On a muggy Sunday earlier this summer, anyone exiting the L station at Jefferson Street in Bushwick was greeted by the sound of cheers and laughter, backed by the thrumming groove of a DJ set pulsing across one of House of Yes’ famous block parties. Every few months, the famed creative collective welcomes the neighborhood to join in its uniquely inclusive form of partying, bringing its glowing, glittery vision of nightlife onto the streets and into the daylight for a few brief hours.
Founded in 2015 by Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova, who have been friends since they were teenagers growing up around Rochester, New York, House of Yes is best known as a massive Brooklyn nightclub that celebrates diversity and originality while offering late-night dance parties and mind-bending performances. But for the founders, the idea began with the circus. Both trained aerialists, the pair first started organizing parties in order to support their art. “At our core, we didn’t start throwing parties,” Sapozhnikova explains. “We weren’t being producers, we just had parties—what do we want to listen to, who do we want to come, when do we want to do this?”
That organic, DIY attitude has guided the pair through years of steady growth into the scenemaking group they are today, with pop-up venues at festivals like Bonnaroo and a position overseeing the programming at the immersive, experiential
Paradise Club at the Times Square EDITION. Even on this larger scale, however, every night at House of Yes carries a sense of secrecy and intimacy, as if the party were being thrown just for you and your friends, despite the hundreds of strangers in the room. This feeling is essential to the group’s success and explains why it is managing to make its mark in a nightlife scene that is increasingly overwhelming and overrun with corporate sponsors, branding, and a sense of monotony. “That is the biggest challenge,” Sapozhnikova admits. “There is an endless amount of cool art and music to book, but how do you keep it legit? How do you keep it what it is at the core? That is complicated.”
Burke and Sapozhnikova’s solution is to always keep their origins and values in mind. “Now looking back on it, this is part of the same lineage as when we were all like sixteen and people would get permits in parks and throw shows,” Sapozhnikova laughs. “Now we would call that DIY fifteen years after the fact.” New partners and collaborators are expected to subscribe to that same perspective. “House of Yes welcomes everybody,” she adds, “as long as they are innovative, they are passionate, they’re aligned with our ethos of inclusivity, and they’re aligned with the ethos of how we’re not just making art or having fun, but how do we make the world better?”
Key to that drive is House of Yes’ emphasis on consent culture, something that is sorely lacking in the hospitality industry. “We are living in a misogynist country and the world is messed up and it has been for a long time,” Sapozhnikova says. “Nightlife is where you’re creating the perfect environment [for trouble]—it’s dark, people are drinking, they’re partying. Nightlife is a cultural outlet for everyone to be irresponsible and reckless and wild and crazy and it’s necessary. You can’t have a culture without that blowing off steam.” The House of Yes team takes its responsibility seriously, especially now that it has become an example many other venues and groups are looking up to as a way forward. “Being a woman in nightlife, it’s so much more glaringly obvious, because of my experience,” Sapozhnikova explains. “I’m coming from a performance background and wearing the skimpiest outfit out of anyone in the room and being exposed and out there. It’s very, very, very obvious what the problems are and what needs to be done. Now we’re in a position where we are running things and we have a predominantly female team and it’s very queer and everyone is completely in tune with that [consent] culture and they’re activists about promoting that culture.”
Visiting House of Yes, then, promises all of the pleasures of an epic night out, but also perhaps a shift in mindset. If the riskiest and most tempting of situations can be made safe, there is hope that the rest of the world can be as well. “Nightlife has always been at the forefront of cultural shifts and doing things differently,” Sapozhnikova says. “That’s where we’re the most human.”