TUNNEL: The Queer POC Collective Reviving LA Nightlife

TUNNEL: The Queer POC Collective Reviving LA Nightlife

West Hollywood has become the most visible representation of LGBTQ nightlife in Los Angeles, where homogenous partygoers and Top 40 hits dominate the cis-gay commercial bar scene. "The music is stale and the crowds at the biggest clubs are most concerned with what celebrity is attending that night," says Daniel Osahon, whose new TUNNEL collective ("that came from a place of desperation") aims to carve out space for queer folks who feel marginalized by this scene.

After COVID lockdowns ravaged venues and forced nightlife into a total reset, Osahon (alongside TUNNEL co-founders Palma Wright and Sevyn) wanted to "create the change" they desired — and ultimately decided "TUNNEL is that change." According to the "queer POC-owned collective of multidisciplinary artists," TUNNEL's main goal is to develop intentional environments for "raving and radical self-expression," both IRL and online.

Following their premier event in early August with "the brightest emerging stars of the LA underground," TUNNEL's "Out of Body" party returns later this month on Friday, October 22. Alongside an exclusive PAPER mix from the TUNNEL co-founders, read more about the "magical queer energy" that TUNNEL brings from Osahon, below.

How long have you been involved in nightlife — and especially LA's scene?

I've been involved in queer nightlife for about four years now. I started out in NYC and I've spent the last couple years here in LA. It's been quite the journey of self-discovery.

What inspired you to start your own party?

TUNNEL mostly came from a place of desperation. The commercial nightlife scene in Hollywood is really sad. The music is stale and the crowds at the biggest clubs are most concerned with what celebrity is attending that night. Unfortunately, most of WeHo falls into that same category. People like myself craving fresh sounds really only ever go out in East LA, where most raves and parties are considered underground. Going out as consistently as I do, I'm always running into other partygoers with the same concerns and I think that's how I realized what a huge demand there was for something new. When COVID hit early last year and nightlife came to a halt, all of this moved to the forefront of my mind. I knew that when nightlife resumed, I wanted to create the change I so desired. TUNNEL is that change.

What void do you think TUNNEL is filling in LA's current nightlife scene?

Even on the East Side there are only about a handful of queer events with dynamic lineups. Too many parties here make the mistake of boxing themselves into one specific sound or genre. There aren't many parties that are able to hit that overall sweet spot by featuring a range of DJs across two or more dance floors, spinning multiple genres, like you'd so commonly find in NYC, London and Berlin. Most parties only cater to classic house and disco lovers because it's popular among the older heads who run the underground scene here. There are no spaces for the hard groovy techno and modern club/ electro that is much more popular with the younger generation of ravers. Additionally, there aren't nearly enough parties that feature emerging queer/ trans POC talent on their lineups. There is a very clear lack of visibility or facilitation for young artists like myself, and as someone relying on bookings to get by, that scarcity is really felt.

There is also a bit of a crowd control issue. The more popular underground raves in LA that are marketed as "queer safe spaces" are becoming increasingly dominated by circuit party crowds because they offer dark rooms. Nothing against circuit gays, I love a sexually charged dance floor, but when they start overwhelming the very few underground queer spaces that exist, other non-male queer/ trans people start to feel like the minority in their own spaces. Queer people participate in nightlife to escape the oppression of the world at large, so to feel it at any degree in spaces that should be totally liberating defeats the purpose.

What differentiates LA's queer nightlife community from other places?

As I just mentioned, there are definitely some issues with the current queer nightlife landscape in LA, but I will admit that I have had some of the best nights of my life here. I've met some truly beautiful souls that have inspired me deeply. I think what makes LA's underground scene so special is how small it really is. New groups of faces don't come around as often as they do in other cities like NYC, for example. You're pretty much guaranteed to run into the same hundred people at most events. LA can feel like a very spread out and lonely place, so there is definitely a certain comfort that familiarity provides.

What was the preparation like for your first party? What things did you consider in order to make it a success?

