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1980s, After-hours, All-ages, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Freestyle, Funk, Gay, Goth, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Post-punk

Then & Now: TWILIGHT ZONE (extended mix)

March 16, 2017
L to R: Michael Griffiths, Albert, Michael, David and Tony Assoon. Photo by Charmaine Gooden.

(L to R) Michael Griffiths with Albert, Michael, David and Tony Assoon. Photo by Charmaine Gooden.

The original Then & Now: Twilight Zone article was published October 5, 2011 and was second in the web series originally developed for The GridTO.com. As the Then & Now series expanded in reach, so too did the length of each story and number of participants who contributed to each. This expanded history of the Zone was written in March 2015, and was exclusively available in the Then & Now book until this time.

 

Trailblazing 1980s nightclub Twilight Zone brought diverse crowds and sounds to Toronto’s Entertainment District long before such a designation even existed. Those who were there lovingly explore its lasting legacy.

ByDENISE BENSON

Club: Twilight Zone, 185 Richmond Street W.

Years in operation: 1980 – 1989

HistoryLong before the Entertainment District was awash in condos, clubs, and restaurants—back when the area was still largely non-residential and known as the garment district—four brothers opened a venue that ultimately influenced the neighbourhood’s development.

Tony, Albert, David, and Michael Assoon forever altered Toronto’s dance club nightscape with their Twilight Zone, but that venue’s reach was rooted in earlier efforts. The Assoon family moved from New York to Toronto in the 1970s. During their high school years in Scarborough, the music-savvy siblings produced events in school spaces.

“That was back in the day, when Soul Train was on, and we wanted to have something that was more in our culture,” describes Tony Assoon. “We decided to have the first soul party ever in Toronto. It was funk music, a little bit of disco, and so forth. That’s how we started.”

Assoon says they produced a few successful parties, and the idea spread to other high schools before the brothers all graduated. Tony moved back to New York during the height of the disco days.

“I was a club hound,” he laughs during our lengthy conversation. “I went to all kinds of places, like the Commodore Hotel, Night Owl, The Great Gatsby, Paradise Garage, The Loft, and Milky Way.

“One of the clubs that I hung out at a lot, that really influenced me, was called Melons. It was on the top floor of a loft and was a roller skating rink in the daytime. A legendary DJ called Tee Scott played there. Later, Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles also played.”

Assoon brought his knowledge and love of New York clubs, style, and music with him when his parents requested that he return to Toronto. He mentions checking our ’70s disco hotspots like Heavens, Checkers, and Mrs. Nights, but landing a job at the Yonge and Bloor Le Chateau clothing store, conveniently located next to a modeling agency, connected him with a different crowd.

“We all loved fashion,” says Tony. “At that time, the whole new wave look was in so we’d dress freaky.”

The Assoons began to do parties at places like The Ports, on Yonge near Summerhill, and in a building on Sherbourne.

“They were great promoters,” says friend Charmaine Gooden of the brothers. She first met them at The Ports, then spent lots of time listening to music with the Assoons and other friends, and attended their early events.

“They started renting rec rooms in apartment buildings to have parties. These were well attended by a diverse, mixed-up crowd—older, younger, money, and fashion. Part of the fun was dressing up. [People came] from Forest Hill, Regent Park, the suburbs, and Scar- borough, so it was varied.”

Through the apartment parties, the Assoons built a solid following and set out to find larger, more secluded spaces.

“We first experimented at 666 King West in September of 1979,” recalls Albert Assoon. “We had to move from there quickly because dust started pouring out of the ceiling from the vibration of the bass. We went on the prowl and eventually wound up at 185 Richmond West. We sought these locations because they were in areas where we wouldn’t get noise complaints or disturb residents.”

“It was desolate,” says Tony of the Richmond and Simcoe area where the Assoons, along with close friends Bromely Vassell and Luis Collaco, launched the Twilight Zone in January of 1980. “It was just industry and factory buildings. Everyone thought we were kind of crazy for moving there, and into a warehouse, but I was used to seeing things like that in New York, so it didn’t seem to be a big deal.”

Soon, crowds would come from far and wide to attend this magical late-night place where the mix of people was as eclectic as the music they were treated to.

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1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Post-punk, Rave, Soul, Techno, Toronto Rave

THEN & NOW: Book July 15. Launch July 23.

July 12, 2015
Then & Now book cover. Design by Noel Dix.

Then & Now book cover. Design by Noel Dix.

Then and Now: Toronto Nightlife History
By Denise Benson. Foreword by Stuart Berman.

Published by Three O’Clock Press. Publication Date: July 15, 2015  

562 pages, with four sections of colour photos. 

More info and to pre-order: http://threeoclockpress.com/titles/then-and-now

The history of Toronto’s nightlife reveals its pulse.

