An Oral History of the Toronto Nightclub That Brought Gays, Straights, House Heads, and Ravers Together

The people behind Industry tell the story of the celebrated venue which bridged communities and genres.

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Jun 23 2016, 6:05pm

Industry crowd, photo by Idalina Leandro

When you talk to veterans of Toronto's underground dance music circles, there are two historic venues that are regularly described as "legendary." The first is the Twilight Zone, which effectively introduced house music to the city in the 1980s. The second is Industry, which operated from 1996 to 2000, and represented a turning point for Toronto after-hours nightlife.

Owned by Matt Casselman (aka DJ Matt C), Mario Jukica (aka DJ Mario J), Gavin "Gerbz" Bryan, and Daniel Bellavance, the King Street West space had the capacity for approximately 1,000 partiers, which provided the stability needed to start booking big name international DJs. While the superstars of the European circuit made appearances there, including Carl Cox, Daft Punk, and Roni Size, it was the club's close links to the regional scenes of Chicago, Detroit, and New York that helped shape its identity.

Perhaps most importantly, it created an opportunity for the various fragmented scenes to finally come together, uniting the gay community, the house music crowd, and the ravers under one roof. THUMP spoke to some of the key players to help uncover the true story of Industry.

Matt Casselman, photo by Idalina Leandro

The Industry founders came together at Buzz, a Saturday night afterhours club, which would later became the infamous Comfort Zone. While many partiers from the era believed the move to the King Street West location was spurred by a 1996 shooting, the real reasons were less dramatic.

Matt Casselman [owner, resident DJ]: Some of our equipment started to go missing from Buzz. We had brought in our sound system to the club, which we left there through the rest of the week, and our amplifiers started to get stolen. What we believed was happening was that the people we were subletting from were stealing the gear and pawning it, and using the revenue as a way to pay their rent."

Then we had the shooting and I tried to figure out what to do after. I consulted with some of my club mentors and asked their opinions on the situation, and what we decided to do was to just make Buzz as fun as we possibly could. So the week after the shooting we gave everyone Hawaiian leis, we gave out candy, we did everything we could to lighten up the mood. Within three weeks we were busier than we were prior to the shooting.

Gavin Bryan [owner]: One week we came in and the turntables and mixer were gone. It was actually much more about the landlords stealing from us than us worrying about people not coming after the shooting. We called [New York DJ] Roger Sanchez, told him what was going on, and that we were afraid we were going to lose the club if we couldn't convince people it was a safe place to go. He came three weeks later and we put 800 people in there, and all was forgotten pretty much.

Mario Jukica [owner, resident DJ]: That shooting happened during the first record of my DJ set that night. I remember putting the record on, and all of a sudden hearing this loud sound like a garbage can getting knocked over. It was so high-pitched and it caught everybody's attention, but I didn't think it was a gunshot at all.

Kenny Glasgow [resident DJ]: Before Buzz, I was DJing with two buddies as JMK, and we were throwing warehouse parties. We were asked by the person that was running Buzz at the time to stop throwing the warehouse parties and come join their team. I played there for awhile before Industry opened, and then got the same offer to come join that team when they moved there.

Kenny Glasgow, photo by Idalina Leandro

One of the Buzz partners eventually found the venue that would become Industry, which had previously been a country and western bar called The Saloon. While it was definitely not a dance club, and its location was far away the city's bustling entertainment district, the team immediately saw the possibilities for the cavernous space.

Jukica: When we walked in there, there was cowboy stuff all over, because it was a real country and western bar that did live music. The stage and everything was already there, it had this weird shape, but all the wood inside gave it nice acoustics. We realized that if we just took everything out, painted, and put in a sound system, that it might work. It already had the bar and the kitchen that we needed for the legalities of having a liquor licence.

Casselman: It wasn't nearly as much work as some people might think. We felt it was important to give the perception that we'd spent a fortune building this club, because that's how clubland was back then. We were really able to just put some lipstick on what was already a very well-built club.

