Happy Dark Productions is a nightlife and lifestyle promotions group based out of Sunny San Diego, California. Since 2011, Kaleb Nicola, President & CEO of the company, has been on a mission to pave a new path forward for LGBTQ+ events. With enhanced production and incredible musical talent, Kaleb is redefining LGBTQ+ experiences and opening them up to those outside of the community.
We got to chat with Kaleb about his upcoming events for San Diego pride weekend and all about his mission to bring people together. Check out the interview below!
EDM Maniac: Tell us about UNITE and how it got started.
Kaleb: Well, the mission is the same as it’s always been. UNITE began out of a desire on my part for the LGBTQ nightlife events community to be more inclusive of all the members of our various communities. I’m a really strong music lover myself. It’s been something that’s been very pivotal in my life and it made a big impact in my life in a very positive way… and so I attend nightlife events not only within the LGBTQ community but at music festivals and clubs and events that don’t specifically focus on the LGBTQ community and while I attended these events, I regularly came across members of our community or gay community who told me that they don’t often feel welcome or accepted circuit parties — which are kind of primarily the source of gay events. They tend to be marketed to white gay men and you know, just the facts were pretty obvious and being someone with a pretty diverse network of friends, and a lot of racial and cultural communities who at times express the same sentiments to me.
It really bothered me, and especially someone who has witnessed and benefited from how the power of a collective music experience can connect and uplift and heal people. It bothered me to think that anyone didn’t feel welcome in a space where they could have that possibility….and so at that point, I’d already been producing events with my partner at the time in San Francisco for about five years or so and I realized that, you know, if you don’t like something, change it. I have got the network and the capability to make changes from within, so I set out to do just that and five years ago, we started UNITE. The idea was to create an inclusive Music Festival. The first year began as a weekend of nighttime and daytime events at various venues around San Diego. I definitely went big for my first year.
EDM Maniac: So here we are five years later, what are the events this year?
Kaleb: We have three events Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Friday night which is our new party brand. Its tagline is Damn, you’re sexy. You know, the idea is to come as you are expressing yourself in whatever way you want that makes you feel comfortable and represented and seen. And that’s 10pm to 4am. We’ll be debuting Millennial in San Diego at that event. Millennial is a new brand, a couple of DJs within the gay community, the circuit community… that has kind of branched out and kind of tried to bridge the gap musically. They’re trying to integrate a lot of EDM sounds into circuit music, which is perfectly aligned with Unite. It’s very much in line with what I’m trying to do. So the music will flow with the vibe of the event as well. So that’s Friday night. Saturday night is 10pm to 8am. We are definitely the late-night destination.
So that’ll reach till 8am and then at midnight, we close it all out with Masterbeat, my production partner that helps me with a lot of promotions (and has helped me get the brain going if you will) they’re gonna come in and do our closing my Sunday party from 10pm to 9am.
EDM Maniac: So last year, obviously, it was a difficult year. Were there any challenges trying to reschedule these events?
Kaleb: That was a very interesting position to be put in as a promoter. I kind of pride myself on being a very organized person, that’s how I’m able to do this, even though I have a pretty serious career outside of event production. I kind of created this, like nice 12-month timeline, if you will, of how I create this festival. I immediately start next year, you know, honestly, before this year ends and so I’m used to kind of spending 12 months in my timeline, and get this done, and all sudden, I realized back in, I think it was May we realized, oh, this actually might be possible, this might happen. So all of a sudden, it was like, oh, I have three months to do what I do in 12, and at that point, had already announced that last year before I canceled for COVID. I already had my entire lineup out. I had my tickets released, everything was already done. I had a very international lineup set up for my five year, and of course, it was canceled.
I just didn’t feel safe booking the same talent I had because there was so much uncertainty around whether or not that talent was gonna be able to get here from their respective countries and everything. So I had to really rethink what I was doing and try to give that same kind of impressive, diverse range of music that you would hear from throughout the world. We’re using DJs, who I had good relationships with here in the US, but focusing solely on US DJs. So that was definitely a challenge for me, especially because I tend to actually tend to like bringing in a lot of the international flavor.
EDM Maniac: Being from Utah, how did that shape your trajectory in life? Like, did it change anything?
Kaleb: Yeah. So I’m in San Diego since 1999. Literally, the day after I graduated high school I moved to San Diego… I was done. I never felt at home, if you will, in Utah. Like, it was my home. It was kind of you to know, where I was from, but it was never right. I never connected with it, it was not my vibe. It definitely shaped me. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of things that are valuable about having come from there and I’m grateful for a lot of the routes that had been created for me. But it has definitely shaped my life. I mean, I came from a place that I think in some ways, my story I think can be you know, it can be related to by a lot of people. You know, escaping somewhere… a little smaller a small town and going to somewhere bigger. For me, it was a big shift and was a big change and it definitely, you know, inspired a lot of change within me. I’ve been able to kind of express that change within me, externally. I help others come into their own change and be comfortable with themselves and live their authentic selves and being who they are meant to be if you will. Sometimes we’re not allowed to do that in places like Utah, where we don’t feel like expressing ourselves as our authentic selves. So, Unite is definitely an embodiment of what I’ve experienced as I’ve grown as a person leaving the farm in Utah, and moving to San Diego.
EDM Maniac: Can you tell us about Kristina Sky and the United We Groove sunset cruise on Sunday?
Kaleb: I attend a lot of music festival events and she tended to be at a lot of the ones I would go to, and every one I went to, I was always so impressed with her sets, they always just have this feel-good Southern California sunny vibe to them. This kind of just feel-good progressive sound, and I just was really drawn to her musical style. Trance is a really personal thing to me. It’s a style of music that has helped me through a lot of really dark times. It’s something that has really kept me going at times when I didn’t think it could essentially be personal to me. It means a lot to me and so I really want to share that with other people. I want that to be experienced by people in my LGBTQ community. So I feel like Kristina’s kind of the perfect vehicle for it. She makes people comfortable, who may not always listen to that style of music. So, I reached out to her about the idea and she was all about it. She was immediately on board and just really excited, and definitely understands what my overall vision and vibe is for what I’m trying to build. She’s been nothing but an incredible partner. I mean, she’s just poured herself into the whole thing and really incredible to work with.
EDM Maniac: Is there anything else you’d like to share anything else you’d like our readers to know about you and about the event any tips any?
Kaleb: I think the main thing would just be this year is, this year truly is unlike any year I have ever produced. I’ve also been producing events for about 11 years and I don’t know about you but this is not just a promoter sales pitch. Sales are unlike anything I’ve experienced. I mean, most of my events are already selling out on my weekend passes already have sold out. My Saturday night event is sold out. I want people to go get tickets if they want to attend because they’re probably not gonna be available at the door. I’m gonna have a certain number, but it’s gonna be based on capacity and especially for the cruise and that has a very fixed number that we’re allowed to take with us out to sea and so once those tickets are gone, they’re gone. So I’m just really trying to encourage people to pre-purchase their tickets so they can get them at an affordable rate and that they’ll be available and able to join us…because they’re gonna be limited at the door and cost a lot more!