MY!GAY!HUSBAND! makes Playland happy again

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      In his two decades spinning records as the DJ named MY!GAY!HUSBAND!, Jason Sulyma’s done it all.

      So, these days, his attention has largely turned to organizing events—like Happyland at the PNE. The all-day Pride celebration is entering its second year, and makes the most of its mish-mash of party vibes: part drag performance, part dance night, part theme park excursion, part comedy show, and part straight-up concert.

      “We just want everyone to come together—people from our LGBTQ2S+ community and also from our ally community—and have a day that’s a little different,” Sulyma tells the Straight over the phone. “Everyone’s in the sun having fun, everyone’s screaming and acting a fool on the rides, everyone gets to see the biggest acts in a venue that’s super beautiful with the mountains behind us. We’re really simple—we just want people to be happy.”

      Last year was Happyland’s inaugural event. But Sulyma says the idea had been kicking around for a while—ever since he and creative partner (local drag staple Venus) attended New York Pride for Stonewall’s 50th anniversary in 2019. That year, Brazilian drag superstar Pabllo Vittar and genre-smashing legend Grace Jones played Pride Island: a multi-day music festival at Pier 97 in Hell’s Kitchen.

      The experience solidified Sulyma’s desire to bring something off-the-wall to shake up Vancouver’s Pride scene. He’d spent years doing the parties at Celebrities—but what else did the city need?

      “We wanted to do something different, that nobody else was doing, and we wanted to do something outdoors, a festival, fun,” he says. “We were inspired by events like Gay Days at Disneyland, and thought, ‘Let’s do something like that.’”

      Sulyma pitched the idea to the team at the PNE, as well as local concert promoters Timbre, with both loving the idea. The green light allowed Sulyma to use the PNE Forum stage for artists. The event, which this year is on August 6, takes over the whole fairground for the day, letting revellers have unfettered access to rides and attractions—with the bonus addition of a top-tier music festival. The name is a throwback to Playland’s amusement park predecessor, Happyland, which ran from 1929 to 1957 in Hastings Park.

      After a pandemic-induced delay, 2022’s Happyland saw the festival launch with a range of acts and styles: local drag artists, Louisiana bounce icon Big Freedia, and sad boy Perfume Genius performed, with sounds from DJ Softieshan in between.

      “We decided to go with a hometown hero and one of my oldest musical booking friends, Orville Peck, as the headliner,” Sulyma says. “It was less DJ, less dance party than traditional Pride parties, and more curatorial.”

      Around 4,000 people turned out—“indie kids, local kids, Pride kids”—making Happyland one of the largest Pride events in Canada outside of a parade.

      “Vancouver’s a very small market,” Sulyma muses. “We love the city, and we’ve always tried to push boundaries and book the biggest artists to try and bring that wow factor.”

      So, this year, he set his sights higher, and booked “pretty much the biggest acts in the world” on the Pride circuit—a bold claim, until you remember that Happyland 2023 headliners Trixie Mattel and Pabllo Vittar have a combined 16 million Instagram followers. Vittar’s tecnobrega-inspired pop bangers and reedy soprano have made her a leading icon of South America’s LGBTQ2S+ community, while RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 champion Trixie Mattel bounces between strumming country-pop music and pattering bawdy queer humour.

      The drag-forward lineup also stars Priyanka (winner of season one of Canada’s Drag Race), Alaska (All Stars 2 victor), and local non-binary drag collective Enby 6—of which Venus is a member. The odd act out is Slayyyter, a bisexual pop girlie whose bubblegum noughties-throwback tracks seem tailor-made for dancing in the sunshine in between riding Atmosfear for the sixth time.

      And Sulyma’s headed back to the stage, too, with MY!GAY!HUSBAND! joining Softieshan in keeping the beats going.

      “I like to be entertained, and be entertaining, so we kind of go new and old,” he says, promising to play everything from classic house tracks and historic jams to the semi-official Gay Club Banger of the summer, Kylie Minogue’s “Padam”. (The conversation briefly discusses the gay fascination with Eurovision, which Sulyma doesn’t really get. But he does debate spinning “Cha Cha Cha” from Käärijä, the robbed Finnish entrant who went viral on TikTok earlier this year.)

      But his DJ set has a touch of bittersweet to it, too.

      “This is probably one of the last times I’ll DJ under this name,” he reflects. “It was a different era for me; it was a different era for the city.”

      The persona was born, like all good ideas, from “going to Thailand for a couple of months with some crazy lesbians.” His plan was to have a wild time and come back to the city and “figure out how to make it more fun.”

      But after 20 years in dark rooms, the light is calling to Sulyma. He’s planning other daytime events, and is already thinking about Happyland’s future. Queer and alternative culture doesn’t need to be restricted to the small hours.

      “I like doing things,” he concludes, “when the sun’s out now.”

      Happyland

      When: August 6, 4:30pm

      Where: PNE Amphitheatre and Playland, 2901 East Hastings Street, Vancouver

      Admission: From $79, available here

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