While children scurry across the interactive exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC), raising the hair on their arms and heads with static electricity, the staff will be preparing for the night shift. On Friday July 24, the OSC will host an electronic dance music event—something it hasn't seen in almost two decades—as DJ Dixon and his Innervisions label showcase reignite the history of OSC raves.
The last time a rave was held in the OSC was on September 11, 1999. The dance music scene was completely different and, to an extent, unrecognizable from its modern-day counterpart. "It's the furthest thing from a rave, it's a black tie techno affair," says Dean Perrin, aka DJ Citrus, about the Innervisions party on Friday. "It's a nightclub, an electronic dance music event, I don't think it falls into rave." Unlike the 19 plus events of today, raves were a place for people of all ages, and musical backgrounds. Perrin, of all people, would know how to distinguish a rave—he helped throw the last one within the walls of the government-owned building in 1999. Under his Citrus moniker, Perrin, who emigrated from Manchester at 18 with nothing but a bag of records and some cash, would eventually throw parties for thousands of people during his DJing days in Toronto.
DJ Citrus hosted three raves inside the OSC, but he wasn't the first one to do so. Prior to Citrus was Atlantis Productions, who first broke down the barrier between raves and government-owned buildings in 1993. Formerly known as Nitrous, Atlantis Productions consisted of Iain McPherson (DJ E!N) along with the late Don Berns (Dr. Trance), James Kekanovich, and Claudio Santon (Big Claudio Dynamite). On June 12, 1993, the four-man crew threw the first OSC rave and began a legitimate legacy.
"With Atlantis one of our goals was to create a really cool environment but also make the event a spectacle—something people would remember," says Santon. These events were always one-offs and had no intention of being repeated. After the Science Centre, Atlantis threw raves at both the CN Tower and the Toronto Island Airport. Santon remembers those early 90s well, and meeting Berns in 1991 proved to be the catalyst for his introduction into Toronto's rave scene.
"I said to Don [Berns], 'You're going to throw a party and you didn't tell me? I want in!'" Santon was thereby invited to the next meeting. "Out of corrugated cardboard, I made a quarter-inch scale model of the office space they were planning to use, with all the columns and all the little offices and everything," says Santon. "I showed them that with $400 of materials, I can transform this thing and make it feel like this electric circuit board." McPherson and Berns immediately brought Santon on board. "We were getting a little bored doing warehouse type spaces," admits McPherson. Once he heard about an all-night theatre event happening at the OSC, he thought to himself, "Well fuck, if they are going to let these crazy actors go in, maybe we can talk them into letting us do a party there."
Intrigued by this possibility, McPherson acted swiftly. "I did the whole suit and tie thing," he says. "I spent about six months in meetings of one sort or another, talking to them about how it might go, and listening to their concerns." It was long but simple process, that is until local police realized that a government owned building had agreed to let thousands of ravers run amok in the establishment—and into the wee hours of the morning, at that. Immediately, the police department issued sanctions on the event. They implemented a cap of 2000 people along with requiring dozens of paid police officers and even a mounted police unit. This forced Atlantis to raise the cost of tickets just to break even. "Back in the early 90s, there were probably one or two insurance companies that would even touch an event like that—and you paid a premium for that," says Perrin.
But police deterrents and more expensive tickets didn't phase the partygoers and the event sold out in hours. And on June 12, 1993, Atlantis held the first ever party inside the OSC. One of those ticket holders was a young Toronto high school student named Mike Perri, now known as MC Flipside.
"You knew the moment you bought an Atlantis ticket," says McPherson, "that you were going to get this crazy ass space, killer production quality and a great festive night." MC Flipside, too, reminisces as such. "I remember the fact that everyone was in costumes and it was a place where everyone was free," he says. "Being able to be a teenager and then go to a party at the Science Centre to hear electronic music and DJs like Dr. No play that old school break-beat techno—it was fucking brilliant."
It's clear the work was worth the effort, and despite some wonky acoustics and repurposing costs, even the OSC was pleased. "They could not believe how well everything ran and how smoothly everything ran," says Santon. "They said there was one glove missing from one of the interactive exhibits during the night but once everyone cleared out, the glove showed up." Even 22 years later, the party is fondly remembered. And staying true to their mission statement, Atlantis never pursued an OSC event again.
