Interview w/ TRQPiTECA
By Kekule Benzene
Every month, two DJs curate paradise in Pilsen and call it TRQPiTECA. The decor (blowup palm trees, a sequined beach installation, iridescent streamers, and so much glitter), the lineup of performances (cabaret dancers, drag queens, performance artists, dommes), and the video art displayed on TV screens around the sports bar make TRQPiTECA more than a dance party. It is a sensory experience, it is a community gathering, and it is a DIY show. Kekule Benzene spoke with the creators about queer nightlife, house music and culture, and responsible curation. www.trqpiteca.club
Cqqchifruit, a.k.a. Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero (pronouns = they/them, she/her)
Kekule: I would love to start with the history of TRQPiTECA, who helped create it, what you were drawing from, how long it’s been around. Sort of lay the groundwork for me.
J: It basically came out of a couple of needs and desires. First, to have a tropical night is something we were both interested in, and then also having a queer night in Pilsen–it was something else that had been happening irregularly– in a space that wasn’t, I guess I want to say, the gentrification zone … A space that was run by people who were living in the neighborhood … We went [to Junior’s] asking to do a night previously but it didn’t really work out. And then we came back and sort of found that Junior’s went from being this kind of rock Mexican bar or sports bar to a mini gay bar. So the manager and the staff are also part of that community. When we went, we were really surprised that they were having drag nights. They from the beginning have been very supportive and very open to letting us be really creative and really transformative with the space and they love having us there.
K: Who have been some of your favorite performers?
J: We had one night that was memorable, we had Boychild and Liz Mputu, who’s a very famous online artist. And then we had this other performer Dirty Grits, and they’re travelling around now but they were living in North Carolina for a long time. That night we happened to have three different traveling performers, who, together, I think their performances were about the struggle, our struggle, and moving toward the healing process.
K: Tell me more about the healing you want to perform at TRQPiTECA.
J: Being in the nightlife can be a complicated space, because when people are partying there are so many different things that can happen and that are happening and there’s sometimes a very fine line between having a healing (or self-care) experience … and harm with substances. Sometimes I feel like there’s a death drive that’s inherent in partying and party culture. And that’s why I think having art in the nightlife space has become an important part of what we do, because I think art is inherently a spiritual practice … The need to create art to survive is a real narrative and experience for the people in our community, so I think that having a place to express that and a place to go deeper is critical.
K: How has resistance shaped your art? How do resistance and DJing go together for you?
J: The way that I’ve come about DJing is my love of dancing. I think that’s very common in terms of young—and even as we grow older—queer culture. And in other cultures dancing is a huge part of the social practice. So I think dancing as resistance, I think that’s it … I think my [DJ] style developed from my history, where I’m from, Miami, and not hearing a lot of tropical music out [here in Chicago]. And being in Chicago, it’s critical to have a vocabulary around house music, in my opinion. I think all of those things are connected, so I’ve done a lot of listening to tropical music and tropical house, learning how black and brown and queer people created and shaped those genres, and how they’ve been co-opted by Europeans. I think having an understanding about that and exploring that and trying to do research around that has been a lot of my focus.
K: What methods or techniques are important to you in creating TRQPiTECA? Because it’s an experience, not just going to see a DJ.
J: I think there’s a really strong visual aspect. I was influenced by burlesque, that’s how I got into sequins and glitter being my aesthetic. The installation [art] happened from wanting to transform—because Chicago gets so cold, it can be really hard if you’re from a tropical place—so it was wanting to bring that feeling of warmth, that feeling of the beach, of the sun.
We’ve had more traditional drag and cabaret style, but sometimes we have performance artists who do more experimental stuff and it can really impact the vibe. And sometimes people do things that are more painful expressions. I think there can be room for everything. It’s interesting to see what the effect is. Sometimes people will leave after that, it just changes the space, so it’s definitely a challenge to curate a line-up that is balanced—you know, like the best thing. Our lives are not all razzle-dazzle, but people are going there to have a good time—but it can be cathartic.
