Monthly Archives: November 2011

Rave Reviews: Prince’s Welcome 2 Canada Tour, Toronto

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PRINCE WELCOME 2 CANADA TOUR

Air Canada Centre, November 25th 2011, Toronto.

             Arguably, Prince is 1 of the greatest musicians alive. Some of you might wonder what does Prince have to do with raving? The fact that he wrote “Rave unto the Joy Fantastic” qualifies him as rave material in my opinion. Purple Rain was the quintessential soundtrack of my angst filled adolescence, stealthily sowing the seeds of youthful rebellion. So when world renowned Prince fanatic Ed informed me that His Royal Badness was coming to town, I got my Prince disciple pal Monty to snag tickets.

            Welcome 2 Canada was Prince’s first Canadian tour since 2002. Despite the many thousands of mostly middle-aged fans in attendance, hundreds of empty seats remained compared to the full house of the Musicology concert in 2004. Monty and I were almost banished to Bleacherville, which was a disappointing deal for  $117.75.  A giant, luminous rendition of Prince’s unpronounceable symbol served as the stage with a piano poised daintily on the coiled arm. The band was strategically positioned in a recessed pit located on the glyph’s head. Prince’s background singers kicked things off at 9 p.m., shortly before the Purple One emerged on a hidden platform which arose from the centre of the stage amidst enthusiastic screams and rapturous applause, while the perimeter pulsed with multi-coloured light. The Maestro from Minneapolis looked somewhat conservative in black pants and loose fitting tunic surmounted by a metallic necklace, but his slick, James Brown inspired footwork soon put all those rumours of gimpy hips to rest. NPG’s line-up had changed yet again, with mature female singers and musicians such as Ida Nielsen comprising the majority. John Blackwell (drums) was the only face I recognized. It seemed Prince had modified his band to reflect his aging demographic, which I found refreshingly down to earth though the man himself did not look a day over 35. Indeed, the band was tight as Prince proudly proclaimed, yet some essential spark seemed to be missing as the overall tone of the show seemed rather subdued compared 2 the flashy, raunchy antics and energetic dance numbers of Prince’s semi-scandalous past.

            “Gimme a light – let me bask inToronto’s love!” the diminutive diva stated as he swaggered, playfully slicking his coiffed hair. Those cocky, I’m-2-good-for-this-show facial expressions proved priceless. Legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker thrilled the audience with effortless skill during a lively version of  Musicology. Prince blazed a mean guitar streak on A Million Days and surprised me with a cover of Let’s Go! by The Cars. By now, I was being suffused with happy vibes courtesy of the vitamin e I’d popped earlier, unlike some of the semi-retired fans sitting idly in their seats.

            Halfway through his set, Prince changed into a gold satin shirt and performed a medley of greatest hits such as Nothing Compares 2 u, Let’s go Crazy (which had the crowd going wild), 1999 and Yesterday by The Beatles. After a scorching guitar solo on Purple Rain accentuated by bursts of purple confetti, Prince disappeared beneath the stage, his upraised hand grasping a glittery plectrum which closed into a fist as the classic, violin heavy ending went on like a funerary dirge amidst tumultuous applause. Assuming the show was over, some people shuffled out but us diehards remained, expecting  the musical monarch to bestow more jewels upon us. Skipper lived up to our expectations as he returned in yet another wardrobe change, his heels lighting up as he strutted around the darkened stage. “What’s my name!” the artist proclaimed as the lights came up to reveal him swaying seductively behind a sampler featuring a LED display. When Doves Cry heralded the start of yet another medley of the Prince Hit Parade, which segued into Nasty Girl, Sign O’ the Times, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Hot Thing, I would Die 4 u and Housequake while the intro to Darling Nikki was briefly glossed over. I was really hoping to hear him sing that classic line about “masturbating with a magazine” – no such luck. Drat!

