Clubscape gives you a behind the scenes perspective on how rave culture is experienced by electronic music photographers.
For our first series, we spoke to veteran rave photographer, Visualbass. Tobias Wang has been part of the Toronto rave scene since the late '90s and has seen it all. From capturing the earliest jungle parties to becoming a resident photographer for INK Entertainment, he has photographed an innumerable amount of the craziest parties in the city. With 15 years in the book, Tobias created a history for rave culture in Toronto by documenting it in a way no one had attempted to before. THUMP Canada sat down with Tobias to talk about Toronto's early rave culture, how the term Clubscape was coined and what his photographs mean to him.
THUMP: How did your career start?
Visualbass: In 1999, I went to my first rave in Toronto and it was out of pure curiosity. I didn't know anything about DJ culture, electronic music nor did I understand any of it. I went because one of my friends in high school was a raver and she brought me there. I had a media pass so I didn't have to pay to get in because I was also 15 at the time. That night, Richard introduced himself to me and he ran a website called Toronto Jungle, which still exists today. Back then it was the first and only North American online website that documented the drum and bass and jungle culture. There were writers, photographers and we all contributed towards the site for free. For at least three to four years every one of us contributed to the site for the love of it. We were all kids just starting up and we learned from each other. That's how I began my career, my first rave. It gave me purpose. And it wasn't the drug or the music that brought me back, it was the photography aspect of it. We shot with film-very few people did that. Very few people documented the rave scene and we were doing that.
How did you come up with your photographer name, Visualbass?
Through a book by a photographer named Roy Decarava, he inspired me to create the name. Roy documented the Jazz Era in Harlem, New York, and he made a book called The Sound I Saw. That name alone was very inspirational to me because I wanted to in my own way, capture music-not just in a flat flash but capture it with color, movement and feelings. That's where the name came from, Visualbass.
How did you coin the term Clubscape?
There is so much history here.
So the rave scene died in 2001. There was literally a funeral for it called idance, there was idance1 and idance2. The first one was held because promoters and club owners really wanted to make the city aware that raving was safe and that we were putting all these precautions into it. Idance1 and 2 were at Nathan Phillips square and the attendance was monumental. Idance2 had X-box as a sponsor. That was the first time you saw a big corporate company support something like this. Idance1 was the celebration, then idance2 was the funeral. Literally, some stupid kids overdosed, and that was pretty much the stamp on the seal.
So by 2002, I first started with a promotional company called Theory, they were doing these parties at Kool Haus. The venue was packed for drum and bass. That was really gratifying cause we all felt that drum and bass was our kid, it was our baby. We watched it grow up, watched it expand. It was amazing. That's when I started seeing colors and movement in the crowd. I started taking myself back a little bit and capturing those movements. Maybe I was not that sharp back then cause I didn't know better, I didn't have the right equipment. I started showcasing crowd shots. The name didn't really come about until three years ago. I started looking at all these crowd shots, and I'm like "alright, there's landscape, cityscape, but there's no Clubscape." It was more of an after thought. Crowdscape was the first idea, this is what I do-crowdscape, but then I started looking at everything. Landscape isn't just clouds, mountains and trees. It can be anything. So Clubscape was the generalization of what I wanted to call my body of work.
Has any other photographer used that term?
Only my colleagues and myself. I have photographers that work for me now. They shoot for Digital Dreams and VELD and I feel really embodied by the feeling that I want to present, so these people now work with me and translate my ideology through Clubscape.
What are your thoughts on fauxtographers who take advantage of having a DSLR or a cellphone to get into an event with a media pass?
Everybody starts somewhere. I used to be that kid, I just didn't have a cell phone. There are times when I get frustrated because some people just don't know the boundary. Let me do my job, because you obviously have a cell phone, so back the fuck up.
A lot of photographers nowadays think it's trendy to just get in a club for free, to mingle with cute, hot girls, get a free drink this and that, that's their trade off. When I'm at a party, I keep my eye on the prize. For any photographer who complains that it's too crowded, it's like saying they're not willing to go the distance. Cause you know what? It doesn't matter how crowded it is; if you want that perfect shot you better dive in and get it. A good photographer is willing to do anything to get that shot. Anything.
Which DJ would you like to go on tour with that you haven't already?
Steve Angello. I'm a big fan of his artistic statement, his music. I have a lot of favorite DJs, but in terms of touring, Steve has a lot to offer the crowd. The energy, the light shows.
When I got that shot of him and the explosion, I sat behind him in the DJ booth for half an hour, waiting. Just waiting. I was talking to his manager and he was giving me the nod. The first explosion happened and I wasn't ready. I didn't get the shot. I was like fuck, fine, whatever. I waited. I had to guess my exposure. Be patient. Again, it's another concept of going the distance. When I got the shot, I jumped, I looked at him, and went offstage because I was going to make a scene. I showed the manager and that was the shot that opened doors.
Is there a particular event or festival that you're dying to shoot but haven't got the chance?
Sonar Barcelona, I went to Sonar for the first time last year with my wife. It was everything that I've dreamed the electronic music community would be. No moshing, everyone was at peace with each other, no security and everyone was helping each other out. It was really free and open-absolutely amazing. Another great part is that you don't know 99 percent of the lineup. Great DJs don't really focus on the show as much as the music, the music is always changing. Richie Hawtin for one, he's changing every sound and he is weaving things together. They make sets-it's a journey. You can ride the wave with them, you can feel highs and lows. Great DJs are in tune with the crowd, they know how to bring it down so when you go back up it will be even better.
One of the greatest stories is when I was shooting this Guvernment party and I was so tired, I really didn't want to be there. Carl Cox was the last headliner. The dude came out and within ten minutes I didn't want to leave. It was the energy; he was dancing harder than anyone else. He was so happy to make people happy. When you're in the crowd you can feel that and you want to get into it. That's one of my favorite stories, this was '03 or '02, it was still vinyl. That was my first dip into house music. It's like, "oh shit, there's no drop." It's just like one beat gets heavier than the next, and next thing you know you're on top of this mountain, sliding down and taking that chairlift back up.
Over the years, what are some of your favourite Clubscape shots?
In recent memory, the most amazing experience I've ever had was Circa Nightclub. It was a very experimental and free sort of environment. It was exciting because for a short while it felt like the rave movement was reborn. No one cared about his or her sexuality, they didn't care what they wore, everyone was just together enjoying this happy atmosphere and it was very free. I just posted a gallery on my Facebook page and it features some photos I took from those nights.
Check out Visualbass' gallery here.