“NO!!!!!!” they cried. A whole 4 people cared, and I’m most certainly being generous with that number. I’m not sure anyone would care, and if they do, why? The thing is, I see myself as someone who took a lot of pleasure and joy out of playing music; getting the chance to do that in front of a crowd was just that pleasure on an elevated level. I’m a 39 year old dude who’s been doing this DJ thing for some 26 odd years of my life, and I’m not even “over the hill”. DJing is engrained into my very being as a person and has shaped a considerable part of my life, despite the fact I always saw it as a hobby. There was a time when I was being flown into the USA on a regular basis to play shows to progressively bigger and more insane crowds. Any DJ who’s been there will attest there’s a certain magic felt when you tear down a room of 3500 to pieces ever so meticulously; a crowd like that shall never be wasted. And, there was a time where I’d be on the lineup where absolutely nobody cared (not even me). Funny how everything comes full circle. But, my time is done and that’s OK.
Read any half rate, self-written DJ bio and I promise most of them will go something along the lines of “DJ SomeAsshole was into music from a young age. They took a liking to early inspirations such as [music-their-parents-liked], [80’s band] and [obscure reference], worked their way up completely [destructive type adjective] dancefloors along the way, and they’re gonna bring the [synonym for awesome] tracks at [insert shitty party here]”. Ugh, it’s played out, yet it’s also kind of my story.
And with that, when I was 9 my uncle gave me a boom box that had a radio & a cassette player (which totally detached to become it’s own portable walkman. That’s when I started listening to the radio with the natural next step of bootleg recording music from said radio stations. It was the early 90’s and I was starting to understand my musical tastes. Music of the era was slowly shifting from the 80’s synth-pop sounds to the beginnings of euro-dance, with elements of R&B becoming mainstream. A few years later the 90’s euro craze came full force with groups like Real McCoy, Emjay, Culture Beat and First Base. Not to be left in the dust, the “urban” (hip hop and R&B) sounds were just as strong with the east-coast/west-coast thing becoming big and nothing but fire constantly hitting the radio.
Even with all of that, I wanted something edgier.
I began taping more live-to-air club nights than I care to recall. I marveled at the sounds thinking they were insane DJ tricks – only to find out years later they were little more than some remix where the track played out. I’d leap out of bed to hit record the moment I heard something that caught my ear, something just a tad “harder”; think “Porn Kings – Up To No Good” while I was sure “Porn Kings – Amour” was one of those wild DJ tricks.
The thing was, I knew I wanted to play this music, I just hadn’t a clue how to get it, or how to play it. A problem indeed.
My first job ever was a scorekeeper for minor league hockey. That snot-nosed kid running the score clock while chugging hot-cholates & munching on fuzzy peach candies. Some guy offered to play music between whistles a-la like they have in the pros, and wouldn’t you know it – the sound hookup for the arena was right beside me in the scorekeeper’s bench. I learned nothing, but knew I was going to do the same thing one say.
And, so it happened – an excuse to buy anything resembling new music with the $6/hour I’d make at the malleable age of 12 years old. That turned into providing the tunes for house parties, the “dj” for my high school (note: I had no idea how to even beat-match at this point). I played what I had, and what people gave me – the usual radio play while injecting a few “techno” songs from time to time. Turns out that “techno” was more like 90’s dance we all know today. While I hardly remember them all, the first stands out; a house party thrown by a guy in my school who was part of the local band called Empty Chamber. Some 50 kids packed into his basement as their grunge rock cover tracks & a few originals were barely audible through the thick distortion from over-use of effect pedals & shitty amplifiers. In between sets I’d run a few tunes using this old Pyramid mixer and 2 home CD players. It was arguably the best house party of the year.