 Despite keeping the lyrical content chaste, Prince’s deeply sensuous persona was especially prominent during this part of the show. A white sleeveless vest displayed well-defined arms, rounded off with two-toned black and white trousers and glittery gold platform wedges. Those who got fooled into walking out truly missed out. After 2 hours and 30 minutes, it seemed as if Prince was just getting warmed up. “If I was your Girlfriend” certainly proved my suspicions right. The Prince of Funk outlasted even his audience as he returned, encore after encore like an unstoppable Terminator. The smaller the crowd got, the more animated Prince became. It was obvious that he loved to jam and thrived on working  with an intimate audience. Some lucky people were invited up onstage for Fly and Jungle Love, and the band rocked the house with a rambunctious interpretation of Play that Funky Music.   

“Ain’t nobody tryin 2 go home!” Symbolina asserted as he stunned us with yet another encore. A brilliant slice of Disco Beat by Sylvester was served up in style, but it was the tribute to Michael Jackson that took everyone by storm. Don’t Stop til you Get Enough brought the crowd to its feet as Prince exhorted the audience to get up and clap for Michael. This gesture of reverence towards an artist long considered to be his rival was truly touching, and demonstrated how much The High Priest of Pop has matured over the years.

“Toronto, I got 2 many hits 4 me 2 go away. I don’t think u understand how many hits we got!” Prince proclaimed with encore number 5. The band launched into 80’s ol skool joints, which managed to coax some of the older heads out of their chairs. This was turning out to be some kind of endurance contest between Prince and his fans. It was an inspiration to see this musical genius, still in fine form at 53, pouring his heart and soul into his music. Indeed, Prince made a point of proclaiming throughout the night that this was “real music” and “You didn’t come here to hear a record being played,” in what could be interpreted as a rebuttal to Jay-Z and Kanye West who’d performed at the A.C.C. the night before. The man also known as Alexander Nevermind closed things off with “Baby I’m a Star” before disappearing triumphantly into the stage cavity, nodding confidently with a smirk of satisfaction on his face as his acolytes screamed their approval. The house lights came on, indicating the musical marathon was officially over. The funk locomotive had finally puffed out after 3 hours and 15 minutes. Prince certainly proved that he’s got staying power and he ain’t going away anytime soon. If His Royal Badness is coming to your town, I highly recommend that you get on board and see this gifted luminary while you still can. Despite the understated nature of his latest offering, Prince is most definitely worth seeing. A hardcore raver indeed.

Copyright © 2011 Frankie Diamond. This article may not be copied in part or whole and posted to another site or reproduced without the express permission of the author.

Rave Reviews – The Comfort Zone

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COMFORT ZONE  HALLOWEEN PARTY  October 30th, 2011

          Do you ever wonder what happens to super twitchy Torontonians who are simply too fucked up to go home at 3 in the morning? Or to freaks and wastoids searching for the superlative antidote to post-rave comedown? Enter The Comfort Zone. One of the last remaining strongholds of Toronto’s afterhours scene, CZ has been serving up snippets of underground nastiness for over 15 years. Located at 486 Spadina Avenue next to the Waverley Hotel, Comfort Zone is not your average afterhours club. Hell no. It’s a fucking institution. Having survived an astonishingly brutal early morning drug raid in 2008, CZ is a curious testimony to the power of How To Play It Smart. I mean, how else could this in your face bastion of sun-up-sun-down delirium possibly exist for as long as it has? Something to consider for real…

          As a raver, I recall CZ as a sleazy little dive in the late 90’s. Oddly comforting in all of its grungy glory, it was a perennial favourite of pretty much all the Ecstaticans I knew. Believe it or not, big names like DJ Sneak, Lemon D, Deko-ze, Dillinjah, Manzone and Strong have all done time there, amongst many other luminaries. In those days, for the bargain basement price of $7, you could spend countless hours blitzed out of your mind and the bouncers wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. Or you could go home after the rave, have a shower, rest up and head down to the Zone to get your Sunday afternoon freak on. CZ was indeed the place to be. And God bless your little heart if you didn’t have to work Monday morning because that meant you could go home…well, Monday morning.

