Photo of 23 Hop hallway by Chris “Space” Gray.
Article originally published October 18, 2011 by The Grid online. It was third in the series. Given that Then & Now articles later grew in length and number of participants, the story of 23 Hop will be explored in more detail for the T&N book.
In the latest instalment of her nightclub-history series, Denise Benson revisits a dingy, graffiti-covered venue that had no signage and minimal lighting, but proved to be ground zero for Toronto’s early ‘90s rave scene.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: 23 Hop, 318 Richmond St. W.
Years in operation: 1990-1995
Why it was important: Like the Twilight Zone, 23 Hop housed a new musical vision in a part of town then filled with more empty warehouses than clubs. Key to the genesis of Toronto’s rave scene, the venue originally operated as an all-ages club owned by Wesley Thuro, who would go on to open The Bovine Sex Club (with Chris Sheppard and Darryl Fine) in 1991 and now defunct Annex barbecue joint Cluck, Grunt & Low in 2007.
In 1990, Thuro employed his sound and lighting business to great advantage at 318 Richmond (reportedly with backing from Sheppard). 23 Hop was a dark, raw warehouse space with no signage, but the sound, lighting and lasers were topnotch. It was thrilling to walk through the venue’s doors as it felt slightly dangerous and absolutely explosive. Chris Sheppard, later also known by the rave tag DJ Dogwhistle, was an original resident DJ, alongside Mark Oliver, D-Nice and Deadly Hedley Jones.
“I used to go to high schools in the fall of 1990 and sneak up posters promoting 23 Hop,” recalls beloved Toronto clubber/dancer gOgO K’necht, then a promoter/publicist known as gOgO begOnia. “We didn’t have the word ‘techno’ yet so we called it ‘industrial dance.’
“There were black light–painted go-go dancers and lots of graffiti down a very long dark corridor and outside on the steps, but [the club played] the music that you couldn’t get anywhere else in the city,” recalls gOgO, who would go on to be an early columnist for TRIBE Magazine. “I’d just come back from three years of traveling in Africa, and Mark Oliver played tribal techno, which was the perfect music for me to dance to. The room was so dark and huge but I just closed my eyes. I had a whistle sewn into my dreadlocks. That was also a big part of the kids at the Hop: using whistles. I think they called themselves the whistle posse.”
One year in, the all-ages approach proved conducive to fights breaking out, and the venue essentially became a rental hall and after-hours boozecan. One of the first to rent it out was Scottish ex-pat John Angus who, with Mark Oliver and Anthony Donnelly, started Exodus Productions. Arguably Toronto’s first rave company, Exodus did events at 23 each Saturday from Aug. 31 to Dec. 31, 1991, with house DJs including Dino & Terry and Peter, Tyrone and Shams on one floor while The Booming System Collective (Mark Oliver, Sean L, Dr. No and fellow UK ex-pat Malik X—the pioneering host of CKLN’s deeply influential Radio London program—brought hardcore, techno and rave to the main floor.
“My first night [at 23 Hop] was pretty mind blowing; I people-watched for hours,” recalls James Applegath, driving force behind ‘zine and website The Communic8r, chronicling Toronto’s “golden age of raving” through lovingly detailed archives, including those at 23hop.com that helped make this profile possible.
“Graffiti wasn’t prohibited and the washrooms were unisex. Society and club norms were checked at the door. There were a lot of characters that frequented the spot.”
At 17, Applegath was initially nervous to enter 23 Hop’s doors. Once he did, he and friends spent every Saturday night there for the next four months.
“Those nights ended up shaping my life for the next 15 years,” he shares. “I promoted raves, published a mag about them, was a partner in Buzz [now The Comfort Zone], managed Industry for three years and then co-owned NASA on Queen Street.”
Who else played there: I couldn’t even begin to list all of the Toronto house, techno, rave and jungle DJs who poured out newer-than-new sounds at 23 Hop over this five-year period. It was a highly localized scene, with Oliver and the DJ/MC duo of Malik X and Dr. No remembered as favourites. DJs Ruffneck and Jungle PhD also brought early breakbeat to T.O.—playing at early ’90s Sykosis events—while Kenny Glasgow and Matt C played there well before they went on to open Industry. By 1993, following the Exodus and Sykosis parties, promotions crew Pleasure Force held down Friday nights at 23 Hop. Titled The Rise, these nights featured locals including John E, Danny Henry, David Crooke and MC Captain B Mental alongside occasional international rave DJs flown in to perform at the huge Pleasure Force raves that took place elsewhere.
What happened to it: 23 Hop closed in the summer of 1995, by which point Toronto’s rave scene was massive and heavily commercialized. Soon after 23 Hop closed, the building was heavily renovated to become popular mainstream club The Joker. It was later demolished and has since been turned into a parking lot. Today, it’s under development to become a 39-storey condo dubbed Picasso.
