Raver of the Month
This month’s title goes to Johnny Cairns. Originally hailing from Toronto, Johnny recently opened up about his past experiences and the impact dance culture has made on his life. (This interview has been truncated to keep the article concise).
F: Can you define what rave culture means to you in one sentence?
J.C: One people under a groove.
F: Ok, that sounds familiar…I think that was Parliament!
J.C: (Laughter) That’s right. We’re all one, we’re under the groove and you could feel connected out on the dance floor, unlike anything today, especially in the ‘90’s, so between 91 and 90 and 2000 actually is when I did it, I did the whole decade and it was incredible. Connected.
F: Who or what got you into raving?
J.C: My little brother actually. When he moved back from Montreal in 1995, we moved in together and went to York University together and he was into psychedelics. I discovered psychedelics at that point and some of his friends who were a bit younger. He was 19, I was about 25, and so I went to a rave party with him down at Palais Royale… and it was at that rave in fact, the people I went with bailed, they actually bailed. It was the first time I felt that really profound peak in the heart, when it just started pumping and when we left the club I was like Nooo!!! cuz the girls got freaked out on psychedelics and they had to leave and I went with them. That was my second rave. After that I was like “See ya!” I’m out there. That’s how it rolled.
F: So psychedelics was your drug of choice?
J.C: Absolutely, that’s all I would do. Wouldn’t do anything but psilocybin, scientific term.
F: Yes, scientifically proven to trip you out without any major ill side effects. So what was your fondest memory from that era? And when we refer to era we’re talking from the era of ’95 onwards correct?
J.C: Yeah, ’95 onwards. I did go to raves in ’91. I went to a Nitrous party, in fact. Was offered some LSD at that party, turned it down and then proceeded to go into the drinking crowd and after that, only to come up in ’95 and actually do the psychedelics and go for it.
F: Wow, a Nitrous party in ’91. What sort of music were they spinning back then?
J.C: That was trance, that was a big trance party so that was DJ Dogwhistle, who was Chris Sheppard.
F: That’s right.
J.C: Chris Sheppard and Dr. Trance. Actually I was invited by Don Berns to the party, went with him, and he was Nitrous, he threw the party, he and Power and Don Berns and I were good friends, even though he was a bit of a pervert, a weirdo, liked boys but he and I were really, really cool.
F: Did raving kill any of your romantic relationships?
J.C: Absolutely, yeah. I wrote a book, it was 1000 days it became such a powerful spiritual thing and it wasn’t. There was this whole ethos of romance and sex when I was raving but I was almost like a monk in a way. A monk amongst thousands of hot girls, it was a really exciting thing. So yeah, it killed them all.
F: Do you think Ecstasy and M.D.M.A. should be legalized?
J.C: Yeah, absolutely, both should be. Why not? I think whether they’re legalized or not, kids are gonna do them and personally myself, I wasn’t a big Ecstasy fan and I’ve seen the results of Ecstasy on kids over the years. I knew people that did too much and they’ve got no memory, no brain left.
F: In your opinion, what sort of elements contributed to the overall demise of Toronto’s rave scene?
J.C: I think like all things it saturates, you know, it just saturates, it reached a peak and went down. There were other factors; the law started changing, the zoning started changing, they closed off most of our access to different warehouse spaces – they were gone suddenly and the wave crashed. I think a lot of us just got older too. A lot of us went into our mid and late 20’s and couldn’t do it all night.
F: In what year would you say raving officially died?
J.C: Oh, I remember the night well. My brother threw a party at Spadina in 1999, 2000. 2000 it was done. Over. I remember 2000, I clearly remember the feeling, I wept actually. I went back to help clean up my brother’s space and the vibe was just not there; it was really weird. That’s why I call it the 90’s vibe cuz 2000 came – gone. Like completely gone. It had already gone scenesterish already, like 99, 98, a little bit, but there was still some raving happening. It was becoming a bit more monocultured, you’d see ravers dressing the same whereas in the beginning, we were freaks. We were all dressed differently and it was wild.
F: I wanted to ask you about that. What sort of raver were you? What sort of fashions were you rocking back in the day.
J.C: I was like a psychedelic safari nut. For a while I was a space cowboy.
F: Space cowboy?
J.C: Space cowboy yes. I had a lot of cowboy shirts with polyester pants with four packet jackets and I had huge platforms, like Mad Max clear soled platforms, with those on I was about 6 foot 1. Freaked out people when they see me cuz I looked naturally deformed, like my head and hands and my body should be 6 foot tall so it looked right when I was 6 foot tall. Yeah, I actually had that experience once when I saw a girl in the Kensington Market area from a rave, she met me at a rave, she remembered me from a Mark Farina rave. And then she saw me, she goes, “Why are you taller?”
F: How relevant do you think raving, as we knew it in the 90’s is relevant to youth culture? Do you think it’s relevant at all in any way or do you think it was just relevant specifically for that time period.
J.C: I think it’s relevant, I don’t think one can say extremely relevant. The need to express yourself culturally is massive, right? And there’s a shining reflection of that that needs to come back. This kind of mono-cropped way of everybody dressing the same and acting the same is a really dangerous sign of where our society is going. We were in large part a rebellion against that and I think it’s important, it’s important for the youth to rebel against that, otherwise civilization is quite literally doomed.
F: True words. On a final note, how do you think raving has changed your life? Do you think raving has enriched your life in any way at all?
J.C: Absolutely. For whatever reason, I’ve always been into dancing, even in like the early mid 80’s, late 80’s when I went to it. It quite literally saved my life.
Somewhere in the early 90’s I was very big into drinking and was drinking myself right down into the gutter. And then I used to joke with people and say, “Raving saved my life.” I stopped drinking alcohol, I started eating well and I looked great. I was about 26, 27, and I looked 18, 19 years old, so baby faced. I started this rejuvenating thing to just drink water and dance all night. It really changed my view of reality itself as an energetic thing, not just a material thing. And I really got a profound sense of our interconnectedness, and a large part of that was due to raving. It’s changed the way I relate to others and has moved me forward in a lot of my projects, to today.
F: Wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me about your experiences Johnny. I really appreciate it.
J.C: You’re welcome Frankie. You rock.