This month, TRQPiTECA, created by Natalie Murillo (aka La Spacer) and Jacquelyn Guerrero (aka DJ Cqqchifruit), celebrates its two-year anniversary. The monthly event, most often held at Junior’s Sports Bar in Pilsen, is part tropical dance DJ night, part performance art, and part electric beach aesthetics (think sequins, disco balls, and blow-up palm trees). The result is a sensory paradise that revolves around the vast array of artists and performers in Chicago’s queer scene. The Weekly spoke with co-hosts Natalie and Jackie about the inception of TRQPiTECA, the importance of Chicago’s house music scene, and dancing as a form of resistance and healing.
Natalie Murillo, aka La Spacer (they/she)
Lay the groundwork for me: the history of TRQPiTECA, starting TRQPiTECA, how it came to be.
TRQPiTECA came to be because we had done an event on the North Side at Slippery Slope that we called Boom Boom Q. There was this other dance party that happened at the Green Dolphin, maybe ten years ago, called the Boom Boom Room; I wanted to call [ours] Boom Boom Q in memory of the Boom Boom Room, because it was house music, and we just wanted [ours] to be this event with dance music, house music—and for queers to feel welcome. We only did it a few times, because the space we were doing it at, the management was pretty uptight. We brought one small party light and they were like “Oh, the owner doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want it to look like a club in here,” and I was like, “Wait, you have a huge DJ booth in here…” Like, why do they even want us here? And I looked around at the people that would go to [Boom Boom Q]—we did it like two or three times—and most of them were from Pilsen. So we told ourselves, let’s look for a space in Pilsen, because there’re already a lot of events and spaces being used on the North Side, and I grew up by Pilsen. I haven’t seen a lot of queer events, as far as house and techno and everything in between in Pilsen. And so we came across Junior’s space.
For my story behind the name: [Jackie and I] were trying to come up with this event together. Jackie comes from Miami, and she missed the tropical and the warmness; the first TRQPiTECA happened in January, so you can just imagine being in Chicago in January and missing the warmth. The name also comes from wanting to play tropical music and to do some tropical aesthetic. The ‘-teca’ comes from the word discoteca, which in Spanish means a club, a disco club, like a seventies one. So, we thought, let’s call it “TRQPiTECA”—like a tropical club, also because I connect it to the club nightlife culture as well. And then we just changed the “O” to a “Q” to have a little queer-friendly symbol/message, so people would catch on to that.
What’s the environment you want to create at TRQPiTECA?
I want people to feel like it’s part of their community. It is a community. It’s a space were you go and hang out with other like-minded creatures. I want people to have an experience, not just to come for the booze. I want people to come for different reasons. If you’re really into music, you’re there for the music; if you’re really into art, you’re there for the performance art, or because of the art we create to change the environment. Like Junior’s, we change it. If you come another [normal] day, it’s not going to look like TRQPiTECA. I love that we can transform the space. I want people to feel like they enter a vortex, or they just traveled to another space or dimension. The way that I see that happening is through those tropical aesthetics—the pineapple flag, the palm tree flag, the huge backdrop tropical installation that Jackie created, the palm trees. But it’s very DIY. For me, little details like that are important. Sometimes we do little things on the table, sometimes I spray paint some coasters and put a palm tree that says “TRQPiTECA.”
Jackie and I actually take in a bigger system in there, so people can feel the bass and really feel those tracks being played. If we were just to play using the system Junior’s has, the experience would be so much different, sound-wise. I’m really into sound, so that’s definitely something that’s a must. I don’t have to take those subwoofers and that sound system, but I do, because I love sound and I want people that really love sound and really move to the sound to have that.
It’s a lot of details, and it’s a lot of work. And that’s what a lot of people don’t see. We don’t just get there and start playing—there’s a lot of work that goes into it.
How has Chicago’s house culture influenced you?
That’s been really important. I grew up in Chicago so I had my baby experience of listening to house music on the radio. Back then, the radio was awesome here because of that. There were a couple of radio stations that played house, and house music was born in Chicago, so I was just living in that time—the only thing that sucked about me being in that time is that I [couldn’t] go to the clubs. But as a kid I would hear it all the time on the radio in the car. I had older cousins that would play it and would talk about the clubs. So I was pretty much raised by house music.
Beat 96—believe it or not, Beat 96 played house music. My radio was that old school tuner, the one where you have to turn the knob; the 96 was right in the middle, on the line, so I would move the tuner, and boom, there it was. That was me at three years old. It was a very, very young age. My family—they’re hardcore party people and we have a huge family. Pretty much every weekend my family still celebrates someone’s birthday, so there was always someone’s house to go to. We would have dinner, and when dinner’s over, people were dancing [and] my older cousins would throw on a house mix.
