Sitting down with one of the originals in Toronto, talking about the past and now the future, in the form of a new name and a new direction. Click play on the mix above, and read on.
1. Few have endured the gauntlet of Toronto's Electronic Music as the scene has progressed since its birth over 20 years ago. You have been involved in it since essentially from the beginning, and through that time you have grown with it. Tell us a little about your early days and how you progressed towards the Rave Boom in the late 90's early 2000's
I was always into the music in all forms. I started as a DJ at my high school dances, moved on to bars and clubs, and the whole time I was going to these underground events in warehouses around the city when I was done playing the top 40 of the time. That was a truly magical time. People always go on at length about how things were better in the ‘old days’, and it’s true… it really was.
A little known fact is that while I was buying my daily dose of Top 40 records I would also buy the newest jungle and breaks records. I loved both of those genres equally, so I always stocked up on both. One week I realized that I was spending a small fortune on records every week, so I needed to decide on a direction. I couldn’t afford to buy both jungle and breaks on top of all the top 40 so I had to commit to one. I couldn’t decide and I struggled with that decision for days until I made my weekly trip to Play De Record on shipment day. When I got inside there were 10 guys climbing over each other for the newest jungle records, but no one was even looking at the breaks. My decision was made for me. Now all I needed to do was get booked to play those records.
One night while playing at my weekly residency at a popular uptown top 40 club I got really fed up with one of the club goers and I just decided then and there that I was done with these people and I wanted to play the music that I wanted to play to people that would appreciate it the most. I wanted to play for the people that I partied with every weekend night after I was done at the club. I was going to start playing raves!
It took me a full year of not playing anywhere to break into the ‘scene’, and even then I never played in Toronto. Even back when there wasn’t that many DJ’s this city it was still hard to catch a break. I spent hours and hours making mixed tapes and giving them to anyone that would take them at parties. Eventually all that effort paid off.
Despite living and partying in Toronto, I got my real start in Guelph (Shout out to Stu & Van Gogh’s Ear). After a few months of playing there and surrounding areas almost weekly I started playing at smaller events in Toronto. After working that circuit for a couple years I finally got a break to play for one of the biggest companies in the country opening for one of their larger events. That company was Destiny.
From that night on things got better and better and I went on to play nearly all the big events at the time and maintained residencies with all of the major production companies of the time. As the name grew, I was also privileged enough to travel all across the country playing to huge crowds in every big city having countless adventures along the way. I got to see firsthand the reaction to the music that I loved, and I got to see how other scenes functioned outside the biggest scene in the country. It was very educational.
One of the best things about touring to those smaller scenes was that they were very reminiscent of the ‘old days’ of the Toronto scene. There was a sense of community. There was a feeling of family and unity. There was a hunger for hard hitting beats and a need to dance. Anyone that experienced those times genuinely misses those days, I was lucky enough to continue to experience them long after they were gone in Toronto. I especially loved that only the most popular forms of music were played regularly in these scenes. House, trance, techno… for them breaks was a brand new sound that they’d never heard before. It was a ‘given’ that every set I’d be asked at least twice what kind of music I was playing. Being the person that exposes someone to a new style of music that they end up loving for years to come is very gratifying.
2. The music has progressed through the years, with genres dipping in and out of the spotlight, like UK Garage etc. We are now in an era where a lot of DJ's will include several genres and tempos in their sets. Thoughts on the diversity the scene has cultivated in the last 5 years?
Variety has always been important. For such a long time DJ’s played one style and stayed within that style. It made sense for the time because the variety was seen over the course of the night in the mix of DJ’s on a lineup. One guy would play house, one would play breaks, one would play trance, etc. We were all experts in our respective genres. Eventually peoples tastes changed and they only wanted to hear one genre all night. They only wanted to hear house all night, or jungle, or breaks. The variety eventually disappeared.
These days it’s so easy to get tons of new music for minimal cost with the coming of the digital age. Used to be each song would cost $12-15 on vinyl, now you can get 10 good tunes for that price on Beatport. There’s no reason to not branch out a bit. That kind of variety really sets apart good DJ’s from great ones. It’s easy to play the same style all night… all those songs are meant to go together. The real skill is making things that don’t go together flow seamlessly.
