When Rob Ford announced in April that he wouldn’t attend the Pride parade — again, and to the surprise of no one — he left the door open to attending some other event on the Pride calendar. Technically, that includes Cherry Bomb Pride, the sweltering club night hosted by DJs Denise Benson and Cozmic Cat. So what would the duo say if Ford showed up?
“I have a hunch that Revival’s security wouldn’t let him past the front door,” Benson says.
“I wouldn’t say anything. Just foot-sweep the leg,” Cozmic Cat says, laughing.
It’s the kind of response you might expect from the hosts of one of Toronto’s most boisterous queer club nights. But then again, seeing as Cherry Bomb just hosted its fifth anniversary party and Cherry Bomb Pride is timed to go off on June 30, maybe it’s just the stress talking.
“We have pretty high standards in terms of music and parties,” says Cozmic Cat, known as Paula Burrows when she’s not spinning. “We’re super passionate about it.”
This time she’s not kidding. At five years old, Cherry Bomb is already something of an institution, having been voted Best Women’s Club Event by Xtra readers three times. The monthly party for queer women and all their friends launched in June 2007 after Benson’s previous monthly spot, Savour, buckled under the weight of its own success.
“We had more and more women who would demand nothing but top-40 music, more fights within the crowd, and more women who openly expressed their dislike of our open-door approach to people of all genders,” Benson says.
Anyone who’s read Benson’s new-music column in The Grid (and Eye Weekly) over the last 20 years will know that top 40 isn’t exactly her thing. In fact, it exactly isn’t. And the DJ sees Cherry Bomb’s inclusivity — something of an exception in a wider club culture that tends toward exclusivity — as entirely non-negotiable. So when Savour turned sour, Benson approached the recently repatriated Burrows, back from a 10-year stint rocking dancefloors in Philadelphia to huge critical acclaim.
“I actually used to sneak into Denise’s Boom Boom Room parties when I was underage — back in the early ’90s, I think,” says Burrows, named Best DJ by the Philly press an almost embarrassing five times. The women agreed on the need for an inclusive club night, and Cherry Bomb was born.
Benson explains: “Cherry Bomb is, at its heart, a party for queer women, but it’s absolutely important to us as people, promoters and DJs that it’s open to people of all genders, including our straight friends. That’s just the way we live our lives, and we see it as key that Cherry Bombers be able to comfortably bring their friends, whoever they may be, with them.”
This year’s Pride event at Revival promises to be the biggest yet, with four DJs spread out over two floors playing house, up-tempo, dancehall, hip hop, R&B and more. The night also includes performances by electro-synth riot girl trio Rouge and world-rock rapper Urvah Khan, who was recently remixed by Burrows. Lighting-décor whizz kids cirQlar, meanwhile, have been tapped to provide the night’s visuals.
“[Crowds at Pride] are ready to party from the moment they walk in the door,” Benson says, justifying the extra expense. But neither woman sees Cherry Bomb Pride as merely a party. More than any other time of the year, the message is political.
“You can’t take the politics out of Pride, just as you can’t take the party out. It’s a celebration and a big-ass statement,” Benson says.
Even if that big ass doesn’t belong to a certain mayor.