And there were a lot of DJ shops too. What they would sell were mixes—promo CDs or promo cassettes—and they were different styles. I still have some of those—some tapes. They had really cute covers. I have one that has a picture of the DJs and a little mini icon, and it’s hard house and freestyle mixed together, so it’s all freestyle vocals and hard house beats. It’s so good, it’s like heartbreak tracks but with these banging hard house beats. I love that because it’s super high energy, and back then I had so much energy. I was banging so hard to those. So hard. And juke music. I think what people call footwork nowadays, is what we would call juke. I have a juke tape. They would have all these funky colors too, so I was also interested in the aesthetics. I had CDs but they would scratch so they really didn’t survive, but the tapes did. I even have a Latin freestyle one that’s yellow, like a see-through yellow.
In Little Village—mega malls, super malls, flea markets—all of those spots had DJ booths and would sell mixes and CDs. There’s still one in Little Village on 26th Street, right before you hit Kedzie if you’re going west. There’s this place called Discount Mall. They probably changed a bit, from when I was a kid, but I would’ve gone in there and bought my DJ mixes. And I was really blessed, like one of my aunt’s friends told me, “I hear you like music a lot, I have a lot of my son’s tapes and he’s in jail. I don’t use them, so I’m going to bring them to you.” And he brought me a bag that had probably twenty tapes of all different kinds—some of them were house, some of them were techno. There was this other thing called “Boogie Nights,” and it was just different gangs from all over the city talking shit about each other with some background music.
So growing up in Chicago and just being into music since I was a kid, it’s definitely been an influence to me, and this is why I do what I’m trying to do. I think the only downside back then (but I don’t think it has to do specifically with music or house music) was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of women representing and being a part of it. As far as the DJ culture and the music producer culture, it was like, “Oh, you’re a woman, a woman is only good for vocals.” And growing up I decided, “I’m going to do me.” I never understood how me being born a woman was going to prevent me from doing what I like. And now, times are changing, and there’re more women popping out in the house and techno scene as DJs and producers. That makes me very proud to be doing TRQPiTECA. I feel like Chicago was craving that. I was craving something like that. I’ve been to so many different events and parties and there was a lot of misogyny and womanizing going on, and it was not cute. And I realized, oh my god, is this what I have to deal with? That’s not the audience I’m trying to target. [My] audience is queer, people of color, and people that are allies. I just want to have a good time, have an experience, be somewhere and not feel judged.
One of the things right now that’s really upsetting in our community [is that] people are having a hard time giving five dollars. And I’m not talking just at TRQPiTECA, but in general. I see that as a big problem. I mean, money is always a problem in general. But I think usually when you go to college, or art schools, or you’re a part of that scene, you’re used to going to these free events and drinking your PBR; or [events are] ‘donation only,’ and how many people don’t donate if it’s not mandatory? I’m not about that life because I’m really into music and house music, and I don’t care how much I have to pay, I’m going to have an amazing time. I’m going to pay for that admission fee, because I know that if I like that sound system blasting and sounding so good, the money I’m giving is going to part of that. And the DJ that’s blowing my mind and going to take me into outer space deserves that money….
Or [people are] so used to the other situation: their friends paying at these venues and clubs that are open until 4 or 5am and have the money but don’t pay the artists—so they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to pay. My friends are not the ones being paid, it’s going to be the owners that are getting that money. Why do I have to pay?” I get that too, but this is not that kind of place. This is DIY, it’s a POC event. So I think some people need to know what’s up.
So one of the things I love about TRQPiTECA is that it’s a community event, and the community is the one that’s supporting it. There’s been a few articles out there that I’ve read, saying that queer artists are not in the mainstream, probably for being queer, so it’s up to the queer community to support [itself]. We are a market! Maybe it’s not a market that’s valued as much by the mainstream markets, but we are a market. And ideally we don’t need that mainstream market to survive. Because TRQPiTECA is an example of how if the community is into something, it leads to something, and does its part. It can be funded by the very community that is benefitting off of it.
Jacquelyn Guerrero, aka DJ Cqqchifruit (they/she)
What methods or techniques are important to you in creating TRQPiTECA?
In the past I have made this installation called Glitter Beach, which is this big super tapestry that looks like the ocean and it has this sand. So I did a different version of that, so that’s the big installation that’s up every time now, with the waves, and the beach, and the sun. I come from a set design and lighting design background. For me, it just makes sense. And then being a part of really opulent nightlife—I mean tropical cabarets—has this really rich visual environment. The music is the other part that helps to create that zone, and then the performance is just natural, part of the equation.
