Inside Swagger Like Us, the San Francisco party platforming emerging queer talent

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Photography by: Jenn Wong (Courtesy of Swagger Like Us)

Crack Magazine is marking Pride season with a series of specialist mixes and playlists dedicated to LGBTQ+ club nights and promoters. From the iconic parties of bygone eras through to the emerging events breaking through in 2022, we’ll be highlighting the sounds of these parties and the artists that shape them.

Swagger Like Us is an event series and artist hub operating out of the Bay Area on the sunny West Coast of the United States. The party is masterminded by davOmakesbeats – a longtime promoter, producer, vocalist and DJ – alongside curator Kelly Lovemonster. Together, the pair have spent the last decade pooling their talents to promote the sort of event they themselves would attend. This is much to the delight of the party’s dedicated following, who’ve grown particularly fond of Swagger Like Us’ daytime sessions.

The pair view Swagger Like Us (or just ‘Swagger’ for short) as a platform for emerging queer artists, performers and dancers from their local community and further afield. Following the success of their very first outing at El Rio – a self-proclaimed “friendly neighbourhood queer bar” in San Francisco – back in 2012, this has been a primary focus. It’s also what led them to launch a label of their own, entitled Molly House Records. It’s here they forge deeper connections with the artists who perform at their events, and explore the essence of Swagger in a whole new way.

Hip-hop, house and techno through to regional styles such as Baltimore and Jersey club are hallmarks of Swagger, which considers itself a celebration of Black joy. This can be felt in the party’s programming, with past events featuring artists such as UNIIQU3, TT the Artist, Bbymutha, LSDXOXO and former Bay Area dweller Jasmine Infiniti.

For our Pride audio series, Lovemonster and davOmakesbeats reflect on the event’s humble beginnings, consider the highs and lows of promoting in the Bay and share some of their favourite party memories. davOmakesbeats also treats us to a quintessential Swagger Like Us set jam-packed with raucous club edits, body-moving ballroom, hip-hop and more. Get stuck in.

What inspired you to launch Swagger Like Us?
davOmakesbeats: At the time, San Francisco did not have a BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of colour] queer-focused party that wanted to bring in new talent from other places outside of the Bay Area. Parties like Ships in the Night made it possible for us to do what we do, but were more community-based. I was performing in a duo called Double Duchess at the time, and I wanted to create the party that we aimed to play in other cities. A receptive and loving crowd that knew what we were doing and understood us.

Kelly Lovemonster: To be honest, Swagger was a really innocent endeavour for me. San Francisco had a culture of great parties, and I selfishly wanted to produce a one of my own where I could curate the music and dance with my friends. I had been to this amazing, hot and sweaty basement party called Blood Sweat and Queers in Chinatown. davO produced the event, and I remember seeing him play an electric drum kit over this DJ set. It was the best music I’ve ever heard and I just had to work with him.

We had a chat; davO was a yes; and we started producing Swagger Like Us. It was only after folks started telling me what we were doing that it all became clear: we had created an event series and arts hub that supported the artistry of people of colour.

Who is involved in the event?
KL: The Swagger Like Us family is quite big. davO and I are like the aunties, and we have an amazing network of creatives around us. In the beginning, our resident DJs were davO and boyfriend, who also happened to be my husband. Sir JoQ, Saturn Risin9, Tom Temprano, Lorrissa May, Mike Scott, Jenn Wong, Jibbz, Jackie Clay, and most recently Jas are the extraordinary queers who’ve made the event what we know and love. Also, I can’t forget El Rio – the venue that gave us our first shot and helped grow our humble party into what it is today.

Which genres are you best known for?
d: Ballroom – so the girls can vogue down – Baltimore club, Jersey club, house and hip-hop.

KL: You know, I’m going to say Swagger plays Black music. We put on all genres that have roots and histories in Black sound: hip-hop, house, techno, Jersey club, and Baltimore Club. We love a ‘Ha’ beat and bounce – and don’t be surprised if someone plays a little rock ‘n’ roll, because that’s Black too. 