3. The progression from D-Monic to Dan Monic, what will the new persona concentrate on? What brought the change in name?
When the scene started to mature into the clubs, I actually started resenting the name. It was fine for raves, but it was a little cartoony and kiddie for club life. Sadly, it was an established brand at the time so I couldn’t risk starting over again with a name change, so I stuck with it. I still cringe when people ask me stage name…
Dan Monic is actually a natural evolution. Most people believed that since my name was Dan that my last name had to be Monic. A promoter once made me hotel reservation under the name Dan Monic because he didn’t have a copy of the contract with him when he was making the reservation and just assumed it was my last name.
The new direction will still be reliant on broken beats in one way or another, but with heavy bass being the primary focus. Future jungle, tearout breaks, a dash of dubstep… anything with lung shaking bass. This focus came quite naturally as well. When there was a breaks scene in Toronto the crowds always wanted the funkier breaks, which I played, but I loved to let loose some tearing basslines from time to time. Sadly, I got pegged as playing ‘too hard’ or ‘not funky enough’ so bookings started to dwindle. I still played a lot out of town, and for some reason everywhere but Toronto loved the big basslines.
I was pretty oblivious for a while to what the next step should have been. I wondered for ages why people in the breaks scene didn’t like the bass… meanwhile right around the corner there were 20 different parties playing ‘bass music’. It hit me like a brick to the face. I’ve been playing heavy bass for over a decade, why am I not playing to these people? Now was as good a time as any to rebrand with a new name and a much more aggressive sound.
4. Pure Phunk was a huge breaks label, talk a little about that project, and your memories of it.
Pure Phunk Recordings did some great things and had some great successes. We brought to light a lot of Canadian producers that would have never gotten a chance otherwise. We were very well received worldwide. I still recall being woken up at 5:00am one weekday by a phone call from one of the Plump DJ’s (one of the few breaks heavyweights that I didn’t already know) thanking me for the promo I sent them and letting me know that they’ve been playing it non-stop since they got it and they wanted it on their next massive mixed album. Being that early in the morning, I thought I was dreaming.
The label produced actual vinyl, something few of today’s labels can say, and we did it with a high production value. We were constantly growing and expanding and had started to become profitable. We were on track to make some very big moves… then it all collapsed. A smart man once said: "As long as you learn at least one valuable thing the experience was worth it." I learned that valuable thing. I learned that you should never go into business with your friends. It’s a well-known saying for a reason. It’s TRUE!
5. The last 20 years, Toronto had no large scale, summer time festivals celebrating our music and culture. This summer suddenly, we have half a dozen. Thoughts on the rapid growth, and the future?
It’s amazing! The future never looked brighter. The people have been asking for a festival for years and the response always was that it wasn’t possible. Now with the resurgence of Electronic Dance Music on a global scale, we now have literally ALL of the big players in the local game throwing HUGE festivals. The people got what they wants, and they got it in spades! Personally, I’m most looking forward to Digital Dreams and WEMF.
The venue for Digital Dreams is amazing with the beach, the waterfront, the skyline view, and the line up is amazing too. It’s a lineup that’s not all that commercial but is STACKED with quality. Plus, the Art Department beach party?!? I really hate to say it, but the only way to describe that is ‘sexy’. Plus, I’m also excited for hometown superstar Carlo Lio playing on the main stage with one half of Deep Dish, an act that I’ve spent many a night in many a warehouse raving to over the years. I’m genuinely excited… like, ‘goosebumps’ excited.
WEMF is just going to be amazing too. I’ve been to all the WEMF’s except the first one and last years was the second best one of them all, being narrowly beat out by Christian Island. The was things are looking, this years will be even better and as a music fan I feel like the lineup was made for me! Moby, Crystal Method, Andy C, Chase & Status, I stand by my statement that this is quite possibly the best music lineup of any WEMF ever!
As for the future, that’s really up to the people. It’s a common joke amongst promoters that people will complain and beg for something for ages and then when someone gives them what they want, they don’t go. If you want these types of events to continue in the future, you need to go to them and show your support. While your at it, convince some friends to go with you! You’re the reason these (and all) events happen. If you don’t go, they won’t happen anymore.
6. Its 4am, you're leaving the club, what is your favourite late night food place?
That really depends on the neighbourhood. I’ve got favorite spots all over the city depending what venue I was at. The Guv: That truck that sells the jerk chicken. Club District: Smokes Poutinerie. Annex: Hero Burger. College: Sneaky Dees. Queen West… I usually just go to Sneaky Dees… Kings Crown, bro.