As the franchise of raving began to spread globally each new scene went through growing pains before truly finding its groove. The quality of music in Toronto, however, wasn’t far from the quality in the UK right from the get-go. Sure, there was a slight delay from across the pond – but only because our selectors had lessor selection. Remember, only a handful of DJs in the city were actually buying the music in 1991 – some even purchasing it for the wrong reason: to empty dance floors at closing time. For Play De Record or Starsound, it was business as usual to stock the shelves with genres that were in heavy demand, and techno just wasn’t one of them.
Strangely our music regressed a year after the scene was conceived when new promoters arrived in the summer of ’92. In order to draw larger crowds they began casting DJs from other genres that were inexperienced with crowds of ravers in front of them. Mainstream radio, club and alternative DJs coined rave alter-egos; and while many became crowd pleasers, until then, sets and styles were jumbled making some events a smorgasbord of sound where the art of mixing was lost. It wasn’t until 1993 that Toronto hit its stride again – ironically the result of increased exposure by the new promoters attracting a massive amount of new ravers and inspiring DJs. Play De Record and Starsound were now stocking more techno than any other genre. Toronto developed a discerning taste for the names listed under DJs rather than the gimmicks listed under attractions.
“In the beginning there was bass. And then the treble was created. And following that the Boomin’ System came down and it went like this…” – Malik X (7:13)
Thanks to a foursome of UK DJs known as The Booming System Collective, the 23 Hop crowd was spoiled with a line-up that was music to their ears. Each member brought unique musical tastes to the tables and was time-slotted accordingly. The sum of their sounds was far greater than the individual sets and together they formed a well-conducted ecstatic-like buildup, apex and come-down. Malik often used the mic metaphor “Exodus Airlines” to commentate during the fluctuating altitudes, similar to a captain addressing his passengers. Only in this instance beats-per-minute replaced miles per hour. Of course it helped that the booth contained the two most talented MCs Toronto has ever known.
“There’s no point in coming to us and saying ‘well look why can’t we slow it down?’, because we’re there to get to there, you know what I mean? If you wanna build with us, if you want to get out energy, then what you got to do is get there early and work your way up to the top with us because that’s how we do it.” – Malik X (10:05)
As one of godfathers of raving in Toronto, Mark Oliver needs no introduction. Currently in his 23rd year of DJing professionally, Glasgow-born Mark “Shuggy” Oliver is the only BSC member whose career has withstood the test of time. The son of a musician and a sax player himself, Mark’s DJ beginnings were humble. He landed one of his first gigs at the Tasmanian Ballroom in the mid 1980s while working as a bartender. The club’s regular DJ kept asking Mark for advice on which records to buy and how to mix but eventually bailed from the booth to become the club’s boss. One of his first managerial decisions was to transfer Mark from mixology to mixer. During Mark’s residency at the Ballroom he hosted the city’s first nights themed with acid house and the early rave sounds of the UK. The vibe was gaining in popularity but the Ballroom’s days as a sustainable nightclub business had passed. Soon after the Ballroom closed-up shop but Mark managed to take all the Technics with him, purchasing his first decks from the manager for a mere $400.
Enter the 1990s and Mark was raring to continue spreading the sounds of rave which were now causing an uproar over in the the UK. One Friday evening while spinning at 23 Hop he was approached by John and Anthony about the formation of a rave organization – the first in Toronto, in Canada and possibly even North America. Mark then assembled the selectors that would form Toronto’s original line-up of rave DJs; a task which Malik often honored by labeling him “the first member of the Booming System.” His primary role as a partner of Exodus Productions was to orchestrate the flow of music on both floors at their events. In the years that followed Mark regularly headlined raves throughout their existence in the city. He has had numerous longstanding club residencies ever since.
Dr. No, aka “Skizzo,” aka Neil Thomas, landed in Toronto after spending most of his life in Hackey, North London where he believes the term “rave” originated. An avid pirate radio listener, he immediately connected with mentor Malik X in Toronto to help spread the gospel of rave. Dr. No and Malik made a dynamic duo who usually performed back-to-back at the height of the night. Slick mixers and smooth MCs – a rare combo that went the way of extinction as the scene progressed. For some reason individuals chose one or the other, the logic being that no one could possibly reign at both. Well, meet two exceptions that proved they ruled. When Malik took a step back from raves, Dr. No immersed himself in the scene. With jungle and breakbeat now entering the mix he became the ambassador of the new accelerated genres. A master of mixing and MCing who ignited dance floors, his music inspired body movements made for a mesmerizing visual performance too. As a result of his roots in the scene and dual talents, Neil was in heavy demand by crowds and promoters alike in the years that followed. He made frequent trips back to England, which increased his allure and reinforced his UK heritage. There was always buzz about when he was coming back and what new tunes he would be bringing. For many original ravers he subconsciously carried the torch for Exodus and the BSC. But as time wore on, his inconsistency became his consistent factor. He would confirm multiple gigs with promoters months in advance and headline flyers, only to not return.
In 1994 the situation became a bit of a gong show. He was coined “Dr. No Show” as fans and promoters felt jaded when his name appeared on flyers. And disappointments came far too often. By 1995 raving was big business in Toronto, new and talented DJs were sprouting up, genres were shifting and time slots could no longer be advertised if they weren’t guaranteed to be filled. Eventually Dr. No resigned from spinning and settled into the role of MC. Yet even with all the new talent in the scene his ceremonial skills remained untouchable. By that time it was obvious Neil had taken his rave career as far as he wanted to and there was nothing more to accomplish. Dare I say it, but it appeared as though Dr. No had, in fact, lost his hardcore. Can we blame him? He watched a scene completely transform in only a few years – with most of his original peers vanishing into thin air. The draw of returning home became greater and greater, visits back to the UK longer and longer, until eventually he never returned to our raves.
The details about Sean L, aka Sean Lubbock, are scarce. Originally from Liverpool, Sean was rumored to be staying with family that resided in Toronto. Based on Malik’s on-air remarks he was employed as a toll booth attendant somewhere in Ontario. Sean was the BSC member least known for his technical abilities, but had his own unique blend of music that was very well received by the Exodus crowd. Sean would go on to throw a rave in the early months of 1992 under the name “Apex.” But after Exodus evaporated and the BSC broke-up, gigs were no longer consistent. Then late in 1994 Sean’s departure was sudden. The rumour was that he was deported after an event he ran was raided by the police. Apparently operating a booze can is a no-no for non-citizens. Just like that – he was gone, never to be heard from again. [Update: …until 2012! Interview here]
Last and definitely not least comes Londoner Malik X who has been thoroughly featured in a previous entry. Malik was the spokesperson for the BSC, extraordinary DJ and MC, CKLN radio host and one of the first Toronto DJs to produce his own techno. For reasons still unclear Malik hung-up his rave headphones after an appearance at Exodus’ New Years event in 1991. He then discontinued his radio show shortly after. In the mid 1990s he performed spoken word poetry at various venues across the city and toward the end of the decade he made a brief return to DJing at a venue called Zazu. He has been AWOL ever since.