LE BAIN: I was just looking at the new issue of Dirty Magazine and I have to say there is no other magazine like it. You listed the early 90’s Playboy, Richardson and Project X publications as influential. What does that tell us about Dirty?
RIPLEY SOPRANO: In the present, in New York at least, I agree, I don’t think there is any other magazine like Dirty Magazine. In some ways listing those other magazines as influential helps make this one more legible – like you can place it somewhere in a zeitgeist of other publications. However, besides ‘sex’ as one of the general themes, we aren’t actually very like Playboy or Richardson. In terms of circulation and recognition, I definitely am trying to build something as scalable as those brands, and like Playboy did at one time, elevate pornography and its arbiters into a space that is recognized as vital to and not separate from culture and intellectualism.
The closest thing to Dirty is certainly Project X. Project X was a zine turned magazine about NYC club culture created in the late 1980’s by club kids Julie Jewels and Michael Alig.
The lexicon and vantage point of Dirty as a publication is much closer to Project X, in that it’s immersed in a group of people and our lifestyles and is contributed to and built by a roving cast of characters. For Dirty, some of those characters are Magdalena Galen, Max Lakner, Jade Forrest Marks, Zulai Romero, Ian Reid, Val Breeder, Dada Coz, Sarah Snider, Trinity Noone, myself; for Project X it was Michael Alig, Julie Jewels, DJ Keoki, Freeze, Angel, Peter Gatien, Waltpaper, Amanda Lepore...the list goes on.
Any other publication you feel close to?
Truly, the only other thing publications Dirty ‘strives’ to be like content-wise besides Project X is Big Brother Magazine – which was the precursor to MTV’s Jackass and was a very irreverent, niche skateboarding magazine that ended up being acquired by the publisher of Hustler, Larry Flynt in the 90's. I would like to think Dirty Magazine is a magazine about and by sex workers and co-conspirators with the attitude and irreverence of a brash, in-your-face skate magazine, that’s accessible and written for anyone who is down for the ride.
Talking about Project X, we cannot mention Michael Alig, without going into the dark side of the club kid scene of the early 1990's [he was convicted of murder]. Still, it had been a fun and creative and inherently New York time. How does Dirty Magazine relate to that scene and time?
The Club Kid scene of the 80's and 90's influenced so much of pop-culture –music, film, and the like. Those parties, the outfits, the magazine, it definitely has been canonized and influenced our contemporaries today. I can’t say how much I watched Party Monster, read James St. James book, and poured over the archive of Project X since I was in middle school. I may have started a magazine without that influence, but I certainly wouldn’t be doing Dirty and it wouldn’t look and sound like this at all. It couldn’t. Now, when I see someone like Amanda Lepore out here still doing her thing, I just think damn there’s a living legend and someone who has lived through so much triumph and tragedy of New York nightlife. I can only hope for the same and hope me and my friends can learn from some of the mistakes of our predecessors.
"Building something legendary takes time and needs to resist the draw of instant-stardom in favor of long-term success, influence and meaningful engagement from an audience." – Ripley Soprano
Can we avoid the dark side of nightlife?
One of the ways I’m really trying to do that is by bringing drug education and harm reduction into the heart and soul of clubs and partying without sucking all the joy and fun out of nightlife. There’s so many people we’ve lost to overdoses and other horrifying things as a result of drugs, drug criminalization and the like. Making sure every person in the club carries Narcan, knows about dosing, knows how to test drugs accurately is my goal. We want to make harm reduction the only way to use drugs for every generation that follows us.
Who would be the ‘Club Kids’ of today? How would you define a 2021 It Girl and It Boy?