We considered everything — every dimension of the experience, from the first announcement to the closing track. For the launch event, we really wanted it to feel intimate and unique. We shopped venues for months before finally landing on The Lash. It's is a venue with so much history in the queer scene over the last two decades. The iconic "Mustache Mondays" used to take place there, but it's been somewhat untouched ever since. We thought it would be sick to revive it. Also it has two rooms, which was perfect for us to properly stage all of our DJs and maintain different energies throughout the space.

We really wanted the launch event to be perceived as more than just another LA party even in it's promotional stage, so we put a lot of thought into our marketing approach. My closest friends and partners at TUNNEL, Palma Wright (AKA Hateboy) and Sevyn, also happen to be insanely talented multidisciplinary artists, so we were able to accomplish everything — graphics, videos, photos — in house. As a DJ, I understood just how important it is for the talent to feel like more than just a name on a flyer. For that reason, I self-funded and produced a promotional photo/ video campaign featuring all seven DJs on the lineup. Each DJ did a personalized shoot and was also part of the group promo campaign that was blasted all over social media. I'm so happy with what we were able to achieve together on set that day. It all felt so loving and warm. We all left that set with a sense of unity and feeling like we were each equal parts of something great. I think that unity was captured in the campaign imagery really well.

We were so grateful to be able to showcase the work of Shelby Aloisio, an up-and-coming installation artist/ set designer from Oklahoma. She built us a stunning custom LED tower and programmed it to read "TUNNEL" in motion. This installation really added something special to the space. It gave people something to gather around and talk about. Towards the end of the night it actually ended up turning into somewhat of a photo booth and that was really cool to see. That kind of physical engagement with art is exactly what we are all about at TUNNEL and we can't wait to do it on an even larger scale with time.

Josh Paul Thomas, an underground legend in his own right, captured the night on 35mm. We were so impressed by the photos. He perfectly documented the magic of the night. Palma also got some amazing VHS footage and made the best recap videos we could hope for. We are so proud of how our first event turned out — couldn't be happier.

What're your pregaming rituals? Anything consistent that you do each time?

Palma, Sevyn and myself (AKA "Team Tunnel") have organically developed this tradition of meeting up a few hours before we plan to go out at my loft downtown. Because we are all DJs, one of us will get on the decks first and start playing some of the freshest tracks they've accumulated that week. We are truly each other's biggest fans, so we'll hype each other up and it gets us really pumped for the night. We'll start raiding each other's closets and styling each other, doing each other's makeup. It's somewhat of a chaotic ritual, but I've grown to cherish it very much. There is this creative synergy that consistently happens between the three of us and I think that it translates into anything we do together.

"...I saw all bodies of all colors and sizes dancing and embracing one another. At that moment I realized just how powerful TUNNEL could be."

What was the most memorable part of your first night?

There was a magical queer energy that filled every corner of The Lash that night. I remember right before my closing set I took a few moments of pause to look around at everyone in the crowd, and I encountered so many big smiles and deep laughs. I saw all bodies of all colors and sizes dancing and embracing one another. It nearly brought tears to my eyes, if I'm being honest. At that moment I realized just how powerful TUNNEL could be.

What's the ultimate party soundtrack?

That's a hard one because I feel like it changes all the time, but I have to say "Sick Bitch" by LSDXOXO. I've heard it played countless times this summer and I'm still not over it. I think it's reached modern classic status among the queer underground. There's an unreleased mashup version by my love River Moon and Estoc that features the instrumental of the forever classic "Satisfaction" by Benny Benassi and it's major to say the least — died when I heard it for the first time.

How would you like to see LA nightlife transform moving into the future?

More visibility and facilitation for emerging queer/ trans DJs, especially ones of color. More dynamic lineups. More club and techno. More truly safe spaces for queer/ trans people to celebrate and connect. More queer-owned and community-focused collectives. More art-focused events.

Photography: Josh Paul Thomas