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September 22, 2018

Discovery: What I Miss Most About My Youth

When I was in my early teens, I went to an all night afterhours (pre-rave days) called 23 Hop in Toronto. This was my first time going to a venue (besides the Organ Grinder) that played music. As I walked in the doors I was greeted by a cascade of lights and sound. The bass pounded through the club, which, if I recall correctly, had one of the best sound systems in Toronto.

This was in 1990. The house music scene that originated in Chicago had seeped north to Toronto,  reaching a club called Twilight Zone in the mid-late 1980s. Twilight Zone was a club run by the Assoon brothers that effectively brought house music to Canada, modeling after popular New York club Paradise Garage. In the years after Twilight Zone's introduction, house music permeated throughout the vacant 'fashion district' of Toronto, including to 23 Hop, which was located at 318 Richmond. Although Twilight Zone brought house music to Toronto, 23 Hop supported a vibe that spun-off into the rave scene, which outgrew the space and moved to massive spaces around Greater Toronto. 

But the house music scene remained in smaller venues around the core of Toronto. The early '90s recession, which hit Toronto particularly hard, had left hundreds of buildings around Richmond and Peter streets empty and begging to be used. The house scene took advantage of the dead real estate market and eventually every Saturday night you could hear bass pumping out of a packed warehouse in the area. 

I first discovered house in 1987 accidentally by listening to Chris Sheppard and Deadly Hedley Jones on late night radio. I found the music strange because of the frequent lack of lyrics, but I was quickly addicted to the new sound. Saturday nights became dedicated to recording the radio using a blank tape. 

The sounds were entirely new to me and unknown to the mainstream. I felt as if I discovered a new world. In 1989 I met a couple people who had also discovered that world. They not only loved the music, they also DJ'd, dressed differently and were wicked dancers.

In 1990, when I entered 23 Hop to the sound of the same music I had been hearing on late-night radio for the previous three years I finally saw the world I had discovered in its entirety. This world was about music, dancing and diversity. It was a place for misfits, church goers, fashion risk-takers and drag queens.

I started attending parties that took advantage of the derelict commercial buildings throughout the downtown core. The crew that went from warehouse party to warehouse party was like a big family - we all knew each other and would see the same people each week. And we were all there to soothe our souls. In contrast, today's modern clubs are more of a artisanal meat market for budding i-bankers looking to sooth their dicks. Of course, 1990 was the height of the AIDS epidemic - people were scared and promiscuity waned. Perhaps by shutting off the drive to chase every tail that passes by, people were liberated to see all colours of the rainbow.

After discovering 23 Hop and others who shared my love of house music, I spent a good decade staying close to the house music scene, eventually DJing and throwing parties of my own. 

This decade included some of my best memories, simply because nothing will ever replicate my sense of discovery. The experiences during this period were life altering and shape who I am today. In contrast, most of my experiences since have felt more incremental and predictable - part of a well-worn path. I went to school, started a job, had a family - all great experiences, but not the same as discovering a new, unknown world. 

I look at the club scene today and it's much more predictable and established. Nobody is getting hooked on a type of music they've never heard before. Possibly this is because even the most obscure music is accessible on the Internet 24/7. Because of his, today the focus now is more one-dimensional, and I think that changes the vibe. 

So I wonder to myself whether today's youth ever get to discover underground subcultures. Are there any new subculture movements? Perhaps these new things still exist, but I'm simply unaware of their existence. 

Or perhaps I am fully aware of their existence, but to me everything is unoriginal. Or perhaps the only reason I thought my own discovery was so life altering is because it was one of my first discoveries after years of a prescribed childhood.

Alternatively, perhaps I'm just a middle aged man reminiscing about a well-spent youth.


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