Time went on and I worked at this small audio/video shop called “Custom Sound & Lighting”. It was small – as in real small. Three employees including myself with the owner being this late 40’s guy called Steve. He was a real curmudgeonly bastard who had a penchant for getting high on hash oil in the middle of the day, then sitting at his desk and spacing out for the next few hours. He’d “go get a hotdog” only to return 2.5 hours later barely able to walk from the door to his desk, the fresh oil stains on his trousers indistinguishable from the many others accumulated over years prior.
This job provided me access to professional gear and the chance to fiddle with it seeing as I couldn’t afford any myself at the time. Every few weeks I’d gather one or two of my idiot friends & we’d go to the shop at 9pm, pull out the high end CD players and hook up a massive sound system. Think 2 x Vega JE’s (Still the best sub ever made, fight me), and whatever tops were available… in a shop that was 400sq ft. The systems I’d “practice” on.. well, they moved air. We’d all smoke darts while I further honed my beat-matching skills, then we’d put it all back like we were never there and go home.
I began to buy vinyl. I started making mixtapes.
I wanted so bad to buy Happy Hardcore, yet all I could find was UK Hard House & Trance records in Toronto. Desperate to buy the black crack, that’s what I bought. Fuck it, right? Mixtapes were made with a daydream that I’d somehow end up on the Hullabaloo! stage, only I was playing the wrong style of music for the event. I handed Anabolic Frolic a tape of poorly mixed UK Hard House somewhere late Saturday night at a 3 day music festival, at like 4am. Surely I was little more than yet another annoying party kid with a terrible mixtape that would find the floor of the car’s backseat if it was lucky. What a bonehead move. If he’d heard it and remembered me, there’s no way I’d have ever gotten where I did.
I finally got myself a credit card and IMORecords quickly sucked up any spare cash I ever came into. I was buying hardcore vinyl en-mass, making up for lost time – at least that’s how I justified the reckless spending in my young mind. More mixtapes came in rapid succession, although we were now in the era of CD burning being viable. I’d rip 50 CDs, head to a rave in the city and hand them out to the people dancing the hardest. They’d be posted online (when posting a mix online was nearly impossible because there was nothing like MixCloud or SoundCloud around back then), and I’d promote them on message boards (heh, remember those?!). At one point, I even built a website called deejay-mixes.com, a service that allowed DJs to upload their mixes to a reputable server in high quality 192kbps (hey, it was a long time ago, OK?) and charged them $40/year for the service. I paid $200/yr for the hosting and had a few dozen people registered. I did this because $200 a year was expensive for me, as it was others – so I found a way to have other people pay for my hosting by sharing the resources allotted to me with others. If I’d only perused that concept further, it really was the pre-cursor to soundcloud/mixcloud now that I think about it.
Then, just like that I was booked at an event.
It was put on by some Russian kid who spoke little English named Dimitri under the name “icantstopraving”, held at “The 160”. If you live in Toronto, that’s the upper floor beside the McDonalds at Queen/Spadina (ya, that used to be a club).
A few weeks later I got a message on ICQ (uh oh!) from Anabolic Frolic. He asked if I’d play at his upcoming event “Enchanted“. I remember my reaction as I got home from work – jaw on the floor, and a close call on changing out my underwear as I read the message. Of course I accepted, it being the second party I’d ever played on a real stage – my “ultimate” goal achieved on my second event – to be on a Hullabaloo! lineup.
“If I ever knew this was only the second time you played out, I would have never booked you” – An exact quote Frolic told some 10 years later. It wasn’t the last time I’d ever be on that stage.
Shortly there-after myself, DJ Wolf, MC Everybodies Daddy, and I partnered up to be “Future Perfect Synergy”. To this day I still really dislike the name, but it worked at the time. We bounced around Toronto events and a few US gigs as a trio – “2 DJs and one MC, breakin’ it down, Future Perfect Synergy” as Mike would rhyme over us. As time went on Jeff (Wolf) slowly faded out and Mike (MCED) and I more or less did our own thing.
