Pride Month celebrations have always been inexplicably connected to the gay anthems that define us – from “Over the Rainbow” to “Born This Way.” What good is a night out on the town if you don’t hear Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody?” And why does “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” have a magical ability to unite queer people of all generations? While location, drinks, and crowd certainly play a role in determining whether or not an event is worth the price of admission, when you boil it all down, a Pride party is only as good as its playlist.
But putting together the quintessential mix to curate the perfect evening is not as easy as it looks. From dingy and dirty leather parties with a heavy rotation of house beats, to metropolitan clubs churning out a steady hand of top-40 hits, to off-the-beaten-path disco joints, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to creating a partylist. Ahead of Pride weekend, we turned to some of New York’s favorite DJs for the tricks of the trade.
You don’t have to travel far to learn about the lore of a Ty Sunderland party. From his ginormous Devil’s Playground get-togethers to his nautical Gayflower cruises, and his more recent outdoor excursions at Ty Tea, the Brooklyn-based pop prince has made a name for himself in the New York party scene with his diva-devoted themes and black-and-white baseball cap, attracting partiers from across the world and A-list appearances from the likes of Kim Petras, Slayyyter, and Vincint. “I thought [Ty Tea] was going to be a little outdoor thing, and now it’s a big, thousand-person every week, little mini queer music festival,” he tells Logo. “It’s cool, but I’m like, ‘Oh God, I didn’t mean to name it after myself. Sorry everyone has to say my name every time they talk about my party.’”
A self-proclaimed Britney Spears fan – “She is the queen,” he tells us – he fell into the party scene “by accident as a means of surviving and living in New York City,” taking on gigs as a DJ to support himself while working in fashion until his side gig became his fulltime job. After nearly nine years in the city, he can’t imagine himself anywhere else. “Whatever you like here, however you like to party, we have it here,” he says. “That’s what I love about New York over every other city – the diversity with the nightlife.”
What Pride means to him: “It means bringing everyone together. It’s not like I’m just seeing the same New York girls that I know. I’m meeting LGBTQ people from all over the states, all over the world, coming to celebrate our community together.”
His pre-set preparation: “Zero. I really try to read the room as much as I can. If you’re coming to one of my events, you’re going to hear a little Dua Lipa, you’re going to hear a little [Lady] Gaga. Regardless of if it’s a house music set or a pop music set, it’s what people expect but I really think it depends on the venue.”
His go-to’s: “Believe” by Cher, “Let’s Have a Kiki” by the Scissor Sisters, and “if I’m going to play Whitney, I’m going to play the Thunderpuss remix of 'It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.' That’s definitely one of my favorite like, ‘Hello, gay people’ songs.”
His advice for the perfect playlist: “I always do that wedding thing: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The new Tove Lo song is so fun, that for me is going to be something new. Something old, you got to play the classics. Something borrowed, go look at other people’s playlists, and then something blue: ‘Blue, da bee da ba bi.’ It’s a great track but people forget about it.”
What he’s looking forward to: Planet Pride at Brooklyn’s Avant Gardner, a larger-than-life Pride party with appearances by Galantis, SG Lewis, Aquaria, Gottmik, Violet Chachki, and a surprise popstar. “It’s going to be the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for,” he tells us. “It’s like playing Coachella.”
Bright Light Bright Light
This Welsh-born, New York-based DJ and artist got his moniker from a line in ’80s horror classic Gremlins, a fitting origin considering his music and sets are dedicated to building community through connections to the past. He’s toured the world with the likes of Elton John, Cher, Scissor Sisters, and Ellie Goulding, and crafted remixes for Jewel, Erasure, and even Drag Race’s Jujubee and Katya. Starting off as a musician in London, he made a name for himself in the U.K. scene before relocating to New York in 2013 and finding his own community amongst the Big Apple. “It’s been a long and very rewarding journey where I’ve met some amazing people,” he tells Logo.
His Pride Month schedule boasts a handful of New York haunts, from Club Cumming to Lincoln Center and the historic Julius’. From queer-centered events to specialized evenings –– like an impeccably well-time Kate Bush party –– he still enjoys the thrill of reading the room each time he’s behind the booth. “It’s a fun challenge and the results are often surprising,” he says.
What Pride means to him: “It really means a lot. I think for any artist who prides themselves on building community with their [DJ sets], to be included in Pride programming feels somewhat validating, and feels like a real celebration of hard work and love. Especially for me as an immigrant, being seen alongside American and long-standing New York DJs makes me feel like I’ve really settled here.”
His pre-set preparation: “I usually just read the room as it's very clear what people do and don't respond to. I have wider playlists that I pull from, which help me whittle my music collection down so it's easier to find tracks, but it's very fluid.”
His go-to’s: Disco classics and disco-referencing bops. “I do love to make sure the LGBTQ+ greats and our most beloved allies are represented so there's always a Sylvester, George Michael, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, [and] usually Liza Minelli's 'Losing My Mind' as it's just the campiest, most dramatic song.”
His advice for the perfect playlist: “Try and make a good flow between the songs. I love when a playlist has a sequence where I can tell the curator has thought about moving from song to song. It makes it so much more satisfying to listen to, and will be more likely to keep people listening to the playlist for longer.”
What he’s looking forward to: Romy & Michele’s Afternoon Tea Dance at Club Cumming, “a party where people can make requests on Post-It notes, and twirl to ridiculous songs of any genre like Meryl Streep’s ‘Me’ from Death Becomes Her, ‘A Little Bit Alexis,’ or Fergie’s National Anthem.”
With their long hair and laid-back attitude, you might not notice Lady Simon at first… until they start playing music. A go-to DJ at some of Brooklyn’s most beloved spots like Happyfun Hideaway, House of Yes, and Metropolitan, their roots with the local drag queens they often perform alongside run deep. “[I] moved to Brooklyn ten years ago this month, went to Sugarland –– RIP –– my first night here, discovered everything that was Brooklyn drag, and fell in love,” they tell Logo.
After doing drag for six years, they made the switch to the DJ booth after hosting Thorgy Thor’s Drag Race viewing party and realizing they’d “rather be in the booth going off!” While you can catch them spinning tunes at a variety of places across the city, for them, it’s not as much about the crowd as it is what they bring to the art form. “I usually get booked for the vibe that I give off,” says Simon.
What Pride means to them: “Money. (laughs) But no, making your community dance and have an amazing time is always fabulous.”
Their pre-set preparation: “When I first started, I would plan out almost the entire set, but now I just kinda wing it, but I know my music very well and know what works well together. But there’s also a little thrill in trying something new in the moment.”
Their go-to’s: “My specialty is dance remixes of songs you haven’t heard yet. If somebody comes up to me to ask what remix that was, I know I did my job.”
Their advice for the perfect playlist: “Variety! I have a very eclectic taste and need a little bit of everything to feel fulfilled with a playlist. There’s a lot of amazing music out there that sadly people don’t know about because so many people get stuck in a musical rut.”
What they’re looking forward to: “Not going to lie, it’s all kind of one big blur right now. [I’m] very excited to party and be around my people but also very excited to sleep for a while in July.”