10 of the Very Best Club Tracks from Toronto’s Twilight Zone.

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The Twilight Zone first opened it’s doors in 1980 in the nearly empty, factory filled, garment district of Toronto’s downtown, which years later became zoned as the city’s Entertainment District. During it’s incredible nine year run, the Zone became a mecca for a dedicated, eclectic clientele that included a solid mix of straight and gay; a multi-cultural movement where only the music mattered.

Saturday nights at the Zone featured co-owners Albert and Tony Assoon on the decks, along with some of the world’s biggest disc jockeys spinning funk and house records on a now legendary sound system to a religious, cult-like following, laying the underground foundations for many to follow. Guest writer and Toronto area DJ Mitch Winthrop graciously fires up his DeLorean to take us back into time and smack dab in the middle of the Zone’s crowded dance floor, one more time.

1. Strafe – Set It Off
The first time I ever heard that record was on the Zone’s legendary sound system. Those hi-hats and the kick from the b-side mix before the vocals were played was like hearing God’s heartbeat.

2. First Choice – Let No Man Put Asunder
As was often the case, the club would be pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face… all the lights were out. And I couldn’t see who was in the booth. For a few seconds there’d be dead air, so the assumption was there was a technical problem, but then the acapella would ring out “I’m surprised to see your suitcase at the door!” – the crowd would go insane. And whether it was Tony or Albert Assoon playing, they’d play this part of the record over and over, teasing everyone who by now is in hysterics until finally playing the actual full version with all the lights finally coming on. At the time this was pure magic. (for the Frankie Knuckle remix go here.)


3. Marshall Jefferson – Move Your Body
What can you say? The record was produced like a DJ was playing it. Just put it on and stand back. Let the crowd go mad, at a time when people were just starting to realize house was something to take seriously. This was our House Music Anthem.

4. Hanson & Davis – Tonight
Nothing quite shook the building like this record did. I often found myself in the back parking lot or on the roof when this came on and the way the plate glass windows of the warehouses across the street from the club would vibrate to this song was as much a part of the Zone experience as being in the middle of the dance floor was.

5. Master C&J – Dub Love
The wail of the synths in this record, on many nights, was outdone by the wail of the crowd. This is very much a Zone record to me. It epitomizes the dark, often scary vibe the club had on nights just before the peak, before the music would turn over to become more of a celebration in the later hours of the morning.

6. Sequal – It’s Not Too Late
Some of the best years and best experiences at the Zone happened before the house music explosion, when the club’s music featured a lot more freestyle, electro and funk.

7. Phyllis Nelson – I Like You
Speaking of… another big record from the pre-house music days at the club. The truth is, everything sounded good on that sound system.

8. Nu Shooz – I Can’t Wait
A lot of commercial hits were played at the Zone months if not years ahead of radio and Muchmusic. And I’m including this to illustrate that the music at the Zone was not 125 beats per minute all night long. When this record came out no one knew anything about the band. We just knew the bass alone was perfect for the Zone, and when it was played the room blew up.

9. Beastie Boys – Cookie Puss
It’s often noted that Keith Haring painted the Paradise Garage. The Twilight Zone’s décor was courtesy of the Beastie Boys, who went to town covering the walls with graffiti after they were in town to perform there. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with “Cookie Puss” being featured in the middle of some sets, but the song is nuts and a lot of nutty records were played either for their sound quality or their strangeness. File this one under “Planet Claire” by the B-52s too.

10. No Smoke – Koro Koro
For me nothing had me screaming over the system like a great tribal record. The vocal grunts and chants rang out around the room as if Tony and Albert were controlling which of the horns hanging over the dance floor would play them, all while the percussion shook the floor loose from the support beams. Sometimes you felt like any night could be the night the place came crashing down from the vibrations of the sound and the footwork, but no one cared because what a way to go!

Mitch Winthrop is an internationally recognized producer, dj and radio host for several notable shows, including The Rhythm Method, which is largely credited as Canada’s first dedicated House music show. Look out for his new podcast coming soon called The Boogie Politix Show. Mitch will also be featured in the upcoming film, Back To The Zone; a documentary about Toronto’s Twilight Zone nightclub, and the birth of House music culture in Canada.

The Twilight Zone’s former owners, the Assoons, have recently opened up a new club called Remix, located in the city’s West end.

For more on Toronto’s club history, check out Denise Benson’s Then & Now series, soon to be available in book form.