Talking about the “It’s” in 2021 is complicated. social status and "it-dom" has become intensely commodified and difficult to separate from the major commercial social institutions that have – or attempted to – seized a lot of control of some NYC social scenes. So much has changed economically and we are just living in a very different time from the 80's it Girls/Club kids. At the end of the day, Instagram, fashion houses owned by companies on the NYSE, and media groups are constantly trying to handpick who’s It and who isn’t and it ultimately just benefits those companies. Dirty definitely wants to present alternatives to this process and feature the people who have cultural momentum that comes from a meaningful place.
If Julie Jewels was the NYC It Girl of the late 1980’s, who is your NYC It Girl of this summer?
I’m reluctant to name people who I admire as ‘It’ Girls and Boys or whatever because I think it’s kind of damning: for that person and for the crews they belong to. Unfortunately, scarcity mindset is a real thing in New York and I’d like to invest in something a little more socially sustainable. Building something legendary takes time and needs to resist the draw of instant-stardom in favor of long-term success, influence and meaningful engagement from an audience. An example of how we are doing this is not putting individuals on the cover of each issue but letting beautiful image making lead the way.
Dirty is about the Downtown scene and style. Tell us about it.
The truth is there are many Downtown’s and it really depends on who you ask what it is. There’s skaters, streetwear heads, resellers, townies who are the children of the 70's and 80's icons, artists, there’s stuff that is short lived and long lived, but the truth of Downtown is that its what Arianna Gil called “the epicenter of Empire” (in her article “The Best Don’t Get Caught” which was about the brand Supreme in Cultured Magazine last year) so it’s one of the places where style is both produced and extracted at a rapid pace. Our interest is to tell stories of the various Downtown’s and lifestyles and styles within it without forcing it into “the center” or mainstream.
"The plan is to make things so fun that you forget about your phone. Instagram is truly a garbage pit."
Dirty Magazine first issue’s motto was “Your guide to Tomorrow’s party.”Was it a reference to the Velvet Underground's “All Tomorrow’s Parties”?
Yes, definitely a reference. I’ve always been a big punk and glam-rock head. The Factory was definitely a fascination when I was younger after I read the book Please Kill Me. I studied New York City history in college and honestly, the more I learned about that clique the less interested I was. I obviously think the world would be super different without them and I wish so many of those artists and thinkers hadn’t died so young, and instead, had lived to a lengthy age especially Marsha P. Johnson, who is attributed with throwing the first brick during the Stonewall riots. Marsha is a huge inspo in that she took care of her community in big and small ways including being a founding member of the original Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries House and fighting against NYU's gentrification of the West Village. Talk about a downtown legend! I think that particular scene is now understood as having really turned people out, and that Warhol exploited a lot of the trans women in his community at enormous profit and social cost... I’m not inspired by that aspect.
Let’s go back to 2021. I read in Dirty that “Mass Groups of Downtown Kids Delete Their Instagrams And The Party Just Gets Better.” It sounds like a dream. What’s your plan?
Definitely the dream! The plan is to make things so fun that you forget about your phone. I’m definitely stoked on no phone and no photo policies making their way into nightlife spaces and want to see them in more kinds of places. This is a big reason why the magazine is print-only and the only digital content we make is for our subscribers and is encrypted. Instagram is truly a garbage pit. They regulate everything we see to the point where I literally get bored when I'm on there but there’s something insidious about the way they’ve managed to reroute my neural pathways so I pick up my phone to check the app. I’m so grossed out even sharing that. Instagram (and daddy Facebook) are problematic as a cultural and economic arbiter. They’ve succeeded in changing the game so that so many people rely on them as a platform for that fix of serotonin, not to mention their livelihoods. But we know how rich cultural scenes have been before that existed, before the takeover of centralized media tools in internet 2.0.
What can we do against that hegemony?
Everyone said print was dead but I think the pandemic and many people being inside opened up an opportunity to bring print back as people want to hold physical objects like magazines, catalogs. When people open Dirty, unlike when they open an app where for me I feel excluded and frustrated with my own life, I want them to feel something fresh where they look into a world of the magazine and feel like you’re actually a part of it.
