Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Montreal’s Bal en Blanc party turns 20

Dance bash falls into rabbit hole with Alice in Wonderland theme

Bal en Blanc is celebrating 20 years of big-time parties this year. Credit: Bal en Blanc

Organizers expect 15,000 revellers will attend Bal en Blanc, the main event of Montreal’s White Party Week, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Staged for the first time in 1995 at Montreal’s legendary afterhours nightclub Playground, Bal en Blanc grew from a few hundred people to a mega-production now billed as the “biggest annual indoor event of its kind in North America.”

“At the beginning, the event was 95-percent LGBT,” says Michael Armstrong, who took control of Bal en Blanc after the fifth edition. “Over the years, Bal en Blanc fans became more diversified. But the roots of the event is still within the LGBT community since Bal en Blanc hands out a portion of its profits to [Montreal’s LGBT community centre]. Even though the event is now mostly heterosexual, the crowd is very open-minded, and the core of the production is 100-percent gay.”

This year, Bal en Blanc returns to the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, laid out in a new configuration to host three theme rooms. “We added a third room with a tech-house sound to accommodate purists who felt that Bal en Blanc was going down a commercial road,” Armstrong says.

DJ headliners this year include Hardwell, New World Punx, Carl Cox and Deep Dish, and the visual theme is Alice in Wonderland.

Since the inaugural Bal en Blanc — held on Easter Sunday 1995 as a benefit for Divers/Cité, with DJs Nikola T and Montreal’s legendary “godfather of disco,” Robert Ouimet — the world’s best DJs have spun at the event.

“My Bal en Blanc top five are the late Peter Rauhofer, Deep Dish, Danny Tenaglia, Markus Schulz and Carl Cox,” Armstrong says. “Another of my favourite moments was when my boyfriend and DJ Steve Aries composed ‘Dressed in White,’ the theme song of Bal en Blanc, which was remixed by Markus Schulz. Another good memory is when Danny Tenaglia closed the main room in 2012, and all my team and friends ended up dancing in the DJ booth at the same time. It felt like Danny was spinning a private set in my living room!”

But it hasn’t all been fun and games: Armstrong says his scariest Bal en Blanc was in 2002, “when we had to move the event from the [newly expanded] convention centre to Olympic Stadium five days before the event because of construction delays.”

Despite the event’s ups and downs, Bal en Blanc continues to draw big crowds, while some other all-night parties are in decline. “It’s sad to see [other] events that built Montreal’s nightlife gradually disappear,” Armstrong says. “The key to our continued success is we always try to innovate and stay tuned to what the participants want.”