Yes Yes Y'all turns 10 - The queer Toronto institution celebrates a decade on the scene
If you’re a queer here in Toronto – or if you’re queer-adjacent or an ally – and you happen to also love wilin’ out to hip hop, winin’ up to dancehall or soca, or making out in a corner to R&B, chances are you’ve been to Yes Yes Y’all. Started by five Toronto-based DJs – Sammy Rawal, Yes Yes Jill, Stunts, Nino Brown, and L Rock – Yes Yes Y’all has been providing an inclusive space to enjoy-urban-music-while-queer (an axiom I’ve just made up that I’m sure all of us homos living intersectionally understand) for just about a decade now. That’s right, folks: the Toronto staple is turning 10!
And for their anniversary party this month – happening Friday, March 15 at Nest nightclub – they’re teaming up with queer party powerhouses from all over North America and one from across the pond. The Yes Yes Y’all crew will be joined by members of New York City’s Papi Juice, Atlanta’s Morph, London’s Pxssy Palace, and Toronto’s very own JERK to help them celebrate. I chatted with Yes Yes Y’all’s Sammy Rawal, Stunts, and Yes Yes Jill about how it feels to have grown their baby into a full-blown pre-teen, and to find out what’s next.
Tam Ika: First, let’s get some history. What brought you all together, and what incited creating a party like this one?
Sammy: We were all hanging out in the queer scene in the west side of the city back then. It was truly the music that brought us all together. I think we all felt like there was room for us to fill in the party scene. We by no means were the first queer hip hop party in the city; DJ Blackcat had been throwing parties for a while before the first YYY, and parties like Big Primpin’ already existed. What was most important to me, on a personal level, was to create a new space for QPOC outside of the gay village, which tended to be predominantly white back then. I had never felt entirely comfortable in those spaces and longed for a party space where I could hear the music I loved and not feel “othered.”
Stunts: It felt super exciting to curate a party that we would want to walk into, centred around music that wasn't being played at very many queer parties, and with five people collectively getting so excited – it was a strong force of promo. We wanted to call out to as many people as possible and intentionally reach QPOC in the process to counter the predominantly white west-end parties. Part of trying to offer an inclusive space was choosing to throw the party in a central location close to the subway.
Jill: We also instantly clicked. We collaborated, and here we are. We just really wanted to set a mood of proper music and a safe space to listen and dance to that music.
How have you seen the party change over the years?
Stunts: We started with hand-made flyers and stencilled, spray-painted T-shirts (cringe! but also, aww), so our branding has definitely been developed. We’ve also developed an incredible following. YYY would be nothing without the continued attendance of the best people and dancers. The DJs we book have expanded over the years to include more varied club music. YYY was initially at the old hostel at Spadina and King, so it had a real “no-supervision, everyone-wilding, community-centre dance” vibe in the beginning, and now it really feels like a huge club night.
Sammy: I think our strength as a collective has always been the ability to adapt and pivot in order to keep things fresh and interesting. What started as a simple monthly dance party grew into more of a collective engaged with different cultural facets of the city.
Jill: It’s still a bomb-ass party, just a bit bigger and with a better sound system now, lol!
Inclusivity has been in the YYY mandate since the beginning, but because the patronage of the party is largely of-colour, and Black specifically (due in part to the musical genres being played), you’ve worked to put those demographics to the front in terms of booking DJs, dancers, performers, etc. Has that always been a conscious priority?
Sammy: It definitely has – especially for Nino and I, being the two POC members of the collective. Representation has been at the forefront of everything we do and plan. BIPOC to the front! I think for many BIPOC folk of our generation, representation was always (and still is) lacking. What’s special about YYY, to me, is that we’ve been blessed with its growth, where it’s now become a bit of a platform and space to showcase the truly amazing talent that exists within the city and abroad that in many other spaces feels under-represented.
Jill: We also do a lot of background work with fundraising and donations to different groups throughout the city that we don’t really advertise. Our focus is to create a fun and safe space for all.
