Browsing Tag

Nick Holder

1990s, Breaks, Disco, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, Rave, Reggae, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: We’ave

December 8, 2014
Weave mural

We’ave wall mural. Photo by Merri Schwartz, courtesy of Dan Snaith.


Article originally published December 20, 2013 by The Grid online (

In the late 1990s, this quirky three-storey Dundas West venue provided a homebase for emergent female DJs and was a hotbed for techno, drum ‘n’ bass and all kinds of experimentation. It also helped launch the careers of Caribou, Peaches, and future Azari & III member Christian Newhook.


Club: We’ave, 330 Dundas St. W.

Years in operation: 1997–2000

History: There is a row of heritage properties along Dundas West, between McCaul and Beverley Streets and directly opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario, that tend to catch the eye. Built in the late 19th century as homes, the properties at 312–356 Dundas West gained heritage status in 1973, and now host a mix of galleries, cafés, and other businesses.

The building at number 330 stands out for its shape, colour, and newness. An infill property that sits snugly between number 326 (the Howard Bryant House) and 334 (the Richard Chadd House), 330 is the relatively modern two-and-a-half-storey commercial building that replaced one of the original detached houses. It’s a quirky build, but not entirely out of place with OCAD University right around the corner.

The address opened as We’ave, an arts and music complex, in March of 1997. Its original general manager, Sherri Ranger, had envisioned the venue as an artists’ co-op.

“We’ave stood for ‘We Have,’ which was Sherri’s concept,” explains musician and DJ Barbi Castelvi, hired in April ’97 as its live-music booker and publicist.

“They were having some parties, but there was no liquor licence or restaurant yet,” Castelvi explains in an email interview. “It was literally a drop-in artist co-op. [Experimental jazz ensemble] GUH already had a residency; they were Sherri’s friends. There were also artist workshops, curated by Sherri.”

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1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, Gay, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Go-Go

November 18, 2014
Go-Go GTO ___ Go-Go-Ad-1992

Image from a Go-Go newspaper ad, circa 1992. Courtesy of Cheryl Butson.


Article originally published February 12, 2013 by The Grid online (

The Ballinger brothers – owners of clubs including the Big Bop and Boom Boom Room – were not known for creating sophisticated spots. That changed with the chic, tri-level super-club that brought long line-ups to the Entertainment District in the early 1990s.


Club: Go-Go, 250 Richmond St. W.

Years in operation: 1990-1993

History: Though based in Toronto for less than a decade, the brothers Ballinger made a long-lasting impression. The “Rock ‘n’ Roll Farmers” from Dundalk were entrepreneurs who’d originally opened a variety of venues in Cambridge, Ontario in the late 1970s.

In 1986, Lon, Stephen, Doug, and Peter Ballinger opened the multi-leveled Big Bop club at Queen and Bathurst. The wildly popular hangout would anchor the southeast corner for over two decades, and was the cornerstone of the club empire the Ballingers would build. Their Boom Boom Room, opened at Queen and Palmerston in 1988, was much smaller in size, but was trendsetting with its mix of rock, alternative, house, and queer nights. With a few years’ experience in T.O. and a staff that was willing and able to bounce between venues, the Ballingers soon set their sites on 250 Richmond St. W. for an ambitious new venture.

Richmond and Duncan was not yet an obvious choice of location. After-hours club Twilight Zone had closed just the year before, and Charles Khabouth’s Stilife, located directly across the street, was showing signs of slowing. Beyond these venues, and after-hours rave destination 23 Hop, which would soon open at 318 Richmond St. W., the area was still largely deserted at night.

But with Doug Ballinger at the wheel, the brothers would develop a 14,000 square foot, tri-level warehouse building into one of the most innovative and influential clubs Toronto would experience in the 1990s.

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1990s, 2000s, Alternative, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Limelight

October 7, 2014
Lungley Limelight_03_28a

Limelight dancefloor. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.


Article originally published July 27, 2012 by The Grid online (

As the Entertainment District grew more sophisticated in the 1990s, this proudly shabby and unpretentious nightclub drew crowds by the thousands each week to a sleepy stretch of Adelaide.


Club: Limelight, 250 Adelaide St. W.

