3 min


Dancing at the revolution

FUCKIN' UTOPIA. DJ Dr Trance, aka Don Berns, has been making the scene for more than 35 years. Credit: Xtra files

“I’m somewhere between 40 and death,” says senior scenester Don Berns, using a famous line from the musical Mame.

Aka gay DJ Dr Trance, Berns has been spinning records for more than 35 years at radio, clubs and on the Internet; he’ll host hosting and spin at the upcoming free I-Dance event at Nathan Phillips Square (Bay and Queen) on Sun, Sep 2.

One of the country’s leading trance DJs since 1992, Berns previously achieved recognition as radio personality The Spirit Of Radio at CFNY in the 1980s during the station’s hey day. His first rave was back in 1992 (which included other queer DJs Denise Benson and James St Bass).

Over the last decade, he has become one of the leading pioneers in Canada’s rave and music scene through DJing and producing events (one included Moby as a DJ back in ’94). His current job is channel master on the music web site

“The Internet is strongly changing the way people listen to music. We are helping to write a whole new set of ground rules,” says Berns, whose innovative web site includes several gay DJs, including a new circuit show by Paul Grace, and the return of radio legend David Marsden (CHUM, CFNY) who also manages this hugely popular web site.

Bern’s says his favourite DJ gigs have been spinning at Pride (three years ago he spun with Eric Robertson, a gay promoter who is easily considered one of the scene’s all-time most creative and innovative characters).

Berns has lots to say about the club scene, gay and straight. “When I first went to 318 Richmond (in the early ’90s), I was just blown away by the people who were there and how cool they were and they didn’t give a shit about the way anyone was dressed, and about whose hand anybody was holding. That was fuckin’ utopia.

“I still get that feeling at some of the smaller parties. You get the best vibe when you go to clubs that are mixed.” A year ago, when city council voted to ban raves and other large-scale dance events, Berns and many others came together to organize a rally at City Hall that ended up attracting 15, 000 people. Partyers included politicos like City Councillor Olivia Chow, gay and AIDS activist Tim McCaskell and former mayor Barbara Hall.

Two days after the rally, council overturned the ban – but ended up giving the police more power. In the last year, the police have stepped up harassment within gay clubs and continue to push an exaggerated drug paranoia on the general public.

So I-Dance has been remounted again this year and includes many of the scene’s top artists and promoters (including myself).

Berns feels it’s important for all communities to come together on the issue as well as to promote the very healthy Toronto club and electronic music scene. “I-Dance is certain to become an annual event and there is no reason why Toronto can’t have our own version of the Detroit Music Festival or Berlin’s Love Parade.”

But he stresses that an event like I-Dance will help to bring issues to the fore in regards to how the police, media and politicians in cities across the continent are desperately trying to destroy the dance scene. “Last month’s World Electronic Music Festival outside of Toronto was a media circus. CTV was there with helicopters circling the property trying to find any kind of drama and then the cops actually had SWAT outfits on. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Meanwhile, you have all these drunk yahoos in the 905 going to the country music festival at Cayuga and driving into trees and into each other and nobody says anything.”

I-Dance runs from 1pm to 11pm on Sun, Sep 2. The free event features more than 25 DJs and MCs in all genres of electronic dance music. A fashion show will showcase new designers, break-dancers and live graffiti artists. Participants are asked to bring an item of non-perishable food for the Daily Bread Food Bank.