The entire bar was covered in hardwood barn boards, which would be a very trendy look today, but we decided to paint it all charcoal grey back then. We built a chillout lounge into the back with these big banquets and put the famous fountain back there. We cut a hole in one of the changing room walls and put the DJ booth there, which conveniently also had a washroom. The run from the DJ booth to the washroom in a lot of nightclubs is a major challenge.

Jennstar, photo by Idalina Leandro

When the club opened in the summer of 1996, there was very little crossover between Toronto's gay and straight party scenes. Inspired by their own experiences in cities like Montreal and New York, the Industry team brought those worlds together, which created a unique atmosphere and dynamic.

Casselman: I feel that the best parties happen when the crowd is completely mixed. We really prided ourselves on pulling the gay crowd, pulling a lot of women, pulling a lot of people of different ethnicities, pulling drag queens, and pulling people from a very wide age range.

Bryan: Daniel Bellavance was a gay gentleman who was a tax lawyer and someone who really had his shit together enough to deal with the suits. I knew we needed someone like that if we were going to try to do something like this. I was only 24 years old, Mario was only 19, so we needed someone to be the face of the club to deal with banks and landlords.

Having him and Jennstar in the mix brought out a large gay crowd, which I think was one of the most unique factors in what we did, and why it hasn't been able to be replicated in the city since. It shaped the cool component at a certain level, because some people just wouldn't go, which was perfect because we didn't want them anyway. That helped to elevate the party and eliminate the people that in our minds weren't worthy of the experience."

Daniel Bellavance [owner]: I remember the first year we were open, I noticed that the gay crowd were on one side of the club, and the straight crowd was on the other side. Then at one point, everybody went to the middle of the dance floor and mixed together. I was really stunned to see that, because I didn't think something like that could happen in Toronto.

Industry crowd, photo by Idalina Leandro

Besides the mixture of gay and straight attendees, Industry stood out for welcoming both the rave and traditional house crowds, as well as running a successful R&B and hip-hop night on Fridays.

Bryan: In Toronto there was this divide: you had the rave community, and then you had these deep house purists. My point was to get in some music that a raver might be able to listen to and not just New Jersey deep house all night. When the rave scene started going down because of restrictions from the city, we knew a lot of that was going to get pushed into the clubs. We were well positioned for that, because we'd already started our techno series, and both Kenny and Mario had started getting hard-ons for techno.

Jukica: Rave promoters were asking to host parties there and so we were able to transcend being pigeonholed into one thing. We were friendly with everyone.

Casselman: We turned Fridays into Wreckshop Radio, live-to-air on [Buffalo-based radio station] WBLK, and it became an unbelievable popular R&B and hip-hop night that went on for years. It was the crossover time. It was the first time in Toronto's history that the whole warehouse party scene was coming into the clubs. The main reason those parties weren't bringing in international DJs was because they were operating on a shoestring budget, and quite often getting shut down by the police. There was no way you could possibly consider investing thousands of dollars in hotel rooms, flights, and DJ fees with the risk that you might not even get your doors open

Matt Casselman, Green Velvet, Armand Van Helden, and DJ Sneak, photo by Harris Rosen

The club's regulars were dedicated fans of the resident DJs, but Industry also forged close relationships with many international acts, which became one of its key assets as performer fees began to skyrocket. Derrick Carter and DJ Sneak's many appearances at Industry made funky Chicago house a central part of the club's identity, and would heavily influence a generation of Toronto DJs.

Dinamo Azari [DJ]: I did the lighting for Jeff Mills once, and actually made a few people puke because I was just smashing the strobes all night. It wasn't my job though, I was just one of the young DJs starting up in the scene, hanging out.

Bellavance: I remember at one point Mario told me we should bring Jeff Mills, and when I saw how much he was asking, I said my god, this doesn't make any business sense. We brought him, and it was a packed night, but we didn't make any money because his fee was so high. I was there to make financial decisions with them, and a talent like Jeff Mills was $6000. That's a lot of money. It's like a store though: you bring in a loss leader at some points and don't make much money, but the crowd is talking about it and they come the week after when the cost is less.