On a similar tip, could you tell us about the DJs you work with most frequently and what they bring to the parties?
KL: I’m forever grateful to have worked – and to still be working with – some of the most extraordinary DJs and producers. davO will always be one of my fave DJs – the baby knows how to blend some tracks. We’ve also worked with all the young legends of the genre-defining sounds I mentioned before, including MikeQ, UNIIQU3, LSDXOXO, Byrell the Great, Jasmine Infiniti… The list really goes on.

d: Byrell the Great would bring his ballroom style and LSDXOXO would spin that perfect blend of rave and techno that’s still rooted in club music. UNIIQU3 would bring her Jersey club heat and hip-hop blends, while Juliana Huxtable and Jasmine Infiniti would bring the more obscure and ravier techno sounds.

What environment are you trying to nurture through your nights?
d: Swagger has become most known for our daytime parties, but whether it’s day or night we just want people to feel comfortable being themselves. We welcome all walks, but expect you to be respectful of the parties intentions and make space for BIPOC queer folks. We don’t want judgment or big egos, just love and authenticity.

KL: Swagger is a good time. It’s my favourite party – I really do mean that. Swagger encourages authenticity, celebrates Black joy and centres the artistry of people of colour. It’s also queer as fuck. 

Can you tell us a little about Molly House Records and how it connects to the parties?
d: We started the label as a way to further support other artists we believed in and developed relationships with. The label’s sound closely resembled that of the party for the first few years, but has widened its range through the years to also house indie electronic, jazz and other releases.

KL: First of all, do y’all know what a molly house is? It’s an 18th century British term for a gay brothel. I mean, fab. Like davO says, the label really started off as an extension of the party. We wanted to find a way to continue supporting QTPOC [Queer and trans people of colour] musicians, and a label just felt like a natural direction.  

What was your first party like?
KL: Our first party was actually hella cute. I remember being gagged that people were there! I’m pretty sure we had the artist Tosh Basco – formerly known as boychild – perform at the first event. That party set the structure for all Swagger events: DJs, a live performance and a sweaty dancefloor.

What struggles have you faced running a queer night in the Bay Area – or more specifically San Francisco?
KL: Look, racism is real. I would say we’ve had more struggles producing an event for people of colour than we have producing an event for queer people. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that throwing a party that invites large crowds of Black and brown people comes with its share of discrimination. This manifests in lots of different ways, from paying higher insurance rates because we play hip-hop music through to venues not wanting to work with us or marketing us completely inappropriately. We’ve also had white promoters take our concept and book the exact same line-ups.

How did you overcome these struggles?
KL: You know what davO and I do well? Staying in our lane. We continue to do what we do best, hold space for our community and stay true to who we are. We prioritise joy, caring for community and having a good time.

"Swagger encourages authenticity, celebrates Black joy and centres the artistry of people of colour. It's also queer as fuck" – Kelly Lovemonster

Tell us about your mix?
d: The mix encapsulates the range of sounds you hear at our parties, including ones that have received repeat treatment throughout the years. Tracks include remixes with some Swagger favourites including Cakes da Killa, Princess Nokia and Kelela, plus remixes by artists such as Leonce and MikeQ.

What memories do you have of these tracks at past Swagger Like Us parties?
d: I would tend to close our events with the last track on the mix. It’s a feel-good classic but still hype and rooted in Baltimore club. The bounce section and ballroom section of the mix reminds me of when attendees who could either twerk or vogue down would come to the stage and go off. I love that the community feels at home and can have their moment when they are feeling themselves.

KL: This mix! davO you did the damn thing. Like, I have so many visceral memories hearing many of these tracks on a Swagger Like Us dancefloor, especially that closing song. It’s quintessential Swagger.

What are your plans for the future?
d: The plan is to continue to uplift the Black and brown queer community in San Fransisco. We want to keep using the party as a platform to feature emerging BIPOC queer talent around the globe, and welcome back our talented friends and family.

KL: Yeah, I feel grateful for every party davO and I get to produce together. We’ll continue to hold space for the BIPOC cuties that continue to hold down the Bay. And we’ll always centre and support the artistry of BIPOC creatives, present and future. 

Follow Swagger Like Us and check out Molly House Records on Bandcamp

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