          I paid a farewell visit to CZ before I went abroad in 2007. My dear friend, the Eminent Party Animal otherwise known as Ed, myself, and others found ourselves lined up outside CZ at 8 on a Monday morning, laughing at the poor sops crammed on streetcars heading to work while we waited to party, never dreaming for one instant that someday we’d wind up in a similarly hellish predicament. But I digress… Suffice it to say we had a righteous blast. It was 30 degrees and I was merrily prancing around the patio in hot pants and a bikini top. I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye to Toronto than wigging out at Comfort Zone with a bunch of the coolest party people on the planet. Not to mention, your share of sideshow freaks (but I’ll get to that later, I promise). 

          Fast forward to October 30th, 2011. It’s Halloween weekend and I’m back in Toronto. As fate would have it, a group of us like-minded ol skool veterans have decided to drop in on CZ. I’m excited to know how much it has changed (nevermind the fact that it’s still standing). Everyone reassures me not much. Judging from the line-up outside, it’s seriously alive and kicking. Apparently the sign outside hasn’t changed either. Still flexing that deceptively minimalist design, coyly concealing what lies beneath Toronto’s nocturnal underbelly. Bloody hell, it’s freezing! Shaft, the party steward of our Merry Little Crew says he’s not going to wait outside in the cold. And I believe him. Next thing you know, Mr. Shaft asks everyone to cough up $10 each to grease the skids. 10 bucks. On top of the $30 entry fee (which came as a rude awakening to the newly returned prodigal daughter). WTF! Bribing the bouncer’s not unheard of in clubland, but it was a definitive first for yours truly. And the geezer who got the extra dough was the same freakin’ dude I remembered working there from way back when. Did I say CZ was an institution? Well, I forgot to add mental to that description.

        We checked reality at the doorstep before descending into that infernal den of iniquity. Yep, it was definitely on at 3:30 a.m. For all intents and purposes, CZ appeared to have been caught in some kind of time warp. It was more or less the same ol’ same ol’. The crash couch on which I’d spent many a Sunday was gone. The black lights, wall mirror and pool table were still there – glory hallelujah! And revellers were rocking mad Halloween outfits. Everything from werewolves, dolled up trannies, sexy maids, flaming queers, shameless hussies, psychotic clowns and steroidal mishaps were in order. I even saw a buffed out pretty boy strut past wearing nothing but flip-flips and a “FOR RENT” sign in neon colours wrapped around his groin in the shape of a box. Well I’ll be damned….what kind of freakshow was this? I was about to find out.

A steaming hunk of macho manmeat sporting a fitted pink tee with “Cougar Bait” emblazoned across his well defined chest took one look at me and slapped a handcuff on my wrist. Oh, so you like to play it rough, don’t you? Smiling winningly, Cougar Bait snapped the other cuff onto his formidable wrist. Alright…buddy’s got a bit of kink. Must be my cute skool girl ensemble. I decided to play along and took one step towards him. When Cougar Bait realized I wasn’t gonna flip out and start hollering for security and that I actually liked being chained to him, he busted off the plastic cuffs in a spectacular display of super-human strength. Turned out he’s Lebanese. I find there’s an interesting correlation between guys from war torn countries and increased levels of kink. It also happened that Cougar Bait was younger than me too. I must say that t-shirt was a pretty sound investment on his part 😀

          Flipside dished out the real deal from 7:30 to 9. I like my breakfast hot and steamy, thank you very much! No commercial cheese to be had here. Belligerent basslines conquered the cavernous depths of Comfort Zone like a bloodthirsty battalion. Almost as intense as the good ol’ days….but not quite. I wandered around, trying to locate a spot with optimum sound. That sweet spot was located near the front of the stage, to the right and left of the speakers. I was somewhat disappointed. I mean, with the amount of money this joint’s raking in, they could invest in a better sound system. Ah, CZ…still cheap as ever. So cheap that they couldn’t be bothered to install decent bins in the washroom. An open garbage container served as a waste disposal unit in the ladies section. And if that was for ladies, I could just imagine what was in store for the gentlemen. Oh well, at least they kept the toilet paper supply going…

