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The Hottest Ever: Jon Ali is taking his DJ career to the next level

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

Interview by Alex Hughes, Photography by Troy Hallahan, and Styling by Dylan Wayne

Jon Ali is likely responsible for at least one of your recent fun gay nights out in New York – whether he’s behind the DJ booth at your favorite local gay bar in Brooklyn, West Village, or Hell’s Kitchen, hosting his new monthly party “Well, Yes!” at The Standard East Village, or taking over the stage at Lady Land, Jon is seemingly everywhere, blasting his perfect curation of pop beats. We stole some time from Jon for our latest ‘The Hottest Ever’ cover shoot to chat with him about his DJ goals, what you can expect at his parties, and his viral Dua Lipa moment. If Dua’s a fan, you know Jon is doing something right.

Read our interview with Jon Ali below, and check out our full photo shoot with one of NYC’s best DJs.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: Jon, you’re busier than ever. You did Rosemont last night, 3 Dollar Bill tonight. You have a few things next week. For someone who’s ever been on your parties, what can they expect?

Jon Ali: If I’m throwing the party, the vibes are always like fun and welcoming, I want to say. I’m very much someone who wants to make everyone feel welcomed, so you could be a bro, a little femme, or whatever the case may be. I want everyone to feel included and that’s very much the vibe I always try to curate no matter what I do.

If it’s a pop star themed night or if it’s even a sexy moment, I just want it to feel like a warm vibe. Silliness is encouraged.

So.Gay: Do you remember your first DJ gig?

Jon Ali: My first DJ gig was actually at a restaurant. At Elmo in Chelsea. So they own Barracuda, Elmo, and Industry. When they were trying to bring me into DJ, they wanted to test me out first because I had never DJed in my life.

So it was very much like, I’m going to pretend that I know what I’m doing, just make it work. But they were like, let’s test you out at Elmo for brunch first.

So that was my first gig –  it’s odd to DJ for a brunch because everyone’s just like sitting around eating. But it was fun. And then I want to say the first real, real DJ set I did was shortly after they were like, okay, he’s not a complete idiot, he can do this. Let’s give him a chance at Barracuda.

And then I did a night at Barracuda and it was fun. Barracuda back when I started was like 10 years ago. That’s when Chelsea was actually kind of popping. It was a staple bar, so I couldn’t really ask for a better gig. And it was fun.

I immediately liked the power of controlling a room, but also having fun with it.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: That was back when like Chelsea was the actual gay neighborhood.

Jon Ali: Yeah, like when Chelsea was the gay neighborhood. And did you see that the Blue Store or whatever just got closed down? That’s so sad. Gym Bar is still there.

When I was coming into New York, you would go to Chelsea. Now there’s like three bars that exist there.

So.Gay: What are some of your favorite songs to play for the gays right now?

Jon Ali: Right now, I’ve been very in a disco-centric zone right now. Like a disco house.

I have this really good Dua Lipa Houdini mix that I like to play. Always pops off.

I love anything Jessie Ware. Anything Kylie. Kylie’s my girl. And I want to say the songs that get the biggest reactions right now are anything nostalgic. Funny enough, people are really into hearing the stuff from like when they were growing up. And that’s always usually a hit, but I feel like I’ve noticed more so recently that like people really have a bigger reaction to.

I played Like a G6 last night by The Cataracts and Dev. And it was a choice that I was almost scared to make. But then I kind of was like, I feel like this crowd would get it.

And the way the room erupted … people went off for it. The nostalgia vibes are very much hitting right now.

So.Gay: You were talking to me earlier a little bit about the music and parties you’re creating.

Jon Ali: I’ve been DJing now for like 10 plus years and I’ve had my staple gigs like my residency at Barracuda when I first started. I’ve been doing Playhouse for a long time and I had a little party that I started a couple of years ago at Soho House. It was once a month and it was their only gay Friday night party that I was doing with them. That’s where I dipped my toes into producing a party that was something that I could call that was mine.

It wasn’t like a Barracuda night or it’s just a bar or something that I did with them that was my name stamped on it.

And after doing that at Soho House I kind of just wanted to do more but how I do it on a bigger scale. That’s what my focus is right now.

I’m producing the party myself where I’m deciding who’s going to be involved as far as people who could host and bring people to the party or if I want a performer or two. I’m the one reaching out to them. I’m the one speaking with the venue about the lighting that I want or can I bring streamers and put them around the disco ball and all that.

