I may as well be in an entirely different city when I’m standing at the corner of John and Richmond — and in a completely different era. The Rubik’s cube and electric energy of Riocan Hall suggest a science-fiction future land of tomorrow while the rigid gender binaries whisk me back to “before my time.”
Toronto’s clubland baffles me. I’ve never been drawn to it, let alone invited to play in it, and so, to me, it remains exotic, dangerous and outright tacky.
As far as I’m concerned this conglomerate of clubs has made it clear that I’m not a member and probably not going to be asked to join. I don’t follow the dress code. I order the wrong drinks. I’m not paying attention to the popular kids. Frankly, when in clubland, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and I start to hate myself.
Months ago one of my most alternatively stylish friends invited me to the opening of Circa, Toronto’s new super club. I understood that the primary objective of this place is to be legendary. Built by Peter Gatien, it wants to be the best biggest boom box ever built.
The name is Latin and means “about” or “around.” We use it to preface approximate dates. But when is Circa trying to emulate?
I expected it to be insane — a poly-morphous music-and-light-filled concrete blob trying to be all things to all people. It was!
My friend showed up in a velvet tuxedo and got the VIP treatment as a result. “Right this way, Mr Velvet” or “anything you like, Mr Velvet.” I was forgettably dressed but all 12 of the door people went so far as to tell me their names and shake my hand. I was shocked by clubland’s commitment to customer service.
Trying to get back into the club after a smoke, however, demonstrated that I had once again been a bit clueless to this club’s etiquette — the handshakes went amiss and clearly the club wasn’t going to miss me.
Seduced by stories of the frenzied dancing at the recent Justice concert and the promise of personal alcohol service, I returned to Circa on a recent Friday night.
The place is impressive. We climb the first set of stairs and find ourselves on the balcony overlooking the Thunderdome that is Circa’s main room. The techno-architecture seems to pulse and overwhelm the thin crowd.
Looking down from one of several perches, we watch as a few fellas’ break dancing garner teeth kissing from girls offstage. From our high vantage point everyone looks pretty serious — pre-irony kind of serious. I am so used to watching these kinds of performances ironically with my queer brethren that I am blown away by the earnestness of it all.
The act of watching immediately becomes my favourite activity at Circa, and they have given as much space to it as dancing. Opportunities to look and be looked at abound. I pose and pout and smile with my eyes all over the place — especially for girls with clip-on tresses who are all wondering where I got my boots.
Our peanut gallery doesn’t last and we climb the next flight of stairs, arriving at our intended scene in the Mirror Ballroom. The mid-’80s esthetic continues when a gifted Leigh Bowery impersonator takes the stage. Terrific.
We venture toward the Kid Robot room, which is futuristic and totally boring. The last room on the floor looks like the dangerous discos of my childhood, limp dancefloors imagined out of PG-13 movies and after-school specials.
I still hadn’t broken a sweat at this point and I couldn’t help but ask: “Do we need all this?”
Why have so many people accepted the idea that the happy ritual of drinking, bumping and grinding needs to be so heavily accessorized?
Maybe we can blame the media and North American exposure to anime visions of the future. We are all drawn to excess — I’m no exception. I’ll be back for this heterogeneous post-modern mash-up of new wave, post-punk, hip-hopera disco dancing… provided there’s a good act.
Circa when? Circa 1978 to 2018, ’cause that’s hot right now.
Butch Banji is also known as BB.