          Noticeably missing was the loved up atmosphere of days gone by, when ravers would strike up random conversations with fellow Ecstaticans and group hug each other amidst a sea of glo-stix and convivial bonhomie. Most of the peeps here were heavily engrossed in their own little world of chemically induced inebriation. How the times have changed…well, gotta make the most of the present. I went to the bar and asked for tap, only to be refused by the bartender. What do you mean I have to buy the friggin bottled water? “Water is a basic human right – if I ask for tap, you’re supposed to give it to me,” I reminded this little twig of a female. She didn’t budge. “Tell that to management,” she quipped icily. Yo fuck dat…I grabbed an empty cup from the counter, went to the bathroom and filled up. Hours later, when my glo-stix were dying, Shaft informed me I could buy another pair for $8. 8 bucks. For a pair of glo-stix that cost $3 (plus tax) at the dollar store. In the 90’s, they used to cost $1 each. What is this world coming to? If CZ is any indicator, then the world is surely going to hell in a handbasket. But I intend to enjoy the ride and jump off at the last possible moment before the fucking ship goes down, no doubt.

          I was starting to lose all hope in humanity (apart from us semi-tarnished beings of light in our Merry Little Company) when an Asian dude sitting next to me actually struck up a conversation. “Hey, you’re the girl at the bar who asked for water earlier? I was looking for you coz I got you one but I couldn’t find you.” Awwwh, so sweet! I thanked him for his generosity and he handed me a can of ginger ale, which went down perfectly. To cap things off, I found a fresh bottle of water on the table next to me. I assumed the angels left it there for yours truly. There is justice in this world after all.

          Later on, I went for a bliss break on the patio with Shaft & Co. An authentic freakfest was happening out here. Sketchies, weirdos, vets, nutters and nicotine junkies were yukking it up in between puffs. It wasn’t a bad morning. The temperature had warmed up and the sun was out. Shaft made the fatal error of passing the bliss stick to a certain individual who proceeded to burn half the fucking thing off before anyone even took the first draw. We all agreed capital punishment was in order. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do for the mindless destruction of such a wonderful creation.

          Inside, we witnessed a plethora of freaktacular manifestations. A guy in a prison suit lurched forward with that i-don’t-wanna-puke-but-i-can’t-believe-it’s-gonna-fuckin-happen tortured expression. None of us wanted to get covered in spew so we sidestepped this puke prone unfortunate. A closer inspection revealed oodles of drool oozing copiously from his mouth. Gross…we let him shamble towards whatever destiny had in store for him…. the toilet hopefully. Next, there was a commotion near one of the exits. I went to see what the fuss was about and saw security surrounding some glaze eyed dude describing abstract geometrical shapes in the air with his hands. Uh oh…this guy was fucked up on some crazy shit and security was not taking any chances. They escorted him out and that brought the freakshow to a close, for the time being at least.

          Honestly I was beginning to think that CZ was not my kind of scene any longer, but I decided to hold on and give it a chance. I made sure to especially avoid the ultra weird singles corner where a bunch of guys obviously lacking in social skills pertaining to the opposite sex were hanging out, looking pathologically desperate. From 9 to 10:30 a.m., Manzone and Strong held it down for the ol skool massive, looking older, wiser….and well, a bit tired. Life is tough homies. Rave on. By this time, CZ is packed to the rafters. The party has officially picked up steam. Bring it on! Next, Joey Conns ripped shit up with a killer admixture of tribal and progressive house that set my nerve endings ablaze. Now we’re  talking! When those high end frequencies ride that undulating bassline, informing your subconscious that yes, you can transcend the limits of mundane reality and skim the outskirts of divinity, then you know there’s a true shaman behind the decks.