I’m the one curating and making the experience for people and I’ve realized I’ve really loved doing that element to it.

And then also I’m getting on stage and talking and introducing the people that are performing and all that.

So it feels like I’m using all my strengths and having it like vomit on everybody at this one night.

I found that to be really rewarding in a not only in a financial way but also putting so much work into something that you are passionate about and then having it be a success where people are coming to it but then also leaving feeling exactly how you wanted them to feel. And that’s really been amazing and this year I have a lot planned.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: So you’re in bars and clubs 24/7 – where do you actually like to go when you have a night off?

Jon Ali: Home. My nightlife life requires so much of my energy constantly that’s also my fault. I can’t help it. I’m a very social person. So as soon as I walk into the space I’m saying hi to the bartenders. I’m saying hi to the other DJ. I’m talking to the manager at some point.

I’m making sure everyone is aware of the fact that my presence is there – from people that come to the party, whether strangers or people that I know.

So when I’m not doing that I like to be the complete opposite which is like sitting in a room in a cave in darkness watching Traitors or Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. Something mindless. Completely mindless where I could just sit around and turn my brain off and just exist like a noodle.

So.Gay: One of my favorite iconic moments of you is you at Playhouse with Dua Lipa dancing. Tell me about that moment, because it seems as though the people around you both don’t even recognize her.

Jon Ali: Right. The Dua Lipa moment. My viral moment. Every time I post it people go that was you? Or is that the actual Miss Dula Peep? I’m like yes that’s her.

Well I’ve been a music journalist for a good portion of my life. I feel like I’ve had like three different lives already. I’m only 33. 

I’ve been the music journalist side of my life where I was constantly interviewing people and profiling artists. That has connected me to so many people in the industry. So I’ve been lucky over the years.

I have a friend, Jules, who’s now a friend of mine that I’ve known for like nine, ten years. At the time he was working as part of Dua’s team. And anytime they were in New York, he’d be like Dua wants to go out. Dua wants to go see drag. And asking where to go.

So there were a couple times after I interviewed her when she was very early on. I think she was like opening for Troye [Sivan], which is crazy to think of now because it probably would be the opposite.

She was always super cool. Obviously I would choose one of my home bars because I had the most access to them.

So there was just a night where I was like literally out for dinner. And he was like, “Dua wants to go out. Where can we go?”

It was like a Tuesday. [Playhouse] had just opened too because it was pre-pandemic. It was like literally two months before the world shut down.

So I was like, let’s go to Playhouse. So we just went to Playhouse and sat and waited for the drag show to start. And we were just drinking and taking shots and having fun.

She’s a super chill, down to earth girl. Very like a girl’s girl. Just like hanging out and talking. She was very nonchalant about everything. And she was always very kind too.

I literally went to the DJ at some point without her realizing and I was like, can we put on “Don’t Start Now”? I don’t know what possessed me that night. But for some reason I decided to get up from my chair and start dancing. And she joined me. And the rest is history.

I think she was generally shook by the fact that I knew the choreography of her performances. And I think that’s why it’s such a cute moment. Because she’s like, oh this gay is turning it out in front of me right now. She was so game.

So.Gay: We need Jon Ali opening for Dua on her next tour.

Jon Ali: Right, right. Oh my god, that’d be amazing. That’d be amazing. That is definitely a goal of mine.

I have different levels of what I want to be doing. The producing is very much a focus right now. As well as traveling with the DJing. I want to DJ other places.

I’ve done Dallas, Texas. I’ve done Miami. I’ve done some places.

But I want to do LA. I want to go to DC. Like one of these where there’s like little pockets of gay cities.

I want to start doing more stuff like that. So I’m not just limited to New York. Traveling is definitely more like a focus.

Eventually I think the evolution of that would ultimately be to find one of these queer artists that I always feature on my ‘Queer Necessities’ playlist – maybe work with them more and start like maybe remixing stuff.

I would love to do a tour. A couple cities. Opening for a queer artist would be very much the trajectory.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: You like to show off your body. And you have an OnlyFans. So you’re doing it on both platforms: Instagram and the monetization of the OnlyFans. So with you as a creative, how big is your OnlyFans as part of your career?

