How Toronto's Most Popular Queer Hip-Hop and Dancehall Party Started in a Hostel
Ahead of its seventh anniversary, an oral history of inclusive, "straight-friendly" bash Yes Yes Y'all.
Started in 2009, Toronto's Yes Yes Y'all dance parties have become legendary in the city, promoting inclusivity for all, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, and drawing local and international artists and DJs including A Tribe Called Red, Big Freedia, Le1f, Zebra Katz, and more. With the party's seventh anniversary this weekend, we invited Golshan Abdmoulaie and founder Nino Brown to share their thoughts on what makes YYY special, with photos by Yannick Anton.
It's 10:45 PM and rumours of an around-the-block lineup have you and your crew of best co-workers out at the club seemingly early. You're over at the bar ordering your night's poison, when you turn around and notice that, in the matter of the 20 minutes since your arrival, the room is starting to really fill up, ostensibly wild souls strolling in one by one. With the people-watching tendencies triggered, you inevitably begin to gaze/question/notice: gay, straight, trans, bi. Black, brown, white, who knows? Girl, boy, neither. Tall, small, lean, curvy. Some are donning batty rider pum pum shorts, clad in glitter-filled wigs, some sporting traditional sweats with matching high ponytails.
Neither outfit is reserved for a specific sex, considering gender nonconformity seems to be welcomed, if not the dominant and organic sense of being here. Hood dudes are chilling with gay dudes; your best friend's brother is in drag. Imagine all these intersections of people, groups who aren't really supposed to be meeting, linking up and coming together on the dancefloor. Welcome to Yes Yes Y'all—the Toronto nightlife staple commonly referred to in the city as YYY. If you identify as a member of the QPOC (queer person of colour) community, or are an ally to some in Toronto and the GTA, chances are at some point you've found yourself reserving a 3rd Friday night of the month for YYY. Founded by a collective of queer DJ's who identified a void in safe, inclusive spaces that played the music they enjoyed listening to during an evening on the town, they decided to curate their own night.
In February 2009, DJs Sammy Royale, Nino Brown, Stunts, Yes Yes Jill, and L-Rock gave birth to Yes Yes Y'all at the Global Villagers Backpackers hostel (RIP), located in the heart of the city at the corner of Spadina Avenue and King Street West. With what was intended to be an intimate gathering, the group was determined to bridge the gap between inclusive parties and the hip-hop and dancehall communities of Toronto. Stressing the narrative of a queer space safe with a zero tolerance policy for hate, they dubbed the party "straight-friendly," a play on the gay nightlife rhetoric. What was once a hotel opened in 1895, the party quickly outgrew this first venue and was forced to relocate into a more traditional club served by the then Annex Wreckroom (now house/techno superbar CODA). After a five-year stint, the group decided to take a chance on its current home, the ever name-changing event space and Sneaky Dee's neighbour, Nest nightclub.Over 85 months and 100 plus parties later, YYY has grown into one of Toronto's hottest jams (literally), and earned its title as an institution hosting about 600-700 partygoers each and every month. It has become a platform for emerging and established local and international talent, with a predominant focus on QPOC artists. Some of these bookings include
A Tribe Called Red, Angel Haze, Big Freedia, and Le1f, to name a few. Local names such as Matthew Progress, Skratch Bastid, Keita Juma, and Shi Wisdom have all graced the stage with their performances, along with a long list of some of the city's best DJs (Bambii, Mensa, Lissa Monet, Wristpect, etc). Beyond the music, the party has contributed to the evolving careers of some visual artists as well. Resident photographer Yannick Anton's monthly images have documented the changing queer landscape with his provocative and candid shots, even securing him wall space at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Ryerson University galleries.
Emphasizing diversity and acceptance has always been the mandate, and the YYY crew recognizes that a lot has changed in seven years. Having loving and loyal regulars who have been with them since conception, along with welcoming the new age millennials gang, is what keeps the wave flowing and the space relevant.
Nino Brown is on Instagram
Golshan Abdmoulaie is on Instagram
Yannick Anton is on Instagram