Montreal's Thomas Von Party Was Raised to Rave

The one-man party takes us around his hometown on the first day of Piknic Electronik
June 22, 2017, 2:30pm
Photos by Scott Pilgrim

Club owner, DJ, producer, and Multi Culti label boss Thomas Von Party (aka Thomas Sontag) is sitting at the head of the long centre table at Montreal's Hof Kelsten, a trendy bakery on St. Laurent north of Mont-Royal that specializes in traditional Jewish fare and gourmet coffee. Von Party increasingly divides his time between Montreal and Berlin, where he's looking to expand his Multi Culti empire. Even if international business is easier to conduct from the heart of Europe's techno scene, he wouldn't trade the vibe of his hometown for any place permanently.

He orders eggs and schnitzel with potatoes and recommends the salami on rye to get the day started right. It sounds like he's glad to be home again. "I've known [Hof Kelsten owner Jeff Finkelstein] since high school, basically," explains Von Party. "He does a great job and rocks some really classic Montreal stuff. I always appreciate when someone can nail those simple classics."

Observations like this become a bit of a theme during our day together. Whether we discuss food, music, nightlife, or city living, Von Party (a bon vivant by name, clearly) often equates pleasure with a less-is-more philosophy that he feels Montreal captures, unlike other towns. "We have so much... I don't wanna say risk-taking because that indicates a kind of self-consciousness to it," Von Party reasons. "People have just been in a long winter, they don't care what they're wearing, they just wanna get up and out there."

After brunch, we start making our way to Piknic Electronik, the city's weekly outdoor electronic dance party on Parc Jean Drapeau. It's the first Piknic of the season, on its new, permanent site in the park, and Von Party is playing alongside Israel's Red Axes, a DJ/production duo signed to Von Party's Multi Culti label. We take a detour to Marché Fermier (literally, "Farmer's Market) just north on Laurier Ave. where Von Party scores some goat cheese from Ruban Bleu's kiosk, and fresh Quebec fiddleheads at Forets & Papilles, but is bummed that his mango guy isn't there yet. Produce in tow, we head for the Laurier metro, where a hippied-out passerby recognizes Von Party, hugs him enthusiastically, and casually whispers something about having some produce much stronger than mangoes in his ear.

On site at Piknic, we are greeted warmly by members of the management team, clearly old friends to Von Party. The new stage he and Red Axes will play is just about ready to soundcheck. As we make our way there, Von Party tells the Piknic team his father had to choose between coming to see him today, or to hear his famous big brother, producer/DJ/International trendsetter Tiga the following day. "I told him not to feel bad about choosing Tiga on the main stage," Von Party laughs.

"I worked with my brother for a long time. I ran [Tiga's label] Turbo for a little over a decade. But my dad was even into music and a DJ in Goa. Before my dad would go away to Goa, he'd get out all his records and record stuff to cassette. So I really grew up with that culture of digging."

To that end, Von Party and his brother both spent part of their early life living in the Indian state, known primarily to afterhours enthusiasts for its prime export: trance music. In a word, the Sontag boys were born to rave. "My first [Montreal] rave was a Halloween party. I think it was called Realm. I had just turned 14 and I had my rainbow toque, and Texaco jacket that was my brother's," Von Party recounts.

"My brother was DJing but it didn't even occur to me to go say hello," he continues, revealing himself as a man of simple expectations even from such a young age. "I didn't even know where the DJ booth was. I didn't care! I knew where the speakers and lights were."

The early afternoon Piknic crowd is sparse, but Von Party is on from the jump. The DJ's choice of rolling grooves, echoing drums, and uncomplicated melodies sets the mood on this brand new, grassy, hill-y, all-natural dancefloor, complementing the ground's undulations with the mix of shade and shine from above—all overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

"Multi-Culti has always been about a more broad spectrum of music drawing from different parts of the world, different tempos, even genres," Von Party says.

"I like long sets where at the beginning of the night you might be playing really slow and chill, and then things change."

When Red Axes arrive later in the day and the crowd has morphed into a gyrating, summer-hungry Montreal mass, Von Party's vision proves prophetic. The trio electrifies this first Piknic until sundown. All grooves, moves, and drinks considered, it's time to go eat again. Von Party selects La Capital, a fancy taco joint in Chinatown, for a late supper.

Von Party orders for our party of eight without glimpsing a menu, and soon cochinitas, carnitas, hongus and rosarito tacos begin to appear as if he willed them into existence. Within minutes our famished bellies are satisfied by Mexico's gift to post-festival partiers everywhere. Who knew Chinatown had the best tacos?

We part ways for a while as he escorts his label artists back to their hotel, agreeing to meet back uptown on Laurier later at Kabinet to wind down the day. The small cocktail bar is adjacent to Datcha, the nightclub Von Party owns, books and promotes, a modest space intended for intimate events featuring artists hand-picked based on talent. Lineups at Datcha can run the gamut from local heroes like Project Pablo and Iron Galaxy to hot ticket out-of-towners like Mood Hut and Tornado Wallace. Or if he's in the hood, big brother Tiga will even drop in for an unannounced set.

Datcha is officially closed that night, but we cross the curtain from Kabinet into the empty dancehall for a final drink before we put this day to bed. It's almost 1AM, some ginger-based cocktails hit the spot after a long, fun, somewhat-sweaty, entirely Montreal kinda day.

"People here are super open-minded, they love to dance and it's a great place to play," he says with a big smile. "Travel all around, and come back to play here, and it's like—we're freaks. The good kind!"

Presented by New Amsterdam Vodka