Top photo from Back To The Zone, dir. by Colm Hogan, Footage courtesy of Marla Rotenberg.

Posted in Culture, dance, electronica, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Startling Truth Behind Toronto’s Tunnel of Terror.

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To him who is in fear everything rustles.
– Sophocles

The intersection of Jane and Finch is well known to most Torontonians. It’s not a place the majority of it’s citizens have actually lived in, visited, or in fact, even driven by. Most Torontonians know it from news reports. It’s the place that people get shot or stabbed. Where drug gangs control the streets, and everyone else around cowers in fear.

Yet, if you go there, on the surface at least, it looks like any other neighbourhood. Albeit, with it’s large looming apartment block high rises, and low lying strip malls below featuring Money Mart and McDonalds franchises along with the increasingly ubiquitous Dollarama – it’s not exactly Rosedale; the tony neighbourhood just North of the city’s downtown, and about a million miles away in the minds of Jane and Finchers. There are similarities though. Adults go to work. Children go to school. Babies are pushed in carriages. It’s not exactly the pictured war zone that the newspapers seem to paint.

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But complexity doesn’t sell papers. Fear does. Fear quickens the pulse, and boils the blood. These are the emotions that make for compelling viewing on cable news networks.

And so, the flavour of the day is terrorism. But it wasn’t always so. Before terrorism we had global warming, AIDS, killer bees, satanic cults, heavy metal, nuclear war, gangsta rap. McCarthyism. The Salem witch trials. The list goes on and on throughout our cultural history. Now it’s terrorism. To be more specific, Muslim extremism. Al Quaida, ISIS, beheadings, jihadi brides, radicalization, suicide bombs, terror plots. These are the stories shoved down our collective throats on a daily basis.

It’s only a matter of time. That’s what paid security experts say. That’s what politicians that want to get elected will tell you. That’s what defence contractors and law enforcement officials, looking to have their budgets increased, will echo. They, like the terrorists themselves, and in fact, even the media organizations that report on them, like it or not, are all in the business of fear. Fear, it would seem, is good for business. It gets politicians elected. Fear sells handguns to housewives. Fear sells security alarms to suburban families. Fear sells personal parachutes to executives that work in office towers. Fear builds prisons. It gets fighter jets built. It rolls out tanks. It drops laser guided bombs, and then launches counter defence missile systems to blow up those very same bombs.

When the authorities discovered a tunnel situated nearby a Pan American games venue, there was a brief moment of tantalizing wonder. In the age of Google, it’s rare to uncover a bonafide mystery. Who dug this tunnel? Where did it lead? Why was it built? By whom? Then, almost immediately after that moment, everyone automatically assumed the worst. When we are conditioned to obsess over fears of terrorism, it’s easy to see why we all freaked out. Our collective imagination kicked into overdrive. This was a 24 inspired plot that surely involved terrorists with elaborate head scarves wrapped around dead, crazy eyes and wild, unshaven beards. A suicide vest, maybe a kidnapping or two, there would definitely be several AK 47s and large, gleaming, impressive ammunition belts involved. Someone was bound to be shouting Allahu Akbar at any given moment.

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It turns out the tunnel was the work of a young man from the mean streets of Jane and Finch. As a child, he had played in the nearby Black Creek ravine for fun. For Elton McDonald, nature offered solitude and peace, a welcome alternative to the perils of inner city, urban living. He worked hard on the tunnel for two years, determined to finish his personal slice of well constructed paradise. But once the authorities had made it’s discovery, the media circus rolled out instantly. It’s easy to imagine how reluctant he was to come forward. Remember Richard Jewell? Sometimes simply telling the truth isn’t enough ammunition to win the war against the 24 hour news machine.

Lucky for Elton, his story had a happy ending. When he came forward with the truth, he decided to harness his temporary newfound fame and initiate a plan of action. Elton’s Tunnel Vision Plan wasn’t related to a terrorist agenda, much to the disappointment of some, I’d wager. His proposed project focused instead on launching a construction company to employ at risk youths from his community to plant trees and mow lawns. He asked for $10,000.00. To date, Elton has raised almost $12,000.00 from well wishers across the country.

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Maybe we were all a little too quick to rush to assumptions. Maybe the world isn’t out to get us. Maybe there is hope after all. I’m not saying that there aren’t bad people out there that want to do bad things. It’s just that there are also alot of good people out there doing good things. We should probably spend more time hearing about those guys.

It’s nice to know that some stories have happy endings after all.