The next 2-3 years were a blur of small and medium sized events where we were littered along the lineups across the city as Toronto’s hardcore scene was in full swing. Hullabaloo! continued along, but in 2005 they decided to send it off. Ironically enough, that was right around the time Toronto’s rave scene began shrinking at a considerable rate as all the new blood was going toward the EDM thing and real underground music began to take a back seat. A few more promoters popped up, but the days where you could sell out an 800 person venue with local DJs was long gone. Toronto was on a decline.
I’d played a few gigs in Rochester, Buffalo and possibly Cleveland at this point, but it really all started with Kelly from RaversOnly in NYC. The story goes that I handed him a CD at a party and he found me the next time he was in town. “Hey man, you’re the guy with the Simpsons quotes on your mixes, right?”..
Here’s the thing – On the first mixtape I ever did, I got half way through and biffed a mix. I kept recording and the it turned out great besides this one disaster. Instead of re-recording, I just faded the mix out at the mess, stuck in this obscure Simpsons quote, and faded the next track in as if I made some sort of interlude. I added another oddball Simpsons sound bite at the start and end of the mix. I didn’t have an MC at the time, yet wanted my mix to have a personal touch. Turns out it’s easier to remember a DJ with a gimmick (which, I didn’t even realize it was one at the time), than just another dude with a mix. this Simpsons sound-bite thing kind of became my calling card for a while…
“Ya!”, I replied – “Brother, I throw parties in NYC and I’m going to definitely book you when I do another show”, “Amazing! Here’s my latest mix, my contact details are on the CD”, I replied.
Surrrrrrrrre, sounds good – just another dude talking trash I figured. Turns out, he wasn’t joking, which I was to come to realize a few months later as he e-mails me with the subject “wanna play a party in nyc?”. No email body, just a signature with his phone number.
I headlined a sold out show of 800 people in Brooklyn a few months later, and it was the start of a massive hardcore movement in the USA.
Kelly (better known as “Smoke”) threw 12 of these events over the coming years, and I became a resident for him within short order – usually flown down at least every 6-9 months. Smoke was a top notch promoter. He’d take all the DJs and event staff out for dinner on his dime to TGI Fridays in Times Square the night after the party. Seemingly a nice little gesture, it was so much more; a chance to actually talk to others outside of a loud, noisy, and insane rave. Mike & I loved the idea so much that we began doing this when we began throwing the TDotLove events.
NYC and Candyball paved the way for considerably more bookings south of the border for as scenes began popping up all over the country.
What a bloody time to begin rising to more fame. My hometown scene is shrinking, meanwhile I’m getting calls from all over the US; Boston, New York City, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, the list goes on. By this point I’d long partnered with MCED and we were putting out a mixtape every year. I knew his rhymes inside and out, and he knew my track selection. I could make him spit a rhyme I wanted just by playing a track, and he could shape how I’d select my next ones with where he was moving the crowd with his freestyles (that is, if I could even hear him in the monitors – ugh, a proper monitor mix is fucking KEY, you jackass sound guy). We had… synergy?
I’ll never forget moments such as going down to Detroit for the first time together and telling him “you don’t understand, this is different”, and us absolutely murking the place. We (well, mainly Mike) totally planned the “House of Pain – Jump Around” interlude during the car ride down there, and there was no question that idea was the moment of the night, even though I totally played the wrong track at the end. The whole thing was a blur, but I do remember waking up in a RedRoof Inn, being spoon fed McDonalds oatmeal & orange juice while insanely hungover by one of the promoter’s friends (thank you McKee <3). While Detroit will always be a place I love, NYC will always be what gave me the inspiration to push on, Boston will always have a place in my heart, and I’ll certainly never forget the Ohio kids.
Two dudes, “Nobody” and “Beats4Brainz” who collectively were know as “Da Lollipop Kids”. Totally happy hardcore DJ names, right? I hadn’t a clue who they were, but apparently I’d handed them one of my mix CDs at a previous Toronto event. They’d driven from Ohio to party in Toronto – and did so on the regular. On a subsequent trip they somehow found me, and peppered me with questions “what is this song!?!”, “how did you do this mix?!?!” and so-forth. One thing led to another and they decided to do their own event in Ohio – they booked Mike & I as the headliners.
