Yes Yes Y'all on booking the best queer parties in Toronto
Keeping a monthly jam going for a year is impressive enough - but the five friends behind Toronto's Yes Yes Y'all have been going strong for over three years now.
DJs and promoters Jill Foster (j-ill), Sammy Rawal, Aneela Qureshi (Nino Brown), Ila Kavanaugh (Stunts), and Liam Skinner (L-Rock) owe their success to throwing parties that emphasize diversity and acceptance, and to playing and bringing in both local and international music and talent like Bonjay, Kingdom, Zebra Katz, and Shi Wisdom.
YYY have grown to be one of, if not the, most recognized queer parties in Toronto, and have loyal and loving fans all over the world. All five members keep busy with their day jobs scattered around the GTA, but we were lucky enough to get Sammy Rawal and Jill Foster to chat with us about their monthly hops at the Annex Wreckroom, the Toronto music scene, and how they found success.
When and how did Yes Yes Y'all begin?
Sammy Rawal [SR]: Back in 2009, the five of us came together and decided to throw a jam that we ourselves would have liked to attend. We were all close friends previously and shared similar interests in music, and it all just fell into place. Our first party was a bigger success than anticipated and it just grew from there.
Are you all from Toronto?
Jill Foster [JF]: No we're actually not - the only native Torontonian is Nino Brown. The rest of us are from all across the country, from the west coast to the east coast.
Aside from your monthly Wreckroom parties, what else keeps Yes Yes Y'all busy?
SR: I'm a music video and commercial director as well as a photographer.
JF: I'm a paramedic...I save lives! Each of us are kept pretty busy with our daytime jobs and individual dj residencies around the city
Do YYY have a certain sound or ethos, and what makes your shows special?
JF: We each have our own individual sound and music preferences, but as a whole we try to use the music we play to bridge communities in the city. We really embrace diversity and I think YYY has become a great representation of Toronto in respect to gender, race, sexuality, and age.
SR: We by no means are the first queer hip hop party in the city...there have been many other successful parties that have come before us that have really laid down the ground work for us to build upon. I think what makes us special as a crew is that there are five of us from very different backgrounds and cultures; I think it's for this reason that Yes Yes Y'all has become so successful. I think our diversity as a crew really appeals to patrons who attend our monthly jams.
How often are you DJ-ing your own parties, and how often are you promoting other artists, either local or touring?
JF: As a crew, we throw Yes Yes Y'all the third Friday of every month at the Annex Wreckroom. For special events (ie. Pride and New Years) we try to bring in bigger international headliners. We've brought in acts such as Yo Majesty, Big Freedia, Zebra Katz and Njenna Reddd Foxxx, Kingdom, L.A, Schlactofbronx, Shi Wisdom and Bonjay to name a few.
SR: We've also recently started booking local Dj's and acts to perform at our monthly parties just to make every month feel fresh and new. Local Djs such as Mensa, Sean Sax, Blackcat, Jr Flo (from Keys n Krates), Mel Boogie, Unruly Twin, JJ Rock, and 88 Days have all played or performed at Yes Yes Y'all in the recent months. It's important to us that we support our local talent.
How do you chose the artists you book?
SR: Our biggest mandate is and always has been to support queer artists and our allies.
JF: Often it's as simple as us just liking the act's sound and what they stand for. They also have to obviously fall within our musical format of the night which consists of hip hop, dancehall, and r&b.
I've heard people talking about your parties all the way down in Brooklyn. Why is YYY finding such a loyal following, and building such a buzz?
JF: We managed to establish a strong and loyal foundation from the get go. There's not many queer hip hop parties that draw as big of a crowd as we do on the regular. Lets face it, people talk, and word spreads pretty fast.
SR: We really respect the regulars who have supported us from the very beginning -I think kindess and respect go along way in regard to promoting. We also new the importance of branding and its power of getting people to know who we were. For example, at the very beginning we were giving away free hand made Yes Yes Y'all branded tshirts and posters to get people talking.
JF: We've been able to generate international exposure through this; from being featured on Paper Magazine's online site to being interviewed by a Berlin-based queer magazine.
What's been your favorite YYY moment so far?
SR: There's way too many to pick just one: some memorable moments are Shi Wisdom's performance, OMG Michelle's performance, and personally watching Bonjay perform their song "Stumble" after I had recently directed the music videos for the song.
What is the best thing about booking DIY shows in Toronto, and what would you like to see change?
JF: I guess the best thing about it is just the control we have over every aspect of the party. I'd love to see people's attitudes change towards the cover charge of local parties. We charge $6 at the door for example, and at times people don't understand that this money goes towards paying the sometimes huge overhead we incur at these parties. We've always maintained an affordable cover because to us it's not about making a quick buck.
YYY has been going strong for a long time now. How do you keep from burning out?
SR: It's definitely not easy! We're constantly trying to make things fresh and work out kinks that are inevitably going to happen. I think its important to heed the advice and critisms of our patrons in order to have a constantly successful party.
Do you have any plans to branch out, like touring, or starting a venue or a label?
JF: We've been playing various parties in Canadian cities for the past couple of years as well as a few international shows. We would love to tour more often, but it's usually pretty hard to coordinate all of our schedules.
SR: All five of us are kept really busy with our own personal daytime jobs and obligations, so our main focus is always our monthly jam.
What's the best way for artists and fans to reach you?
SR: Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite Brunch Spot? JF: Utopia! it's a tradition for us.
Where do you get your caffeine Fix?: SR: The Common!
Favourite venue?: JF: Anything with a good sound system
Favourite non YYY club night?: SR: Big Primpin and Business Woman's Special
Favourite Toronto album or mixtape from this year so far?: Shi Wisdom - "LVSPK"
Fave Toronto spot to spend your cash?: JF: Snapback Goods
Yes Yes Y'all's next Annex Wreckroom party is Friday September 21 with guest DJ RapidFire (San Francisco, Stay Gold). If you're in Montreal, you can also catch YYY's Nino Brown and Sammy Rawal DJing there Friday, September 7 and Thursday, September 13.
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