Archive for the 'Flyers' Category

Jimmy J

captain b mentalIn our first post we described how Alan Stephenson’s tenure in Toronto could be used to define our golden age of raves. In our final entry we’re going to define the man himself. Who was this British raver that commanded our scene and then vanished into thin air? Was he even real? Or do we find out at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s Toronto rave epic that he was just one big hallucination? Who would play him in the movie? I would cast Bruce Willis if he could pull off an accent, because I actually used to poke fun at B. Mental regarding his Bruce-like features. Alan Stephenson had a great a sense of humour; one of his proudest UK imports was a tape of Derek and Clive comedy which featured nonsensical conversations, compliments in part to Dudley Moore. Of course, Alan was quick to point out how uncool Canadians only knew the British comedic legend from his Arthur flicks. As much as he was an ethnocentric Brit, he was right – those recordings were hilarious. But when the laughter died down, serious allegations about the man known as Captain Brainstorm Mental lingered.

This project was inspired by music on rare mixtapes, the majority of which were compliments of the Captain. They represent a mere fraction of the commendations he accumulated throughout a decorated career of raving. Adversely though, he cast a dark shadow on Toronto rave nostalgia  – an obstacle that nearly prevented this project from ever coming to fruition. There’s a delicate balance between giving him the credit he deserves and calling a spade, a spade. I’m qualified to walk this line given my dual perspective: a 17 year old who considered him the coolest guy on the planet versus the wiser man I am today; coincidentally the same age he was when he jumped the ship called Toronto.

Thus, let us begin the facts.

Alan landed in Toronto in his twenties joining his father, sister and brother who had already settled into the city. He worked odd jobs which included busboy at a few popular restaurants. Yet it wasn’t long before his inner salesman negotiated a future in street vending – a career that began one day while passing a telephone pole with a job posting stapled on it. You know, the ones with little phone number tabs you tear off. It was an anecdote he described to me fondly – how plucking paper off a post was the starting point of a lucrative empire.

Gemstone JeweleryA series of street salesman gigs followed; and  his English accent, of course,  was a huge asset among his arsenal of sales techniques. Stephenson would go on to captain his own small vending outfit, known as Gemstones Jewelery. It was located at 9 St. Nicholas Street, an alleyway off Wellesley tucked away behind Yonge. Aside from the office, a telephone and some business cards, the operation was a pure hustle. The tiny, one-room headquarters was a meeting place for the fleet of street vendors who worked for commission and took home cash at the end of their shift. And since no one actually had proper vendor permits, police interaction and fines were a regular casualty of the job. Alan always told his “employees” he would pay their tickets – but really they all went into a drawer containing a pile of other past-due fines. The turnover rate was so high that most staff were long gone before they realized Gemstones management hadn’t made good on their payment promise. Alan justified this by pointing a finger at the vendor for getting caught, since he taught a ticket evasion technique that served him well: an alias. When questioned by police, you were to claim to possess no identification and then change one or two letters of your surname when reciting it. The slight variation made it easy to remember and natural to repeat under duress. Stephenson, for example, had his own vending alter ego – Alan Stevenson – because when the “ph” was replaced by “v,” the ticket was designated for an entirely different person and the fine was now worth less than the paper it was printed on. An inaccurate ticket meant no recourse for city hall but it was still a handy keepsake for future encounters with police: “Sorry officer, I don’t have my ID, but here’s my last ticket, will that do?”

Speaking of worthless, Gemstones products were costume jewelery rings – each sold for $5, or any three for $12 (a good up-sell for the savvy sellers). Every purchase was accompanied by a nicely printed piece of paper that guaranteed the ring against defects, ie. turning green after the supposed real gold or silver plating wore off.  When this defect occurred (and it always did) the certificate claimed the customer was entitled to a replacement item. The really smart buyers would always question this guarantee, asking, “But you’re a street vendor. How would I ever find you again!?” Like most shifty operations, there was a snappy response for every skeptic, “You don’t have to find me, just mail the ring to the address listed at the bottom of the guarantee and include $2 to cover shipping and handling.” The address on the guarantee, however, wasn’t the office address on St. Nicholas, it was an anonymous post office box. That way, Alan could pocket the extra loot without having to mail anything back.

