AnnMarie McCullough a.k.a. DJ Amtrak at Element. Photo courtesy of her.
Article originally published April 26, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
As Clubland boomed at the turn of the millennium, this beloved Queen West space provided a big-room experience in an intimate, underground atmosphere—but it ultimately became a victim of its own success.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Element Bar, 553 Queen W.
Years in operation: 1999-2004
History: In the late 1990s, Toronto’s rave and house music scenes were booming. Raves attracted audiences of multiple thousands while even licensed clubs catering to underground tastes tended to hold at least 800. The Entertainment District was littered with venues—most of them commercial and unadventurous—while the College and Ossington strips had not yet developed into hotspots for small to mid-sized venues.
In this environment, a group of friends rented a decidedly intimate space on Queen, between Spadina and Bathurst, that had been home to popular pool hall Behind the Eight Ball and, briefly, 24/7 Billiards. The address was also known for after-hours parties on its top floor, dubbed Zodiac.
Tony Mutch, Marcus Boekelman, and their silent partner Patrik Xuereb all met in high school. By their late 20s, Boekelman and Mutch had both produced parties, with Boekelman having experienced Ibiza and London and promoted events in Toronto featuring electronic dance-music stars like Paul Oakenfold.
The scene at System Soundbar, September 24, 2005. Photo by Ryan Parks.
Article originally published April 12, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In the latest edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson revisits the Entertainment District institution that brought underground rave culture to Toronto’s mainstream club crowd at the dawn of the millennium.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: System Soundbar, 117 Peter
Years in operation: 1999-2005
History: System Soundbar was an unlikely home for electronic dance music with a decidedly underground bent. Opened smack dab in the middle of the commercial club district, System was owned by Zisi Konstantinou—former owner/operator of successful Adelaide Street spot Limelight—with his partners Spyros Theoharis and Boris Khaimovich. They hired former Limelight employee Orin Bristol as general manager, and the group worked to develop a plan.
“Zisi purchased the building as a property investment, and we were trying to figure out what to do with the basement as it was just being used as storage space,” shares Bristol. “We spoke about doing a nightclub, but thought it would be a hard sell for a mainstream crowd as it was in a basement.
“At the same time, the city was cracking down on raves and there were less and less spots to do parties in. Because of our Wednesday nights at Limelight [with EDM/rave DJs Craig Pettigrew and John E], we had come to know the guys from [promoters] Lifeforce Industries. Between Craig and them, we talked about doing rave-style events in the space.”