How exactly would you describe Joy? You could say it was a mid-’90s after-hours club, tucked in an alley off Yonge and Wellesley. But such a description of the seminal party space fails to capture its importance to a generation of club-goers. More than just a dark, smoky room, packed with drugged-out kids dancing to house music, Joy was a feeling, an identity and a community, every Saturday from 1am until the sun rose or the cops showed up, whichever came first.
“It still wasn’t safe to be openly gay in a lot of parts of the city, and I wanted to create a space that was about coming together, feeling safe in who we were and looking after each other,” proprietor John Wulff says. “There wasn’t one kind of person there. It was secretaries and computer programmers mixed with drag queens and fashion stylists. What unified everyone was their love for music.”
While it’s hard to believe now, there were no regular clubs playing house music in Toronto when Joy launched. The space introduced such international heavy hitters as Frankie Knuckles and Roger Sanchez to the city, as well as launching the careers of locals Matt C and Kenny Glasgow.
Despite his success as a promoter, Wulff quit the party scene 15 years ago when Joy shuttered its doors after roughly two years in operation. Shuttling between New York and Philadelphia before landing back in Toronto, the brand management specialist by day is picking up nightclubbing right where he left off. Opening Buddies’ Queer Pride celebration, Joy: The Reunion (the first of six events planned) will unite the old cast of characters with those who missed it the first time around.
“I’m not looking to duplicate the old experience because you can’t recreate that kind of thing,” Wulff says. “My objective is to take things one step further. This time I’m working with a group of local artists to create an immersive party experience of music and art.”
Though his space is usually remembered as either drug den or seminal house-music venue, Wulff prides himself on the outrageous performances he curated. Strippers would roll around in netting strung from the ceiling. Drag queens (including Wulff himself, occasionally) would dance on podiums drenched in fake blood. Every night around five the ceiling would start to rain, the result of excessive moisture from sweaty partygoers building up to a dew-point before it came cascading down.
Wulff hopes the return of the Joy parties, like the original venue, will serve as a vehicle for community building, as much as for art and music.
“Queer people grow up being told that we’re bad, we’re dirty and we’re wrong,” he says. “People used to go out to clubs to achieve a sense of validation and feel fabulous. But now a lot of us find that online. The internet is a great promotional tool for sure. But I want to create events that give people something they can’t get at home in front of the computer.”
Joy: The Reunion
DJs Scott Cairns and Mark Falco
Fri, June 8
Buddies, 12 Alexander St, entire complex
JOY – THE REUNION from THE YOUNG ASTRONAUTS on Vimeo.