Top photo courtesy of Metro Police, photos of Jane & Finch area by Colm Hogan, Elton McDonald photo courtesy of Facebook.

Posted in Crime, Culture, Ideas, Toronto | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Van Orton Design: Old School Pop Culture Revisited.

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If there is a bitter truth to the old Klingon axiom that revenge is a dish better served cold, for a no less volatile species, though perhaps slightly more attractively packaged; mainstream pop culture, nostalgia is a dish best served old.

And the older you get, the more delicious it tastes. A side dish like nostalgia is nourishment for the soul, which is essential in a world where, as Benjamin Franklin once noted, the only two certainties are death and taxes.

In Douglas Coupland’s 2007 novel, The Gum Thief, Becky, a twenty something goth girl trapped working at a McJob within the narrow, horrid confines of a Staples store, laments, “the modern world is devoted to vanishing species, vanishing weather and vanishing capacity for wonder”. Maybe that’s why we need works offered to us from folks like the Van Orton crew.

By tapping into that childhood wonder, these colourful, re-imagined images serve as a reminder of our first foray into fantasy.

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The storybooks we were read as children, cartoons and video games we consumed over sugar laced cereals on saturday mornings and comics we devoured inside tree houses and under blankets with flashlights were our first sources of joy. These were our first moments of escape from the tedium of classrooms, homework and the banality of structured living.

They provided our first glimpse into a life of wonder and infinite possibilities. So when someone is somehow able to repackage those original impossible dreams into something that is instantly recognizable, it tricks our brains for a moment that it’s something new and exciting.

It transports us back to those magical moments, when we were young, if only for an instant. And God knows, we could all use a little more wonder. Right before we do our taxes, one more time.

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Van Orton Design are a twin duo based out of Turin, Italy. Check out their official site here.

Posted in design, entertainment, movie posters, Movies, video games | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Spooky: New Genius Remix of Dusty Springfield’s Classic Tune is Scary Good.

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Some songs are like lonely vagabonds that hop on random trains, crossing vast swatches of country, in and out of towns, villages and cities, picking up where others have left off. Spooky, is one such track. Originally an instrumental courtesy of saxophonist Mike Sharpe “Shapiro” and written by Harry Middlebrooks, Jr. back in 1967. A year after, and the song gets it’s lyrics thanks to guitarist James Cobb and producer Buddy Buie.

Fast forward to three years later, and Dusty Springfield’s version drops with that platinum blond tinged quintessential soul. The song opens with a breezy start, allowing for trademark Springfield velvet vocals, coated with a death ray of coolness:

In the cool of the evening
When everything is gettin’ kind of groovy

With an opening like this one, it’s easy to contemplate this is the same chick that brought us Son of a Preacher Man, a song that transcends time, effortlessly searing it’s way decades later back into pop culture consciousness thanks to being featured in 1994’s Tarantino hit Pulp Fiction. It’s just the first 2 stanzas of Spooky that get repeated in the Genius version, but the original held some secrets that might reveal a bit more:

Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
But now I know you’re not what you seem

Love is kind of crazy
With a spooky little boy like you
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The earlier version of this song centered on a girl, while Springfield’s lyrics offered a gender flip on the subject. It may be telling that Springfield’s sexuality was often questioned by a largely homophobic culture. Springfield had openly had several relationships with women, at one time claiming that men frightened her. The song may in fact hint at a kind of darkness in Springfield’s own troubled life in retrospect, but it’s absent in this Genius re-work, where the focus centers instead on stripped down coolness. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a lovely tribute to a great track; there’s only a small sprinkling of beats that manage to accentuate the existing coolness, which is all very well and good. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Here’s Genius’ fresh new take on Dusty Springfield’s Spooky, followed by the original track. It’s worth watching not only to hear the audio tweak differences. There’s something slightly askew with the visual performance; Dusty lip synchs the words while acting out some of the lyrics with awkward hand gestures. She wears a long, colourful dress, while positioned sitting on top of a giant spotlight, inside a comically oversized wire frame box. It’s as though the audience can see through her. And yet with a faraway, vacant expression, she gives nothing away.

Posted in Culture, entertainment, Hip Hop, Music, soul | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrift Paint Remix: Dave Pollot Likes His Art with Robots & Spaceships.

