to say that all of our spaces are accessible, but we try our best with the means we have. It's something that we're constantly working on.

Papi Juice is an art collective, but it also throws some of New York's most legendary parties. How do you reconcile these two roles?

Oscar: We never thought that we would evolve into an art collective. Papi Juice started as singular nightlife events. And then, as the work grew, we started engaging more deeply with artwork, with Mohammed's work. And then we also started engaging with the photography of the events. With the curation of each of our lineups and the size of each of the productions, they started feeling less like singular events and more like experiences. And that's when we started to think that we would be able to better create these immersive experiences for our community through the lens of an art collective. So we decided to call ourselves an art collective, because it wasn't just about throwing this party and “here are five DJs.” We actually think very intentionally about the spaces we're building.

Adam: Shaping spaces and experiences is in our practice. The word intentionality aligns itself with the art practice that we've been engaging with for eight years.

Mohammed: And New York nightlife has always lived in this intersection of art, music and fashion. What initially started off as a party started to immediately blossom into these three different avenues. 

Parties are fun, but they're also so much more than that.

Mohammed: Historically, queer and trans folks have had to be underground. There's been a long history of queer nightlife in New York, dating back to Harlem, lesbian parties in the twenties. If you go throughout the years, you’ll find our predecessors, the people that we feel directly inspired by. And so I think of nightlife as a place where folks who haven't been allowed to exist in the daylight can feel safe. I think it's an important incubator for people to find courage, find community, find family. And then from there, be able to exist outside of that.

Portraits of Papi Juice.Portraits of Papi Juice.

How can spaces, nightlife or not, explicitly queer or not, be more inclusive?

Oscar: We actually have a whole full hour and a half workshop on this topic if anybody wants to hire us! It’s something that we’re constantly thinking about and working on. It starts with intention and asking yourself questions about why, for whom and what you're trying to build. And you can keep growing from there. 

Mohammed: When it comes to inclusion, a really good thing to consider as you look at spaces is “Who's not being included?” I think it's important to identify why it’s happening and what can be done to address it.

Papi Juice is rooted in sharing space. How have you folks pivoted since the start of the pandemic?

Oscar: We've definitely transitioned—and this is where it's helpful to be an art collective—we've had to get creative at a time when it seems impossible to create. We moved a lot of our stuff online last year and had a full year of virtual programming, which I'm really proud of. We’ve figured out new ways to engage with our community, whether it is through our merch or our Mix series or our virtual events. We’re not just thinking about physical space, but virtual and spiritual space as well.

What’s been giving you life these days?

Adam: Kaytranada and anything Lil Nas X touches.

Oscar: I’ve recently taken up meditation. I take five minutes out of my day to meditate and it's helped me a lot with my mood, anxiety and outlook in life.

Our friend Kelsey Lu recently did one of their first live performances, and we were lucky enough to attend. It's a night I'll never forget, not only because of how beautiful it was, or how palpable their art was, but being that it was like the first performance back after a year without live performances. To have been able to be there was extremely special.

Mohammed: I've been dancing a lot at home, just by myself, in my underwear after a shower. It's been really nice to have that time to be silly and feel free and then get ready for the day.

Speaking of home, do you three all live close to each other?

Mohammed: We do. Oscar's across the street. Adam’s two blocks over. And our studio is just a few blocks over. It's like a sitcom! I feel like lockdown did a really interesting thing, like we lived in this massive city, and then all of a sudden our world became a three block radius. The ecosystem of where we live definitely shrunk—for the better.

How would each of you describe your personal style?

Adam: Laidback, skater, sci-fi gay boy. 

Mohammed: My style’s feminine and comfortable, but not comfortable in a traditional sense, but more like whatever feels right. So if there’s a really short bodycon dress that I feel comfortable in, then that’s how I want to show up. 

Oscar: I'm a Libra, so you know? I've always thought about style a lot. I’m influenced by my lived experience as a queer, Latin immigrant that’s lived in New York for 10 years. 

What are you wearing to your first post-pandemic Papi Juice event?

Oscar: A look! 

Mohammed: It's going to be stun city, for sure.

Adam: Wait and see, wait and see.

You've had a whole year and some change to plan these looks, so it's gotta be good—but no pressure. On that note, what does a post-pandemic Papi Juice even look like?

Oscar: Obviously things are different around the world, but in New York, post-pandemic life feels close because of the way vaccinations have unrolled here. There's a lot of talk about going back to normal, but normal was completely redefined in the last year. So I think the first question is: “What does normal look like?” I don't think we know what normal is. And so I'm not really sure we know what things will look like. I'm confident that I’ll figure it out, but today, after the year of uncertainty and hopelessness we've had, it's really difficult to say. 

Adam: What life after the pandemic looks like is still murky. But I'm also super looking forward to it. Summer feels like it's right around the corner. I can't wait to be in parks with my friends. I can't wait for when it’s safe to be in the DJ booth, with people dancing around me, playing songs I love, playing songs other people love. Those are all things I’m looking forward to, but in the right amount of time and with the right amount of safety measures. 

Mohammed: Before the pandemic, some of our parties would have as many as 2,800 people. I don't know what business that many people have together anymore. So it's definitely a little anxiety-ridden. But when thinking about the day our community can share space again, something that comes to mind is gratitude. I saw something cute on Twitter that was like, “I can't wait to see my friends’ friends again,” you know, those people that aren't really your buddies, but you love seeing them around? I think we’ll feel grateful to share that space again, to sing along with a stranger next to you, to make friends in the bathroom line, to chat outside with the bouncer for half an hour. I miss all of that. 

Last but not least, what are you folks doing for Pride this year?

Papi Juice: We’re trying to get back to work after 15 months on the bench! Time to put us back in, coach! Safety, intentionality and a capacity for slowness are key for us, some of which is new, some of which has been our tenets from the very beginning. We’re programming for public space, for trans youth and for our big, beautiful community to celebrate eight delectable years. Catch us on June 6th, 12th and 26th!

Portrait of Papi Juice.Portrait of Papi Juice.

Photo Credit: Neva Wireko

Shop Adam, Mohammed and Oscar’s styles below and stay tuned here, to our Off The Cuff blog for more style inspiration, DIY tutorials, sneak peeks of our latest collaborations and all the insider goodness you can handle.