Nayef Issa

Nayef Issa On Throwing Raves With Nü Androids: "Money And Access Don't Really Curate The Culture You Want"

Oct 5, 2022

Ana Monroy Yglesias

8 min read

Washington D.C. rave brand Nü Androids' motto is "We're weird, come join us." Their website explains, "We're looking to push the cultural boundaries of what you can expect from a house music event." Nayef Issa is the creative visionary behind Nü Androids, an introverted house head that loves to dance and has worked in nightlife since he was 21.

"[Nü Androids] is about the music and really creating a space where people just come in and dance and leave their problems at the door," Issa says on a recent Zoom chat. "[It's about] making it feel like a home space."

Since 2015, he's hosted around 180 events a year and brought Black Coffee, Dom Dolla, Tchami, Ela Minus, Sophie, Virgil Abloh, Purple Disco Machine, Nora En Pure, and other dance heavyweights, many before they blew up, to the nation's capital. His favorite events are the artists that bring the "melting pot crowd" together on the dance floor. He asserts that many variables contribute to booking such stellar talent, especially when competing with clubs owned by deep-pocketed corporations like Live Nation. And while agents often go after the money, many recognize his passion for the music and artists, which lets them know their artists will be in good hands.

This passion for the music and dedication to creating a fun, inclusive, and inviting party space has allowed Nü Androids to thrive, grow, and continue to book exciting acts.

"In order to counteract corporate offerings, you have to offer something different and create your own lane," he explains.

Nü Androids' Dimensions fest

Nü Androids

What started as Wednesday night parties at beloved club Flash in 2014—then just a year old and primarily playing minimal techno—has grown into a plethora of exciting, modular event offerings. Nü Androids is the overarching brand name and refers to events at preexisting clubs, like the first ones at Flash. A.i. are pop-up events held in warehouses and other converted spaces, decked out with custom visuals, art, and lighting. SünDown are open-air day parties, often held on Flash's roof. There have also been two iterations of the Dimensions festival, the first one in D.C. in 2018 and another in a 50,000-square-foot abandoned Macy's in Miami for Art Basel 2019.

A major highlight was their event with the late cultural powerhouse Virgil Abloh, eight months before he signed with Louis Vuitton in 2017. The A.i. branded event took place in a former restaurant and lounge, Café Asia, with a Boiler Room-style set up, perfect for Abloh's electrifying set. Issa grew up on hip-hop and R&B and loves house. So, he loves a DJ set that spans the spectrum, as Abloh did so seamlessly.

Seeing the excitement and joy on peoples' faces is everything for Issa. It's humbling when attendees thank him after an event, knowing they had a good time and appreciated the space and vibes. It's vital that he intentionally create a space where people feel joy and feel welcome.

Nü Androids event

Nü Androids

"Money and access don't curate the culture you want," Issa states when asked about V.I.P. While they have tables available for purchase to those who want their own space and can afford it, there's no V.I.P. entrance or viewing area. He's mindful of how many tables are available for each event, leaving plenty of room on the dance floor and good vibes.

"We're doing this because we're making a living, and you have to find a good medium where you're not selling out, but you're also still hitting certain numbers. When we did the Black Coffee pop-up, I waited till the last three days to sell tables because I wanted people that really just loved Black Coffee to attend. We had 2500 people and we only listed 12 tables and they sold out within a few hours. People kept asking me to add more, and I know I could have added another 10 or 15 tables, but I didn't want to. I wanted the majority of the people attending to feel like they're part of the party and not have table space taking up the majority of the dance floor."

Issa is mindful of every detail and, as a seasoned raver, does everything he can to ensure an energetic dance floor with a collective spirit. He's always loved dancing, and while he doesn't have quite as much energy as he did in his early 20s, he will still create dance circles at events sometimes to encourage people to get grooving.

"I'm a host, not just a promoter. There's a negative connotation with promoters, the ones that are labeled as douchebags [chuckles] and are just popping bottles, not giving a shit. Because I love the music and dancing and I have that host mentality, if I go into the dance floor, it encourages people to let loose and have a good time. Once you see a few people letting loose, all the barriers evaporate and you feel that everyone is here on the same wave length."

SünDown party by Nü Androids

Nü Androids

He started promoting at 21, at Top 40 clubs in the city—where the money is, he says—but he always had a taste for forward-thinking music. The connections he made in nightlife helped him envision and build Nü Androids. And even before he could enter clubs, he was a music curator for his friends—before Spotify and SoundCloud, he was always burning them CDs. In the blog-heavy days of the early aughts, he partnered with Complex's (former) dance music blog, Do Androids Dance, which inspired the name for his events and allowed him a public space to share his eclectic musical taste.

At the first Nü Androids events, on Wednesdays at Flash, he explored his music taste and shared it with D.C. ravers, the ones who were down to get down on a weeknight. They were there for the music, and the artists could feel it. The very first event was with Wax Motif, and the first five weeks in a row sold out. Nü Androids had officially landed and met a need the city's existing nightlife offerings had yet to fulfill.

The next space Issa set off was the former Café Asia space for a year and a half. The first event in that space was with EDX—800 people showed up.

"That kind of put the stamp [on us] and built our credibility for being able to bring 800 people to a space that's not known for music. That was the eye opener where, I was like, 'Okay, we kind of have something now.'"

Issa is on a mission to "normalize that D.C. is cool," pointing to the rich art, food, and music scenes.

"People just think of D.C. as a political town and that we're not cool… My biggest pet peeve now is when we do cool shit—I have a cool restaurant [Residents]—and people will come in and be like, 'I don't feel like I'm in D.C.' Well, what the fuck is it going to take for you to feel like you're in D.C.?" he explains. "It's definitely frustrating to constantly educate out-of-towners, or even D.C. people. They'll go travel, and then they'll come to the events and they'll be like, 'Oh, this is just like New York.' Why isn't it just D.C.?"

Like the broader music scene, he says the dance music market in D.C. has always been good and is currently healthy, with some good competition keeping things exciting. D.C. offers an array of dance music venues, from Insomniac-owned Club Glow and Echostage to 9:30 Club and Anthem. And as the club experience likes to put the DJ on a pedestal, Issa feels there's something lost when the crowd grows too large, or the DJ can't directly connect with the dancefloor.

"I think anything over 800 to 1000 people, it's not really a culturally forward-thinking venue, it doesn't create the atmosphere. Once it gets too big, you lose the essence of a dance party. When you're on a big stage as an artist, it's harder to connect when you're not within arm's distance [of the crowd]. I always value and want to bring that no matter how big the show is… that's what creates the vibe."

And soon, Issa will have his own club, Culture. It will be the first official permanent home for Nü Androids, although they will still work with other spaces. He hasn't shared much about it publicly yet; you can expect the creativity and adaptability of his events to inform the vibe. There won't be a fixed stage at Culture, meaning one show to the next could look completely different and always offer a different point of view for the DJ and audience. The setup and vibe for each party will be tailored to what's suits it best.

Like anyone involved in events, getting through the pandemic has been a challenge. At first, the 2020 shutdown was a much-needed time for rest for Issa, the ever-busy introvert. But as things dragged on, he figured it might be necessary to figure out a career change. Luckily, that didn't have to happen, and he was able to pull through. And it was so worth it. At the first party back after restrictions began to lift, a SünDown roof party at Flash in May 2021, it was a proper reunion—everyone was crying and hugging each other.

And what's the biggest lesson he's learned from all his time in the rave business? "Always expect the unexpected."

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