How to Party with Judnick Mayard
Writer, event producer, and former programming director at Kinfolk talks about HOMOGENOUS DANCE FLOORS, SMOKING IN THE DJ BOOTH and EVERYTHING GOING IN CYCLES.
Photo credit: GL Askew II
I sweat a lot. I’m handsome, so the only cosmetic surgery I’ve ever seriously considered is getting botox in my scalp, which supposedly helps, and managing sweat is always an ambient concern when I’m out. Kinfolk, a now defunct pair of spaces on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, was the first club I ever went to in America. In Jamaica, at least when I was growing up, you can start getting into clubs when you’re like 15. That’s a whole other kettle of fish, but Kinfolk was immediately so different from any club experience I had ever expected to have. I was 21 and I had just graduated from college, so I was obviously very nervous. I sweat through my shirt so thoroughly that it was an entirely different shade of blue by the end of the night. But I got so fucked up and had so much fun that it didn’t matter to me, I couldn’t feel self-conscious because I was dancing so hard and having such a good time.
Kinfolk was a venue of cultural intersection. I never really had any reason to go that part of Williamsburg other than go to Kinfolk, or Output, or Schimanski’s. So it was an appointment any time I went. Like, “does anyone want to go to Kinfolk this weekend?” I knew I was going to have to taxi or ride-share there and back, I was going to wear my little going out outfit. These days, my plans like they’ve been several weeks or months in the making, or that they’re made at spur of the moment. I wear the same thing everywhere.
There are places you can go that make your pulse quicken as you approach. The kind of place for which people get dressed. The kind of place where people turn looks, where the music is the newest thing. I like places like that, I think, but I also hate them. One time I was late to meeting a group of friends at Kinfolk, and my friend came out and waited in line with me, and the door guy gave us shit for not having any girls with us. We actually did, they were inside already, and eventually once we did get in we had to leave because weirdos were harassing them. That was in the later days, I don’t think I went to the club much after that. But Kinfolk wasn’t even always like that–in my experience, there seemed to conflicting inclinations at play behind the scenes. They would let people in Kinfolk 94, the nightclub half, in shorts in the summer sometimes. I liked that, too. My friend Chuck used to work the door at 90, the bar/store half, and let me in without the cover, and that made me feel really cool. I liked Kinfolk, I liked that it was confounding, that it was a different place every time, each that I liked and hated for different reasons.
When Judnick Mayard–Nikki–became programming director there, it was one of the first times I ever saw a Black woman in a position of power at a nightclub. You could feel that she was one of the forces working to make the place cool, and I actually mean you could feel how the energy would change in the space with her programming. It helped me realize the difference between a space being threatening and a space being thrilling, that they’re two different ways to make people sweat. She had already been a writer I followed since I was reading her in places like Complex and Jezebel in college. She wrote one of my favorite things about dancing ever. Like, she was an incisive, stylish writer, and then also threw parties, programmed one of the few cool clubs in New York and wrote for TV shows. As you can probably surmise, I’ve sort of been modeling my whole deal on that. So, this is a big get for me.
ADLAN: What first drew you to experiential production?
NIKKI: Nightlife. I was severely depressed in high school and I just wanted to be outside at night. I thought everything glamorous and everything fun happened at night. I had a subscription to Vogue and I would read about the Met Gala and all the society functions and I would be like, “man, it'd be so cool to be the person that made shit like that happen.” And then I would go out to clubs and shows and be like "I don't wanna wait in line, I want the power the door girl has!" My cousin was a bartender in Williamsburg and soon I met a bunch of promoters and DJs and production just became the best way to have the best of both worlds: partying and a social network. I always wanted to be in charge of people having fun. Also, it was the most corporate job I could have without sitting at a desk all time.
ADLAN: What’s a night out like for you these days?
NIKKI: HAHAHA, a night out these days could literally be anything. I try to only go out one day a weekend every other weekend, but whenever I make rules like that the universe laughs. I don't go anywhere I can't get into, and you'll never see me at a party anymore if I don't know the DJ. I either get drunk at a nice restaurant during dinner or I go to a party that my friends throw (I'm pretty sure the only parties I attend anymore are Donovan's Yard or Rhonda INTL in LA), stand in the DJ booth smoking weed and try not to end up at the afters doing shots of tequila. At 36, I'm very good at going home at 2AM, but only because the benders have truly taken away some of my stamina. But if you see me drinking a White Claw in somebody's backyard at 4am this summer: mind your business.
ADLAN: You were programming director for Kinfolk. Your run was inspiring. When it closed down, I was sad because I don’t know if we’ll ever see something like that again. What were the highlights and the lowlights at that job?
