“It’s funny,” says DJ Black Cat from his Friday night perch at the Red Spot. “Looking at my life and thinking five years ago, you couldn’t get me on Church St, especially to hang out in front of Second Cup. That was just not the thing for a black, West Indian guy from Scarborough to be doing.
“Now, Church St seems like home – I’m on Gay Pride floats, doing the beer gardens and stuff like that. It’s just me becoming comfortable with myself.”
How quickly life can change. Four years ago, Black Cat, aka 27-year-old Mykl Hall, was spotted by Gilles Belanger after hearing one of Hall’s mixed tapes. Together, they organized Banjhi Boy at the old Stud Bar on Yonge St. Though that middle-of-the-week gig never took off, Belanger was committed to the new, young talent and eventually set Hall up on Church St at Ghetto Fag (now Tango’s).
“Ghetto Fag launched me into the community,” says Hall. “It blew up. And then there were line-ups outside. It got my name out there. Gilles was really the one who put me out into the scene. I respect him and owe him a lot for that.”
For the past two years, Black Cat hasn’t had any troubles packing out the intimate Red Spot. “It’s a weird feeling you get when you’re in here,” he says of his Friday night gig, which feels more like a hot and heavy house party than a commercial bar night. “I have a great time here. I love this bar.”
Underground house, R&B, calypso, hip hop, dance, reggae – Hall has broad musical tastes. But his high altar is reserved for the worship of Janet Jackson. Get him talking about the pop diva and you will be barraged by wave after wave of boyish enthusiasm.
“I danced with her on stage in 1993 when she came to Kingswood,” he says. “She picked me out of the audience. I got up on stage and yes, yes, I was on cloud nine! I sat in this chair and she came around with her dancers and they started feeling me up and caressing my body. I got an erection. She accidentally grabbed my dick!
“She grabbed my pants – thinking she’s just grabbing pants – and she grabbed my dick and then realized and let go. She looked at me and said, ‘Sorry.’ I was like: ‘It’s okay!'”
Hall is very attuned to the social politics of identity in town. “Black people in general are not as comfortable because they don’t feel that they’re welcomed,” says Hall of Church St. Then he continues, breaking into a broad, infectious laugh, “speaking on behalf of them because I am black.
“They don’t drink as much, so bars don’t cater to them. It’s economics and it’s just the way you’re raised. You do your drinking at home. When you go out, you drink one drink or two drinks. It’s more about the music – which doesn’t help a bar all the time, unless you got the numbers big enough.
“I like to see everybody partying together – white, black, men, women. I find that in this city, the women party over here, the men party over there, the blacks party over here, the whites party over there. And when you get too many Chinese people, then nobody wants to go to your party. I don’t know why it’s like that, but it is. It is a really, really shallow thing.”
“People see me behind the turntables and how I dress, and they automatically think that the music is changed,” says Hall. “But I’ll play Madonna in here. I’ll be playing a set of dance music – and it’s dance music that you’d hear anywhere – and I’ll have people who will come up and say: ‘Can you play music that’s more white?’ And I’m playing Cher, right then. There’s really not much more white I can get!”
But politics is not all he notices. “It was a very hard winter for me – financially, mentally, spiritually draining. The gay scene in Toronto can be a very lonely place – much more than other cities. Everyone’s very much for themselves.
“Everybody thought of me as DJ Black Cat – that just had no problems in the world and had money coming out of his ears and life was grand. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t for a very long time.
“And I made a decision I’m going to leave Toronto and move to Chicago. I haven’t 100 percent made up my mind, but I think I’m actually leaning towards that.”
In the meantime, there’s many upcoming opportunities to get out and hear Black Cat spin his magic over the Victoria Day weekend (Fri, May 21 to 24). Then Saturday, he’ll be at Vox (474 Adelaide St E) for Splash ’99 with Michelle Ross. On Sunday, he’s back at Red Spot.
In addition, he’s now at the Web (619 Yonge St) on Tuesdays. He also hosts a monthly R&B and dance chart listing on CP24’s The Q-Files, on Mondays at 9:30pm.