While Bushwick nightlife threatens to become homogenized by Manhattanites looking for a “Girls” night out, an eclectic syndicate is keeping it weird. It’s a non-conformist anti-genre defined loosely by trap music, outrageous fashion, sexual ambiguity, illegal raves, and a shameless integration of the seemingly contradictory.
The night’s headliner, Dai Burger, is one of a handful of exciting new rappers performing at raves and parties around Bushwick. She’s flamboyant, to say the least: “Everybody calls me Dai,” she says, explaining her name. “Burger just came out of nowhere, but I like to think that I’m stacked, and juicy, I got the cheese, got the buns, and I eat every time I show up.” Her raunchy videos and her two mixtapes have earned her a healthy internet following that’s poised to grow when her latest release, “In Ya Mouth,” drops this summer.
It was while working as a stylist and buyer at the Patricia Field store on the Bowery that Burger met her de facto sister and another of Bushwick’s rising trap luminaries, Junglepussy. During the past year, Junglepussy has gained critical notice: “Stitches” premiered on Interview magazine’s site and “Cream Team” has clocked over 50,000 hits on YouTube.
Outside Passion Lounge, over the rumble of the J train, she describes her union with Dai Burger (they appear in each other’s videos and frequently perform together). “We both do our own music, and it’s so poppin’ because I feel like, in the ’90s, you had Missy, you had Kim, you had Foxy, and everybody was making music and they was chillin’,” she says. “And I feel like that’s gonna happen again, and this is just a perfect example.”
One of the things that makes Junglepussy so electrifying is her undeniable street legitimacy. Raised by a Trinidadian mother and Jamaican father in arguably the roughest neighborhood in Brooklyn, East New York, she re-appropriates learned aggression: “Growing up in Brooklyn, there’s a lot of Caribbean communities, and growing up around that made me very aggressive,” she said. “That culture, with making music, you gotta be free and you gotta be raunchy, strong.”
While many of the scene’s key players are natives to the area, some come from a purely artistic place. Dosha Devastation and Cunty Crawford, members of the art collective House of Ladosha, met while attending the School of Visual Arts. Now they’re just off an Australian tour with Internet twerk princess Brooke Candy and Pitchfork-fixture wunderkind Lef1. The duo pushes lyrical, visual and gender boundaries. In their song “Rollin,” Dosha Devastation raps “Lookin’ like Naomi on the runway / Damn I hope I’m gon’ be rich one day / Pop a pill, shoot an arrow, make a wish and if you get real high / Hooray for you.”
Tonight they came dressed down as their namesakes, Antonio Blair and Adam Radakovich, but on any given night they can seamlessly change into disco pants and eyeshadow. Their sound is dynamic, in-your-face rap: voguing one minute, smoking blunts the next.
That look and sound are intrinsic in the city. “New York is such a beautiful and devastating place,” says Dosha Devastation, “and I think all my Ladosha bitches find inspiration in that. It can get really dark sometimes, but I’ve never caught as much life as I have in New York. I personally like pretty weird, beautiful, magical, fucked up, funny, dark shit. Then I roll it all up and turn it into something.”
Weird, beautiful, magical and fucked up can also be used to describe the party scene — an amalgamation of local bars, ever mobile raves, and roving illegal after-hours. Inside Passion’s black-lit VIP crows-nest suite, I ask Richard Kennedy, choreographer, musician and curator of the performance art series Strange Meat, how many events occur weekly.
He laughs. “Seven to ten, depending on how turnt up you are. [“Turnt” meaning your party dial volume turned to maximum]. You can go for a little bit, or it can go into the next day.” The roster is made up of stationary venues (Tandem, Secret Project Robot, Happyfun Hideaway, Bossa Nova Civic Club, and Passion) mixed with rotating parties with varying levels of legality (C-UNIT, ULTRAVELVET, Shade, Cathartic Karaoke, Strange Meat).
Many of these parties (especially the after-hours) are headed in part by Contessa Stuto, a.k.a. Contessa Stuto, a.k.a. Cuntmafia. A New York native who moved to Bushwick in the early 2000s, the budding rapper, who recently performed with Flatbush Zombies, describes her own music as “Trap Metal Couture” and her parties as “True Trap House Urban.” The cultural procurer booked acts like Azalea Banks, A$AP Rocky and Theophilus London long before they became widely known.
As the black-light illuminates her neon hair, she explains: “I throw parties because I’m pushing an agenda, a regime.” All she wants, she says, is “for shit to pop off and be fun.”
But with Bushwick’s rents rising and the vacancy rates declining, that’s becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s hard to find venues now, affordable venues. Everything has gentrified,” she says. “White men find all the venues. I can’t talk to the owner as a woman, a big woman, a crazy woman with neon yellow hair.”
The police are also an issue, hence the parties’ constant mobility. “The cops know who is throwing the parties,” says Stuto. “You just have to have the right security. You just have to be smart.” Even then, nothing is certain: one of Stuto’s parties was recently raided; now she has a court date in her future.
Many of Stuto’s raves are soundtracked by The WC Kids (TeeBurr, Matt Sebastian and Smurfo), relative newcomers who transitioned from being graffiti writers to promoters after a photographer friend began taking them to parties. “There isn’t a genre,” says TeeBurr of the scene, “but we all seem to play trap — hip hop music in general. We all borrow from each other.”
The Bed Stuy residents represent an evolution Stuto has witnessed since she first started attending parties in the late 90s. “The rave world used to be 90 percent white,” she says. “The shift now — it starts with the Skrillex, the A$AP Rocky — it’s transcending into the urban world, it’s a fashion regime hashing on the ’90s past.”
It’s a whirl of cultural progression, a wild intersection of rap, goth, rave, and sexual ambiguity that prefers not to be categorized. What unites it is a defiance of today’s tidal wave of chain stores, collared shirts and mojitos. “You just have to be original,” says Burger, “and I know it’s hard because everyone is trying to be original, so it’s up to you to really do something that stands out, and if you have that spark nobody can stop your shine. Everyone comes out, they want to see what you have on, what should they have on, what’s the look, what’s in, who’s hot, who’s not. Everyone just wants to know.”