At the time Mike lived in Ottawa, me in Toronto. I flew in the night before the event and they picked me up at the Cleveland airport around 11am. We went to Applebees for lunch – where they proceeded to wonder why I was such a shitty Canadian for not wanting to drink a pitcher of beer at 11:30am. Somewhere around 8pm we ended up at one of their places tunes. All I had were CDs on me, but all we had were turntables so I grabbed tunes from their crates. I remember teaching them the “how to play a record backwards” trick using a roll of duct tape, then mixing one in that way and blowing their minds.
I ended up at my hotel around midnight, as their pre-party continued. I learned a lesson that night – staying at a shitty Motel6 in the middle of nowhere, alone, really kind of sucks.
The party the next night was half a disaster yet a total success. It was the first time they’d thrown an event and the promoter for the second room pulled out last second. Seeing them stressed, Mike & I gave them some advice “don’t even mention it. just pretend there never was a second room”. The party went off and nobody even noticed the folly. There was one caveat, the venue didn’t have a liquor license, and in our “rider” we’d asked for a some beers to be available for our set. Needless to say beers were still had, in Styrofoam cups ever so not discreetly. Once our set finished I remember a ton of kids wanting to chat, but my mind was on taking a leak. We ended up at the bar next-door to the venue where no less than a dozen shots were bought for us (terrible idea) and a faint recollection of being driven back to our hotel room at 4am. Our flight home was at 8am.
Still drunk, we got dragged to the airport. Mike went one way down the terminal, me the other. A nod of “godspeed brother” was exchanged and I boarded the aircraft only to pass back out before we pushed back, an unopened coffee resting on my knee. I came to in Detroit for a layover, coffee still in hand resting on my knee, not a drop spilled. I chugged it. Two valuable lessons were learned that weekend : (1) when Americans offer you shots, decline them. (2) Don’t fly within at least 12 hours of DJing.
The next few years came and went. Mike began to start DJing on a more serious level and I stopped playing Happy Hardcore. He pulled me towards Jungle / Drum and Bass. It made sense, as I was seriously getting disillusioned with where hardcore music was going. It lost what I loved about it and Jungle captivated me.
We started TDotLove, a monthly event of about 40-70 people. Low risk, but an intimate little jam at a local place we more or less christened called Bassline Music Bar. Finding a new venue in the city was like finding gold at this time. I’ll write about this whole era in detail later, but we ran the gambit for a good 6 years. Shortly after TDotLove radio saw it’s beginnings – one of the first live streams of DNB music from Toronto (possibly the first), long before everyone and their mother had a show.
The Toronto rave scene was shrinking at an alarming rate despite what a lot of people would want to admit. Sure, there was the occasional larger one going on, but it was a far cry from what it used to be. I had less and less interest in pushing myself to play the big shows, content to my weekly 15-30 minutes on the radio show, an hour at the monthly jam, and other small bookings locally. The occasional US gig would come in and I’d take them on a case-by-case basis. yet the interest was certainly fading.
Mike began focusing on other aspects of his life and stopped DJing in January 2019. I kept the events going until Sept 2019 where I finally called it quits. I kept the radio show each week, but found myself playing on it less and less, giving guests far more time, if not the entire 2 hours or more.
I already had one foot out the door. At this point it’d been 18 years since the first time I’d played out on a big stage for the first time, my longtime music partner had quit entirely a year earlier, I’d stopped running my monthly event about 6 months prior, and the live stream was all I had left. My interest in playing on the show dwindled each week and it was more about the social aspect of having a few friends over each week to shoot-the-shit. With a pandemic upon us, friends coming over was no longer a viable thought, and I shut down the stream.