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We’ve all done it before. Scouring the aisles at your local Sally Ann or Value Village, searching for that special, unique, one of a kind, je ne sais quois. Macklemore’s 2012 ode to the thrift shop experience made shopping for vintage cool again, even though it was always arguably way cooler to get dope threads for a fraction of the cost of what the local department store charges. If you’re not into clothing, there’s also board games, but you gotta check for missing pieces. Then there’s the gadgets, like old super 8 cameras and 3d viewmasters. Sure there’s some obsolete stuff like VCR’s and tape decks, but there’s usually a decent stereo receiver that you stare at and wonder if you should get. 30 bucks. Hmmmm. Wonder if it works.

Then there’s the “Art” section. Amidst the piles of cat posters with inspirational sayings, there’s usually a pile of amateur grade landscapes and my personal favourite: dogs. Or more cats. Some of them are just so bad. But some of them, are so bad that they’re good. Kind of.
Dave Pollot buys these paintings.
Then, he makes them better.

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Dave is a software writer with a Computer Science degree, but he also happens to be a talented painter. He began his repurposed thrift art career one fateful day in 2010, and hasn’t looked back since. An avid pop culture and science fiction fan, Pollot injects a variety of references from his creative arsenal: spaceships, robots, video game characters. There are also references to iconic films like Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Donnie Darko, X-Men, Simpsons, Futurama, and tons more all playfully inserted into the unsuspecting landscapes of yesterday. The great news here is, like what you’d find at that dusty old thrift store, Pollot’s remixes are super affordable. Check out his store and buy one today.

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Posted in art, Culture, entertainment, illustration, Movies, painting, pop culture, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irvine Welsh on Ecstasy, Heroin, EDM & The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

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Edinburgh born author and counter culture legend Irvine Welsh dropped in on the Reddit community for an AMA session while promoting his latest book The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

Here are some highlights:

On who he based the Sick Boy character on:
“Sick Boy is probably an amalgamation of about 2-3 people. I think all characters are also a little bit a part of the author, or a younger version.”
On his inspiration for Filth:
“I worked in Edinburgh Council and there was a crazy guy who hated the world. He hated his bosses, and his subordinates. I thought: make him a cop, then he can do some real damage. There is always a lot of stuff in the papers about dodgy coppers, because its far damaging than dodgy council workers.”
Does he still do drugs?:
“I can’t really handle them now. You spend so much of your life fucked up that being sober feels quite trippy. If something new and mind-blowing came on the market though…”
And finally: What was the magic secret behind the now infamous Trainspotting toilet scene?
…Yorkie Bars.

While the interview may not prove the most lengthy or provocative AMA’s, there are some kernels of interest about what makes him tick as a writer. Most notably, that he doesn’t write unless he gets an uncomfortable feeling from the material. There’s a reference he makes to a notorious interview he gave for Rebel Inc. where he takes ecstacy in the middle of it with Kevin Williamson. It’s not easily found on the interwebz, so I’ve been unable to come up with a link for it. For anyone (like myself) hoping to hear news of Porno hitting the big screen, we’re not left with any definitive news, unfortunately. He does, however talk about how his past drug use influenced his works, as well as what he thinks of the EDM scene in the US, and what he puts on his pizza.

Read the entire AMA over here. You can read more about Welsh’s new novel over here.
And finally, from the internet archives, here’s a brief interview with Welsh on the set of Trainspotting shot on vintage Hi-8 below.

Above Photo courtesy of The Cavern

Posted in art, books, drugs, entertainment, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond The Fallen Tower of David.

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Anyone familiar with the third Season of Homeland may remember lead character Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, finding himself in a decrepid highrise somewhere in Venezuala. What you might not know is that there is such a place, and it’s known as the Torre of David, or The Tower of David. Construction on the 45 story Centro Financiero Confinanzas began in 1990, but ended abruptly in 1994 before it was completed as a result of the Venezualan banking crisis.

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Soon after, an estimated 2000 impoverished families moved in to squat inside the unfinished building, in order to build a new life for themselves. They somehow managed a jerry-rigged system of utilities that included both water and electricity. A number of bodegas sprang up. There were also day cares, internet cafes, hair salons. Even a dentist set up shop. Photographer Alejandro Cegarra managed to capture this underground commune with some incredible images, featured throughout this story.

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Then, just last year, Operation Zamora rolled in. The tower was deemed unsafe to live in. It wasn’t just the kids that had accidentally fallen off the building. Despite the well organized community, there were rumours of ties to organized crime. The government sent in soldiers to evacuate the building’s residents and re-locate them to a housing project. The tower still stands today, although it’s future, like that of it’s residents’ children, remains unclear.

