"Even if you haven't always felt comfortable at LGBTQ+ nightlife events in the past, I hope you'll come with an open mind and heart and prepare to make new connections." - Kaleb Nicola, President & CEO, Happy Dark Productions
Before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Happy Dark Productions produced some of the hottest gay nightlife parties in Southern California. Their events included a fusion monthly San Diego party called OVERDRIVE and the UNITE! Music Festival held during San Diego Pride weekend.
With restrictions loosened and life getting back to a sense of what we knew as normal, the Happy Dark Productions team is ready to come back better than ever - and to celebrate their 5 year anniversary!
We sat down with Kaleb Nicola, President & CEO of Happy Dark Productions, to talk about the origins of his company, what's in store for this year's 5-year anniversary celebration, and the San Diego Pride weekend parties they are producing.
Talk about the origins of UNITE! Music Festival and how it has grown/changed over the years.
UNITE! began out of a desire for LGBTQ+ nightlife events to be more inclusive of all members of our various communities. As a music lover, I attend nightlife events not only within our community, but at music festivals, clubs and events that don't specifically focus on our community. While attending these events, I regularly came across members of our LGBTQ+ communitiy who told me that they often don't feel welcome or accepted at circuit parties, which are primarly marketed to white, gay men.
Being someone with a diverse network of friends in various racial and cultural communities who had, at times, expressed the same sentiments to me, this bothered me a lot, especially as someone who has witnessed and benefited from the power of a collective music experience to connect, heal and uplift. At that point, I had already been producing events with my partner at the time in San Francisco for over five years and I realized that, consequently, I already had the network and capability to make changes from within our scene, so I set out to do just that. The first year began as a weekend of nighttime and daytime events at various venues around San Diego.
After our first year, it became pretty clear that we could do a lot more (as far as production, logistics and range of talent) if we focused on producing the entire weekend of nighttime events in one location, without the need to set up and move production and staff between locations. Since then, we have focused primarily on a series of nighttime events at one venue, Spin Nightclub. This has allowed us to grow the event substantially.
Anything special planned for the 5 year anniversary event, especially after missing out last year due to covid?
Yes, for sure. Before COVID hit, I had a fresh lineup of diverse, international DJ talent that I was quite proud of. Due to uncertainty surrounding travel due to COVID, I had to revamp the entire lineup to ensure the events could proceed without further changes or delays. This gave me an opportunity to focus on the talent with which I have developed a healthy working relationship over my years as an event producer, while ensuring the flow and vibe of the events could proceed with faith that my lineup would provide a soundtrack of epic proportions, designed to remind our patrons what "dance floor therapy" is and how it can positively impact their lives and produce the sense of belonging, connectedness and healing that I've personally experienced in nightlife days gone by.
I have been able to have very meaningful creative conversations with my team of talent to ensure we are all on the same page about that goal for this year. Additionally, I used the eagerness of our audience to return to the dancefloor as motivation to create something truly unique and special this year. The result will be a sunset harbor cruise called #UNITED WE GROOVE.
What can you tell us about the new #UNITED WE GROOVE boat cruise?
This will be the West Coast debut of one of the most beloved Miami Music Week events for the last five years, Kristina Sky's #UNITED WE GROOVE. The event will be a sunset groove cruise for 1,000 guests through the beautiful San Diego Harbor on board the largest yacht in SoCal, The Hornblower Inspiration.
We will present an experience like none other - featuring cutting-edge technology & sound, a diverse musical landscape, festival style stage & production, abundant sea creature dancers in custom Shokra costumes and friendly, but intense, mixed crowd energy from start to finish. We are excited to feature talent from within and outside of our LGBTQ+ community.
The music will begin as we board at 4pm with local favorite Jinx Mirage's deep and groovy house vibes before progressing to Kristina Sky's feel-good melodic trance and progressive house. Following KSky (as she is lovingly known in the scene), our headliners, nightlife legends Gabriel & Dresden, will take the melodic and progressive vibes to another level for a 1.5 hour set as the sun begins to lower behind their Grammy-nominated beats. Then, LGBTQ+ nightlife royalty Calagna will finish us off with their hypnotic and euphoric blend of music from across the dance music spectrum.
Finally, the event will feature a 45-minute performance by none other than multi-talented gay icon Todrick Hall! Todrick will conclude our voyage with a fully produced stage show complete with his signature show-stopping style, six world-class dancers, and endless costume changes! Todrick embodies the vibe of UNITE! and puts on an impressive, intense performance that I'm confident will have many talking for a long time to come.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about attending UNITE! for the first time?
Prepare to be jaw-dropped by the music, production and vibes! Even if you haven't always felt comfortable at LGBTQ+ nightlife events in the past, I hope you'll come with an open mind and heart and prepare to make new connections. I encourage everyone to live and let live, express their unique, fabulous selves in any way they choose and to connect with and uplift others. I hope these sentiments are seen and felt throughout the weekend.
Anything else you would like readers to know?
I want everyone with a desire to share in the vision and vibe of UNITE! to be able to attend. This year's presales have been unlike any in the past, and that's not just a promoter sales pitch! We have less than 40 weekend passes remaing before they are sold out and most individual event tickets are close to selling out as well. I encourage everyone to pre-purchase tickets at www.unitesdpride.com as the prices will be much higher at the door and will be extremely limited.
More information about Happy Dark Productions and their events can be found here.