Just like that, my time as a DJ that spanned nearly 20 years came to a sudden halt. At the time of writing this we’re 2 years into this bloody pandemic and although parties are slowly making a comeback I have my doubts on how this will pan out as we “get back to normal”. When we exit for good, I’m going to be 40 years old most likely. I knew this was more or less where I called it a day, yet wouldn’t admit it quite yet.
With COVID came the endless people going to live streaming. Although I had one of the most prominent live streams in the city, I stopped – where-as everyone else started their own. That’s cool. I played on a few as guest spots, however I knew I’d likely never play another show in a club/rave again, and I was relatively OK with that.
Unknown to probably a lot of those in the Toronto Jungle scene, I started by playing 90’s Euro trash, and well.. it’s always held a place in my heart. As it turns out this whole era is some secret love for a lot of people just as it is me, yet very few of the rave DJs of my era ever played it too – certainly not like me or the few others who did. We all had our own style of the tunes and occasionally would play together at specialty one-off sets, a guilty pleasure, I suppose.
The first live stream I played during COVID I did at 9-10pm. I was tailing a list of 4 other DJs who’d played, rounding out the show. I started with Drum & Bass, and moved to Hardcore near the end of the hour where a good 100+ people were locked in. That number kept going up…. A friend messaged me “play euro dude”, and well.. I did. It must have been around 2:30am when I finally told people it was enough and I needed to sleep. We eclipsed 200+ viewers that night, a pretty big feat for an unknown channel & show.
I spent the next few weeks playing old dance music every few nights as this last little spark of energy for DJing. This culminated up in a mix I’ve yet to release, but promise I will – one day. So far it’s 2.5 hours long and 160 tracks deep. Complete 90’s dance & radio-play. Honestly it’s really damn good, and I know it’ll likely be the last time I ever record something I care about, so I want it to be right.
Weeks turned to months, months to years. During this time I played a few more online radio spots and absolutely loved it. I’ve spent a few nights with friends dusting off old music in my den and drinking a bit too much wine, or just sitting around selecting our favorites to hear again. I love those moments, but I’m no longer drawn to actually want to do it regularly.
My interests have turned in other directions. The reality is that I always DJ’d for fun and for the love of the music – it was never going to be a real job, and I was never going to take it seriously enough to make any sort of a real run at being prominent. There was a time in my 20’s when you could say my name to anyone who knew about the Happy Hardcore scene in North America and they would have likely known about me – even if they lived in California, NYC, or Seattle. Nowadays, most people wouldn’t even know my name in Toronto – and I’m perfectly OK with that – in fact, I prefer it.
I don’t imagine promoters will be busting down my door when events come back to regular life as I’m nothing but a faded memory for most. No tears will be cried from my side and I highly doubt from others either.
Once every few months I’ll find myself home one night and hear something inspiring in a movie, or on the radio, or whatever – I’ll end up in my studio for hours playing tunes long past my bedtime. But, those days are becoming fewer, and further between. I still buy the VERY occasional tune, but have spent the little time that I do working on my collection through organizing it, and filling in the blanks of the tunes I used to love.
I’ll finish that 90’s mix one day. At this point I figure that’ll likely be the last thing I ever record. I always wanted to do a “box-set” of mixes called “Elements”, which would be “Fire, Water, Earth, Air”; each a mix of a different genre that I used to play, an idea I had no less than 10 years ago. Yet, I came to realize such a creation would take decades – I’m far too much of a perfectionist when it comes to these things and I haven’t even come close to finishing the first of 4. If I ever do, it would be Happy Hardcore, 90s Dance, Drum & Bass / Jungle, and House/Trance. I guess time will tell.
I’ve been cleaning out old things I don’t need. One of which is an old DJ laptop stand I had in storage. I sold it on Kijiji earlier this evening. Some dude picked it up for $20 and during the transaction he said “so you’re a DJ”… “Not so much anymore”… “Really?”… “Eh.. it was a good run, but I’m done man”… “How long have you …” …. “20 years”.. I handed him the stand, he handed me $20, and that was that.
