4 min

Hey Mr DJ

I wanna dance with my baby

THIS IS IT. It's A Boy's Life DJs Cory Activate and Matt C keep us partying through the peaks and valleys of Toronto's turbulent club scene. Credit: Paula Wilson

Everyone always talks about the good old days, when going out was special, imprinting unforgettable memories (no matter what you ingested for the experience). In the summer of 1999 club land, raves and DJ culture saw its peak, out-selling disco and all other dance movements that had come before across the globe. What followed was a rush of negative media, club violence and drug fatalities that had many club promoters and DJs scrambling to hold onto the glory of the nightlife scene.

In Toronto, some of the largest promoters were forced to merge to maintain a fraction of their former power. But in the wake of struggling clubs fighting for a crowd, right down the street from our own ghetto a new club night was being born. It’s A Boy’s Life, Sundays at It Nightclub (167 Church St), is now the leader of the pack with a roster of talent that has stood the test time. DJs Matt C and Cory Activate are at the front line of It’s A Boy’s Life. Both have been around since the 1980s, watching the scene and all its changes; both are, excitedly, a part of its future.

“The scene breathes,” says DJ Cory Activate. “It takes a big inhale, holds it for a long time – that’s your peak – then it lets out and everybody has to regroup, get back together, and go for it again.” Activate has been spinning since 1985, centred in Toronto’s gay scene; he spun at Komrads (1990 to ’92), Woody’s (1994 to ’97) and the Barn (1997 to ’01), clubs that laid the groundwork for today’s larger scene.

Activate remembers when a DJ was a forgotten element of a night out. “When I first started playing at the Barn you were just a Barn DJ, a nameless, faceless person in the booth playing the music.” All that changed when Activate met promoters Steve Ireson and Adam Pardy while maintaining a residency at Five Nightclub (5 St Joseph St). Activate remembers how Ireson and Pardy’s strong social skills won him over, “No one personally had anything bad to say about them, a lot of the personality that was Five was Adam and Steve – you felt it after they left.”

When Ireson came to Activate about their newest Sunday night venture, Activate was happy to join, though a little skeptical. “You think of Sunday as being typically after the main party on Saturday, it’s lighter and not the weekend’s main focus.” It became clear early on that It would thrive, with an upscale large dancefloor Activate forever said good-bye to the cramped, low ceiling spaces he was accustomed to in the gay scene. On the spacious second floor at It (where he shares the DJ duties with Sylvain Girard), Activate is most at home with his personalized sets of circuit music.

As It grew, so did Activate, even receiving international attention this past summer spinning at the Unity party during Pride: “In terms of standing up there in front of that many people and doing what you love to do and watching the reaction of the crowd, nothing else tells you what that’s even like, it’s just absolutely amazing,” says Activate. He likes that It attracts a huge range of people from the gay scene and some of its straighter cousins, letting him play more. He’s given freedom not to be pigeon-holed into a regular groove.

DJ Matt C knows all about being pigeon-holed, watching it happen for 17 years as the scene grew to such a level that parties targeted narrower audiences. “It used to be a secret of those in the know – where to party,” says Matt C. “But now it was mainstream, it looked tacky and a lot of the mystique was lost.”

Soft-spoken Matt C is a background guy even though he has been a core member of Toronto and Canada’s underground scene since its birth. He credits balance for his longevity. “The club scene is very hard on a person’s health and soul, there are so many lures in the scene. And if you get carried away, you can very easily have a quick spiral downwards.”

He shrugs when you point out that most only know Matt C from his latest home at It where he keeps the main level in groove with his signature soulful house. “There’s always a new generation of party people who don’t realize the history,” says Matt C. “If you’re only 19 or 20, well, you’ve only had the opportunity to experience me for about six months.”

After taking over for Chris Sheppard on CFNY’s Club 102 at 19, Matt C became wildly popular in Toronto, holding residences at almost all its top dance clubs, both straight and gay – he even once had a monthly residency in Budapest. He was a co-owner of Industry nightclub, which was responsible for opening Toronto to the world, bringing DJ culture to Canada in an underground, respected atmosphere. He says that Industry, “was truly about the music and a beautiful, unbiased crowd.”

Post peak, Matt C sees a return to traditional clubbing, “Good local DJs playing the entire evening and providing a good party, where the DJ isn’t the huge draw anymore.” Feeling that partiers and promoters are fed up with high priced DJs, Matt C observes a growing support for strong local talent.

“To me, playing for a gay crowd is very rewarding because the crowd typically has a discerning taste for music and they listen to what I’m doing. When I do a good job, I get patted on the back.” Matt C’s legacy continues to stay out of the mainstream spotlight, his year-old label Family has just released two new tracks into the house scene (which Matt C produced himself) and he’s still behind the scenes as a co-owner of Nasa Club (609 Queen St W).

Both DJs hope to see larger international recognition. But one way or another the Toronto scene will continue to dance to the sounds of Matt C and Cory Activate.

* The It boys are busy. Matt C spins every Sunday night in the downstairs lounge at It. He’s spinning tonight at SPIN Gallery’s Halloween party (156 Bathurst St). Saturdays, he’s at Red Square (205 Richmond St W), with Kenny Glasgow and guests, and every other Sunday, he’s part of the big rotation of DJs at the Comfort Zone (486 Spadina Ave); his next gig is 7pm to 9pm on Sun, Nov 10. And beginning Thu, Nov 21, Matt C is in the main room of the new Just Do Me nights at Roxy Blu (12 Brant St).

* Cory Activate spins Halloween night at Shag (504 Church St). His next night upstairs at It is Sun, Nov 10 with guest performer Sofonda. Coming up next at It (Nov 3) is DJ Sylvain Girard upstairs with a performance by Montreal’s Nalica Bunny.


$10. 10pm-4am. Sundays.

It Nightclub. 167 Church St.

(416) 410-1902.