QUEER VOICES
11/09/2014 09:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

After Dark: Meet The Culture Whore, Art Collective And Party Curators

Maro Hagopian

This is the twenty-sixth installment in HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor JamesMichael Nichols' 30-part series "After Dark: NYC Nightlife Today And Days Past" that examines the state of New York nightlife in the modern day, as well as the development and production of nightlife over the past several decades. Each featured individual in this series currently serves as a prominent person in the New York nightlife community or has made important contributions in the past that have sustained long-lasting impacts.

HuffPost Gay Voices believes that it is important and valuable to elevate the work, both today and in the past, of those engaged in the New York nightlife community, especially in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Nightlife not only creates spaces for queers and other marginalized groups to be artistically and authentically celebrated, but the work of those involved in nightlife creates and shapes the future of our culture as a whole. Visit Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about individuals currently making an impact in nightlife, but those whose legacy has previously contributed to the ways we understand queerness, art, identity and human experience today.

The Culture Whore is the brainchild of NEXT Magazine Nightlife Editor Mark Dommu and performer Paul Leopold AKA Boywolf.

The Huffington Post: What did your journey to becoming prominent party curators entail? What is The Culture Whore?
Paul Leopold: Mark and I met in 6th grade at Middle School for the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. We quickly became close friends and bonded over being different. Throughout our teenage years we were in shows together, went to parties, saw concerts, hung out in empty playgrounds and chilled on the beach. We parted ways for college -- Mark headed to NYC to study at Marymount Manhattan and I went up to Boston University. Both of our college experiences were wonderful and fun and maturing, but both of us found a tight group of straight friends in which we were the "token gay."

By the time I moved to New York in 2010, Mark and I reconnected over being each other’s only close gay friend and our common desire to be part of a gay community. I was lost trying to find my place in the stale straight world of "experimental theatre" and Mark was working at a café and making a video project in his spare time. One spring night after an awful tech rehearsal for a show I hated with an oppressive director, my neighbor told me I should go to this party that every gay person she knew was going to. That party was SPANK and I was captivated. The doors had opened into a vibrant world of underground gay culture -- New York the way I had always imagined it. At first Mark was critical of my newfound love of gay nightlife. After living in the city for several years he had grown cynical about mainstream gay culture that tends to be defined by muscle men, pop remixes and fishy drag queens. But once I started to pull him into these parties our eyes began to open together. We met and fell in love with Chris Tyler, who quickly schooled us in queer theory and his newfound love of the downtown queer performance scene. Queer DIY performance and community space The Spectrum opened and we started rehearsing there and going to their parties and hanging out with gage of the boone, B.J. Dini and all the amazing people that contribute to that space. We also met our friend David Sokolowski at a SSION concert and he started introducing us to the incredible community surrounding the MIX Queer Experimental Film Festival.

In the summer of 2012 I produced and directed GRAVITY, a superhero party show that was both a full-length experimental musical and a DJ dance party at the old House of Yes in Bushwick. In many ways GRAVITY was a prototype for the parties we started throwing later that year. We realized that we could bring together a community of artists by creating spaces for them to showcase their work on an ongoing basis and provide a breeding ground for collaboration by bringing these colorful people together for a shared experience. We needed an incubator, we wanted to bring people together and thus The Culture Whore manifested.

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What was your initial vision for The Culture Whore? How has it changed and developed since it's inception?
Mark Dommu: Initially, The Culture Whore was really centered on web content: editorial articles about art and culture, occasionally listing parties on our website or Facebook. Then, as Paul and I started to explore queerness and nightlife more, the focus shifted.

We always knew we wanted to throw parties and the first one happened on my roof in Bushwick. A friend of mine did a performance piece where he got into a giant bowl filled with milk and we all ate cereal out of it. Paul did his first performance of Boywolf, his performer alter ego, at that party. Two of the people who work with us at every party we do, Chris Tyler and JX Cannon, performed. I think the music was just my iPod on shuffle, so that’s obviously gotten better.

A few months later we threw our first “official” Culture Whore party, Dick the Balls, which has become our annual holiday party. It was absolute insanity. The crowd was so mixed in terms of gender, race and sexuality. It was a living embodiment of everything we were envisioning The Culture Whore would be. I think that was when we realized our focus needed to be bringing people together in real life, with the Internet being an access point for that rather than the entirety of it.

We tried several times to put something out every week that could highlight everything that was happening in the city -- the things that maybe we knew about that other people might not. It was finally at the beginning of this year when we found a model that worked with THE WEEK. It started out just as, basically, a shareable version of our social calendars. Now it’s grown to really encompass everything happening in New York’s queer underground. The Culture Whore has always been about showing people the ways to find the beauty that exists in New York City, and we continue to get better at doing that.

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The Culture Whore tends to have a focus on the less mainstream culture of NYC nightlife, especially events happening in Brooklyn. What does The Culture Whore consider important to elevate and why?
Dommu: Brooklyn is our focus because it’s where we live and where we see the most exciting art and nightlife happening right now. It feels like everyone has caught on about Brooklyn, especially recently. But our attention isn’t limited to Brooklyn. Anyone who is making something interesting, something beautiful, something radical or transcendent or weird -- we’re into it. We are also very interested in underground/DIY culture art/nightlife, because the people who make it really care about it. It’s too much work to do if you don’t really love it.