He sent me a text 30 mins later “hey bro, thanks for selling me this stand, but I’m really trying to break into getting good bookings, do you have any advice”. We ended up on the phone for a good 45 minutes.
I don’t feel I’m any authority on giving good advice on starting out as a DJ, but… shit, maybe I am? I never thought of it that way. I’m old. I went through the ringer and somehow came out the other side with a decent story and a lot of good memories.
I shared with him a few things that helped me. I told him if he couldn’t find a place to play the music he loves, then he needs to create one. Stand true to what you love to play and sooner or later people will come to your sound if you’re good. Curate your collection with things you truly really want, and forget about the “big tunes”. Build your style for yourself. Be cognizant of the crowd you’re playing for, but always give them a flavour of who you are.
When I was a young kid there was this German man who lived across the street from me named Wolfe. He kept the most perfect lawn to the point that when one of our tennis balls or pucks ended up on his property he’d scowl from his porch. The quintessential “GET OFF MY LAWN” idea. I swore I’d never be that guy.
Yet, I think I’m finally at that age.
Kids will be (and need to be) kids. It’s only grass. I’ll plant some more if they rip it up, but that won’t happen as I want nothing more than to avoid suburbia hell. Wolfe was a good man, but to us kids he was little more than the mean German dude who lived on our quiet street. I get him now. I listen to a lot of the music that’s coming out today and just cringe. This current hip-hop all basically sounds like some clown wannabe gangster muttering complete shit. Dance music is horribly corny (and this coming from a guy who played Happy Hardcore), and I swear to all that is holy if I hear another Marshmallow song I’ll begin breaking things.
To be fair, I’m likely sourcing from all the wrong places, but I haven’t the slightest clue what the right places are anymore. I do hear some unbelievable house & techno being put out. Some of the latest DNB/Jungle releases are absolutely unreal, but it feels like an entire generation of music passed me by in the past 2.5 years since I last really looked for new music to buy. I guess that’s just further evidence to how out of touch I am.
I fully rely on those around me to introduce me to something new & exciting. Me, I’m more interested in podcasts and the occasional old mixtape I’ve heard a million times. My drive to discover the next big tune has long sailed. I’ve bought more albums from seemingly unknown bands I’ve come to be put onto or discover than I have anything resembling a song I’d ever use in a DJ set over the past few years. My music collection has grown in bounds lately, but none of that is in my DJ library. It’s just where I’m at, and I’m pretty happy about it. I have no regrets.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind I’ll never sell my gear. I just love the feeling of losing myself in the music I love to play from time to time – something that’s becomes a lot less frequent lately. Suddenly as I write this I have that urge, but it’s also going on 11:30pm as I type these words and I know if I start, it’ll be 2am before I quit, and well… I have meetings in the morning. Funny how life changes.
The truth is, it’d be hard to turn down a “hey, come do this event for old time sake” because I’m almost positive I absolutely would. Heck, how many “old school hardcore set” things have I done in the past 5 years.. more than enough to clearly make it cliché at this point. Come to think about it, I’ve done more hardcore & euro sets in the past 4 years than I have DNB/Jungle (besides of course, my own events). I guess that’s a bit of a tell-tale sign in and of itself.
I’ve had nostalgia for the past few years, well before the pandemic when everyone else caught it. I’ve had so much more fun digging back into the music I used to play than I had in focusing on the new music that I was playing. I guess things came full circle in a way. I guess that’s where I feel the most comfortable at the end of the day. Maybe that’ll change over some time, but I have no intentions of forcing an agenda when it comes to that. My interests and tastes for what I want to play for myself will ebb & flow like they usually do. My heart has never truly been in one place when it comes to music. Not now, not during any point of being a “dj”, and not ever. Good music is good music, plain and simple.
I think it’s just a good time I let myself enjoy it on my own terms – and maybe not share it with others in the same way I used to.