L-R: Dream, Rify Royalty, and Paul Leopold. (photo: Ben Boyles)

From left, Dream, Rify Royalty, Paul Leopold. (Photo: Ben Boyles)

Even though the year is ending, most things will continue after the clock strikes 2017. But not all of them. The queer nightlife collective known as The Culture Whore is saying goodbye not only to 2016 with their New Year’s Eve space-rodeo rave, “Night Riders.” The blowout will be the group’s final party, as they are disbanding.

The Culture Whore has been throwing raves, parties with names like “Satanic Smokeouts,” and most recently, “Sequinox,” a get-down for queer music.  They’ve contributed to the city’s queer nightlife in another way too– defining and promoting the scene as a whole by way of a newsletter that has listed local goings-on since it started circulating in 2012. That’s an impressive timespan for DIY nightlife, which is notorious for its tendency to vanish as soon as it begins. Look no further than the departure of places like Secret Project Robot (soon to rise again), Palisades, 285 Kent, and countless others that we’ve lost in the past few years. Somehow, the founders Paul Leopold and Dream have managed to keep the party going.

“The Culture Whore happened because Paul and I loved partying and loved all this amazing queer art we were seeing,” Dream told me during a recent conversation. “But we wanted to help make it more accessible.”

I can personally attest to how they’ve achieved this goal: I’ve been attending Culture Whore events for several years. Back when I first started going, I was just a wide-eyed spectator, on the outside looking in at these flashy parties. But over time, I’ve made friends and picked up collaborators there. I’ve watched people find themselves, and have witnessed artists and DJs find more success over the years. Through the Culture Whore events, the people I’ve met at the parties, and the weekly newsletter, I’ve discovered a network of unique spaces, happenings, and a community that may have been lost on me otherwise. Plus, I wear outfits that are a lot more interesting now.

A partygoer at a Culture Whore event (photo: Santiago Felipe)

A partygoer at a Culture Whore event (Photo: Santiago Felipe)

“There’s this enduring thing that people are always saying: ‘New York is dead.’ And it’s not,” Dream said. “There’s always stuff happening, but people don’t have the access to it. And that is what we more than anything wanted to do.”

The breakup isn’t a total bummer situation, it’s a mutual and amicable departure for all parties. Dream explained that both her and Paul Leopold arrived at a recent meeting with the same idea: this party would be their last.

“[It] was a combination of a lot of things,” Dream explained. “The reason I’ve loved our parties, and just being involved in nightlife in general, is creating this space for queer people– especially queer people who are marginalized.” She pointed out that the LGBTQ nightlife scene, even though it caters toward a specific scene that’s historically been oppressed by the straight-centric mainstream, is largely “produced by and for white cis men.”

But recently, Dream has had a change of heart: “I’ve been feeling more and more that I can do that without, you know, selling people alcohol or throwing a rave until seven o’clock in the morning.”

Part of this has to do with the work inherent in producing large-scale parties. “It’s so much more work than anyone who doesn’t do it can possibly understand,” she explained.

Another factor has to do, simply, with space: increasingly, access is becoming more of an issue. “Almost every venue we’ve thrown a party in has been shut down,” Dreams says. “That’s just a reality of warehouse spaces, DIY nightlife in New York. Now, the bubble has really popped in a way. You can’t start producing warehouse parties unless you have a trust fund, and like, know everyone. It’s just not possible.”

Charlene performing at a Culture Whore event (photo: Rebecca Smeyne)

Charlene performing at a Culture Whore event (photo: Rebecca Smeyne)

Take, for example the new Glasslands venture Elsewhere, an enormous, 24,000-square foot venue (still in the works) with an equally massive price tag of $3 million.

On the other hand, The Kymberle Project– the Crown Heights venue that’s been the “enduring space” for Culture Whore events for the past two years– is an example of a totally different sort of place. “It’s run by a woman of color, it’s very much a community space,” Dream said. “It’s now going to become an actual theater space. And I’m really happy that we, through throwing parties there a few times a year, have been able to contribute to that.”

It’s not just financial issues that make finding space an issue lately. Since the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland—which killed dozens of revelers, many of them the marginalized queer and trans folk this sort of nightlife directly makes space for—fire departments have been on high alert. A few weeks ago, the Experiment Comedy Gallery, a DIY comedy club in Williamsburg known for prioritizing women and POC comedians, was reportedly forced to close due to lack of proper fire exits after someone, allegedly an alt-right supporter, tipped off the fire department. VICE’s Thump, reported shutdowns of seven more spaces across the country since the fire.

“We’ve all been reminded recently how risky what we’re doing is, and that there is the potential for things to go wrong if we’re not looking out for each other. [We have] definitely thrown parties in places that were not up to any kind of code that they should [have been],” Dream admitted. Navigating safety is often difficult in cities where space is sparse and expensive, and building rules are complex.

(photo: Tinker Coalescing)

(photo: Tinker Coalescing)

“I don’t think that safe space really exists, but if we can create a space that’s as safe as we can possibly make it… sure, [warehouse parties] might not be technically as safe as throwing a party in some club, but safety for queer people is about more than fire code,” Dream argued. “When you’re doing a warehouse party, you can make sure people [working the party] know you have all these queer people coming in.” That’s important, she explained, because queer partygoers “need to be treated differently than random people in a club.”

Thankfully, the Culture Whore pair will not be vanishing from nightlife altogether, Dream assured me. But, moving forward, the pair will focus more on their individual artistic ventures– Paul will soon finish grad school and focus on projection design, and Dream’s plans include “writing and advocacy.” These may sound like relatively calm activities considering that they’ve spent the last several years throwing some of the city’s wildest parties– but the Culture Whore is not going out quietly. Their New Year’s Eve party “Night Riders,” co-produced with performer Rify Royalty, has all the trappings of their signature all-night ragers, packed with performances, DJs, and otherworldly visuals, both digital and costumed.

“Our parties aim to exist a little bit outside of reality, so we can give people a chance to be a little freer than they would anywhere else,” Dream said. “We’re creating a full fantasy.” The duo insisted even if you’ve never been to a Culture Whore party before, your “last shot” is a great opportunity to do so. “It’s the final fuckin’ rodeo,” she said.

To get a taste of the tunes, listen to a techno set by Dream below– she’ll be one of many DJs spinning at ‘Night Riders.’

The Culture Whore and Rify Royalty’s ‘Night Riders‘ Saturday, January 31 at The Kymberle Project, 1332 Atlantic Avenue, 10 pm to 7 am. Tickets are $15 advance, $20 at the door.