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.

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6 responses »

  1. Nice. The origins of CZ as an after party were in 1995 when it was called, “The Breakfast Club” hosted by the crew from Buzz. Buzz operated in that space on Saturdays from 11-6 would shut down for cleaning and reopen at 8am.

    • Thanks for the info Jimmy. No-one I spoke to seemed to know exactly when CZ’s afterparty scene kicked off. Judging from your e-mail addie (23 hop), I gather you’re 1 of the grand-daddies of Toronto’s early rave scene. Kudos to you man – keep up the good work with the communic8r >

    • Hey Tanja, I have moved on from Toronto’s party scene. Since Clubland has been transformed into Condoland, nightlife is not what it used to be. Authentic underground raves are officially history in this town. I think you are better off exploring the psytrance scene, or keeping your ear to the ground for discreet parties in little known places, though you may have to travel some distance to find those. It is worth it if you wish to experience peaceful, loving party vibes like the days of PLUR.

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