Party without borders: North Carolina’s No Visa is transcending cultural differences with dancefloor universality - Features - Mixmag

Party without borders: North Carolina’s No Visa is transcending cultural differences with dancefloor universality

Built on a concept imagined by co-founder Alec while incarcerated as an "undocumented immigrant," No Visa is bringing together North Carolina's unique, interwoven club community

  • Words: Belle Richardson | Photos: No Visa
  • 2 April 2024

Functions is our monthly interview series profiling parties from across the world. This week we meet: No Visa.

Musically, physically, and spiritually, No Visa is a party without borders. First launched in 2019 by brothers Alec and Mike in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, No Visa is a genre-agnostic club night with an ethos built around transcending borders through music. Woven into the very fabric of this ethos is co-founder Alec’s experiences as an ‘undocumented’ immigrant, which ultimately led to his incarceration years ago where he spent nine months in a detention centre. Despite cultural differences between himself and his fellow detainees, Alec discovered first-hand how music could “transcend those differences and bring people together”, sewing the seed that would eventually grow to become No Visa.

“We were in a dormitory of 60-70 people, all from different backgrounds and nationalities, each with different horror stories,” recalls Alec. “Music was the one thing that united us. We got to learn about each other's culture and dance to each other's music - I got to see firsthand how music could transcend cultural differences and bring people together. So, No Visa is a child of those experiences.”

In the true spirit of its name, the fledgling party has been quick to travel outside of the US to cities like Johannesburg in South Africa, Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and Abuja in Nigeria, hosting names such as DJ Lag, Bianca Oblivion, and Jamz Supernova over time. Reflected in No Visa’s booking choices is Alec and Mike’s dedication to supporting minorities, and a desire to stay true to their “universalist ethos” by remaining “inclusive and open to all”. On any given night at a No Visa party, expect a crowd that is as diverse as its sound.

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Label and creative agency Immaculate Taste is the driving force behind No Visa parties, another collaborative project from the pair informing the club night’s bookings. The label has helped put them onto artists such as Cruel Santino and AYLØ, and enables Alec and Mike to manage artists at music festivals across the globe. As with Immaculate Taste, the pair hope to see the nomadic party further establish itself on a global level with dreams of hosting parties in cities such as Paris, London and Nairobi in the future.

For now, No Visa continues to spotlight and platform artists from a plethora of genres. As they ready up plans to share the work of more artists that they truly believe in following the release of a compilation album from local artists, No Visa club nights continue to transcend borders and bring the community together in North Carolina.

We spoke to No Visa’s co-founder Alec about their earliest parties at North Carolina’s now-shuttered Nightlight club, providing opportunities for minority artists, and upholding its inclusive ethos. Read on to hear their story.

How have your own clubbing experiences helped you to formulate your party?

It's not so much my clubbing experiences but more so a byproduct of being raised in Congo/Francophone Africa. I don’t think we talk enough about how culturally diverse Africa is. In Congo alone, we have over 200 ethnic groups, each with its own language, culture, and customs, so it's not uncommon to hear several languages and musical styles in one song. In addition to that, we were equally versed in French hip hop and pop, US pop music, and rock. So I think the seeds of musical open-mindedness were planted back then.

What was the first No Visa party like?

Ah! We absolutely didn’t know what we were doing. We didn't know that throwing a party in Chapel Hill on Thursday night during exam week was a bad idea, we were just glad that Nightlight was the only club that gave us a shot. We didn't know we weren’t supposed to have an opening act play at 160 BPM! So much we didn’t know. All we knew, in this post-iPod Shuffle era, was that we wanted a party that reflected all the music we love. We wanted to have it all on the same dancefloor and not in the same building, but in different rooms. That ignorance turned out to be a blessing in many ways, every party we throw is us trying to recapture the beautiful chaos we experienced that night!

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You describe No Visa as a genre-agnostic party, what have been some of your favourite genres to host so far?

It’s too close to call, but our favourite parties have been with artists like Nikki Nair, Jamz Supernova, Kampire, Made of Oak, Anna Morgan, and Bianca Oblivion for their ability to seamlessly blend different genres.

What sort of people roll through your parties?

The audience is pretty diverse, coming from various backgrounds. While we aim on supporting minorities including racial minorities, women, and LGBTQIA+ clubbers (which is also reflected in our bookings), we try to stay true to our universalist ethos by being inclusive and open to all.

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Where do you throw No Visa parties now and where would you like to in the future?

Initially we were throwing parties at Nightlight in Chapel Hill, but after COVID, the club shut down (they’re still looking for a new home), so we started throwing parties in Durham and sometimes Raleigh. But we’re also nomadic, so we've hosted No Visa in New York, New Orleans, Asheville, Johannesburg, and more. We would definitely love to hit more cities in North Carolina, Kinshasa in DR Congo, London, Berlin, Paris, Nairobi, the list goes on!

What’s something about North Carolina’s party scene that’s unique to the area?

I feel like I get the most freedom to go in any direction here. Anything goes! Well, almost. I still have nightmares about clearing the floor when I played some Singeli music. But there is a degree of receptiveness and openness that I have a hard time finding in other places that we almost take for granted.

How do you envision No Visa evolving over the next few years?

Some of that is already in the works, but besides the obvious like playing in more cities and curating festival lineups, we want to release compilations and distribute songs from artists we believe in.

We also want to help people learn how to play on CDJs because most people can't afford them, and access to gear isn't always easy. Part of us hates that CDJs are the "industry" standard while many minorities can't access them. So, on one hand, we love to encourage people to feel confident playing with the gear available to them, while on the other end, we want to provide ways for them to have access to learning how to play on CDJs.

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Who would be a dream artist booking?

So many to name, but if I can get Kerri Chandler I can die in peace.

What’s a genre you haven’t tapped into yet, but you’d like to in the future?

I would like to have a successful night playing some Singeli music, and I’d love to have some Dembow and hardcore parties.

What’s something you’ve learned since hosting parties that’s surprised you?

Don't trust online reviews. When we booked Bianca Oblivion, we put her in a hotel that looked amazing in photos and had great reviews. When we went there it was… let's just say we owe her a 5-star hotel next time she comes to play with us! She was so gracious with us - such an awesome human being!

Follow No Visa on Instagram

Belle Richardson is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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