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Industry Insider: Nü Androids Founder Nayef Issa On Combining Art & Dance Music In DC

We chat about the blend of digital art and music, who they book, how they managed the pandemic and more.

Washington DC may be known for the slime balls in government and lobbying, but there is a vibrant music scene as well. Looking beyond Go-Go music and the DMV rap scene, dance music has found itself a nice niche in the city. There is the old guard, like the people at Glow, but there are other promoters putting on exciting and interesting shows as well. Nü Androids is a promoter that has been doing electronic shows in DC for the past seven years, opening up their shows to beyond just music, but also digital art.

They do "standard" music events, but also put on other events through A.i, a roaming pop-up series and Dimensions, multi-day events combining immersive art installations and warehouse parties. They feature over 180 shows per year with DJs such as FKJ, the late Virgil Abloh (in his first and only performance in D.C.), Black Coffee, the late SOPHIE, Gorgon City, Malaa, Dom Dolla, The Knocks, Tchami, Snakehips and others all playing.

Nü Androids has made a habit of doing big temporary events, including taking over an abandoned Macy’s at Art Basel in 2019. There are big plans coming in the future as well. A permanent venue is opening in DC in the summer. Nü Androids will be headed to Art Basel with an experiential music / art installation in Miami in December.

To learn more about the brand, putting on events in DC and the future of Nü Androids, we had a chat with its founder Nayef Issa, for a new Industry Insider feature. We chat about the blend of digital art and music, who they book, how they managed the pandemic and more.

How do you choose the artists to pair with the music at your events?

Honestly, it depends on a few things. For example, we had a pop up event with one of my favorite artists, Chromeo. When I think of Chromeo, I automatically think of disco, disco balls etc. So I found a few images of different designs that were put together like a cluster of disco balls with pin lights hitting them to create a super cool visual effect. I approached my friend, DC local and DJ Abbey J. who’s very artistic and crafty. She took my idea and morphed it into her own concept which she called “Disco Down the Drain.” She found an old cast iron tub, decked it out with mirrored tiles, hung disco balls of all shapes and sizes all around and voila! It brought my vision to life! That installation was a big hit and is still featured at our shows today. It’s a dope photo opp.

Chromeo Disco Balls Nu Androids

Disco Balls

What is the booking policy like? How and why are artists booked?

We curate and hand pick all of our artists for each Nü Androids event from the opener of each show to the headliners. There are some artists that we target that we end up contracting, and sometimes they go to other companies. We can’t win them all. All of the artists we book are selected because they are, in one way or another, pushing the dance culture forward. There are a lot of variables that come into play when I am inquiring about bookings. 

The luxury that we have at Nü Androids is, unlike many other venues, virtually all of our bookings are something we are authentically passionate about. Most other venues, or promoter-owned venues, have to fill out 3-4 dates weekly, thus, it becomes a numbers game first and foremost; whereas for us, it’s more about the music that we like and the artists that we see really shaping and moving the dance scene forward.

Why did you choose to do events in the dance space?

I was the teenager making mixtapes for all of my friends growing up. I was just sort of always into forward-thinking music. So I pretty much turned a hobby into a business. It’s definitely a labor of love.

How do you pick the venue space? How hard is it to find and make work some of the pop-up spaces like an abandoned Macys?

So many variables go into picking a space taking into account two, very important questions: is the space safe and is it legal? After that, we discuss all the other variables: the flow of the venue, the natural aesthetics, what we need to add, how we want to setup sound/lighting, what artist we want to book, what our marketing plan looks like, branding for the event, what theme do we want to go with, if maybe the artist has a specific aesthetic already, etc. Finding, vetting and building out venue spaces is definitely a skill set I have refined over the years, and had to. There is a lot of competition in the DC nightlife / dance scene, and the old guard has not always been welcoming to some new blood.

In the beginning, Flash was the only venue who would give us a chance. That said, Flash is a 220 person max capacity venue, so when the artists and Nü Androids’ following started to outgrow the room, I had to be resourceful and get creative by finding random venues to host music/art events. Even then, this poses its own challenges.

