On a nondescript street in Calgary's Beltline district sits an equally nondescript glass door entryway. Above it hangs a simple sign with crest-style logo, the words "In Music We Trust" emblazoned across a banner. This is the entrance to The HiFi Club, a 2,000-square-foot, 200-capacity room that blends elements of nightclub, live music venue, and art gallery. The locale has been a cornerstone of the Calgary club community since it opened its doors in 2005. The interior is comfortable, cozy, yet modest: vibrant works from local artists and projected images decorate the walls; a sturdy concrete and wood bar sits nestled in a back corner; a large disco ball casts its glittery gaze on black walls and scuffed floors.
You might never suspect it at first glance, but The HiFi Club is something of a legend, not just for local clubgoers who have been filling the room for the past decade, but also by the global DJ community. There's an extremely good chance this is your favourite DJ's favourite club to play. Known for it's intimate atmosphere, laid-back vibes, custom-designed sound system, and an eager, open-minded crowd that comes ready to dance.
HiFi, as it's called by locals—sometimes just "The Club" by the super-regulars—was born when the space hit the market for sale in late 2004. Pete Emes and Mike Grimes, better known as DJ/production duo Smalltown DJs, decided to band together and build a house of their own after years of playing in other venues around Calgary. This includes the Night Gallery, home to their infamous weekly Thursday night event, Hai Karate. Along with their friend Graham Furse, a fellow DJ and bartender, they pooled their pennies and bought the space, calling upon friends and family to complete some DIY renovations. In January 2005, its glass doors opened for the first time.
"I was terrified," confesses Emes, "but also excited and happy we made it happen." He admits that the early days were marked by "a lot of partying," but, even as they navigated through the intricacies (and temptations) of running a bar, HiFi already had one thing down to a science: booking the best acts. Over the years, the venue has become renowned for its music curation, spanning the best that the city, country, and world have to offer.
"HiFi champions local talent and takes risks with international bookings," says Sergio Levels, who got his start at the club as a busboy before becoming one of its most well-known and best-loved residents. "It's been a major factor in showcasing all types of dance music to the community and really shaping the culture of this not-so-small city," he says.
The founder's sixth sense for booking has given the HiFi an impressive "before-they-were-big" track record of touring artists. "It blows my mind who they have had play there over the years—from the best-undiscovered talent to stadium fillers," says Four Color Zack, the 2012 Red Bull Thre3style World Champion. The list of established acts is impressive—Diplo, Dillon Francis, A-Trak, Jamie xx, Chromeo are just a few of the names — but it's the club's championing of undiscovered talents, emerging genres, and anything on the cusp of cool that has defined its philosophy. As DJ C-SIK, the 2014 Canadian Red Bull Thre3style champion and current resident at HiFi, puts it, "It's the only venue in the city that is as progressive as it is in regards to the shows they book and the music they push."
HiFi's track record for quality bookings and tastemaker reputation with the local community means that the crowd always comes ready to party, even if they might not be familiar with the act. "You can pretty much play whatever you want and the people are receptive to it," says C-SIK. "That always creates the best vibe, when the crowd is down for any journey you take them on. As a DJ, that's when you can play the most honest, and in turn the most rewarding sets." The trust of the patrons, and the creative freedom afforded to the acts as a result, makes for an exchange of positivity -- that might just be the HiFi Club's secret sauce. That's certainly what makes it "arguably the greatest club in the world," according to LA's thee Mike B, who loves the fact that "the clientele is always ready to rage."
Starting as DJs themselves, the owners have always taken great care in making a trip to Calgary and HiFi a positive experience for acts. They have also worked hard to cultivate a family atmosphere amongst staff and patrons. Go to a HiFi on any given night and it's clearly a family affair—you'll see bartenders slinging drinks while chatting with regulars. There will always be lots of hugs, laughs, and, of course, dancing. It's something that doesn't go unnoticed, even to those who have played some of the world's most noteworthy venues and festivals. To borrow the words of Dave Nada of Nadastrom, "the vibe and camaraderie there is unmatched."
While the nightclub industry is often marked by short shelf lives and constant change, HiFi is well positioned for continued success as it enters its second decade of business. For the HiFi family, staying relevant is as easy as sticking to the formula that has served them well for the past ten years. "We will continue to push great music and great times," says Emes. "Those things are always consistent."
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