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Almost four thousand miles North of the Torre of David, in the city of Toronto, it’s slightly colder than it is in Caracas. And, even though our climate may be vastly different, the issue of homelessness is something we share in common.

This winter alone, three homeless men have died as a direct result of sub-zero temperatures in a series of extreme cold weather blasts; one in a bus shelter wearing only a t-shirt, the other inside an abandoned van. Just last week a man had burned alive after trying to keep warm in a makeshift shelter behind a concrete making facility. With a new Mayor behind the reigns, eager to repair his city’s image, the deaths have re-ignited debate on how to solve the age old enigma.

The knee jerk reaction is a call to build more shelters. But ask anyone on the street why they choose to take their chances elsewhere and you’ll get a fistful of answers, almost as varied as the coins made from a panhandler’s daily take. They’re dirty, dangerous places, they’ll say, you’re more likely to be assaulted or robbed inside a shelter than outside. Not to mention the rampant alcohol and drug use.

So what’s the alternative?

Multiple studies have stated that there is a clear path to end homelessness. The answer lies in long term housing, alongside access to training programs and addiction counselling. Not only does providing housing help people off the streets, it actually costs less doing so. The costs of a shelter bed per year far exceeds the cost of a self contained longterm apartment.

If the solution to the homeless crisis is in front of us, why don’t we go for it? Here are some compelling reasons why solving it is in all of our best interests.

1. Less crime. It stands to reason that if homeless people are off the streets, and provided food and shelter, but most importantly, also have access to treatment programs for addiction, anger management, or for other health and mental issues, there would a reduction in robberies to feed addictions, fewer assaults, etc.

2. Less health related illnesses. If the homeless are given stable, long term housing, they should have better access to health care. Regular check ups would mean preventative diseases can be caught earlier, before they get more serious, and end up costing the health care system more.

3. More hospital beds. Currently homeless people account for a high number of emergency beds, adding to an already heavily burdened system. A study put forward by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that Homeless residents also end up staying longer in hospital, which each visit costing more than non-homeless residents. If they had better access to health care, hospitals would be less burdened.

4. It makes good economic sense. Having the homeless off the streets would lessen the burden on law enforcement, the justice system and health care management. With re-training and education programs, housing the homeless would allow a formally disenfranchised sector to become productive members of society. Either by being hired across many sectors of business, or, by starting their very own businesses; it’s ultimately beneficial to our economy as a whole. Just ask Frank O’Dea, a former homeless man, who would one day go on to become founder of Second Cup.

5. There is a moral obligation to do so. In a so-called world class city in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, how can we casually walk over frozen bodies on our way to the local Starbucks?

6. We already have a plan of strategy ready to implement. In 2006, The Wellesley Institute, a local non-partisan, non-profit think tank developed a detailed Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto based on 30 years of comprehensive research. Instead of pretending to deal with the issue by throwing money at another study, it’s time to dust off and implement a feasible course of action that’s been sitting on a shelf for far too long.

It’s more than likely that no current government wants to step up to the plate and build the housing we need to get the program in place. We’d rather spend 709 million dollars building housing for the Pan Am games’ athletes, than pursue this crazy idea. But imagine if we did. Imagine becoming a city without any homeless people.

It may not be such an impossible dream. South of the border, two cities are well on their way to doing just that. Salt Lake City, in Utah, and Phoenix, Arizona have both almost completely managed to provide housing for homeless veterans. In a city dubbed “the best place in the world to live”, courtesy of The Economist, shouldn’t we represent the innovative benchmark for tackling social problems, and lead this country by example?

Unfortunately, for the moment, we’ll have the cold comfort that 90 new shelters have been temporarily added by renting out 20 motel rooms in the city’s West end. The proposed 2015 budget for the City of Toronto will include funding for 100 new shelter spaces and 2 drop in centers for women. On paper it sounds good. The unfortunate reality though, is that it’s more of the continued band-aid style solution for a problem that has not improved over the years, and is not going away any time soon.

In the interim, all we can hope for is for warmer temperatures, and people to come in from the cold.

 

If you live in Canada, and you’d like to help get involved in the fight to end homelessness, you can check out the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Join their Facebook page here.

If you are in the US, check out the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Join their Facebook page here.

If you’re in Europe, check out FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless. Facebook page here.

Posted in Culture, longform, Photography, Photos, Toronto | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments