18 years ago to the day, November 9th ’91, I left London, England for Toronto. I’d never been to Canada before and knew very little about the country I was visiting. My entire cultural awareness consisted of Degrassi, The New Music, and Kids in the Hall.
I was going to Toronto ostensibly for a vacation, but sub-consciously I was ready for an adventure. I’d met a Canadian woman a year earlier at a club in London and the way I’d met her was profound. On the night I met her I couldn’t decide whether to go out or not. It was the first time I’d had the thought… ‘I’ll never know what might happen or who I might meet if I don’t go out’. That decision would, without exaggeration, completely change my life.
I was 20 years old, ambitious, and up for something new. I’d already experienced a lot in my teen years…. At 16 I was working for the most successful underground club promoter in London. Philip Sallon ran The Mud Club which was the Studio 54 of England. Every famous artist of the time used to come down – George Michael, Duran Duran, Bananarama, Grace Jones, Boy George, a very young Kylie Minogue, the guest list was a who’s who of 80’s pop culture. I worked for Philip for 5 years, learning everything about club life. It was a crazy education, just like the decade. I remember one night walking around a club with Boy George and Philip Sallon holding the equivalent of $100,000 in a plastic bag. It was the takings from the Mud Club and we’d gone out after hours without taking the money home.
When I touched down in Toronto, a cold November Saturday afternoon, I was keen to explore the nightlife of my new city. I nearly flew home again when my friend’s room-mates took me to a country and western bar. Fortunately that was the first and last Country and Western gig I ever attended.
It didn’t take me long to discover the underground party scene. The first clubs I went to were Bar One at Yonge/Isabella, Cameron House Wednesday and RPM (now Guvernment). The second record I heard in Canada (at Bar One) was Spice by my very close friend EON, who recently, and very sadly passed away. I made friends with Jennstar who was working the cash desk at RPM, and Yvonne who was working the door at Cameron House. Within a week I’d found my first Warehouse party and this was a scene that would totally blow my mind.
I’d never seen anything like the Toronto warehouse scene before, and the music (Chicago House/Garage) was simply incredible. I was used to some pretty high production values in England, but finding myself in a simple warehouse, with one revolving light in the corner, and 500 styled up fashionistas and drag queens, all dancing the Bus Stop to Aly-Us Follow Me, was unfucking believable. That night I fell in love with Toronto.
Back in England I’d been fortunate to go to some of the earliest raves, before they were even called that. ‘Clink Street‘ was run by my friend Mr C, and was a legendary multi-storey warehouse party in South London. Boy George threw a ‘rave’ for his birthday party with a smiley shirt as the invite. Others fade into the haze of memory. Acid House was the music and from those early events in 87/88 and the club nights that surrounded them, the first true raves like Sunrise and Biology emerged, attracting thousands, and eventually tens of thousands of people.
While I was finding myself infatuated with Toronto’s four-to-the-floor house, I was still curious as to whether there was any kind of a rave scene in the city. Everyone told me they didn’t exist. Toronto was “too uptight”, they would “never be allowed”, if anywhere “they would be in Montreal”.
While it was clear that what I call a rave (thousands of people, a one-off, usually secret location, major production values) clearly did not exist in Toronto, one of the DJs from Peter, Tyrone and Shams told me about a regular Saturday night at 318 Richmond called Exodus. They told me it was the only night in the city playing Techno, and it was run by some Scottish guys. I couldn’t wait to check it out.
I remember walking into 23 Hop that weekend and being greeted by… FOG, pounding techno and a very bright strobe light. I don’t like strobe lights when they are used continuously without other lighting, and alongside the intense smoke it makes navigating the dancefloor a challenge. I could see shadowy figures through the haze and the music was pounding and echoey. I figured maybe there was a couple of hundred people there but it was hard to be sure. Thankfully I found my way to the back corridor which led to the DJ booth. What struck me was how much fun everyone was having. Much of the fun was eminating from the DJ box.
That night I met a lot of people who would ultimately become key figures in the early Toronto rave scene – Dr No, Malik X, Danny Henry, Mark Oliver, Sean L, Terence Leung and Anthony and John who ran the night. I spent the rest of the night partying in the DJ booth and occasionally venturing out into the fog. I was blown away by Malik X and Dr No’s MC skills and general deck-mastery, and I realized this was an incredible night for all those involved.
The following day I made up my mind. I’d witnessed two amazing scenes in Toronto in less than a week – the Warehouse Scene and Exodus at 23 Hop. The common factor was a complete lack of production values, made up for by an intense passion among those who attended. The numbers were very small – maybe a thousand people between both scenes. But that didn’t bother me. The question that was running threw my mind was… “What would these enthusiastic, fun, cool party goers do if they experienced some top notch production values?”.
I decided to throw Toronto’s first rave. I picked a Friday so as not to disrespect the other promoters, and Toronto’s first rave ‘experiment’ was dialed in for Friday December 13th 1991… Chemistry was about to be in session.