From award-winning veteran music journalist and DJ Denise Benson comes Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History, a fascinating, intimate look at four decades of social spaces, dance clubs, and live music venues. Through interviews, research, and enthusiastic feedback from the party people who were there, Benson delves deep behind the scenes to reveal the histories of 48 influential nightlife spaces, and the story of a city that has grown alongside its sounds.

Advance Praise

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, Toronto has known how to party for a while. Then & Now tells a heretofore untold social history of Toronto, including the clubs where often-marginalized people found both community and liberation deep into the night. This book is an essential chapter of Toronto’s recent history.” ̶    Shawn Micallef, Author and Spacing Co-owner

“The early days of punk and new wave at The Edge; clubs like Voodoo and Twilight Zone where you could be normal being weird; playing Depeche Mode and New Order at Focus and Club Z; dancing to The Specials at Nuts and Bolts and Fad Gadget at Domino Klub; playing The Happy Mondays at Empire … Legendary Toronto club culture and memories brilliantly captured and stamped in time.” ̶    Scot Turner, Producer/Host CFNY 102.1, Program Director Energy 108

“Denise Benson’s Then & Now … shines a deserved light on the many young, often disenfranchised, DJs, promoters, and business owners who created scenes from nothing, providing safe and exciting spaces for alternative communities and culture to flourish. Denise gets it so right because she was there herself, is still there. Good thing, since reading her chronicles makes me want to dance!” ̶    Liisa Ladouceur, author Encyclopedia Gothica

“Denise … ambassadors all good things in the Toronto music scene. The work she’s accomplished documenting pivotal moments in club history is nothing short of amazing. She is a proven archivist and we are lucky to have someone with this level of passion in our ever-growing and evolving scene.” ̶    Nitin Kalyan aka DJ/producer Nitin, co-founder of No.19 Music

Then & Now launch party poster design by Noel Dix

Then & Now launch party poster design by Noel Dix

Please join us in celebrating the release of Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History!

Featuring:
Denise Benson in conversation with Stuart Berman (8:30-9:30)
followed by DJs spinning through sounds, genres and decades from 10pm ’til late.

MARK ‘SHUGGY’ OLIVER

PAUL E. LOPES & MIKE TULL

JAMES ST. BASS

DJ BARBI

and DEKO-ZE

Then & Now will be for sale at a special launch price and Denise will be signing books.

***

About the launch party:

Light refreshments will be provided.
There will be a cash bar and a full dinner menu available to launch guests.

The main floor of NEST is physically accessible. We regret that there will not be ASL interpretation provided.
Please contact: publicity@threeoclockpress.com with any accessibility queries or concerns.

This is a FREE event.

 

2000s, Disco, Dub, Electro, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Indie Rock, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Reggae, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: 56 Kensington a.k.a. Club 56

December 5, 2014
56 Kensington GTO ___ 52826c4231c60-56-Kensington-exterior-by-Randreac

Outside Club 56. Photo by RANDREAC.

 

Article originally published November 12, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

It was a dark, dingy death-trap. But in the early 2000s, there was no better place to party than in this Kensington basement.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Club 56, 56C Kensington Ave.

Years in operation: 2001-2004

History: In the early 2000s, Kensington Market was not much of a destination for dancing. Market nightlife mainly consisted of punk and reggae shows, the occasional low-key lounge or restaurant, impromptu gatherings in the park, and boozecans. Streets tended to be quiet by night and busy by day, when people flooded in to buy vegetables and second-hand clothes.

Squeezed between random storefronts and a TD bank machine, 56C Kensington was easy to miss. Its glass-door entrance was set in from the sidewalk, and was frequently covered in posters. Layers of paint hinted at the location’s past lives, including as an after-hours and, before that, a Vietnamese karaoke bar.

By 2001, a man named Laszlo or Leslye (the English translation) owned the basement bar that came to be known as Club 56. At first, his clientele consisted largely of friends, many of them fellow Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans. It was a social club of sorts.

That same year, a DJ and promoter named Mike Wallace was searching for a new spot to throw his parties. He and Rob Judges—two Scarborough-raised music lovers who’d been friends since grade four—had made names for themselves through a party called Skeme. From 1995 to ’97, the duo scoped underused spaces, bouncing from legion halls to Ethiopian restaurants, Kensington’s Lion Bar and Top o’ the Market and, most successfully, to Spadina’s Club Shanghai.

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1970s, 1980s, After-hours, Alternative, Goth, Industrial, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Ska

Then & Now: Domino Klub

November 21, 2014

All photos in gallery by Alice Lipczak, Wonderland Photography 

 

Article originally published March 12, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

Denise Benson revisits both the original Isabella Street location that laid down the breeding ground for Toronto’s early-‘80s alternative music and fashion scenes –also seeming to be U2’s home away from home– and the Yonge Street haunt that later served as a hangout for goths, punks and ska fans alike.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Domino Klub (1 Isabella St.), later Klub Domino (279 Yonge St.)