It’s not the same every time with the performers. We’ve had more traditional drag and cabaret style, but sometimes we have more performance artists who do more experimental stuff and it can really impact the vibe. And sometimes people do things that are more painful expressions. I think there can be room for everything. It’s interesting to see what the effect is. Sometimes people will leave after that, it just changes the space, so it’s definitely a challenge to curate a line-up that is balanced—you know, like the best thing. Our lives are not all razzle-dazzle, but people are going there to have a good time—but it can be cathartic.
You mentioned receiving some criticism. What’s the criticism, do you think it’s valid, and if so, how do you change the event to respond to it?
Criticism has been around who comes, but the people who come are different every time. One time, one person said that there were “too many white people.” The people that come are very diverse, in my opinion, but it also changes every time depending on who we book. But we also, every time, are featuring black and brown performers who are femmes or queer people, so in terms of who we invite and who actually comes, I don’t know what to say when it comes to something like that. It’s a hard thing to try to process, because it’s not like I don’t want white people to come. That’s not how I feel. I think it is diverse and it is a space to provide a platform for different perspectives, so having people coming from all different places is what I wanted, rather than a homogeneous thing.
It’s also difficult because that was a little hurtful to me. There are a lot of people who come that I don’t know, and a lot of my friends and most of the people I invite are people of color, but I can’t control who comes and who doesn’t. It’s a mixture of people that are artists, people that are queer and trans, and people of color who are coming from tropical backgrounds. There’s space for everybody. That [criticism] has stuck with me the most because that was last summer, five or six months into our programming. A lot of people in the arts scene are coming from SAIC, so I think it links to a conversation around gentrification, around who lives in Pilsen and who comes to Pilsen. But from the beginning we’ve been featuring people that are from the neighborhood and who are people of color, so I think we’ve stayed true to that intention. In our vision, the way that we describe it, is “a platform for artists working with queer and tropical aesthetics”—I think it’s pretty broad and leaves a lot of room for interpretation in terms of the music that we play, the guest DJs that we book, and our performers. So, if you’re down for that, I think you would have a good time.
How has resistance shaped your art? How do resistance and disco DJing go together for you?
The way that I’ve come about DJing is my love of dancing. I think that’s very common in terms of young—and even as we grow older—queer culture and other cultures; dancing is a huge part of the social practice. So I think dancing as resistance, that’s it. I wanted to DJ because I was invited to be part of Chances, which for the past ten years has been a huge part of Chicago’s queer nightlife and art scene. So they taught me how to DJ and before that, I was going all the time to queer parties—Changes, FKA, Queer Park, and that was really cool, those were the main ones. I went out in Boystown, but that wasn’t a place where I felt appreciated. So I think my style developed from my history and where I’m from, Miami, not from hearing a lot of tropical music there. And being in Chicago, it’s critical to have a vocabulary around house music, in my opinion. So I think all of those things are connected, so I’ve done a lot of listening to tropical music, and tropical house and learning how black and brown and queer people created and shaped those genres, and how they’ve been co-opted by Europeans. I think having an understanding about that, exploring that and trying to do research around that have been a lot of my focus.
Who have been your favorite performers? What are you most proud of bringing to TRQPiTECA?
We’ve had some very solid Chicago artists and South Side artists pass through, which I’m really proud of. But a lot of traveling performers have been very serendipitous in that they’ve been in town at the moment and we’ve been able to provide a space for them in that moment. We had one night that was memorable: Boychild and Liz Mputu, who’s a very famous online artist. And then we had this other performer, Dirty Grits, and they’re traveling around now, but they were living in North Carolina for a long time. So that night, we happened to have three different traveling performers, whose performances, together, were about the struggle—our struggle—and moving toward the healing process.
Healing was the explicit topic of Liz’s performance, and the nightlife scene can be a complicated space, because when people are partying there are so many different things that can happen and that are happening and there’s sometimes a very fine line between having a healing or self-care experience [versus] harm with substances. Sometimes, I feel like there’s a death drive that’s inherent in partying and party culture. And that’s why I think having art in the nightlife space has become an important part of what we do, because I think art is inherently a spiritual practice. Although some people have other intentions, like to make money—you know, people have different reasons for why they do what they do—but for us and our community, which is mostly queer, and mostly people of color, the art comes out of resistance and survival. The need to create art to survive is a real narrative and experience for the people in our community, so I think that having a place to express that and a place to go deeper is critical.