Date posted: November 18, 2009 By: Jimmy J

play de record torontoAs 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)

DJ Mark OliverAs 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.

DJ Dr. NoDr. 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.

DJ Sean L.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]

DJ Malik XLast 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.

Date posted: November 16, 2009 By: Jimmy J

exodus boy rave flyer

November 16th, 1991. This little geezer certainly has his work cut out for him. I was 17 when I went to this event which was below the average age of attendees. I discovered this by chatting with ladies who always inquired about my age and once I divulged they immediately evacuated from my vicinity. In subsequent years there was an influx of barely-teen ravers which was a detractor for the originals and no good for the scene or the kids. The tagline Come and Join the Future was most likely inspired by the classic tune by Tuff Little Unit.

Date posted: November 9, 2009 By: Alx of London

Alx and mum18 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.

619a CollegeWhen 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.

EON and Mr C from the ShamenBack 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.

Joan's flatThat 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.

Date posted: By: Jimmy J

exodus e flyer

November 9th, 1991. “Starts with an E, Ends with an S, Exodus!” This is the first flyer where the “Booming System Collective” moniker appears but strangely none of the members’ names do. It’s also the first and only time the DJs who played upstairs are listed: Peter, Tyrone and Shams labeled special guests. Dino and Terry were also regulars on the second floor.

Date posted: October 28, 2009 By: Jimmy J

This is the 3rd installment in our series of Radio London recordings. Press play and you’re knee deep in a rare interview between Malik X and Roger S. (aka Roger Sanchez). They speak about the UK scene and discuss a “rave” held later that evening 167 Church (The Party Centre) where the two will be spinning. Malik also makes also makes some bang-on comments about the future of Toronto’s scene.

I’m fairly certain this interview pre-dates Exodus events and was likely recorded in the summer of 1991, perhaps even earlier. Around this time a posse of UK punters had united in Toronto and were on a mission to rave and Malik was describing warehouse parties as such.

This tape was compliments of Captain B. Mental a fact made obvious by two things: the Malik shout-out mash-up at the beginning made up of numerous B. Mental mentions and the stop and start B. Mental tape deck mixing I’ve previously mentioned. Having said that the recording isn’t entirely Radio London, but towards the end more of Malik’s sound bites appear “L-L-L-L-L-Locking your radio…”

It’s also full of a lot of obscure tracks that we’ve been unable to identify, so please post a comment if you recognize any of the tracks not listed below.

Track List:

  • Kicksquad – Soundclash
  • After Dark – Cardiac
  • De Lite – Wild Times
  • Arthur Baker – Kiss The Ground (dub)
  • Warp Factor 3 – Rhythm Will Make You Move
  • Sub System – Subhouse