NYC queer nightlife is currently undergoing a resurgence. Where do you see The Culture Whore in the context of this narrative?
Leopold: We were inspired by the wave of nightlife culture we started riding a few years ago. I don’t think the NYC underground was ever dead, but it has certainly flourished in the past several years. There's a global resurgence of dance music and party culture. New York continues to be on the cutting edge of world culture and you can see that in its nightlife. I was shocked when I traveled to Berlin a few months ago and all of these Europeans and Americans alike were talking shit on New York and how Berlin nightlife is so much more dynamic. They haven’t caught onto the news, I guess. Berlin is hardcore and incredible, don’t get me wrong, but as far as I’m aware there is no other place on earth where there are simultaneously endless queer performances, parties and events every single day of the week besides New York City. It's real -- you can open up our weekly newsletter THE WEEK and see that just in our niche Brooklyn scene alone, one can’t even keep up with everything that's going on. Not to mention all the hetros and homos that fill countless techno/house/club/hiphop parties across Brooklyn on a nightly basis.

New York is pulsating and its heart is in Brooklyn. The Culture Whore exists to help keep that heartbeat alive. We want everybody who is interested to have access to information about what’s going on. We want to keep the spirit of nightlife moving into the 21st century.

PHOTO GALLERY
The Culture Whore

What concepts factor into establishing the framework for the themes of your parties?
Dommu & Leopold: The idea is always to create a fantasy. We want to immerse people in an intentional dream, a liminal space where one can choose to transcend their daily deluge and become a manifestation of the wildest corners of their imagination. So we choose themes that play on cultural tropes and hopefully lead our guests towards a particular dialogue around what it means to be queer in our time.

For example, we chose "Rocky Horror" for the theme of our recent Halloween rage because we wanted our community to explore identity and ownership and we felt that using a piece that was so relevant to many of our coming-of-age journeys and so overt in its campiness was the perfect container. In 2013, we wanted to explore animalism and the artistic manifestation of primal urges, so we threw an insane party called AN1MORPHS recalling the beloved childhood book. We also did SATANIC SMOKEOUT because we wanted to explore the relationship of the occult and queer culture. We conjured such sinful energy at that party that the BBQ caught on fire and people started having sex on the dance floor.

The Culture Whore is largely focused on community elevation and collaboration. Why is this important and how does it manifest in your work?
Dommu: The Culture Whore wouldn’t exist without the community that has embraced and supported us. At every party I’m amazed by how many people come out to explore with us. Every time I go out I meet someone new, but someone who is connected to me through this incredible spiderweb.

We’re so lucky, because how many other communities have this huge network of people who fundamentally believe the world should be the same place in the way queer people do? All of my straight friends, even the artists or musicians, have very small networks, ones where the same heteronormative systems of behavior are upheld without question. We have this diverse sea of people who will understand us implicitly and engage with what we’re making in the way it’s intended to be experienced.

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The Internet and technology have re-shaped promotion. How does this reality intersect with the work done by The Culture Whore? How do you think the Internet and technology have reshaped nightlife as a whole?
Dommu: As queer partiers, we have a lot of conversations with people who have been partying for years, and they talk a lot about how nightlife used to be so club-centric. You went to the same club every night of the week. Maybe someone handed you a flyer on the street for a party that sounded really cool and you went to that.
Now, you log onto Facebook and on any given night there are five, ten, twenty parties you could go to. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. THIS IS WONDERFUL. Too many promoters get caught up in competition. The Internet is a wonderful tool for nightlife, because it lets you find that magical party that you know you can’t miss. Or it lets you know that this night is going to be the best night and you’re going to go to all of these parties and have the most fun you’ve ever had at all of them.

We really believe that MORE IS MORE, and the Internet makes that possible.

What are you current parties, gigs and upcoming events?
Dommu: Our big fantasy rages are seasonal, and the next one is our annual holiday party, Dick the Balls, in mid-December. We also have a bimonthly performance showcase called Sideshow -- the next one is Thursday, Nov. 13 at Don Pedro in Williamsburg.

We regularly host Ladyfag and Seva Granik’s Holy Mountain and SHADE parties, which are really fun and incredibly inspiring.

I also host a weekly screening of "American Horror Story" at Gym Bar with Will Sheridan, and co-host a monthly party with Chris Tyler at Tandem in Bushwick called Mall Goth where we play teenage girls working at -- and getting fired from -- different stores at the mall. The next edition takes place at Yankee Candle Company. You can see me hosting at a few other parties on the regular: WestGay, Kunst and others. You can see me performing at Sideshow and regularly around Brooklyn.

Leopold: I'm super excited for Psychic Fall, my collaboration with David Sokolowski and MIX NYC. We’re also hosting Spank’s 7 Year Anniversary on Nov. 22 and that's sure to be a fun party with amazing music.

You can catch me perform as Boywolf at Sideshow on Nov. 13 and Rify Royalty’s Straight Acting party at TNT on Nov 20.

Friday, Dec. 5, look out for a new techno party I’m starting with a bunch of incredible DJ friends in the basement of Cameo. Its called JACK and it's going to be all about the music and deep vibes.

What do you see as the future of nightlife in NYC?
Leopold: In the future I’d like to see NYC become more hospitable to artists and independent DIY spaces. If New York is to remain a cultural flagship of the world, it must sustain a vibrant world at night, a place for creative people to play in the dark and a home for free thinkers.

Dommu: I would hope that the future of nightlife in New York is based around experiences -- not bottle service, not bottom lines. The people that I see going out now aren’t going for one promoter, one club or one performer. They’re going somewhere where they know that someone has painstakingly created a full fantasy for them to escape into for one night. Isn’t that the point of nightlife, to live a dream, even if only for a few hours?

For more from The Culture Whore head here to check out the collective's website. Missed the previous installments in this series? Check out the slideshow below.

PHOTO GALLERY
After Dark
CONVERSATIONS