          And if that wasn’t bad enough, Deko-ze devastated what remained of my senses with progressive riffs bordering on the edge of lunacy. It was a genuine pleasure to see this stalwart of the underground still kicking it like nobody’s biz. I hadn’t seen him in over five years so I went up to the booth to get a gander. He was barechested and bopping his head frenetically while three semi-dressed dudes pranced beside him. My heart swelled with admiration to see how this brotha still puts so much of his heart and soul into what he does. Like a stealth bomber, Deko-ze dropped a classic that to this day, I still think of as “Ed’s song” coz it reminds me so much of him (I don’t know the title). Dirty Deko-ze still doing it up in style, hard and nasty just the way I like it!!! We love you man!!!

          After Deko-ze’s set ended at 3, Baby Joel toned things down considerably. And with that, my body decided it had endured enough physical punishment for the weekend. I closed things off at the Silver Dollar upstairs with Ticky Ty’s set. The sista was fierce AND she looked swell in her white wolverine outfit with flambouyant hair to match. I especially liked tripping out on her clawed slippers as she tore through her afternoon set, smiling beautifully while keeping the crowd on its toes. I bade farewell to Shaft, Jeff, Turtle and the other ol skool vets who were still holding things down. They wanted to stay ’til 6. Those hardcore mofos! Did I mention that Comfort Zone is absolutely insane? Consider this. Tonight’s event was billed as a 30 hour event, starting from 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. Which works out to be a buck per hour in the $30 admission fee. Who’s gonna last for 30 hours straight at CZ? Nobody in their right fucking minds that’s who. Except for that bouncer we’d bribed hours earlier, maybe. He was at the door when I left at 4, looking bright and incredibly chipper. Just when I’d abandoned all hope for any vital signs of life in Toronto’s underground, Comfort Zone proved me wrong with a resounding clash of the proverbial gong. There’s a pulse of defiant life left in Toronto’s gritty afterhours yet.

Copyright © 2011 Frankie Diamond. This article may not be copied in part or whole and posted to another site or reproduced without the express permission of the author.

To All da Ol’ Skool Ravers (and the newbies)

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 Greetings Fellow Ecstaticans,

Welcome to Frankenräver! Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re probably pining  for the good ol’ days of the mid to late 90’s, when the rave scene reached its apex in Toronto. When Ecstaticans would hug each other and scream with  joy as the whistles and horns blasted our brains to oblivion amidst a sea of  glo-stix while the high priest of rave (aka the DJ) messed up our minds royally  with technical wizardry. All duly facilitated by state of the art sound systems emanating seismic frequencies so powerful that it literally transmogrified your  DNA (whilst pissing off sleep deprived residents on Toronto islands). Those  days are long gone my friends. However, like yours truly, you may have become permanently infected with the rave bug. Symptoms may include all or some of the following:

 a) A maddening reluctance to let go of the glorious past. You recall your first E trip like it was only yesterday.

b) You blatantly refuse to allow your mind to be turned to mush by commercial crap stinking up the airwaves and blast vintage sets by Jeff Mills and Richie Hawtin.

c) You still have those cargos or Modrobes from way back when stowed away (to be auctioned off on E-Bay perhaps. Hey, those Snugs could be worth a fortune now!).

d) Despite the fact that you’re steadily approaching that  middle aged hill, you still have the stamina to pull an all-niter just like the good ol’ days. Though it might take you an extra day to recover now….bummer….

  See? You are not alone! I totally feel your pain. No, really. I’m halfway through a six-pack as I write this. It really helps to take the edge off life in a world that appears to have gone  stark raving mad. Nevermind the Greek tragicomedy playing out in the Eurozone –  Rodgers & Hammerstein could make a best selling musical out of that one.  Actually, the world was going bonkers even back then, but at least glo-stix  cost a buck and Ecstasy didn’t contain rat poison (at least not yet!). I first  discovered The Joy of Raving in 1998. Some of the old heads would argue that I  was a newbie but it’s all relative. True enough, I was inducted into The Hall of Rave at a time when it was dangerously close to going mainstream. However,  it was mostly a mostly underground scene even though it had grown to epic proportions  by that time. Mom had no idea what the fuck I was really up to when I told her  I was going to those “all night parties” and neither did the media.  At that time, private security was in full effect at raves, and we never saw  cops unless the rave got busted. Thanks to visionless politicians like Mayor Lastman, police presence at raves became the norm from 1999 onwards. And that,  as you know, was the beginning of the end. Things were never quite the same  afterwards. Thankfully, I got a taste of the real deal before it curdled and  went belly up like a carton of expired yogourt.