"I’m more drawn to crews and projects than figures and personalities." – Ripley Soprano
Tell us about Contraband.
Contraband was inspired by the collective experiences of being on the receiving end violent and exclusionary censorship taking place on Instagram and other platforms against sex workers and general sex-related content. Contraband is our exclusive chatroom and content thread platform, which is hosted on the encrypted messaging app Signal to fully ensure safety of users. Contraband is made up of Dirty Magazine subscribers and friends who are looking for a place to express themselves outside the reaches of arbitrary and punishing “Community Terms and Guidelines”. Consisting of both explicit content, exclusively party photos, merchandise drop look books and advertisements you won’t find anywhere else on the internet or in print. Contraband is what I’m calling a masterclass in abundance, and was born out of a community necessity to return to a world where communication, exchange of ideas and freedom of expression are not confined by law or technocratic agendas.
How does it work?
After subscribing to Dirty Magazine, subscribers are sent a postcard with an exclusive invitation to join the chat and must download Signal in order to do so. Subscribers are greeted by a digital bot that asks for a handle ensuring that the numbers of each user are masked from one another (a safety protocol that Dirty’s digital director Magdalena Galen developed to expand on the Signal and Whisper Systems open source code). Inside the chat, the guidelines that exist are to not make the chat environment “unpleasant” with a warning that you will be axed from the chat if you do. What happens in the chat? You’ll have to see for yourself.
You seem extremely talented at mixing activism and entertainment. Do you think the future of activism is in entertainment and vice-versa?
I do think of Dirty Magazine as a public health project but in a more subtle way. I think things that explicitly and primarily try to meld entertainment and activism are not effective in the long-term and tend to use shame and weaponizing ideology to get people to follow their agenda. I think it’s really damaging the culture and turning people off and we’re going to see a rise of more intense alternative right wing factions as a result. If shaming people into doing what you want or think is best is the future of activism mixed with entertainment, I really don’t want anything to do with it. In the case of Dirty, we are uniquely interested in the real-world impacts, the material results of culturally diffusing harm reduction into more cultural spaces and building a future where no one dies because of lack of access to clean, safe supplies and education around drugs.
In that sense, do you have a couple of inspiring figures or personalities?
I’m more drawn to crews and projects than figures and personalities because they are more sustainable and provide a better blueprint for the kinds of change that are possible: you can’t do anything on your own, and anyone who says they did is just kidding themselves. I think Brujas is really inspiring, and has been straddling that line of political education, community, organizing, skate culture, and streetwear for several years. I also am very inspired by 69 Herbs which is an incredible non-alcohol-based herbal product line that uses gorgeous aesthetics to cater to people who the medical system isn’t serving: drug users, queer/trans people and sex workers.
Tell us about the party at Le Bain. What can we expect?
I’m very excited about this line-up because it’s filled with people that have greatly influenced me and my perspective on what’s possible in nightlife. All our DJs bring something very special to the table sonically and for the culture. We’ve got Dada Coz who is a performance artist and the founder and fixture of the Bronx-based dance party AFUEGO and was our back-cover star in Issue 1 of Dirty. No Intimate, aka Sarah Snider, who co-founded and programmed Radio Bonita – an anti-imperial radio station that ran out of Performance Space New York (formerly PS122) last year, a founder of Pretty Records, and the designer of Dirty’s inaugural issue. Fckng Bngrz who are the gnarliest and most inspiring party/DJ crew who threw some of the best underground parties I went to during the pandemic that were super well organized and mind-blowingly fun.
And you have a special guest.
We’ve got Joey Labeija who really is my favorite New York DJ and producer, I fell in love with his work when he was throwing a regular party several years ago at Cameo Gallery (RIP) called Legendary which was were I first saw acts like Junglepussy, Don Christian Jones, False Witness and so many other incredible artists. Joey has a new single dropping August 24th, so we’re all very excited to celebrate with him!