From Chinese restaurants, abandoned factories and churches, Mansion is known to produce some of the most creative dance parties in non-traditional settings.
We sat down with Nancy Chen and Konrad Droeske from Mansion, the team behind some of the most interesting underground dance parties in Toronto over the past five years, including last year's Foundry series. Foundry returns for its second year later this month and we wanted a preview.
THUMP: Give us a little background about how you got into putting together these events? And why electronic music?
Konrad: We started off in university throwing house parties. A lot of our friends were producing at the time, they would ask us for gigs, and we'd have them headline our shows. Soon we outgrew the house parties and started doing traditional clubs, bars, that kind of thing. But we realized our hearts were in non-traditional spaces.
The first big party that we did attracted a bit of attention from the press, these were dim sum raves called Happy Endings. We took over the Forrest View Chinese Restaurant, which could fit about 200-300 people, and booked guys like Scuba, Machinedrum, Nguzunguzu and other bass influenced artists. That's how we made a name for ourselves. We moved from one dim sum restaurant to a larger one. From there we found churches, warehouses and galleries that would have us.
Foundry last year was a culmination of all these experiences and something that didn't currently exist in the city. Montreal has MUTEK and Piknic Electronik, while NYC has MoMA PS1, but that stuff didn't exist in Toronto at the time.
Nancy: As for electronic music, at that time when we started, trying to figure out what we wanted to do out of college, there were a lot of music blogs, and electronic music was just starting to blow up. Back then there were clubs like The Social and Wrongbar, and it was just a really good scene to be in. I think from there we've matured in our tastes, and as we get older, we also look back a lot and get inspired by more older house and techno movements. So now we're actually booking the artists that we love.
Last year's Foundry was one of the most significant underground dance music showcases Toronto's seen, at least in a while. And you're back with a new series this year. Tell us a little bit about what the concept of Foundry is?
K: We had been booking a lot of artists and what we wanted to do was consolidate and create a smaller festival. At the time we didn't really have—to be perfectly honest—the booking power, and we didn't have the financial backing to do one of these big splashy festivals. We wanted to figure out a way that we could do something over an extended period of time that would make an impact on the city, that would have its own brand, and that could possibly grow into something more significant. There's been stuff in the past, and I'm definitely not trying to discount other projects, but there weren't many festivals that catered to underground electronic music specifically. One of the big inspirations for us was how the Warehouse Project in Manchester converted this underground parking lot into a club for about twelve weeks, with numerous rooms that house thousands of people. And we thought we could do something similar to that.
Let's talk about how you come to select the artists. What are your considerations when putting together a show?
N: We work with a lot of different local promotion groups, like Breakandenter, Box of Kittens, a whole bunch of them, to figure out what are the most exciting artists. We talk to the agents, and try to build line ups that are a bit more exciting.
K: Box of Kittens, those guys have been around for about six years doing these after-hours style parties. Breakandenter are kind of like the same deal and they've done pre-parties for Movement and have a relationship with MUTEK, as well as Evening Standard who threw a series at The Drake. We try to merge all of our tastes together in a way that makes sense. With all these different groups coming together, trying to capture different aspects of Toronto's scene. We'll plan nights that are catered towards disco, techno, house, a little bit of bass music in there. We don't want each night to represent the same thing. There's a different vibe each night.
We've also created this online community over the past three years of music lovers and we'll have threads that list hundreds of our favourite artists. From there we'll figure out what fits best.
N: This year we were able to represent so many global music cities. For example, Four Tet represents a certain scene in the UK, while Shed is part of the Berlin techno scene. And Carl Craig was a major player in the second wave of Detroit techno.
It's clear from the look of the website and trailer that design is an important element of Foundry. Last year we saw different set designs every night and were treated with a Funktion One sound system. Could you talk about the role of the A/V component in creating the right atmosphere?
