Photo of DFC dance crew at Movement by Rob Ben (courtesy of John Kong).
Article originally published September 21, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com). This piece marked the debut of Then & Now, originally envisioned as a series of brief articles. Given that Then & Now articles grew in length and number of participants, Roxy Blu will be revisited in far more detail for the T&N book.
Introducing Then & Now, a new feature by Denise Benson where she takes a look at what’s become of Toronto’s legendary, but now defunct, dance clubs. In this inaugural edition, she revisits the much-missed Roxy Blu in advance of Friday’s reunion party at Revival.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Roxy Blu
Location: 12 Brant
Years in operation: 1998-2005
Why it was important: From the spring of 1998—when owner Amar Singh opened Roxy Blu in a King West area not then known for clubs—this 10,000 square-foot venue of four rooms (Roxy upstairs, Foundation a.k.a. Surface downstairs) grew to become one of Toronto’s most beloved venues for house, dancefloor jazz, downtempo, hip-hop and emerging/underground electronic and dance music. Roxy’s size, friendly staff, comfortable décor and wooden dancefloors attracted innovative DJs and promoters who, in turn, drew audiences equally passionate about music and dancing. Parties and promoters—including Movement, Phatblackpussycat, Solid Garage, milk. and Hot Stepper’s Garage 416 and Bump N’ Hustle—flourished at Roxy, collectively creating a whole much larger than its parts.
“Roxy was important in general because it permitted us to realize this city’s potential for an eclectic mix of music,” says Hot Stepper’s Carlos Mondesir. “It’s remembered very fondly by house people, but it was far more than that. The huge successes of Movement and Garage 416 in particular—but, of course, everyone else like 52 Inc., Bump N’ Hustle events, Doin’ It hip -hop events, milk., RNB, Phatblack, Solid Garage and others—created a critical mass on Friday nights that gave us the security to book what would otherwise be extremely risky. I wouldn’t book many of the people we did back then today and be able to sleep at night. This also raised the bar for many other promoters to compete and beat the bushes for interesting acts that added to the consistency.”
Who played there: One of the things that made Roxy so special was the fact that local talents were at its core. Most of Toronto’s deep, funky and soulful house DJs were found in its booths many times over, including Nick Holder, Joe Rizla, Blueprint, Dirty Dale, the United Soul crew, Peter & Tyrone, Mike Tull, Paul E. Lopes, Peter Bosco, Alvaro G, Kevin Jazzy J, Jason Barham, Gene King, Ray Prasad, Felix & Gani and dozens more. The men of Movement—Jason Palma, John Kong, Nav, Aki and A Man Called Warwick—became internationally known and all went on to launch other successful projects. This just scratches the surface.
Some of today’s top international club draws played Roxy early in their careers, including Germany’s Kruder & Dorfmeister, who DJed their first Toronto gig at a jam-packed Alieninflux event here. Other Toronto debuts at Roxy included Joe Claussell, Dennis Ferrer, ?uestlove, Danny Krivit and François K, while artists as diverse as J Dilla, Gilles Peterson, King Britt, Keb Darge, Richie Hawtin and Ninja Tune’s DJ Food were also featured.
“It got to the point that if major DJs anywhere weren’t selected to play at Roxy Blu in Toronto, they’d definitely feel that something was wrong,” says Mondesir. “The ones who did get booked felt a lot more nervous than usual ’cause the crowd was so schooled.”
What happened to it: Roxy Blu’s ownership changed in 2003, losing promoters including Hot Stepper in the process. House promoters including Junior Palmer (Phatblackpussykat) and Pat Boogie (Boogie Inc.) continued to bring their vibe, but the Movement crew decamped in early 2005. Roxy closed its doors in July 2005, ending with a full-space house party starring an all-local lineup. The building initially became the upscale 8 Restolounge (upstairs) and 8 Below; today it houses the Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse (pictured), complete with piano bar.
Garage 416, Bump N’ Hustle, Movement and milk. are joining forces to present a Roxy Blu reunion party featuring DJs Jason Palma, Nav, John Kong, Blueprint, Moreno, Paul E. Lopes, Mike Tull and Felix & Gani. Friday (Sept. 23) at Revival, 783 College. $20.