K: You mentioned some criticism. What’s the criticism, do you think it’s valid, and if so, how do you change the event to respond to it?
J: I think criticism has been around who comes. And the people who come are different every time. But one time, one person said that there were quote-unquote, “too many white people.” The people that come are very diverse, in my opinion, but it also changes every time depending on who we book. But we also, every time, are featuring black and brown performers who are femmes or queer people … It’s a hard thing to try to process, because it’s not like I don’t want white people to come. That’s not how I feel. In our vision, the way that we describe it is ‘a platform for artists working with queer and tropical aesthetics’—I think it’s pretty broad and leaves a lot of room for interpretation in terms of the music that we play, the guest DJs that we book, and our performers. So, if you’re down for that, I think you would have a good time.
K: So what’s your dream outcome? What do you want, if you could have anything?
J: Oh my god, well, I think I would love to be a touring artist. Ideally what I’d love (and this is not far from happening, because it already kind of has happened) is to have my original music and a whole set and that goes with it, as a performer. But I’m also getting really into research and cultural preservation of my culture as Cuban and Puerto Rican, so I also want to be a cultural historian and really study my roots and carry that with me. I’m a reiki practitioner, and fragility has become a recent—not recent, I think it’s come up out of my art practice—but I also want to find room for that and room for moments of communal feeling. I do want people to come away uplifted or changed, I think that’s the power of art. It comes from the beginning of human expression. I want to live my truth to the fullest and not have any limits on the intention of my work. This is a really hard, difficult moment we live in now, and I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, so I want people to stick together and feel deified and feel love more than anything, because of all the haters.
La Spacer a.k.a. Natalie Murillo (pronouns=they/them, she/her)
K: Lay the groundwork for me: the history of TRQPiTECA, starting TRQPiTECA, how it came to be.
N: So TRQPiTECA came to be because we had done an event in the North Side at Slippery Slope and we called it Boom Boom Q. The name behind that was this other dance party that happened, maybe ten years ago, called the Boom Boom Room that happened at the Green Dolphin. And I wanted to call it Boom Boom Q in memory of the Boom Boom Room … we just wanted it to be this event with dance music, house music—house and techno, and for queers to feel welcome. And we only did it a few times, because the space we were doing it at, the management was pretty uptight …So we were like, you know, let’s look for a space in Pilsen, because there’s a lot of events and spaces being used in the North Side, and I grew up by Pilsen. And I haven’t seen a lot of queer events as far as house and techno and everything in between in Pilsen.
K: What’s the environment you want to create at TRQPiTECA—politically or aesthetically—what’s the message you want people to come away with when they go?
N: I want people to feel like it’s part of their community. It is a community. It’s a space where you go and hang out with other like-minded creatures, individuals. Also, I love going to a lot of big festivals and events that are planned like they want you to have an experience. I want people to have an experience, not just to come for the booze. I want people to come for different reasons. If you’re really into music, you’re there for the music. If you’re really into art, you’re there for the performance art, or because of the art we create to change the environment—like [at] Junior’s, we change it. I want people to feel like they enter a vortex, or they just travel to another space or dimension. Jackie and I actually take in a bigger system in there, so people can feel the bass and really feel those tracks being playing. If we were just to play using the system Junior’s has, the experience would be so much different, sound-wise … Or there’s just the little details—the pineapple flag that Jacki created, the palm tree flag, the huge backdrop tropical installation that Jackie created, the palm trees. But it’s very DIY. So we’re still growing and we want to make things happen.
K: How has Chicago’s house culture influenced you?