As DJ Citrus, Perrin resuscitated the OSC raves with his first party, No Artificial Flavours on October 4, 1997. Then clad in bright orange hair, Perrin proposed a new business model to the OSC executives, which they agreed to. But regardless of the agreement, local police once again made their presence known. "There were numerous times that myself and other promoters were handcuffed in the back of police cars and pushed around a little bit. They'd say, 'Shut down your event, we don't like what's going on,'" says Perrin. Both the Atlantis party and the Citrus party incurred police payments of over $10,000. It wouldn't guarantee that the party didn't get shut down, but it certainly helped. "It was a risk," says Perrin, "but the events were a huge success."
During Citrus' debut event at the OSC, the fire alarm was pulled. Three times. Purposefully. "It was a running joke that by the third time we had it down to a science, where we would evacuate the building and let everyone back in in 15 minutes."
After the initial hiccups and some tomfoolery, Perrin's second and third installments ran smoothly. The Citrus party featured the now widely-known MC Flipside in the jungle room, alongside legends like Freaky Flow, Mystical Influence, and the late DJ Evil P. "I remember it like it was yesterday, out of nowhere I dropped Thomas Bangalter's Trax On Da Rocks and people were fucking losing their shit," he says. "I remember one of the guys on the dancefloor was Carlo Lio, raving his ass off to the techno that I was playing."
The cyclical nature of the electronic music industry may not have been apparent in 1997, but it is now. The 90s rave scene was soon undergoing a shift in its audience and a growth in popularity. "We found that in the five years that we were doing the parties, from Nitrous to Atlantis, the crowds were going from their early twenties down to 15 and 16 all of a sudden," says Santon. "And there was a big increase in drugs over the course of three or four years," says McPherson.
One night in the Warehouse—later to become the Koolhaus (and, later rubble)—McPherson says he nearly tripped over a group of young kids sitting against a pillar in the dark. It was then he made up his mind. "'Fucking hell man, these kids could overdose and no one would know.'" he says. "There was no way I was going to be responsible for creating an environment where that could happen." Now attracting massive crowds, it became difficult to control who attended the parties and how old they were. Atlantis as a group concluded their adventures on April 13, 1996, with their final fiesta, Return To The Deep at Toronto's Masonic Temple.
But looking at this weekend's Innervisions party, the difference in music scenes is obvious. While parties thrown in the 90s did feature some foreign artists, more often than not, raves were a celebration of the great DJs that called Toronto home. It was a celebration of the variety each local dweller brought with them, from minimal techno to drum and bass. Names like Dr. Trance (Don Berns), Kenny Glasgow, John Acquaviva and a long list of others adorned the front of long-ago flyers, but it changed when the scene exploded. "We would export 10 percent of our DJs and bring in 90 percent," says Perrin. In 1999, Perrin threw his final OSC party and gradually took his career path in a different direction.
Today, social media advertises this Friday's party—an Innervisions showcase with DJs from Berlin to Detroit with Toronto as support. The trend that Perrin is referring to hasn't changed, if anything it's intensified. But MC Flipside has a different perspective, as he is one of the few—along with names like Carlo Lio—who made it out. "To see this event happening this weekend, makes me very happy because the only difference now is that we're more established, we have better business people involved—we were just kids back then," he says. "We owe a lot to Don Berns because indirectly these ripple effects are still being felt today."
In Friday's event info on Facebook, there only little mention of the history of the venue and how paramount it was to bringing the rave culture to Toronto's attention. "It is, in some ways, like the old parties but it's different in that sense that we are getting a chance to show our growth and to let people know that we are here to stay," says MC Flipside.
Twenty years later, music has changed, and in some forms is completely unrecognizable. But for those who were there, it's easy to bask in the memories of what was. Both McPherson and Perrin refer to the Ontario Science Center raves as "the original Woodstock of electronic music in Toronto."
You can't repeat Woodstock.
Authors Note: Don Berns died on March 1, 2015. His contribution to the musical community in Toronto will not soon be forgotten.
Innervisions will hold a showcase event with Dixon, Ame, Solar, and J.Phlip this Friday July 24 at the Ontario Science Centre. More information and tickets can be found here.