I am, you see; I am the creator, and this is my House.
And in my House, there was only house music
But I am not so selfish,
Because once you enter my House
It then becomes our House and our house music
Months ago, I went down a rabbit hole on Soul-seek, exploring the entirety of 90s dance music. I was downloading R&S samplers, BBC Radio One mixes, and Jeff Mills compilations. I was like a child with object impermanence, as if the Music would disappear forever if I didn't get my hands on a copy. Amongst this deluge of Music was a sample. A man who sounded like a preacher delivering a sermon on house music, projecting his voice over the rhythmic bass and clattering frenetic hi-hats, narrating as if he was God the Creator giving the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. As the track came to a climax, a booming voice declared, "You may be black; you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It doesn't make a difference in our House." Later, I learned what I had just heard was a sample of My House by Rhythm Control, a track that had the voice of Chuck Roberts delivering possibly the most famous vocal sample in all of house music.
Flash a few months forwards. I'm leaving an I Hate Models set with my friend Nikol. It's one of those late summer nights where you're not sure if you're too hot or cold, and you're just uncomfortable as the early morning humidity leaves your skin clammy and damp. She tells me, "You know these promoters are hosting a Boiler Room next month, right?"
Of course, I knew about the Boiler Room. Anyone on earth with even a passing interest in "serious" Electronic Dance Music had heard of them. The stories of exclusive invite-only parties in abandoned warehouses or underneath old grocery stores in former Soviet states were the thing of legends. Their live streams were famous for having the best DJs globally alongside some of the most hilariously awkward dancing.
They were the preeminent electronic music platform for live events, the absolute best of the best in live music sessions worldwide.
Since 2010, Boiler Room has hosted thousands of shows in over a hundred different cities. From pretty humble beginnings in London, England, featuring a single DJ and a webcam, Boiler Room has expanded to live shows in cathedrals in Spain, neighbourhoods in Palestine, and everything in between. As they've grown, they've broadened their music offerings and made the events more accessible to the public in terms of music taste. Initially focused on electronic Music like Garage, Dub, House & Techno, Boiler Room now covers Grime, Hip Hop, Jazz Classical music. Their shows are unlike any other live music event. Unlike a concert where a band or performer is separated from the crowd by a stage, Boiler Room puts DJ booths in the middle of the dance floor with a camera on performers and live-streamed to thousands of concurrent viewers. The unique show setup leads to a more immersive musical experience where fans are shoulder to shoulder with their favorite musicians.
I wasn't overly familiar with the lineup but didn't care. It was beyond exciting that there would be a Boiler Room in Toronto, their first since 2019. It was going to be a momentous occasion, a rebirth for Toronto live Music. A few days before the show, I talked to a friend over Instagram about Ciel, one of the DJs playing the show. A local talent from Toronto who has ascended to being a global star. I was excited for the experience of Boiler Room and seeing one of Toronto's finest musical talents in the flesh.
The night of the show, I'm lined up behind about a hundred other people just off Bloor West on some side street with my girlfriend. It's bitterly cold, windy, and late October, not exactly the ideal setting for an electronic music event. Regardless, the adrenaline had started to set in as the faint sound of Music reverberated through the tall arched windows and brick building of Lithuanian House. Lithuanian House was a church built in the gothic revival style in the early 20th century and eventually converted into a community center and banquet hall. Although not nearly as opulent a building, there is a sense of grandiosity and importance from the outside as some of Toronto's more famous churches. As we move through the line, there's the expected bag check and usual covid passport and ID check before we're let inside the building. Ushered down a set of stairs to where tickets and coats are checked, the coatroom isn't so much a room as a basement with fencing set up to surround clothing racks.