Jon Ali:  The OnlyFans kind of came as like a, well, why am I not doing this kind of thing? Because my branding or how I brand myself is very free spirit in a sense of like, I like to be free in my body and own it and just, I mean, I have a great butt. So why not include that in everything? It’s what gets the engagement on the social media.

I’ll post a flyer for a party and I’ll get zero traction. If I post a picture of myself being a little thotty and then the flyer, it gets a lot of traction.

Over time, when I was experimenting and just having more fun with these photo shoots that I would do, I could tell that there was an audience that was wanting more.

So I was like, okay, well then obviously maybe I should just give them more. I took what I was doing and just became less wink wink about it and was just like, well, here’s everything.

I still take it in a fun approach.

Obviously there’s stuff where it’s just like what [people] want. But I also throw in a little bit of a creative nude photo shoot and it’s not just like, here’s my penis. It’s like, here’s a beautifully shot photo of my penis.

I have like zero shame oddly enough. I think it’s because when I was growing up, I was so reserved and shy.

And that when I got to a point I was just like, why am I reserved and shy?

I think doing it also encourages other people to be free with themselves. And that’s just my everything. Like, by the way, I do my parties and the way that I promote myself the way I just exist. Everything should just be no frills, no shame, be fearless.

I feel like the OnlyFans is a way to channel that energy for myself too.

And it’s also, I don’t know, I like feeling hot.

There’s literally zero shame in doing it.

We all, all gay men and straight people, like we all eat each other out or suck each other off or all that – everyone has a penis or an asshole or whatever you have. Everyone has it.

So.Gay: So for people who are in the creative space and have it in the back of their head of like, should I start an OnlyFans or not? With your experience, what would you tell them as far as starting out?

Jon Ali: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared at the initial launch of it all because I knew now people are going to see me differently. You can’t help but be perceived, I guess. And everyone has their own perspective and opinion on things.

So I would say that if you want to do an OnlyFans and you feel like you want to, I’d say the best way to go about it is to do it the way that feels most comfortable to you.

So I went into it very much like I’m going to do it the way that I already do everything else that I do. And that’s my comfortable way of doing it.

I will say if you are really, really interested in doing it, it does become like a job, in a sense. If you just want to do it as a side fun thing, just post some photos here and there, then do it that way. If that’s how you feel comfortable doing it.

But if you want to take it seriously, you have to very much approach it as a job because there are people who are paying for your content. So you have to provide the content and you probably are having to update every few days or respond to messages often and people are going to ask you questions and you have to be very present in it.

But again, you have to just approach it in the way that feels the most comfortable to you.

Also once you have it, you have to vocalize that as well so that you’re not throwing people off.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: Do you remember your first NYC gay bar experience?

Jon Ali: I think it was Splash actually. I was underage. I shouldn’t have been there. I had a fake ID.

My friend took me because he was a little bit older than I was.

So he kind of showed me the ropes in New York because I grew up in Jersey and I never experienced any like gay anything aside from just people that I knew.

And then when I became good friends with him, he would always like to bring me into New York and take me out and be like a bad influence on me.

And then there was another one that was like across the street from Splash. I think it was called Rush. Rush and Splash. R.I.P.

We need a Splash. I want a man behind a plexiglass showering.

So.Gay: For all the boys who want to know, are you single, dating, in a relationship?

Jon Ali: I am single, actually. I’m almost eight months now single. I was in a really long-term relationship for like seven years. We mutually parted ways, we had hit our moment.

I’m very much single. I will say I had a little bit of a hoe-phase post-breakup, but now I’m very career-focused, and I’m not opposed to dating. If someone wants to ask me out on a date, I’m game. If you’re nice, can carry a conversation, are attractive, you have a job, and are fun, I’m down to go out with you. I’m very open to possibilities always.

So.Gay: What’s the best thing about boys in New York, and what’s the worst thing about boys in New York?

Jon Ali: The best thing about boys in New York is that there’s an eclecticness to New York City gays, because some of us come from different walks of life, as far as areas, and I feel like we all have come here, and I like that we all have these vast experiences, so I feel like everyone is different, but also there’s always something that you can relate to.

I like the variety. There’s so much variety here, you’re always going to meet someone who is different.

The bad thing is that there’s too many of us. There’s like so many guys, and I feel like most New York City gays are like, we’re stylish, we have a sense of maturity to us just because to live in this city is not easy.

