How Daddy Issues became a queer playground with zero intimidation

© Josh Paul Thomas / Daddy Issues

Since its humble beginnings as a small dance party in a basement in east London back in June 2016, Daddy Issues has grown into a celebrated international queer brand.

As well as hosting inclusive club nights on both sides of the Atlantic, Instagram artist @heyrooney helped them to create a line of merchandise – from tees to trunks – which has become extremely popular across the globe.

Last year, founders OLLYWOOD and Borja Peña added an extra dimension to the brand by launching the very first Daddy Issues zine to celebrate body and sex positivity.

The second issue – a collaboration with Fleshjack – is titled Meet Me In The Flesh, and features Love & Hip-Hop hunk, Milan Christopher, as its cover star.

The new issue includes 22 different photo stories showcasing the beauty of a diverse range of men, with shoots taking place in Australia, India, Paris, London, New York, Canada and Madrid.

Gay Times caught up with OLLYWOOD to discuss the latest edition of the Daddy Issues zine, why he thinks their club night was needed, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in gay media.

For those who haven’t experienced it yet, how would you describe Daddy Issues?
Myself and DJ Borja Pena started Daddy Issues off as party in a small basement in east London and it is now monthly in London and Los Angeles with pop up versions in Madrid and San Francisco. This year we are also doing our first parties in New York, Mexico and Chicago. Our artwork by @heyrooney launched a very popular merchandise line which now has eight different designs of tees, two hats and two swim. Last November we launched issue one of the Daddy Issues zine which was a collaboration with photographer Christopher Sherman. The response was extremely positive.

© David Vassalli

When did you realise that Daddy Issues was something that was needed?
As soon as people started to notice our branding and the t-shirts started popping up all over the world we realized that people were extremely responsive to a queer brand that poked fun at masculinity and was sexy, but also made fun of sex. The party is the perfect environment to really leave toxic masculinity at the door and not be afraid to fag out and be your authentic self.

How do you think a party that started in London has tapped into the US market so successfully?
Luckily we had built a strong following over a year in the UK before I moved to the US, so the audience was already there and when I started the party a lot of people already knew of it. But just like anything it’s hard work, making sure the party always has a team that really understands what we are about and helps create the safe space for people to express themselves.

Did the vibe of Daddy Issues change drastically when it crossed over the Atlantic?
It flourished and developed but didn’t necessarily change. Everything is so much bigger in the US so it was a chance to really spread our wings and see how what else we could do. Our underlying message has always stayed the same.

What is it bringing to the queer experience that other club nights can’t?
Our sense of humour is our selling point and the ability to laugh at ourselves. Me and Borja worked in nightlife for so long we knew exactly what we liked and didn’t like about other parties. So many other parties sell the idea of coming to the club to get fucked up and fuck someone. It can scare guys, or make guys feel unwelcome if they don’t fit the stereotype. We love sex and we love to be sexy, but we also poke fun at sex, and we love to play with our masculinity and femininity. It has become the perfect space for all types of queers to play with zero intimidation.

© Josh Paul Thomas

Working in gay media we know how important diversity and inclusion is. How vital was it that body positivity and racial diversity was at the forefront of the Daddy Issues ethos?
Diversity and inclusion is always at the forefront of everything we do. Making sure that everyone feels welcome and accepted is extremely important. Making sure the team at each party is representing all different kinds of backgrounds. We started with one tee design and we have just finished our ninth design (more to come). We want there to be a design that speaks to everyone, including a female design.

Now with the zine we are able to push this message even more by showing the beauty of all different types of subjects of all different sizes and backgrounds. Which is just the way it should be – no need for us to be congratulated. It’s just a depiction of the world we live in. The zine is made up of 22 photo stories from all over the world. We had stories shot in India and Australia, as well as London, New York, Paris, and Madrid so we got to showcase a lot beautiful diversity.

You also have these unapologetically queer people playing with their masculinity – how have you managed to encourage that at both your club nights and in the zine?
Toxic masculinity is the root of so many of the queer community’s inner problems and luckily everyone who worked on the zine, including the models, were down to fuck with that. When you offer someone a safe space to be their authentic self it can be beautiful to watch. All of of the models were chosen because they are unafraid to show their femininity. Same with the parties. I often book dancers that dance at more masc parties. The other month I had a huge muscle guy who came with 10 inch stilettos and was so happy to be working at a party where he could wear them. Usually you find that the masc for masc stuff is the performance.

You’ve mentioned that the Meet Me In The Flesh issue is loosely based on the idea that so much of our communication happens digitally that we sometimes never meet people we know online. From your experience, do you agree with critics of dating app culture who say it’s contributing to a decline in LGBTQ nightlife?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been working in nightlife for 11 years but I never understand when people say nightlife is declining because any night of the week any day of the month I can tell you a great party to go to. There’s so much friendly competition with nightlife too, which keeps you striving. Sure, if all you want to do is go out to get laid, then why bother when you can order a guy from your phone like a pizza? But seeing as our party is all about the music and the experience, I think people will always want that, which you can’t get through an app. Although I LOVE the idea of a Daddy Issues app, but it would probably be a game.

© Rakeem Cunningham

The other half of the concept is the idea of a model and photographer meeting for the first time to shoot in the nude. Why do you think society still gets hung up on nudity?
From my experience it comes down to money. Sure, sex sells. But not gay sex. Gay sex makes straight people uncomfortable. If you want the money of big advertising brands, they are usually scared to endorse anything that makes straight people feel uncomfortable. We collaborated with Fleshjack on issue two and Pure for Men on issue one. Working with queer and sex positive brands is extremely important. I have worked in places before where you end up censoring what you want to create to please advertisers and I won’t work like that anymore. I want to normalize gay sex with straight people.

How do you straddle the line between the magazine being an artistic expression of body and sex positivity without it veering into softcore porn?
Firstly I love porn and the zine was hugely inspired by gay porn imagery from the 70’s-80’s. I sent the artists a lot of references from vintage porn magazines like Colt Studios and Honcho magazine. We also referenced a lot of different porn magazines in the design and layout of the zine. Daddy Issues is a sex positive brand so I wouldn’t be offended if someone mistook the zine for porn at all. However our brand’s underlying message and ethos does stop the nudity from being purely pornographic and gives the eroticism some purpose.

What does the future hold for Daddy Issues?
We take the party to New York City for the first time April 29th at the legendary venue The House of Yes, which we are really excited about as we have been trying to get the party there for a long time. We continue to collaborate with @heyrooney on more designs. We will be at Drag Con LA this coming May. We are also taking the party to Chicago and Mexico. Lastly, we hope to continue to produce plenty more issues of the zine and work with artists all over the world.

The Daddy Issues: Meet Me In The Flesh zine is available to buy now from their official store, along with all of their merchandise.



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