NIKKI: I've been working on an essay on Kinfolk in my mind for like two years, but I have yet to write it down. The highlight of that job was that I wanted it since 2011. It was literally a dream to run Kinfolk even back when I could barely get in. I really enjoyed getting to know the younger promoters and DJs of the city (because I'd been touring for like three summers), and giving them all a chance to have a party in the space. Being able to get all my DJ friends to play there again after such a long time. But the lowlights were the same as any other nightlife job I've had: nobody appreciates their black customers. Every club in NYC always wants to kowtow to whatever neighborhood association is being racist and try to undermine the very people that spend the most money in their space. I was being asked to program nights for Australian tourists that would literally buy the cheapest beer and yell at my DJs. Also, the budgets. The thing about capitalism is that it doesn't support creativity, it makes money off of it. So my dreams of being able to help people provide for themselves was never a reality and that always hurt. I wish I could've paid everyone $500 minimum, but running a business in New York is trash and we simply could not afford it. New York was half-dead with gentrification by the time I started running Kinfolk and it killed me to see that so starkly every night.
ADLAN: Everyone is talking about what comes next in nightlife, and to be honest I don't know that I'm that excited. DIY people are getting priced out, and corporate stuff is still overpriced, but doesn't even have decency to be cool. Are you excited to go out? If so, what gives you hope? If you're not, what needs to change?
NIKKI: Nothing gets me excited to go out, except my own curiosity. Even now I keep track of all the young DJs on instagram and what they're doing. I go see them when they can barely transition and then support them when they get a Boiler Room set. It's really only the community that gets me into partying these days. But I think everything has become so segmented that I can't really enjoy a night out. I used to be able to dance merengue uptown, then hop a train to a bottle service club in Midtown, then land at a rave in Brooklyn to finish my night. Now I just see repeating parties with standard sets for the crowd. It's very Instagram, and I get bored. Everyone needs to get their head out of their ass and make spaces that include everyone. Your space for queers, women, clowns or furries should be safe enough that even someone who is simply curious can come and be safe. Any homogenous dance floor is a turnoff to me and nowadays if I can guess what I’m gonna hear, I just stay home. Also while I love shouting the lyrics to music, if I can't fully dance for a solid 60 minutes, I'm bored, bored, bored.
ADLAN: From your writing, it seems like dancing and going out will always be a part of your life. Do you think that's true? And what does the future of nightlife look like for you, do you think?
NIKKI: Always. The other day my friend said the only reason I would ever have a wedding is to satisfy my incessant need to throw a better party than everyone else and I laughed because it's true. I hate marriage but I could throw a wedding of the century for every single day of June. Partying will always be a part of my life because dancing is my main form of exercise and being out at night calms my anxiety. Not to mention at this point 60% of my family/community are DJs, artists and people who go to work at night. As a writer, going out gives me a chance to observe a space I'm actively participating in and to see society when it's uninhibited. I think it has formed so much of my taste, my character and my cool that I would die if I couldn't go out. I mean the number ONE reason I won't have kids or get a pet is because I never wanna have to go home a minute before I'm ready to–nothing is ever worth leaving the fun early to me. As for the future of nightlife, I think i'm old enough now to know that everything goes in cycles. Because of the state of excessive money mongering in this era, everyone is heading underground which is good but once Instagram ends and we can't see who-all-will-be-there before we get to the party, nightlife will be right back up. Anonymity is the future of nightlife and I can't wait to get back to being in the dark.
You can follow Nikki on Instagram.
I’ve got a recap up for Bowery Presents of the Tune-Yards show from this week here. I would post it in full, but I really like this interview and don’t want to distract from it. I hope you read it. One of the things I didn’t discuss in the recap, because I’m only allowed to say positive things, is that the concert was pretty empty, which I found surprising. I don’t know if that’s some referendum on Tune-Yards’ place in culture at this moment, but I was also surprised how good the show was (and that’s my real critical perspective) despite the emptiness. I started wondering about what could have caused the emptiness, and I realized that firstly, there are a lot of concerts right now that have been deferred because of the pandemic (this was Tune-Yards’ first tour since the pandemic, and they had a record come out last year), including deferred contractual commitments made before or during the pandemic. Concerts are getting more expensive, this one was $35+fees, so actually probably around $45. $45 is a lot of money to spend for a Wednesday night in a recession, especially when there’s a lot of other stuff you can see. I started chewing on a theory that the inflation of ticket prices is disincentivizing people casually attending shows, which we would want just now, since musicians are all trying to make up for a year+ of lost income. Has anyone else been to any surprisingly empty shows?
I’ve been hanging out at Baby’s All Right a lot recently. As some of you may know, I’ve got an arrangement with them where they let me go to shows for free. I’m therefore biased, but damn, Baby’s is one of New York’s great music venues. I saw a really mind-bending Sister Nancy show there a couple months ago that I thought I would write about but didn’t, and on Tuesday I saw a new pop singer called Allison Ponthier play. There were forces at play beyond my understanding: Ponthier is signed to Interscope, and someone pointed a guy out to me who he said was a producer on the Harry Styles album or something. Anyway, all that stuff is a little above my pay grade. Here’s what I’m qualified to say: the light bulb wall and the tuxedo she was wearing made her look like the prom singer at the end of the coming-of-age teen drama, who sings the promotional single that the movie is a vehicle for. In this case, I think that’d be her encore song, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery,” which is just an absolute brick house of a pop song.