Like I said, pure hustle.

The soundbite above features Alan Stephenson and John Angus on Hardrive with James St. Bass in June of 1992.

atmosphere raveIn 1992 Alan cashed in his jewelery business to focus on the potential within the surging rave scene. He tested the market first by selling mixtapes at the Factory nightclub and throwing a small rave, titled Atmosphere. The transition was nearly seamless – dodgy street tactics were easily applied to an untapped clandestine scene. Once all the jewelery had been liquidated, X-Static rave merchandise and Pleasure Force events became his new gems.

There’s no doubt Captain B. was extremely passionate about a scene in Toronto – even well before one existed. His influences over the years were obvious, but he also was motivated by numerous ulterior benefits.  For him, the scene was a source of income, intoxication and it fostered a haven of young men with whom his relations were extremely questionable.

“The very dangerous Captain Brainstorm” – Malik X (33:53)

Alan Francis StephensonAlan quickly became an unqualified mentor to many young minds. Despite an unhealthy lifestyle founded in dishonesty, he managed to have monetary success – which was a misleading message to the impressionable. Armed with only the most rudimentary business skills, his biggest resource was a revolving door of exploitable young men who glorified his English accent. Me and many of my friends were among the first batch.

As the scene progressed Alan descended further into a fantasy world in which he had diplomatic immunity. And since the microcosm he inhabited was populated by teens there was no true authority to govern his corruption. Existing somewhere between X-Static, raves and chemical enhancement, he became more distant with reality with every passing Saturday night. Downtime was spent on his leather couch at 40 Gerrard St. East, soothing his mid-week MDMA woes by further self-medicating.  With over-indulgence running rampant he developed a complete lack respect for the well-being of himself and those around him. No one could possibly carry on like he did without experiencing serious repercussions, and rumours about B. Mental’s mental stability were mounting. The rare conversation I had with him in 1995 revealed the person I met at my first Exodus rave wasn’t all there. Sadly B. Mental had lost touch with reality, his surname-nickname now a prophecy that had been self-fulfilled.

alan francis stephensonWhen the infamous Toronto Sun article surfaced, the charges attached to the arrest seemed to put his behavior in perspective. Nevertheless Alan defended the allegations via a published letter to the editor of Tribe magazine. He claimed the taboo materials arrived unexpectedly after signing up for a general mailing list at a gay bookstore (which operated on the other side of the Gemstones’ office wall.) He realized this defense wouldn’t hold up in the courts of Canada especially given he (and the company he kept) had been under surveillance for several months. Plus, the discovery of a large quantity of narcotics didn’t help corroborate his innocence. While on bail he transferred X-Static to his brother-in-law, tied up some lose ends and headed for Mexico.

I clearly remember the last time I saw him. I was mostly detached from the scene and working at Movenpick in the BCE place. He strolled by with his signature walk and I quickly turned the other way, fearing what he might say if he saw me in a sell-out button-down shirt and tie, making an honest living working for the man. The conversation would have gone all Derek and Clive with the ironic laughs at my expense. “You prim-and-proper-c*nt… You look ridiculous, Jimmy J!” Yes, Alan coined my nickname too, originally “H20” but replaced by “Jimmy J” after he noticed a DJ by that name on a UK rave flyer.

And despite my eventual epiphanies, I’m still curious about him because there was a moment in time that I considered him to be a good friend. How is he now? What does he do for a living? Given that he’s now 50-years of age (and hopefully back in touch with reality) he certainly has his own demons of dual perspective to deal with.

But the burning question still remains: Was he able to bring his coveted collection of mixtapes with him when he fled Canada? Alan was responsible for managing the 23 Hop booth tape deck during Exodus raves so he undoubtedly had the best archive of Toronto rave audio in existence. If the tapes weren’t seized when his apartment was raided, they may very well be in some part of West Sussex in England, either Littlehampton or Bognor Regis, where he’s currently rumoured to reside.

