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Toronto Just Banned Electronic Dance Music Concerts on its Public Grounds

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Friday morning, Toronto (supposedly the world’s ‘most youthful city’) banned electronic dance music concerts from the Direct Energy and Better Living buildings on its public grounds, Exhibition Place. Exhibition Place, also known as The Ex, is a publicly owned space located by Toronto’s western waterfront, far away from any residential housing, which hosts an annual fair and often rents out their space for concerts of all genres. In the past, these events have included some of the biggest names to ever hit the sync button: Tiësto, Avicii and Laidback Luke.

The shutdown comes at the behest of Zlatko Starkovski, owner of suburbanite DUI destination, Muzik Nightclub. In the middle of January, Zlatko started worrying about the kids, particularly, the ones dancing across the street from his club. After all, there’s something less impressive about a 3000-person mega club with its own free beauty salon when the seats are empty because everyone’s watching Avicii DJ hands-free over at the 10,000-seater next door. So, Zlatko decided to write the city to tell on these kids. Well, first he donated a couple thousand dollars to mayor Rob Ford’s 2010 campaign. And he hired the powerful Sussex lobbying firm too. And then he wrote the letter.

The letter starts off with the outright admission that “competing events in the Better Living Centre and the Direct Energy Centre…has caused Muzik problems in booking the talent for our own shows,” before gears are switched and a moral argument is launched against these “problem rave events,” with their drugs and underage drinking.

While this complaint was sliding its way through the right channels, Zlatko, known to Ford simply by the nickname ‘Z,’ invited the mayor to check out his club and the mayor obliged. And eventually the letter slid right into the hands of Ford’s sidekick, Councillor Mammoliti, who introduced the motion to have electronic music banned from these venues.

Before the motion passed four to three, Z and his lobbyist wheeled out the usual rave bogeyman tropes I remember seeing on daytime television in the late '90s: kids raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets for scripts to take at the show, pedophiles on the prowl, eight to nine year old ravers (as if Toronto was actually Gabber Holland)! Mammo asked the committee to think of the children “taking ecstasy on government lands owned by the taxpayers” and worried that it was “wrong to be sending that message.” (A refresher: moralist Mammo is the guy who proposed a Red Light District on the Toronto Island and was the very last man defending the mayor amidst his crack scandal). Of course, the irony of it all is that the reason Exhibition Place started hosting dance music events in the first place was due to a Toronto Public Health recommendation that suggested it was the safest, most regulated place to do so. (And by our count, more people have died at Muzik than at any rave at Exhibition Place). Councillor Gord Perks, who opposed the motion, remarked that such a move would mean the loss of a “safe, well-monitored venue for young people and all-ages events and drive them back to the underground where it is really dangerous.” Mammo replied by calling him ‘Councillor Perks-ocet.’

After all of this conflation between drugs, death, and dance music, Mammo finally got to the real point: “If the private industry wants to have [EDM concerts] in a private location then so be it.” And these were the stakes, because the big twist is that Muzik plays (albeit currently to fewer people) the same mainstream EDM that they sold to the committee as dangerous. So, the city sold off its ostensibly bad investment right back to Muzik. As Z’s letter admits,

“Muzik, currently operates with a liquor license that has a capacity of 8,755. This encompasses 5,674 people outside in addition to the 3,081-person capacity inside our venue. However, our current lease has an exclusive use clause for events up to 2,999 people. By increasing this to reflect our actual capacity that we are licensed for, it would provide the necessary protection for these type of one off situations, and will give Muzik Clubs the protection it requires to ensure that our business remains successful.”

The TL;DR is that Muzik wanted to start a moral panic around dance music to shut down concerts at Exhibition Place, so that it could start hosting its own 9000-person EDM concerts on the same premises. That means their competitors, Live Nation or INK, will have to find other places, but this isn't as much the issue as the fact that approximately one million dollars of lost revenue per year will be moving from the public purse into private hands, and at the cost of further vilifying the name of dance music.

Councillor Perks told THUMP that “Muzik, which is very politically connected, simply wants to get exclusive control of music events on Exhibition Place grounds. So they pretended to be for the welfare of young people, but instead, all they’re interested in is their own bottom line. They want to expand to have exclusive rights.” The councillor emphasized that the board that made the final decision “only exists because the city established it, so I need to figure out what tools city council has to bring the board back into a more sound harm reduction approach… Several of us on the council are just not going to let this go. We’ll figure out a way.”

Where that currently leaves The Ex in terms of music programming is another question. Is EDM-influenced pop music like Rihanna still ok? Will Avicii only be allowed to play his country tracks? Who will monitor the BPMs at the events? Will this mean a widespread youth exodus back to the drug-free safe havens of all of the other genres? And what’s the under-19 set supposed to do now that they’re not allowed to dance on public grounds? Well, I’m sure Exhibition Place’s chairman Mark Grimes (who supported Mammo’s motion) would be happy to invite them to an event he’s hosting: MUSIC! Not Mischief, “a Toronto Police led youth outreach program using rock ’n’ roll guitar as a medium.” That’s happening later this month at the Mod Club. Speaking of, remember when everyone was scared of mod teens listening to rock ’n’ roll guitar music and getting high on dexys?

You can follow Ryan on Twitter: @badinfinite

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