For example, there is one event space in DC that charges $1k by the hour, and it’s a totally blank canvas. So we normally rent it for 12 hours. Now imagine walking into a totally blank canvas, having 5 hours for setup, 5 hours of actual event time with around 1000 people, and then having only 2 hours to break down, move everything out and leave it exactly the way it was before you ran your event. Having done this a few times, let me tell you, we were operating on full adrenaline. With our spring 2022 Nü Androids/A.i. Pop-up space, I love standing at the entrance and just watching people's faces as they enter one of our shows. The look of excitement, curiosity and pure joy is something that makes the other challenges all worthwhile.

LP Giobbi Nu Androids DC Crowd Nightclub Cocert

LP Giobbi

How has the company survived the pandemic and how do you think the lessons from it will be useful in the future?

We just waited it out. We did a couple of events here and there following local guidelines, but for the most part we were shut down. DC shut down full live entertainment events for 15 months. The main lesson for me was don't take anything for granted ever. Always be thankful!

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What is your favorite part about throwing events and do you get a chance to actually enjoy them or are you running around the whole time?

My favorite part is when it ends safely with no hiccups and everyone leaves with a smile on their face. Especially at my events, it is mostly hard to enjoy in the moment because I'm hyper aware of everything that’s happening all of the time. From time to time, I try to let loose or enjoy the music; and there are small windows every now and then when I can really do this during a show.

One that comes to mind is our Black Coffee event, which was 3 months in the making. A lot of hard work, planning and permitting went into bringing our concept and the show itself to life. My anxiety was through the roof because not only was it a pop-up for which we had to get a special events permit —a 2 months process in and of itself — but we also had to contend with the weather since it was an outdoor event. The event ran from 3-9PM. We had about 2500 21+ attendees from all demographics and the show was a massive success.

I was running around throughout the entire event, but at around 8:30 I grabbed my girlfriend and a couple of tequila drinks, went into the middle of the dancefloor (it started to sprinkle a little bit which was actually really beautiful) and I just held her hand as we danced for 10-15 minutes and got lost in the music. Then, I snapped back to reality, got out of the dancefloor, wrapped the event at 9 and made sure we closed everything out accordingly.

Black Coffee Nu Androids

Black Coffee

What makes the DC market unique to other places in the Northeast and the US?

I think a lot of people don’t think we have an arts and music scene here. But we do! So much of the workforce here is focused on government contracting etc., but we are solely building a dope arts and music scene together in partnership all of the other companies in my field.

What would be your advice for someone in the music business looking to pivot to the event side of things and can’t afford to do unpaid internships and may not have events experience already, which most entry level jobs seem to require?

Attend the events of the company you would like to work for and introduce yourself to the people running those events. Make it known that you are trying to get into the business and just constantly be a reminder by being present. There are always openings because there tends to be a pretty high turnover rate, people move in and out, etc., so if you stay at the top of someone’s mind, show genuine interest in what they’re doing and make it known you want to be a part of that, when there is an opportunity they will contact you!

How did you get into the music business?

I was a promoter throughout my 20s, however, I started getting bored of the same type of parties because it was primarily Top 40 music lineups. I approached Flash in July of 2014 to do a monthly event on a Wednesday night. They had just been open for about a year at that time. I chose Wednesday because the people that would be coming out would be coming strictly for the music and it was 21+ , while most music events are 18+. 

Our first event was with Wax Motif and we pretty much packed the house. Then we programmed four more events throughout the rest of the year with Flash. In the beginning of 2015, I approached the owner and told him I believed we were ready to book every Wednesday night starting in February and he was on board. This pretty much launched Nü Androids and was the jumping off point or where we are today.

Nu Androids Art

Art installation

What type of people / specific qualifications (be exact please) do you look for in potential employees at Nü Androids?

The main 2 personality traits that mean a lot to me are:

1. staying humble
2. being loyal

Everything after that is a bonus and can be developed with some on the ground experience for the most part.

Specific qualities would include the following:
Resourcefulness, Creative, Be available (no such things as time off in our industry).

What are the upcoming projects for Nü Androids?

We’re gearing up to open our own venue, which has been eight years in the making. In doing so, we get to really reimagine through our own lens what music and experiential events should be.

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