Years in operation: 1993-2003

History: Before the Entertainment District became synonymous with dance clubs, the well-worn brick building at 250 Adelaide St. W. was home to businesses including a print shop and Old Favorites Books.

Located near the corner of Duncan, the building was spotted by businessman Zisi Konstantinou, who saw its potential as a club space. Richmond Street east of Spadina was already attracting large weekend crowds in the early 1990s, thanks to venues like Charles Khabouth’s pioneering Stilife and the Ballinger brothers’ hotspot Go-Go, which later became Whiskey Saigon. Adelaide east of Spadina was not yet a dancer’s destination.

Konstantinou’s next smart move was to hire Boris Khaimovich as general manager of his club-to-be. Khaimovich—who’d worked the door and managed at Toronto clubs including The CopaBoom Boom Room, and Go-Go, brought his vision to the project—and was Limelight’s guiding light for eight of its 10 years.

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1990s, 2000s, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, Funk, House, Soul

Then & Now: The Living Room

September 25, 2014
11 - Pat & Mario pres. Holiday House feat. James Saint Bass @ TLR - front

Flyer for The Living Room’s “Holiday House” presented by Pat & Mario. Courtesy of Pat Boogie.


Article originally published May 10, 2012 by The Grid online (

This late-’90s venture by the party-starting Sbrocchi and Assoon brothers became the favourite Sunday night spot for a mature crowd of dedicated house heads. It was so beloved, some called it the Toronto house scene’s version of Cheers.


Club: The Living Room, 330 Adelaide St. W.

Years in operation: 1997-2002

History: Though it may be difficult to imagine, just 15 years ago, Toronto’s Entertainment District still had some semblance of cool. It hadn’t yet become overrun with copycat venues, fall-over-drunk partiers, and frustrated residents, while the mad condo-fication we see today hadn’t fully taken hold. There remained a whiff of possibility in the area for those who wanted to open music-minded social spots.

Into this epicentre returned the brothers Assoon. In 1980—when the area was decidedly non-residential and still touted as the Garment District—Albert, Tony, Michael and David Assoon (and partners) opened Twilight Zone on Richmond near Simcoe. The deeply influential after-hours dance club ran until 1989.

Eight years later, Albert and Michael partnered with Anthony Formusa and brothers Tony and Johnny Sbrocchi to open a vastly different venture in a two-storey, Art Deco-style warehouse building near the corner of Peter and Adelaide. It had been home to the Sbrocchis’ fine-dining restaurant Ola, but that hadn’t taken off.

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2000s, Breaks, Electronic, Hip-Hop, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: Element Bar

September 24, 2014
Ann as DJ Valentines

AnnMarie McCullough a.k.a. DJ Amtrak at Element. Photo courtesy of her.


Article originally published April 26, 2012 by The Grid online (

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.


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.

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1990s, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Soul, Spoken Word

Then & Now: 52 inc.

September 21, 2014
Co-founders Amy Katz (middle left) and Kate Cassidy (middle right), with 52 inc. staffer/collaborators Elliot George and Wudasie Efrem, on the bar's final day. Photo courtesy of Kate Cassidy.

Co-founders Amy Katz (middle left) and Kate Cassidy (middle right), with 52 inc. staffer/collaborators Elliot George and Wudasie Efrem on the bar’s final day. Photo courtesy of Kate Cassidy.

Article originally published January 4, 2012 by The Grid online (

In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to College Street in the mid-90s, when a female-friendly hotbed for arts and culture opened up just as Little Italy was beginning to explode.


Club: 52 inc., 394 College Street

Years in operation: 1995 — 2000

52 inc. logo

History: On August 2nd 1995, two 23-year-old friends—Kate Cassidy and Amy Katz—opened a community-minded café, bar and boutique just one block away from their shared rental apartment at College and Borden. 52 inc., named as a nod to women forming fifty-two percent of the global population, was a complementary addition to a neighbourhood filled with diverse independent businesses.

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1990s, 2000s, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Soul

Then & Now: Roxy Blu

September 15, 2014
Dance crew DFC at a Movement party.

Photo of DFC dance crew at Movement by Rob Ben (courtesy of John Kong).


Article originally published September 21, 2011 by The Grid online ( 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.


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.

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