Well before raving took place in Toronto there was a DJ known as Malik X, who was arguably one of the best the city had to offer.
In the late 1980s Malik began hosting a Ryerson University community radio show he called “Radio London.” If you set your dial to CKLN 88.1 on Saturdays from 6-8pm your ears were greeted by Malik’s smooth English accent proudly showcasing the new and old sounds of his hometown.
“Techno is happening right now in London like you wouldn’t believe and the show is called Radio London and that’s why I’m playing it. And I’m also playing rare groove, swing beat, and everything else – I’m trying to keep everybody happy.” – Malik X (19:27)
Malik was a hidden gem as far as Toronto radio personalities go: a professional with big radio talent, yet happy with the level of creative control and impact he had with his volunteer gig. His dedication was apparent in the listening experience which rivaled mainstream radio but with content that was anything but. His broadcasts featured numerous Radio London bumpers and Malik X soundbites throughout, production qualities that were far the norm of community radio at the time. Of course, creating these samples was second nature to Malik, as behind the scenes he was producing his own music (tape cover left, more on this later). And unlike most mainstream radio DJs he actually knew how to mix, and mix very well. This skill became obvious when he overcame the challenge of mixing with broadcast turntables at the CKLN studios.
Behind the scenes Malik was also a spoken-word poet, so he had a wonderful way with words which provided a pleasant on-air demeanor. Even when tongue-twisted he would ever so smoothly unravel his thoughts and his sense of humor would leave us with something far more entertaining than if he spoke it correctly. His abilities with a microphone were well utilized for his genuine support of a tight-knit community that was the trusted voice of. He always encouraged calls from listeners and discussed their comments on air. He went beyond the call of duty in fund raising drives and constantly promoted local record stores by preaching the purchase of vinyl, rather than just dubbing cassette tapes. Malik was well known by friends for his spirituality made evident by his words and his ankh accessorized wardrobe. His listeners knew him for subtle messages of wisdom and well-wishing because of shows that often contained his own PSAs.
“If you’re out there driving, please, ’cause I know a lot of people will be driving and also will be drinking – because the subways aren’t running and all that sort of stuff. If you’re going to do that, think again, because that’s bad news, alright?” – Malik X (43:00)
With his broadcast talents forming just one part of the many frequencies emitting from Malik, he was also well known for a number of club residencies. In 1989 he spun a rare-groove-based set to a packed house every Saturday evening at the Caribou Club at College and Bathurst.
In 1990 the venue was leased to the owners of Sneaky Dee’s, and Caribou’s management relocated to the The Claremont on Queen Street West (now Starbucks) where Malik spun a more progressive set on Saturday nights on the lower floor. In 1991, a Wednesday night at the Cameron House on Queen West (still there) – originally titled “Flirty Dancing” and promoted by Tom Davis – eventually morphed into a longstanding evening of acid jazz with Malik X.
Since Malik offered such a complete package, he also earned regular time slots at various warehouse parties throughout the city. He would often refer to the parties as “raves” because he was aware of the rave buzz in the UK and these events were the closest thing to it at the time. That is, until Malik was united with the Exodus crew via DJ Mark Oliver – who was in charge of the DJ line-up at these events. Exodus raves eventually became a regular installment in Toronto’s after-hours scene and Malik became one of its biggest promotional forces.
Around this date in 1991 the music programming on Malik’s radio show began to shift. Where once the show echoed the soothing sounds of rare-groove, soul and acid jazz, the airways were now filled with hardcore sounds and accelerated beats. Malik was getting caught up in the energy of the burgeoning Toronto scene and his radio show was now fully synchronized with the techno surge in the UK. This was made possible because of hot-off-the-press vinyl sent directly from London contacts which he then showcased on a segment of his show called Air Witness News. His broadcasts were a pre-rave staple within the tight-knit community and would create positive momentum for the event at 318 Richmond Street West which occurred a few hours later. Sure, the format change alienated the portion of his audience looking for a more mellow mix – but for every listener he lost two new rave seeking listeners set their dials to 88.1.
His remaining Wednesday residency at the Cameron House was also being influenced by his involvement in the new scene as it once again morphed in to a mid-week mellow-out session for those who had been to Exodus and seen the future.
When performing at 23 Hop, every aspect of his showmanship shined through – a fact that made it easy for Malik to focus his energy on it. As a result of his linguistic abilities he naturally adopted the role of MC during Exodus raves. He coined Toronto’s first rave MC chants which completed the true rave experience in Toronto. His impact on the scene would be seen and heard for years to come. Think Dr. No, who was influenced by Malik’s MC and mixing mannerisms and openly named him as inspiration.
With his main gig rumored to be a 9-5 for the TTC, Malik was moonlighting solely for his love of music. But just like his tracks had made leaps in BPM, his DJ career was now also set to +8 and the scene was evolving even faster. As a result he started to question the path he was on with regards to his role in Toronto raving.
UPDATE 4/16: 7 years after we published this article we made contact with Malik. Get the update and listen to his new mixes here.
Here’s a rare and raw interview with Malik from 2000. Thanks to Ondine Hayes for sharing footage from her forthcoming documentary: The Day I Found the Music: My Raveolution.