N: I grew up in Chicago so I had my baby experience of listening to house music on the radio … My family—they’re hard core party people and we have a huge family. So pretty much every weekend my family still celebrates someone’s birthday. So there was always someone’s house to go to and we would have dinner, and the after dinner’s over, people were dancing so there were moments where my older cousins would throw on a house mix … And there were a lot of DJ shops too that would sell records. Even at the mall there was a DJ shop. And the DJ shops, what they would sell were mixes. They would sell promo CDs or promo cassettes, and they were different styles. And I still have some of those—I still have some tapes.
Growing up in Chicago and just being into music since I was a kid, it’s definitely been an influence to me, and this is why I do what I’m trying to do. I think the only downside back then (but I don’t think it has to do specifically with music or house music) was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of women representing and being a part of it … That makes me very proud to be doing TRQPiTECA. I feel like Chicago was craving that. I was craving something like that …The audience [is] queer, people of color, and people that are allies. I just want to have a good time, have an experience, be somewhere and not feel judged. Because a lot of events I go to, there wasn’t a lot of queer people in the house and techno scene. The few people that were there, for instance, at Boom Boom Room, were drag queens … As far as parties I went to that were big events like that, it was diverse as far as type of people, the scenes that were there [at Boom Boom Room]. Because at two a.m. all the other clubs close and everyone is going to hit the Boom Boom Room. So it didn’t matter who you are, where you are—nothing. And that’s actually the main preach of house music. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, house music is supposed to unite you, and the Boom Boom Room did that … So that was awesome and definitely little experiences like that inspired me to do TRQPiTECA because, going back to earlier, everything is on the North Side. Like how many people who go to Queen! [a weekly queer dance night at Smartbar] don’t live there? And who runs that building? Who runs that space? I’m always questioning things like that. Who’s getting paid? Who’s profiting off of this?
K: What lessons from your experiences in house and club culture do you bring to TRQPiTECA?
N: What I like about TRQPiTECA is that people who actually want to be there are there … And it’s still very underground, and I’m all about the underground … but a lot of spaces, a lot of venues that have been established for years out there don’t pay the artists, or don’t pay them as much, or don’t pay the hosts, or pay them in champagne. And I’m not about that because I value myself as an artist and I value other artists for their work, as well. I feel like people need to get paid for what they do. When you’re watching someone perform, they’re giving you an experience and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be paid to be working for that … People need to be more conscious and more brought up to speed with situations. Or they’re so used to the other situation—their friends playing at these venues and clubs that are open until 4 or 5 am and have the money but don’t pay the artists—so they’re like ‘oh, I don’t want to pay. My friends are not the ones being paid, it’s going to be the owners that are getting that money. Why do I have to pay?’ I get that too, but this is not that kind of place. This is DIY. It’s a POC event. So I think some people need to know what’s up.
And as the queer community—there’s been a few articles out there that I’ve read, that queer artists are not in the mainstream, probably for being queer. They’re not being supported by the mainstream, so it’s up to the queer community to support. We are a market!
K: What’s the plan for TRQPiTECA in the future? What goals do you have?
N: We want TRQPiTECA to go on tour, we want to be playing outside of Chicago, which we have a couple times, and we really love it and we want to do more of that, especially on an international level, so that’s definitely goals for the future.
Also, we want to expand TRQPiTECA outside of the club nightlife, maybe creating workshops. There’s a lot of work to do with the community still. I see these … other people that I think are being taken advantage of by some of these bigger venues.
People are like ‘Hey, do you want to DJ this?’ and I’m like ‘What’s up with the sound system?’ [laughs] Because if they don’t have a sound system, I’m not going to do it, because I’m going to sound horrible and people are going to think I’m horrible, and then that’s not good for me as an artist.
Oh my god. I mean, ideally, I would want to own a warehouse, if we’re really going to push the dreams out there. I would want a warehouse with three floors: one for a performance space, on for the studio stuff, and [one for] my penthouse. And then next door, I want my mama to have her restaurant so that when people are hungry, they go eat at my mama’s restaurant. Yeah, that’s like my biggest fantasy right there.