MALIK X, Live at 23 Hop in late 1991: Side A & Side B (this cassette tape is the “earliest complete recording of a rave in Toronto,” according to James Applegath.
There is no known video footage taken inside 23 Hop, but writer/director Colm Hogan includes Toronto’s early techno/rave days in his documentary Sketched Out, The Movie chronicling different local underground music cultures. Here’s a segment featuring an interview with John Angus of Exodus Productions:
[…] lot has been written about 318. Denise Benson did a wonderful profile of it: Then & Now: 23 Hop (that I was honored to be a part of.) Over a decade ago, I even took a stab at doing a brief […]
For anyone interested, my documentary The Legend of 23 Hop profiles this iconic spot.
Read more here: https://digitizedgraffiti.com/2019/08/31/the-legend-of-23-hop-a-documentary-on-the-murky-origins-of-torontos-rave-scene/
So does anyone remember in late 92 to 1993 the last weekend of every month was Club Love at 318 Richmond or 23hop, this was my first introduction to Rave at the age of 19. I was young and just experiencing life. The memories are still so vivid. Shaped my life and my experiences after that.
[…] he is often credited for some of the early popularity of the club. (Read more about 23 HOP here: http://thenandnowtoronto.com/2014/09/then-now-23-hop) Thuro’s partner Chris Sheppard likely played a bigger role in the early success of the BSC due […]
I used to go to The Rise and it was incredible. The main room had a dj booth that was a small room made of cinder blocks that had a hole busted in it for a window. Often there were candles burning in the booth too.
The smaller room offered serious deep house and I remeber tons of people flopped on the filthy floor smoking joints.
Those are still my favourite memories and of all the other clubs and raves I went to (which was a lot) none compared.
Nice to see it being remembered.
Is this the same location as FreakShow? Omg that place was soooooo much fun!! I miss those days!! ❤️
All comments in the string below have been republished from their original appearance on The Grid website. We’re including the readers’ comments as they add to these Then & Now stories. We look forward to reading new comments here as well.
I still have my RISE v.i.p card:) http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=9379995533&set=a.5552175533.15554.864825533&type=3&theater 10:01 pm on September 24, 2012
Leaving there in the morning was always a dissappointment, and too bright.. I don’t think my eyes have ever recovered. That place was its own mysterious little world.. Almost like a portal to a different place. Explaining this to somone who didn’t go would be very difficult. Considering it was filthy, had bathrooms without stall doors that you wouldnt want to use… And stunk like smoke machine stuff and cigarette smoke. BUT that laser and sound was to die for. It was kept up, not for us, but to demonstrate the companys laser and sound to potential clients I think… a showroom during the week. When we would rent the venue we would drop the cash by Bovine Sex Club for Wes…. which at the time I thought was just a weird spot… But come to think of it.. so was 318. Weird but magical at the same time. Other memories: Begging them to let us go later, putting the bar in the elevator, go go dancers with glow in the dark makeup, I wonder if the staff at TRIAD photo engravers had any idea about what happened above their office while they were at home with their families making pancakes on Sunday mornings? When a condo is built there I may buy a unit just to own a piece of it. Great job Denise (and jim) 11:25 am on November 6, 2011
Moby played a wicked DJ set there too! Only a handful of DJ geeks had even hear of him at the time. In my photographs he looks all of 19… And putting the bar in the elevator at some parties – just in case… ￼ TRIBE http://www.tribe.ca 9:33 pm on October 19, 2011
alex, i was there, fortunate enough to chat with the little master, as well as sign the wall under his name, and play there later………. cheers 11:45 pm on October 23, 2011
23 Hop was the first place I went when I first started going out. It was like entering another world at the time. Everything was new and unknown…the music, the people, the dancing, the venue. This was the time when Toronto truly had an underground scene. 6:41 am on October 19, 2011
Loved 23 Hop- many great memories of my earliest adventures in house music. Pitched black, house music blaring and dancing till sunrise. Met a lot of friends, brought a lot of friends, when house in Toronto was small and you saw the same 50 people at every party. You didn’t know their names, but everyone had a big fat smile and hands in the air. People shouting when a good track get mixed in. Amazing!! 10:49 pm on October 18, 2011
Great article – i was there in 1991 and have never been the same since (for the best). I think those nights in that place truly transcended time and space forever 8:16 pm on October 18, 2011
Awesome profile of a pivotal place and time. I only discovered that place right before it closed, but I still remember the impression it made on me! 8:09 pm on October 18, 2011
I have some old 23 hop flyers in my moms basement. I should dig them up and post them somewhere @seanbeckingham Great read. 5:34 pm on October 18, 2011