Interviews With Friends

Uptown Fridays

DJ Shaun J. Wright and Host Ricky Jones Interpret Things in Themselves

The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Uptown Fridays is a series of summer parties that place its attendees in direct dialogue with the artwork in the Museum. Each program this summer is named after a current exhibition. The first party of the season, thrown on July 26, was titled Things in Themselves, after the 2012–13 artists in residence exhibition featuring the work of Steffani Jemison, Jennifer Packer and Cullen Washington Jr.

Ricky Jones (left) and DJ Shaun J. Wright (right). Photo: Edwin Ramoran

Ricky Jones (left) and DJ Shaun J. Wright (right). Photo: Edwin Ramoran

Shaun J. Wright

Chicago-based DJ Shaun J. Wright kicked off this summer’s series with a mix of house music that interpreted Things in Themselves. Having moved from Chicago to Atlanta for college, and later to London to study fashion, Wright’s varied interests and travels made him a unique candidate to interpret the work of three artists using disparate mediums but brought together in one exhibition.

So you spin primarily house music. What draws you to this genre?
That’s a very tough question to answer, and I'm not sure I can do so in a suitable fashion. It's an internal, subconscious attraction that I find difficult to decipher. Growing up in Chicago in the 80s and 90s afforded me the privilege of being surrounded by house music. At the time, it was the city's popular culture, and I can't recall a time when I didn't hear it or wasn't drawn to it. It's a deeply embedded “culture thang.”

You now throw a party in Chicago called Twirl! How does nightlife there differ from NYC nightlife? How is it similar?
The major similarity is that people want to connect live and in the flesh, regardless of the city. The urge to be close and visible while partaking in the sights and sounds of a club resonates in both cities. From my experience, NYC nightlife is peppered with stronger, more overt fashion aesthetics. There is a constant evolution in venues and “scenes” that doesn't necessarily occur in Chicago. Chicago moves at a steadier pace.

And how often does Twirl! occur? Does the venue change?
It occurs every second Thursday of the month at Berlin, which is considered a gay Chicago landmark. We just had our fourth installment this month. Each month has been surprising as we can never gauge who will show up at the door. We've had some really fun and amazing acts out of New York come play the party. The Carry Nation, Avan Lava and Eli Escobar have all made the journey from The Big Apple to play our burgeoning night.

Apart from working with music, you attended fashion school in London and participated in Ballroom scenes in Atlanta and Chicago. How have your travels, both nationally and internationally, influenced your work?
In a sense, my traveling is my work; I can't delineate where any of these interests/ventures/hobbies begin and end in my professional work. Each of these experiences have enriched me tremendously.

What comes to mind when you hear the title Things in Themselves?
Immediately I think of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, how we have both interior and exterior lives and realities. Sometimes, these realities don't match. It also causes me to ponder notions of abstraction, tangibility and our limited capacity to view ourselves fully.

Ricky Jones sporting a grass skirt and a pair of football pads in the courtyard. Photo: Edwin Ramoran

Ricky Jones

Ricky Jones, a nightlife personality well known for his colorful face paint and elaborate, structured costumes, joined DJ Shaun J. Wright as this summer’s first host. Below you will find the following: an explanation of how he stumbled into party hosting, the importance of recognizing everyone in the room, and what people expect on a night out on the town.

What interests you in hosting parties?
Well, hosting parties was never something I set out to do, had never given it thought. I’ve always been a dance floor person, able to bounce around the room and feel the energy all over. The first person to ever have me host an event was Cherie Lily and it was held at Santos Party House. A few years later good friends Mandy Graves and Jools Palmer ran a party called BASSMENT Thursdays. When they asked me to host for the first time, I was floored and a little nervous, but I agreed and had a great time. As the months went on, I became one of the resident hosts and bam! There I was, hosting parties.

How would you describe your style as a host?
I can't say I have a specific style. I create looks, promote online and dedicate my energy to making the party more exciting and inviting for everyone involved. I like a mixed crowd and multiple layers of diversity is ideal, so that's what I tend to invite. It also revolves around the energy of my look or looks. For example, if I'm doing “sexy” looks all night, I’d like to bring that energy, that presence, that fantasy. I like to bounce around and thank people for supporting. I truly appreciate seeing people I invited make the effort to come out to events I host.

Ricky prepping his face paint in the green room. Photo: Edwin Ramoran

Has hosting taught you anything interesting or unexpected about people?
Some people come for free drinks. Some people come to see who else will be there. Some people come to dance. Some people come with no intention of dancing. Some people love everything and others are never satisfied. Most importantly, everyone likes to feel that their presence is welcomed and appreciated—and dare I say, needed? The worst feeling I've experienced is feeling like I was a regular at a party and having multiple hosts look at me and walk past as if they’d never seen me there. Not naming names or parties.

How, would you say, are museums and parties similar? How are they different?
Similar: they both bring a variety of individuals together from all walks of life to socialize, share cultural experiences, items and ideas while voluntarily or involuntarily exchanging point of views. Also, they both tend to be categorized by their clientele. Different: when there is loud music, dancing, and close-range body contact at a party it doesn't have to be explained or understood.

Justin Allen is the Summer 2013 Public Programs and Community Engagement Intern at The Studio Museum in Harlem.