Finally, we're allowed inside to a massive room full of red light with 20-foot-tall ceilings and a balcony section. It's no Tresor or Berghain, there's no lurid acts or open drug use, yet the space still managed to be imposing. This House was a temple. You could feel it in the air and the walls. A century of use and misuse did little to conceal the true character of the structure. While no longer in use as a church, the interior of the building still hinted at being a house of worship. There's a table with a set of CDJs surrounded by a sea of people moving to the Music. A man with a microphone looks like he could be Santa Claus and a diminutive man, with a focus similar to Kevin Garnett taking a free throw calmly mixing Music as if he was the only person in the room. Together, they make up electronic duo Èbony, Jordan Gardner, and Silvermayne. They played an eclectic mix of breakbeats and techno for the next hour, gradually moving to dance house music towards the end of their set. Silverman was an incredible performer, adding his vocals to tracks and acting as a hype man for other acts throughout the night.
Èbony was followed by AADJA, a thin blonde woman in a green jumpsuit with lapels and ruched cutouts above the waist. It's unclear if AADJA had an entourage, but they were accompanied by a brunette wearing what looked like a Hyein Seo bodysuit as she danced behind AADJA in the booth.
In contrast with the previous act, AADJA played heavy driving techno for about an hour. Subtly and calmly, AADJA built her set up to climax after climax and the last 10 minutes was a raucous marathon of tracks that SIlvermayne teased to the audience at one point, shouting into his microphone, "I know the people at home want a tracking ID on this one!" As AADJA's set ended, Ciel, the act I had been warned about, was plugging in her mixer.
The atmosphere was electric, and as Ciel started her set with early 90s Acid Techno classic Dark Black Ominous Clouds by Disintegrator, my girlfriend and I raced up to the balcony to get a better view of the crowd. Ciel went on to play one of the most refreshing sets of the night, maybe it was because we'd all been locked up for over a year and were desperately yearning for a night out, but Ciel's set felt like a homecoming of sorts. I felt the world stop for an hour, and Toronto was back to normal, however fleeting that feeling was.
I was witnessing in real-time what I had only previously read about or seen in the film, the religious ecstasy of the dance, the melding of man and machine, music as a great equalizer in a former house of worship.
Looking down from above and looking at everyone, I was struck by how brilliant the choice of venue was. Back in 2019, Frieze and Gucci produced a film called "Black to Techno," directed by Jenn Nkiru, about the history of Detroit Techno music. There's a part in that film where a narrator describes the radical potential of techno music and explains the religious experiences you can have on the dance floor, the combination of machine, man, and religion. I was witnessing in real-time what I had only previously read about or seen in the film, the religious ecstasy of the dance, the melding of man and machine, music as a great equalizer in a former house of worship.
As I gazed down upon the crowd, nothing more clearly marked this equalization as in the group's fashion. High-end designers Hyein Seo and Marine Serre were in attendance along with a shirtless man who looked like a medieval squire, guys in camp pattern shirts with thin gold chains and moustaches that would make John Waters jealous, a Bob's Burger hoodie. Every possible kind of person was represented in that crowd dancing together. There was no judgment, no sideways looks towards those who couldn't dance or dress strangely.
"You may be black; you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It doesn't make a difference in our House." My House by Rhythm Control - Chuck Roberts.
The plethora of fashion choices is a unique feature of electronic music events; no other community brings people together from such disparate lifestyles in a room on Saturday morning. Anyone and everyone can experience pounding house music and bass that drives deep into your soul, where drug-induced euphoria puts finance bros in their Brooks Brothers shirts on the same plane as mesh top wearing folk. It was a genuinely inclusive space where anyone could be whoever or whatever they wanted to be.
I left a few minutes before Ciel finished. I was utterly exhausted; my voice shot from screaming and my limbs aching from dancing. Then there it was again Chuck Roberts booming voice in my head "You may be black; you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It doesn't make a difference in our House." What I just saw was the same thing Roberts described back in 1987. All were welcome in this House of worship. We all shared a singular goal of being drenched in sweat, listening to incredible Music, enjoying ourselves, and forgetting the outside world.