Glasgow: As a patron, Sneak and Derrick Carter on four turntables was amazing to watch. Richie Hawtin was incredible. Daft Punk playing there was unreal. Basement Jaxx was sick. The first time Danny [Tenaglia] played Industry, I opened for him on Saturday at the Guvernment. He asked us if anything else was going on later that night, so we took him to Industry and by the end of the party, he was booked to play there on the next Sunday night.

Derrick May, photo by Idalina Leandro

Bryan: Although the Canadian dollar wasn't that strong against other currencies, we offered a vibe that was stronger than many clubs around the world. And that vibe was something they could take on the road with them after they left to go play their other shitty gigs. Eventually other promoters started offering crazy money to try to break my relationships with some DJs, and sometimes they were successful, but for the most part they weren't.

Casselman: Our relationship with Derrick Carter actually started back in the Buzz days. We wanted him to play Buzz, but we didn't know how to get a hold of him. I heard that he was doing a gig in London, Ontario, so I drove down there and had a long chat with him before his set and got his phone number.

I had also become quite friendly with Cajmere, aka Green Velvet, and Rob [Kouchoukos] and Ivan [Pavlovich] who ran a record label called Guidance. They invited me to play the Shelter in Chicago, so a bunch of us rented a van and did a road trip. We went shopping at Gramaphone Records, and that's where we met Sneak and became friends with him right away. He wound up loving Toronto so much that he ended up moving here, so suddenly we had a very serious Chicago DJ living in Toronto, which really helped open some doors for us.

Jennstar [host]: One of my favourite memories was Sneak's birthday, when we were closed and made it a private event. Daft Punk, Junior Sanchez, King Britt, Derrick Carter, and all the Chicago DJs were there. It was probably one of the most epic moments that ever happened there and it wasn't even open to the public.

Matt Casselman, Danny Tenaglia, and Mario Jukica, photo courtesy of Matt Casselman

When Industry closed in August 2000, there were rumours of financial troubles, but the biggest factor that lead to the club closing was gentrification.

Jukica: We definitely didn't close because the business went down. We basically got shut down because that area was about to become prime real estate. We made an arrangement with the people that wanted us out, so that we had enough time to run the course, and were able to throw one last blast with our favourite DJs. To shut it down the way it deserved to get shut down—with a 17-hour DJ set by Danny Tenaglia.

Jennstar: At that time GHB was starting to rear its ugly head, so there were ambulance calls, paramedics that had to be on site. It was really difficult. Everything was shifting and changing in the club scene.

Casselman: The rest of the building was occupied with CIBC's computer terminals, and they weren't thrilled about this raging nightclub being on the ground floor. They started to try to figure out how to get us out and ended up leasing the entire underground parking lot, and keeping it locked on the weekends. They also lobbied our city councillor to change all the street parking in the neighbourhood, so suddenly there was no street parking anywhere near the club from 10 PM to 8 AM. It started to make it extremely difficult for our customers to get there.

At the same time, DJ prices were going through the roof, mainly thanks to the tobacco sponsorships that started to pop up all over the world. It stopped being a profitable venture.

Industry poster, image courtesy of Gavin Bryan

Bryan: I think the last party was the most significant one for me, because it almost didn't happen. The day of the party, all the flights coming out of New York City to Toronto were cancelled, and I had to put Danny Tenaglia in a limo to get him here. We'd already had that as a contingency plan, but he didn't leave until the afternoon, and I didn't know how long it was going to take for him to get here.

Mr. C from [London club] The End happened to be in town, and was already coming to the party, so I hit him up and asked if he could jump in for an hour until Tenaglia got there. Tenaglia didn't even get on until four in the morning on that last night, but no one seemed to give a shit. No one was going anywhere and he ended up playing until 7 PM that night.

All interviews conducted separately and edited for clarity.

Idalina Leandro is currently working on a documentary about Industry, see more of her work here.


Benjamin Boles is on
Twitter.