K: We've been incorporating A/V stuff into our events for a while, but when we first started Foundry we had a 500-person space and wanted to distinguish ourselves from a lot of club nights in Toronto. That was the first time we had access to a space for the entire month as opposed to having like 3 hours of set up time and breaking everything down.
N: In terms of audio technology like the Funktion One, over time we're realizing it's not just the big brand names of sounds systems, but it's very much about the experience, how people are actually going to move through the space and how the sound is going to change.
Speaking of the space, you've also thrown parties in alleyways, dank basements, churches, and now a sheet-casting facility, Tower Automotive. Why is using these kinds of interesting places important?
K: A big part of Foundry is the theme of discovery and new experiences. We also treat every venue that we go into like a blank canvas. It's a different vibe in each one, a little bit unexpected. Sometimes we'll go into a place and it won't necessarily work as well as we expected, but other times we're pleasantly surprised. Who would have guessed the basement of King Textile's or a dingy dim sum restaurant could have been such an amazing places for a party? If we're able to, kind of, fuck with everyone's senses, it helps spread the word about the events.
We see this empty husk of concrete and we just dream about the craziest or most fascinating experience that we can create there. We take after the whole foundation of house music: warehouse music.
The venue itself looks like a proper mid-western rave warehouse or Toronto's answer to Tresor. In your travels you've visited some of the most famous clubs in the world, each had its own feel and does different things with its space. Have any clubs inspired your plans for this year's Foundry?
K: Stattbad, where they do Boiler Room Berlin, was definitely a big influence. That was the first club that we went to in Berlin. Obviously Berghain. One of the big differences between North America and Europe was the fact that they have all these different rooms, which offer different vibes throughout the night. Instead of this big box type club idea that you have in North America, you can have that one room where the sound is perfect, and then you walk out of there and it's relatively quiet. Also, sound is geared more towards DJs as opposed to live music. So you get 4-point sound as opposed to a wall of sound at the front, and that means you can be at the back of the club and still dance and still hear everything perfectly. These are all lessons that we've learned and try to incorporate.
I heard Tower was going to be developed soon. This seems to be the story with so many of the places available for these types of parties. How hard is it becoming to find new locations that aren't yet condos, but are accessible by transit yet safe from residential noise complaints?
N: This is like the bane of our existence sometimes, trying to find really good spaces.
K: If you asked any promoter in the city they'd say the same thing. There seems to be a genuine lack of venues. I've heard that Toronto has more cranes up than any other city in North America. That definitely hurts, but at the same time, there is sometimes a kind of development grey area before it becomes developed, and that opens up opportunities as well. We are jumping in there in the middle of this transition period for this neighbourhood. I think that's just the story of gentrification.
And what needs to happen for Toronto to be more dynamic a city for music?
K: Unfortunately, some disadvantages obviously include our liquor laws, but I feel like the attitude is changing and as soon as it reaches that tipping point, where people start to accept that you don't need to tell people when to drink or…
N: ...where! Or, where to buy your drinks…
K: …I feel like Toronto's close to that point where things might start getting legislated and it might get a lot easier for events like Foundry to flourish. And I think Toronto needs more cultural institutions when it comes to music. We have NXNE, Manifesto, and some very strong labels, Arts and Crafts, but we're definitely missing some key institutions here. Toronto's a little bit more expensive than Montreal and I feel like Montreal's a lot more creative mainly because it's a cheaper city to live in. You can get a few gigs and survive there. Toronto's a little bit pricier and that's the struggle that everyone has. There could be a lot more interest in innovative electronic music with a bit of support, financially.
What kind of advice would you give a first time Foundry goer? Maybe someone new to electronic music?
K: Don't be scared to try nights that you don't know the artists. I feel like a big part of what we're trying to do here is educate people and there's a certain degree of trust that they need to place in us. So, dive into something. Go to one or two obvious nights with bigger acts, but try something different and you'll probably be really surprised by how you feel about the whole experience. I think the most important thing is that we want people to come for the right reasons.