YYY has provided a platform of exposure for local as well as international queer talent. Do you feel more inclined to bring Toronto to the world or bring the world to Toronto?
Stunts: I think sometimes we want to bring Toronto to Toronto! It’s important to us to have relevant bookings from outside of Toronto and bring in DJs/performers that are refreshing and innovative within the club scene, but it’s also always been important to us to support and showcase local DJs/performers doing amazing work.
Jill: I love Toronto. We have so many talented DJs and performers right here in the city that I feel it’s important to support. Don’t get me wrong: I love bringing in people from all over the world; it’s just super nice to be able to support our own talent and provide them with a platform to flourish.
Sammy: There’s been something magical happening within the city in the past few years, I think. It definitely feels like there’s a bit of a cultural zeitgeist happening that feels palpable. I definitely feel the idea of bringing Toronto to the world; however, it’s always nice introducing international queer talent to Toronto. It’s refreshing seeing the city through their eyes when they roll through the party for the first time.
Can you describe your most memorable YYYs?
Sammy: For me, the most memorable will always be our first YYY (we were so young and naive back then, with almost no expectations for the party) and the party we threw with Dudebox at the Hearn Generating Station during the Luminato Festival a couple of years ago. It happened a week after the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It was a very traumatic and scary week, and we had briefly chatted about cancelling the party. However, we rose above the fear, and the party ultimately became a space for healing, a celebration of life and a time to honour those cousins we lost at Pulse.
Stunts: A lot of us cried during the minute-long moment of silence, and the energy that night was so full and beautiful and aware.
Jill: The party at the Hearn after the Pulse shooting made me want to cry and throw up at the same time. It’s always nice to hook up with the Dudebox family and raise some money for others. We also did a party called Yes Yes Y’all on a Tuesday, which was a tribute to Sumaya [a Somali-Canadian transwoman who died under, reportedly, “mysterious circumstances” in 2015] where we donated the money from the party to assist her friends in setting up a fund. That was special to us.
What prompted bringing in Papi Juice, MORPH, Pxssy Palace, and JERK for this edition?
Stunts: We wanted to have a big birthday party! Those parties are some of our closest “friend-parties” and are popping in their own cities (and beyond). We’ve had them come through and play YYY in the past. It will be so fun to have them all play in one night and really go off for everyone coming out.
Sammy: It just felt fitting for our 10th anniversary. The parties/collectives we invited to share the night with us all transcend the simple notion of what a dance party is. They’re much more than that; each party is a cultural hub and community base within its respective city. We are so honoured to have them at Yes Yes Y’all to celebrate a piece of magic we are all creating in our own cities.
What’s the future of YYY? Do y’all have some cool short- or long-term visions of the party that you’d like to share?
Jill: Pride this year will be very exciting! I like to live day-to-day, so long term is not in my peripheral, lol. I always want to bring in big dancehall DJs, lol. You know – big dreams.
Stunts: More collaborations, more intersectionality, more opportunities for youth and helping community organizers.
Sammy: As I mentioned before, I think the strength of YYY is its ability to grow, evolve, and adapt. In many ways, we’ve started to get a bit more traction outside of the city and country. With that comes the opportunity to possibly do more outside of our regular monthly parties: smaller showcases, fundraisers, and more community-based programming.
Can you see yourselves celebrating a Yes Yes Y’all 20th?
Stunts: I see a YYY20! It may be in a different form; it isn’t clear at this point. But it looks bright – whatever that unknown glowing future blob is.
Sammy: If you had told me that YYY would be celebrating a 10th anniversary at the first party we threw, I wouldn’t have believed it, so anything is possible, I guess? I think the older we are all getting, the more our time is being consumed by our personal careers and lives outside the party. But I’d like to think that YYY will still be alive and thriving in 10 more years – in any capacity.
Jill: Well I’ll be pushing 60, but I’d still be down! I’ll probably need to be carried out, but I’m always down for an adventure!