Toronto's rave scene in the 90s was easily one of the biggest in North America, and the city adopted the sounds coming from the UK much earlier than most others on this side of the Atlantic. One of the best historical records of the era is the extremely detailed archive of flyers you can find on The Communic8r. Started by James Applegath, the website also hosts old mixtapes from local acts, as well of scans of the original Communic8r magazine, which released four print issues in 1995.
"We really connected with the readers. We'd go hand them out at raves and people would be so excited to get the next issue," Applegath tells THUMP. "The problem was that the scene was so young, and so a lot of the advertisers would end up not paying us, because they'd throw an event and lose a lot of money."
After getting the nostalgia bug in 2009, he launched the site to attempt to properly document the wild early years of the Toronto scene. Since then, the flyer archive has grown to include scans of hundreds of vintage handbills, including many from other North American and European cities (Applegath hopes to turn his collection into a book in the future). While the earliest samples don't boast the complicated designs and full colour artwork that later became commonplace, they do capture what was going on at the time.
From the Exodus parties at 318 Richmond West (aka 23 Hop) with Malik X and Mark Oliver, to a techno show headlined by Joey Beltram, Jeff Mills, and Underground Resistance, we asked Applegath to tell us the stories behind his favourite flyers.
Various events, 1988-1991 - "A small selection of flyers from promoters that clearly understood the concept of raving when the rest of the city didn't."
Exodus, Aug. 31, 1991 - "Toronto's first rave? Arguably. There's plenty of debate about it. But most agree this is when all the components of rave finally came together. Regardless, Exodus was the first rave organization in Canada, and some even claim to be the first in North America."
Chemistry, Dec. 13, 1991 - "Organized by Alx of London, who had recently touched down in Toronto from the UK. He brought with him bigger production values and the most original flyers and party concepts, which were years ahead of their time. This particular flyer was handed out rolled up in an actual test tube."
Exodus Unity 92, Dec. 31, 1991 - "Maybe the city's first New Years Eve rave? It turned out to be Exodus' last event at 23 Hop, and they went on a seven months hiatus after this. This meant for a short period of time in early 1992 ravers had nowhere to rave. Notable as Malik X's last rave DJ appearance, and Chris Sheppard's first appearance as DJ Dogwhistle. Albeit black and white, this is also the first professionally printed Toronto rave flyer, as previously they had been photocopied."
Chemistry Magical Mystery Trip, May 16, 1992 - "The first full colour printed flyer. To get to this rave, participants boarded a bus that had all the windows blacked out, ravers had no idea where they were until they left in the morning."
Nitrous 013, May 31, 1992 - "For their second event, Nitrous boasted the first live PA by bringing in 2 Unlimited, who were known for 'Get Ready For This.' Subsequent events featured a ferris wheel, bumper cars, mud, and a massive swing."
Pleasure Force, June 27, 1992 - "Pleasure Force's first event. Bar raised with multiple international acts and DJs. They would go on to become one of the city's biggest rave companies for a few years."
Chemistry Planet Rave, July 18, 1992 - "This was originally intended to be at a go-kart track, where ravers would have had access to the karts. Thankfully, the authorities put an end to that plan. It was still the first outdoor event. Flyer was basically a manual, they were starting to get bigger and bigger."
Adrenaline, Aug. 29, 1992 - "Chris Sheppard and company put together a slamming line-up at the Masonic Temple. Moby, Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva were in the house. Need we say more?"
Sykosis, Sept. 5, 1992 - "The birth of jungle in Toronto at 23 Hop. This and subsequent Sykosis jams at 318 Richmond West gave Dr. No and company a forum to showcase the new sound."
Realm of the Techno Gods, Oct. 16-17, 1992 - "An obscure event that took place on two days with multiple imported DJs, acts and local acts. Attendance was surprisingly low given the headliners: Joey Beltram, Jeff Mills and Underground Resistance."
Sykosis Alternate States Mix-Off, Dec. 5, 1992 - "Sykosis continued to showcase jungle by hosting the first Toronto rave mix-off competition. DJ Ruffneck was crowned the champion."
Atlantis Science Centre, June 12, 1993 - "A rave in the Science Centre from the team behind Nitrous. Their next event took the scene to new heights by landing on the CN Tower. How they managed to secure these venues was nothing short of amazing."
Destiny, July 17, 1993 - "Destiny's first jam of many. Amazingly the event company still operates to this day."