Industry Insider Interview: Nayef Issa, Founder of Nü Androids
Washington DC may be known for slimeballs in government and lobbying, but there’s also a vibrant music scene. Beyond Go-Go music and the DMV rap scene, dance music has found a nice niche in the city. There’s the old guard, like the folks at Glow, but there are also other promoters who put on exciting and interesting shows. Nü Androids is a promoter who has been doing electronic shows in DC for seven years, opening their shows beyond music, but also into digital art.
They host “standard” music events, but also hold other events through Ai, a traveling pop-up series, and Dimensions, multi-day events that combine immersive art installations and warehouse parties. They perform over 180 shows a year with DJs such as FKJ, the late Virgil Abloh (in his first and only DC performance), Black Coffee, the late SOPHIE, Gorgon City, Malaa, Dom Dolla, The Knocks, Tchami, Snakehips and others all play.
Nü Androids has made a habit of hosting big temporary events, including taking over an abandoned Macy’s at Art Basel in 2019. Big projects are also on the way. A permanent location is opening in DC this summer. Nü Androids will be heading to Art Basel with an experiential music/art installation in Miami in December.
To learn more about the brand, hosting events in DC, and the future of Nü Androids, we had a chat with its founder Nayef Issa, for a new Industry Insider feature. We discuss the mix of digital art and music, who they book, how they handled the pandemic and more.
How do you choose the artists to associate with the music of your events?
Honestly, it depends on several things. For example, we hosted a pop-up event with one of my favorite artists, Chromeo. When I think of Chromeo, I automatically think of disco, disco balls, etc. So I found some pictures of different models that were put together like a bunch of disco balls with pin lights hitting them to create a super cool visual effect. I approached my friend, local DC and DJ Abbey J. who is very artistic and crafty. She took my idea and turned it into her own concept which she called “Disco Down the Drain”. She found an old cast iron bathtub, adorned it with mirrored tiles, hung disco balls of all shapes and sizes around it and voila! It brought my vision to life! This installation was a great success and is still present in our living rooms today. This is a dope photo opp.
What is the reservation policy? How and why are artists booked?
We curate and hand-pick all of our artists for every Nü Androids event, from the opening of each show to the headliners. There are artists that we target and end up hiring, and sometimes they go to other companies. We can’t win them all. All the artists we book are selected because they advance dance culture in one way or another. There are a lot of variables that come into play when I’m inquiring about reservations.
The luxury we have at Nü Androids is that, unlike many other places, virtually all of our bookings are something we are genuinely passionate about. Most other sites, or promoter-owned sites, have to fill 3-4 dates per week, so it becomes primarily a numbers game; whereas for us it’s more about the music we love and the artists we see really shaping and pushing the dance scene forward.
Why did you choose to do events in the dance space?
I was the teenager making mixtapes for all my friends growing up. I was just kind of always into avant-garde music. So I practically turned a hobby into a business. It’s definitely a labor of love.
How do you choose the room space? Is it hard to find and operate some of the pop-up spaces like an abandoned Macys?
So many variables go into choosing a space considering two very important questions: is the space safe and is it legal? After that, we discuss all the other variables: the flow of the room, the natural aesthetic, what we need to add, how we want to set up the sound/lighting, which artist we want to book, what our plan looks like marketing, branding for the event, what theme do we want to go with, if maybe the artist already has a specific aesthetic, etc. There’s a lot of competition in DC’s nightlife/dance scene, and the old guard hasn’t always been welcoming to new blood.
At first, Flash was the only place that gave us a chance. That said, Flash is a room that can accommodate up to 220 people. So, when the artists and followers of Nü Androids started to outgrow the venue, I had to be resourceful and creative in finding random locations to host music/art events. Even then, it poses its own challenges.
For example, there’s an event space in DC that charges $1,000 an hour, and it’s a totally blank canvas. So we normally rent it for 12 hours. Now imagine walking into a totally blank canvas, having 5 hours for setup, 5 hours of real time for the event with about 1000 people, and then only having 2 hours to break it down, move everything around, and leave it exactly as it is. it was before running. your event. After doing this several times, let me tell you, we were running on full adrenaline. With our spring 2022 Nü Androids/Ai pop-up space, I love standing at the entrance and just looking at people’s faces as they enter one of our shows. The look of excitement, curiosity, and pure joy is something that makes the other challenges all worthwhile.
How has the company survived the pandemic and how do you think the lessons learned will be useful in the future?
We just waited for it. We held a few events here and there following local guidelines, but for the most part we were closed. DC has shut down live entertainment events for 15 months. The main lesson for me was to never take anything for granted. Always be grateful!
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What is your favorite part of throwing events and do you get to actually enjoy it or do you run all the time?
My favorite part is when it ends safely without a hitch and everyone leaves with a smile on their face. Especially at my events, it’s usually hard to enjoy the moment because I’m hyper aware of everything that’s going on all the time. From time to time, I try to let go or enjoy the music; and there are little windows every once in a while where I can really do that during a show.
The one that comes to mind is our Black Coffee event, which lasted 3 months. A lot of hard work, planning and permissions went into bringing our concept and the show itself to life. My anxiety was at its height as not only was it a pop-up that we needed to get a special events permit for – a 2 month process in itself – but we also had to deal with the weather since it was an external event. The event took place from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. We had around 2500 attendees 21+ from all demographics and the show was a huge success.
I ran the whole event, but around 8:30 I grabbed my girlfriend and a few shots of tequila, went to the middle of the dance floor (he started sprinkling a little, which was really very beautiful) and I just held her hand while we danced for 10-15 minutes and got lost in the music. Then I came back to reality, got off the dance floor, finished the event at 9 a.m., and made sure we shut everything down accordingly.
What makes the DC market unique compared to other places in the Northeast and the United States?
I think a lot of people don’t think we have an arts and music scene here. But we do! A lot of the workforce here is focused on government contracts etc, but we’re just building a dope arts and music scene in partnership with all the other businesses in my field.
What advice would you give to someone in the music industry who is looking to move into the event side and can’t afford unpaid internships and may not already have a event experience, what most entry-level jobs seem to require?
Attend the events of the company you would like to work for and introduce yourself to the people who organize these events. Make it known that you are trying to get into the business and be a constant reminder by being there. There are always openings because there’s usually quite a high turnover, people coming in and out, etc., so if you’re staying on top of someone’s mind, show genuine interest in what it does and let it be known that you want to be a part of it, when there is an opportunity they will contact you!
How did you get into the world of music?
I was a promoter all through my 20s, however, I started to get bored of the same type of parties because it was mostly Top 40 music lineups. I approached Flash in July 2014 to hold a monthly event on a Wednesday evening. They had only been open for about a year at the time. I chose Wednesday because the people who would come out would come strictly for the music and it was 21+, whereas most music events are 18+.
Our first event was with Wax Motif and we pretty much had our fill. Then we scheduled four more events throughout the year with Flash. In early 2015 I approached the owner and told him I believed we were ready to book every Wednesday night from February and he was on board. This pretty much launched Nü Androids and was the starting point or where we are today.
What type of specific people/qualifications (please be specific) are you looking for among potential Nü Androids employees?
The 2 main personality traits that matter a lot to me are:
1. stay humble
2. be faithful
Everything below is a bonus and can be developed with some field experience for the most part.
Specific qualities would include the following:
Resourcefulness, Creativity, Being available (no free time in our industry).
What are the upcoming projects for Nü Androids?
We are preparing to open our own room, which took eight years to prepare. In doing so, we get to truly reimagine through our own lens what experiential music and events should be.