Years in operation: 1979-1987

History: In the late 1970s through much of the ’80s, Yonge and Isabella was an epicentre for emergent music, arts, and fashion culture. The area came alive at night, with numerous booze-cans and after-hours clubs drawing dancers to upper-level locations on Yonge and decadent discos on side streets, especially St. Joseph. Before Domino’s opened upstairs at 1 Isabella, the venue had been the Cheetah Club. Owned by Gunther Weswaldi, whose background was in the food and beverage industry, the Cheetah was short lived. It’s thought that Weswaldi and his wife Darlene opened Domino at this address in early 1979. (Weswaldi’s current whereabouts are unknown.) Advertised as a venue where people could meet for “lunch, dinner, dancing, disco,” Domino’s was a licensed restaurant and nightclub open daily. It did not launch with a distinct identity. Continue Reading…

2000s, 2010s, Alternative, Electro, Electronic, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Live Music, Post-punk, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: Mod Club

October 28, 2014
Mod Club GTO ___ mark-centre

Mark Holmes—a.k.a. DJ MRK—holds court at the Mod Club Theatre. Photo by Trevor Roberts.

Article originally published November 16, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

As the Mod Club Theatre turns 10, Then & Now explores the story of how a ‘60s-retro dance night came to spawn a world-class concert and DJ venue, transforming College Street in the process.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Mod Club Theatre, 722 College

Years in operation: 2002-present

History: To share the history of how The Mod Club Theatre came to be, one must first trace College Street’s evolution as a nightlife destination. The stretch of College running west of Bathurst to Dovercourt has, of course, long been a hub for Italian, Portuguese and Latino communities. Restaurants and cafés have dotted the strip for decades—with Café Diplomatico at College and Clinton serving as a landmark spot for over 40 years—but it wasn’t until the 1990s that people began to open a broader array of venues that would entertain into the wee hours.

El Convento Rico—originally a haven for Latin gays, lesbians and transgendered people—opened in 1992, bringing dancing and drag shows to College and Crawford. The early-to-mid ’90s also saw the opening of spots including Souz Dal, College Street Bar, Ted’s Collision, and Alex Lifeson’s live music venue The Orbit Room. Intimate café 52 Inc. fed, entertained and politicized on the other side of Bathurst from 1995-2000, while Bar Italia opened on College in 1996 and Ted Footman launched Ted’s Wrecking Yard and Barcode—two floors of live music in one building—in 1997.

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1970s, 1980s, All-ages, Blues, Jazz, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Punk, Rock, Singer-songwriter

Then & Now: The Edge

October 27, 2014
The Edge GTO ___ The-Police-1979

The Police hang at The Edge in 1979 with Q107′s Gary Slaight (left) and Brian Master (third from left). Photo courtesy of Gary Topp.

Article originally published November 2, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

After punk exploded in the late ’70s, this infamous Gerrard Street new-wave mecca kept the fire burning into the ’80s—even if its many famous performers were in danger of getting doused by the overflowing upstairs toilets leaking onto the stage.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: The Edge, 70 Gerrard St. E.

Years in operation: 1979-1981

History: On the northeast corner of Gerrard and Church sits a modest three-floor building that has had—and housed—many lives. It is said to have once been the residence of Egerton (pronounced “Edge-erton”) Ryerson, a prominent Canadian educator who, in 1852, founded the Toronto Normal School at what is now Bond and Gould streets.

Ryerson University is named after him, as was Egerton’s Restaurant and Tavern, a student hangout and folk-music club that opened at 70 Gerrard St. E. in the early 1970s. Licensed as a “listening room” and required to sell food, Egerton’s was open seven days a week, sold cheap beer, and booked live performers like Stan Rogers.

“We lived in the shadow of The Riverboat [in Yorkville] and bigger clubs that had bigger stages and dance floors, like the El Mocambo, Midwich Cuckoo Tavern, and Jarvis House,” recalls Derek Andrews, a veteran Toronto live-music programmer who got his start in the industry as a dishwasher at Egerton’s in January 1974.

Andrews would continue at the location for almost eight years, working his way up to busboy, waiter, and general manager. He shares that Egerton’s had been owned by Warren Beamish, PC candidate for the Rosedale riding in 1974’s federal election, before it was acquired by Bernie Kamin and Harvey Hudes, partners in Mosport Park, among other projects. The pair brought in a young Ron Chapman as co-owner and managing operator.

Chapman and Andrews—who together would run the Nite Life management company which represented artists including songwriter Eddie “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Schwartz, Paul Quarrington, and Ellen McIlwaine—would go on to book the likes of legendary funk drummer Bernard Purdie during Egerton’s later period.

But Chapman also had an eye on Toronto’s emerging underground. Late in 1978, he invited prescient concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier, together known as The Garys, to come book live music at Egerton’s.

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