I always say that New York, we all love New York, but New York doesn’t love us back, so that develops a tough skin to live here. You have to really be a strong-willed person to live here, and I admire anyone who could make a life for themselves here, so I think that’s a positive, and then the negative is that there’s too many of us. We have too many options!

So.Gay: What are your turn-ons in guys?

Jon Ali: I like someone who engages with you. If you could engage with me as far as a conversation. I could talk to anybody – you could be the worst person in the world and I could talk to you.

I like someone who pays attention and is listening. I like someone who’s a little confident, I want to say, a little edgy as well. Someone who has a little edge to them, someone who is not afraid to make a move.

I think because I have such a dominant personality, if someone could overpower that a little bit, I like that in someone. It doesn’t even need to be an aggressive thing. You could just be like, you’re taking over the vibe now, and I like that.

I think it’s hot when someone knows how to be secure and confident in themselves.

Also, just be silly sometimes too, don’t be afraid to laugh and make a silly little joke.

If you make a weird or maybe awkward pass at me, or those silly pickup lines, I will take that. I’m not obsessed with it, but I kind of like it because it’s like, oh, that’s silly. You made a move, it’s silly, I’ll take it.

So.Gay: What about turn-offs in guys?

Jon Ali: I don’t like people who are too serious. Sometimes when you’re just so afraid to smile. I understand not everyone’s a social butterfly, and I know that I’m a lot for people, but I don’t like when someone feels a little stiff. I don’t like stiffness.

If you’re the only one carrying the conversation, and you’re providing nothing in return, I might as well just talk to the wall. I would probably have a better conversation. It has to be a two-way street.

So.Gay: Outside of New York, do you have a favorite gay bar anywhere?

Jon Ali:  Maybe because I’m biased and I DJ out there all the time in Fire Island. I do kind of love the Blue Whale, just because I think there’s so much history to it, so that adds an element to it, but I like a tea dance, and Blue Whale provides that at Fire Island. We’re outside, and there’s a bar also that you can go inside to, and you’re amongst an ocean and the sun. There’s oxygen, and I like that bar for that reason.

And then, oddly enough, I just was in Miami for a little vacation, and this bar is one of the few places you could go to in Miami, but there’s something about the slightly trashiness of it all that I love. It’s called Twist.

Twist has all these rooms, so you could navigate where you want to be. There’s an outside area, and you’re in Miami, and there’s an accumulation of people from out of town or who live in Miami. I think that’s a silly bar. I call it a silly bar. If you go to Miami, you go to Twist. I kind of oddly have a weird admiration for it.

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Jon Ali for So.Gay – Photography by Troy Hallahan

So.Gay: Who’s your current male celebrity crush?

Jon Ali: I feel like I just stalked him. He’s that guy in – oh my God, he was just in that show, The Travelers, The Little Travelers, with Matt Bomer, the other guy. Jonathan Bailey.

He was in a show with Matt Bomer. They’re just having sex the whole time. He’s very cute.

I don’t know, there’s just something about him. I think he’s English, so I always love an English man. Give me some English sausage any day. There’s something about him.

He’s sexy but also kind of nerdy looking at the same time. And I like that mix. I’m such a sucker for a nerdy but sexy man.

Yeah, put on some glasses and I’m like, yeah, legs up, legs up.

So.Gay: For your gigs, where is the best place to always find where you’re DJing?

Jon Ali: All my socials are @Jon_Ali, I will post my gigs in advance or like the week of.

I’m bouncing around everywhere. I’m in Hell’s Kitchen, I’m in Brooklyn. Sometimes I’ll go to Queens, sometimes I’m in the East Village.

I’m doing a monthly party at The Standard right now. It’s different from everything else that I’m doing. I do a lot of club stuff. This is like the one bar party that I’m doing. And I called it, “Well, yes.” It’s at The Standard East Village once a month, so everyone should go to that one.

I like it because I’m never in that area. Boiler Room is there and Eastern Bloc used to be there.

I think they have Club Cumming and Boiler Room and The Cock. I think those are like the three bars you could go to that are gay.

But that night [at The Standard East Village’] I do once a month. It’s like the one gay night that they do. I have three hosts every time. And they’re from different walks of my life. And they all bring their friends. It’s a full mix of all these gays that have never met each other. It’s cool.

You can follow Jon Ali on Instagram at @Jon_Ali

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