I decided to start this blog as a tribute to ravers  of my pre-2000 generation. Mainly because raving is a counter-culture movement with as much significance as that of the 60’s and deserves to be recognized as such. In my opinion, it doesn’t get the respect it truly deserves. Up until  2009, whenever I googled “Toronto rave scene,” practically nada would surface in search results. Yet I could find a wealth of literature and films on  the rave scene in England and Europe. It was as if Toronto’s scene never  existed. Why was that? It really bothered me because I knew from firsthand  experience that in the late 90’s, Toronto had a world class dance culture vibe  on par with that of England in its heyday. Due to draconian by-laws created by  British politicians, raving was effectively outlawed in the U.K. by 1995.  Despite its untimely demise, it was successfully transplanted in North America,  thanks to the efforts of idiosyncratic British pioneers like Captain B. Mental.  Raving was an epoch in Toronto’s party history that can never be duplicated. It was the era of the super DJ, much like the age of the supermodel, when notable  disc jockeys like Carl Cox earned a whopping $10,000 per set. Armand Van Helden, Roni Size, Josh Wink, DJ Sneak, Derrick May, Sasha and Digweed, Kevin Saunderson, Daft Punk, Sven Vath and more ALL breezed through here and I was  lucky enough to have witnessed this stellar period in Toronto’s underground movement. Our scene was so huge that Americans would come over for a weekend  just to party with some of the biggest names in dance culture. This is  something that us Torontonians should be proud of. Fuck American Idol….RAVES ROCK!

          Even more telling is the triumph of  raving at a time when Facebook and cell phones did not exist and you had to call the hotline to get directions to the location on the same night….when  the internet was still in its infancy and you had to type in the fricking  http:// plus the address to get to the webpage which was uncluttered with  invasive advertising and the layout was simple and clean….POWER TO THE  PEOPLE! During that time, I used the net to glean information on MDMA and DJs  making the scene. The world wide web changed my perspective on how I accessed knowledge and empowered me to make wise decisions on how to act responsibly  with regards to Ecstasy, as it did for many others of my generation. 

          So my fellow Ecstaticans, rest assured  that you are not going crazy. There is truly more to raving than meets the eye. I like to think of it as a cosmic insurrection against the rotten, vampiric, capitalist system that’s currently bleeding the world economy dry, draining  Earth’s citizens of their vitality, fucking with people’s dreams and their right to exist and evolve beyond this materialistic hemisphere. As Public Enemy famously said, “Don’t believe the hype!” I encourage you all to come forward with your comments, photos and experiences to share amongst our thriving community. Please keep it simple and clean. Pornographic or racist material is not welcome here. Let’s make this a place where we can share and relish in the wealth of unique experiences that rave culture has to offer. Let’s take a stand once and for all and be proud of what Toronto has to offer, and put a stop to  the “Imitate America” inferiority complex that is currently ravishing our t.v. screens and airwaves like an errant strain of diehard retrovirus.

          Major shout-outs to my peeps – Stephen, Collin & especially Shane 4 helping me get this blog started. To Ricky, Jeff, Shaft – thanks for all your support and your fête joie de vivre! Big props to all the peeps who helped to make my rave experience truly immense: Ed, Jeffrey, Big Papa, Gio, Maria, Cindy, Sue, Ian, Leslie,  Eric, Stu, Simon, the amazing DJ’s, underground mags and the promoters who’ve put on fantastic events for us to enjoy. Last but not least, to all the countless ravers who’ve ever showed me love. YOU GUYS ROCKK!!!

P.L.U.R.

Frankenräver

Copyright © 2011 Frankie Diamond. This article may not be copied in part or whole and posted to another site or reproduced without the express permission of the author.