Painting The Town Red With BUBBLE_T
While the history of bubble tea doesn’t span very long, its popularity and impact can be seen in Chinatowns across the country, street corners, and hot summer days in the park. Invented in the ’80s in Taiwan by something of an accident, bubble tea consists of a tea base, added syrups, sugar, and tapioca balls (or jellies, if you’re into that kind of thing). What started as a happenstance then led to a global trend—and a very cute date idea.
Just as bubble tea (the drink) started organically and quickly became an urban staple, BUBBLE_T, the year-old NYC-based queer Asian collective, is following a similar rise to fame: by throwing really, really, dope parties, making a name for itself at venues like MoMA PS1 and the Standard, and bringing along a growing crew of loyal attendees. BUBBLE_T consists of five core members who all moved from the West Coast to New York 10 years ago: Stevie Huynh, Bichon, Nicholas Valite Andersen, Pedro Balneg Vidallon Jr, and Paul Tran. Always authentic and always inclusive, BUBBLE_T is the sort of collective that inspires and connects while paving the way for a new frontier of the possibilities for not only queer Asian creatives, but also for anyone who has ever felt a lack of visibility. It’s the sort of space that allows you to leave your 9-5 at home for a night, or for you to explore your identity to the fullest—all in the name of a good party.
BUBBLE_T sat down with Milk one afternoon and talked to us about party planning, community building, and their favorite Asian pop idols as they gear up for Haute Pot, their huge Pride party at Le Bain this coming Friday, June 22.
Can you talk about your roles in BUBBLE_T?
Stevie: So we are all kind of are really good at certain things that we take on and spearhead. Certain things we do delegate, like I DJ and Bichon performs and DJs. But in the end, we all have day jobs so it also depends on who can take on what.
Nick: It’s also very collaborative. The first few parties outlined our roles, like some of us DJ and I do decor and some of us organize, but it’s constantly changing.
Was the creation of the collective intentional?
Pedro: Well, we all would see each other out and then realized there really wasn’t a space for us, you know? Like I wasn’t into the music that was out there and so we’re like, “Wow we should just throw a party.’ It was something we talked about and we had the opportunity to do it at a bar in Brooklyn called the Rosemont.
Nick: It was Paul who came up with the name and then it became this sort of fun moment for all our friends, for us to go out and have fun.
Stevie: We used to go to parties all the time and it was always an Asian themed party but it was never thrown by an Asian person, you know? It was always some not-for-us kind of thing.
Pedro: It was just using the aesthetic of Asian culture.
Nick: Also, the first party wasn’t even about trying to create the collective necessarily, it was just actually like, what are our favorite things? What do we want?
Pedro: Definitely. It was more about like what kind of music we want to listen to that we’re not hearing out there. That really was what it all started from, and then inviting our own friends and making our own flyers.
Was that the first event as BUBBLE_T?
Do you think that was a defining moment of BUBBLE_T?
Stevie: Yeah I think so. That was when we all really came together and we had thought only twenty or thirty of our friends would show up. It was on a Thursday night too, but then the word spread and maybe 100 people showed up.
When was the, “Oh shit this is a thing” moment?
Nick: I think it was the next one, which was for Pride.
Stevie: I think from our first party people came up to us and were like, “Oh my god, you guys have to do it again. Do it next month,” and the space was super welcoming to let us take over again. And it was also Pride, so we felt like this is an opportunity for us to throw our own pride party that would focus more on things we like and want to reference. For that pride party, we referenced the film, Happy Together by Wong Kar Wei. That’s when we started thinking about themes at all.
What inspires your parties and theme?
Stevie: For me, it’s mostly from my experience being a first generation Asian American. I grew up on a lot of Chinese movies, chapter movies, and soap operas, and there were a lot of idols I had that when I went to school that no one else would know about. But I definitely held them on a pedestal and would be like, “This is so amazing.” Like Anita Mui. She’s the Madonna of the east. She’s like my idol. I used to dress up like her and dance like her and sing her songs and would watch all her movies. Paul really likes Lynda Trang Dai, who is a Vietnamese singer he idolized when he was growing up in California.
Pedro: For me, it was Jocelyn Enriquez. I grew up listening to her and freestyle and those kinds of vibes, so that’s something I always try to infuse in terms of music.
Bichon: I’m pretty inspired by my memories of garage parties and proms at school, so those kinds of sounds.
How did you approach tackling the issue of visibility?
Stevie: I don’t think we ever thought of it as tackling visibility, really.
Nick: It was just out of self care.
Stevie: It was also a post-election thing, too, when we came together to do this because it was a collective crisis that we had.
Bichon: Yeah, it was really to serve ourselves which ended up serving others in the same position as we were.
Pedro: We were just really highlighting what we were into but it wasn’t a big plan, it was just, “Let’s do what feels good to us.”
How did MoMA PS1 come about?
Stevie: Well we were asked by Diss. Magazine in September to curate a room at the PS1 for their fundraiser, “Back to School.” We turned it into a sort of karaoke lounge and the response to our room was really positive. I think MoMA PS1 really enjoyed having us so when Lunar New Year was coming around the corner, they were planning their celebration and reached out to us again to see if we wanted to be on the main stage for Lunar New Year.
And Solange came?
Stevie: I don’t think anyone of us actually saw her but we heard about it after. During the party we’re just so…like we’ll see our friends for like a brief moment and even that’s hard. But we saw pictures.
What would you say is the most effective tool in community building for you? What have you found to be the best way to maintain and keep this community?
Pedro: What’s cool is that we move around and we’re in different spaces, so that attracts different parts of the community. I feel like that’s how we meet different kinds of people.
Nick: That’s true, different venues can house different things as well. Like one can house live acts, one can do more DJs, etc.
Pedro: And different parts of the city, too. Like when we did Baby’s All Right, more people came from other parts of the city to that party because it was closer.
Nick: I think it’s just including as many different people as possible and trying to change it up every time.
Pedro: We rotate different performers and different DJs that we meet, and it’s always constantly engaging in dialogue.
Bichon: Our vibe has always been inclusive from the beginning. I don’t know if it’s an extension of our personalities, but we’re always maintaining inclusivity somehow.
What is the most challenging aspect?
Nick: Time? I don’t know, it’s been okay. The energy of it pulls us through each time we do it so it really is rewarding. Of course, it’s challenging but we love doing it.
Stevie: Yeah, I guess all the normal things. There’s five of us so scheduling and getting things done can get challenging.
Nick: All of us have day jobs as well, but this is a chance for us to use our skills to reference and share with our community.
What do you hope to do in the future?
Nick: We like to say that hopefully, BUBBLE_T won’t need to exist because there won’t be that gap or vacuum. But we’re not trying to reach any number, it’s all just very natural.
Stevie: We’ve met people from different cities who have started their own collectives, like in Toronto. And that’s really our general goal, is to have these connections in other cities and other communities. It’s really all just about visibility.
What about upcoming projects?
Stevie: Our line of T-shirts and merch just dropped at Pearl River Mart last week. We’re also hosting a collab with Happy Family Night Market on July 14 at 99 Scott in Bushwick.
Bichon: BUBBLE_T is also hosting a party at Live Arts NYC The House Party. I’ll be performing and we’ll be DJing there as well from 4pm to 6pm. All the proceeds go to Callen Lorde, which is a community health center that provides health service to the underserved LGBTQ+ population of New York.
Finally, what’s the secret to a good party?
BUBBLE_T: The people.
Images courtesy of Carter Schneider; Additional nightlife photography by han, minü, Luke Cheng, Paul Tran, and Oliver Mint.
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