Jimmy J

exodus new years flyer front

exodus new years eve flyer back

Tuesday December 31st, 1991. With a new year fast approaching, resolutions regarding Toronto raving were plentiful. Photocopied flyers would no longer be the standard after this professionally printed rave flyer. And size now mattered too. This promo was bigger than any previous effort and it was reflected in the inflated $25 cover charge, which was more than triple the usual cost. Smart bars, merchandising and more – the first evidence that rave promotion was becoming business before pleasure.

The music was also being remixed. While Malik was gearing up for his final Exodus appearance, Chris Sheppard was slotted to make his first. “The Dogwhistle,” however, was no stranger to this vibe. After returning from England in 1988 he threw an acid house party called, The Temple of Psychic Youth, at the Masonic Temple on October 23rd (another notable 23 occurrence). He references the event here in this interview for The New Music where he discusses the invention of rave. This event, Shep’s promotion of dance music via the CFNY airways and role in the formation of 23 Hop were important precursors to raving in Toronto.

Psychic TV Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth TorontoUpdate 05/30/16: We managed to track down this advert for the aforementioned acid house party. The event was actually held at RPM and billed as an all-ages concert taking place on the same date Shep cites. The event featured a performance by Psychic TV who released early acid house albums in 1988. They also formed a cult-like fan club called Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth….

While it may or may not have been amicable, this evening represented a passing of the torch between the two DJs.  Malik helped incubate the scene during its formative months while Shep can be credited for helping to lay its foundation and an influential role during its massive growth. Both represented different schools of DJing: hobby vs. career, community vs. masses. Yet there was no doubt that each one felt the utmost passion for music. Many are firm believers of the Malik era being Toronto’s purest form of raving, Shep was perfectly qualified to push forward a scene that began exploding in 1992.

Unfortunately I was not in attendance for this event. Had I (and a crew of other Exodus devotees) known how important this event would end up being, we would have not been in Quebec City begging the DJ to play any form of techno he had. Those of us who missed out have all regretted it ever since. When the 23 Hop smoke machine settled, it became apparent that Unity in 1992 wouldn’t last long. Despite the glimmer of hope from Malik’s NYE appearance, he was a man of his word and would never return to raving. And, surprisingly, Exodus would never return to 23 Hop – which most of us assumed would resume the first Saturday night in January. It was rumored that disagreements between the partners erupted during New Year’s Eve followed by a parting of ways with the management of 23 Hop. As a result Mark Oliver exited from Exodus and John went on hiatus. Anthony went solo and threw a rave in late January at the Knights of Columbus in Brampton (coincidentally located on John Street.)

Eight months later John and Anthony reunited for a few large-scale events. It wasn’t long before they realized the integrity of their original concept couldn’t be adapted to such a rapidly progressing scene. Eventually the guys returned to their roots by throwing a small party at a venue known as the Actor’s Lab. It was widely considered one of their best events. After that, Exodus airlines was grounded, permanently.

“One day Malik had a vision that someone else would come along and run the scene. We just laughed it off, but he was right.” – John Angus

Jimmy J

exodus coke flyer

December 21st, 1991. This was the first Toronto rave flyer to feature colour printing and the first to spoof a trademark. Exodus would go on to produce t-shirts featuring this logo, but would replace, “real” with “rave”.

Jimmy J

exodus quest for peace

December 14th, 1991. The first Exodus flyer in our possession that’s post Malik’s departure, having hung up his rave headphones sometime in early December. Note “The Booming System” is no longer followed by “Collective”. His DJ career continued, his radio show lived on and he was still out and about as our final Radio London recording indicates. Malik would eventually agree to get the collective back together one last time for Exodus’ New Years rave.

Jimmy J

exodus rave flyer tape

November 30th, 1991. Respect the cassette tape, the original music sharing medium. 60 minute, 90 minute, metal or chrome. So versatile it was also used to store data with computer tape drives. You could even immortalize your recording by punching out the little plastic tabs on the top. But their ability to retain decent playback quality 18 years after they were dubbed, priceless. Where would this project be without them? Oh, this is the last flyer Malik X would appear on until New Years Eve.

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