The Guvernment's Founders Reflect on its History and the Future of Clubbing in Toronto
Guv-tears, Guv-fam, Guv-life, now Guv-withdrawal.
"Have you been to The Guvernment?"
Toronto's own super-club, The Guvernment, has been fundamental to the lives of club goers in Canada and the world-at-large for almost two decades.
The block-long building on Queens Quay opened as RPM in 1985 and was marketed as a multi-faceted venue with a Warhol-inspired interior and a rock 'n' roll edge. Its music programming was diverse and its target audience loosely defined, bringing in acts like The Rolling Stones and Nine Inch Nails. In 1995, INK Entertainment CEO, Charles Khabouth bought the building and transformed it into an upscale, forward-thinking entertainment complex. RPM was out, The Guvernment was in.
The mid-90s rave scene had been growing steadily prior to The Guvernment's opening. At the core of this movement was Mark Oliver, a house music enthusiast turned DJ, who had started throwing raves throughout the city as early as 1991. As the underage crowd started to grow up, the previous acceptance of all-ages raves began to fizzle out.
"I think Charles was a bit nervous because the rave scene in the media was getting blown out of proportion. I think he was a little scared because it was a licensed venue," Oliver tells THUMP. "He didn't want a full on rave, but he did want a young, happening crowd and cutting edge music, and that's why my name kept coming up."
Bringing the rave into the club scene was not an easy feat; Mark's reputation and large following would become pivotal in establishing The Guvernment's fan base. With events like Alive Till 7 on Saturday nights and The Gift with Oliver's classic vinyl sets, it was hard not to find yourself on the massive dancefloor often. Through all the successes, Mark and Charles were not without their competitors.
Charles' investment in The Guvernment's superior sound system?one that was previously exclusive to Cream in Liverpool?got the club in the graces of John Digweed and Carl Cox, eventually becoming a rallying point for international DJs. "It's like a great pianist playing on a piano that's out of tune," Charles explains. "When DJs play on a great piano, it always sounds better than it is. DJs always enjoyed that and came back for that."
Over the course of the next decade, Toronto's dance music scene intensified. Crowds grew as dance music crept onto the radio and took over the Internet. INK Entertainment took advantage of the scene's popularity by hosting a variety of weekly and monthly dance music events. Decadence, Labour of Love, and Spin Saturdays were focal points of Canadian dance at the time and were vital to the venue's prosperity. By the time Toronto edged further into the 2000s, few club goers were without an old wristband from one of The Guvernment's birthday celebrations. Their fan following became a bonafide family, and words like "guvluv" and "guvlife" became colloquial slang.
INK Entertainment's empire grew as they expanded their territory throughout the city. Venues like UNIUN Nightclub, Tattoo Queen West and Sound Academy were later purchased and became sister nightclubs to The Guvernment.
Then, in January 2014, news broke that The Guvernment would only serve one final year before closing.
"We were supposed to close a year ago and we fought, tooth and nail," Charles tells THUMP. "We spent a lot of money on legal fees and ended up not being able to stretch it much more than a year...I knew about it and delayed it as much as I could. I'm a little sad, but I feel that the club had its run."
For many, the news didn't really hit home until last weekend. As news outlets, media, and every blogger with a Wordpress account took to the Internet to claim "the death of the club scene", many of us began preparing for the final goodbye. One thing was clear: The Guvernment would not go out without a bang. And another bang. And another bang.
By early December, the finale weekend's lineup was finalized. Ticket prices warranted taking out a small loan, but the events offered a little something for everyone. From a final ASOT with Armin Van Buuren, to a bass-heavy Knife Party slot, and final farewell from Toronto's favourite cynic, Deadmau5.
The final Guvernment ceiling tears were shed this past weekend. Armin kicked things off with a set that stretched until 7 AM. Trance Family flags were raised proudly from dusk to dawn, and later blanketed the last one's standing as they went home to mourn.
Saturday's portion of the goodbye somewhat aggravated electro fans, as Knife Party's set lasted a comparatively brief two hours. Supporting sets by Mark Oliver and resident DJs Manzone & Strong helped dull the pain slightly.
By the final evening, spray painted mau5 head shirts had dried, credit card statements had skyrocketed, and the lineups outside started at 6 PM. Social media was flooded with statements that this was it?tonight would end The Guvernmant's legacy. Even DJs like Markus Schulz and Ben Gold joined in on the grievances, sharing their heartfelt memories and personal adieus.
In preparation for the demand, Charles decided to take walls down between the main room and the smaller room, Chroma, to fit the already stretched capacity. The Guv Family witnessed an evening true to the history and custom of The Guvernment: a man in a Guy Fawkes mask trotted around giving people high-fives and imploring them to say, "I love The Guvernment;" festi-fams took their last pictures against the balcony rails; a few innocent butts were grazed while looking to nab your iPhone 6; Deadmau5, mau5-head and all, unleashed a three-hour techno set that honoured the venue dutifully.
"To be honest, I was feeling pretty emotional. Before leaving, I went around and said bye to as many people as I could, importantly Manzone & Strong and Mark Oliver, thanking them for all they've done over the years," said Guvernment frequenter, Montana McGiverin.
After a well-deserved, classic set by Mark Oliver?and the presentation of his award and donation by the Toronto Rave Community?it was Charles Khabouth who was granted the last song. His choice: " I Feel Love" by Donna Summer. Only fitting.
The Guvernment's era may be ending, but, as THUMP previously reported, Sound Academy is on it's way to becoming the next generation of clubbing.
"We bought Sound Academy knowing the Guv was going to close. We've kept it idle, but probably around April we'll shut it down and renovate it. This isn't going to be paint and a new bar, this is going to be a five, six million dollar renovation," said Charles. "I don't know if we'll be calling it The Guvernment again, we might call a night Guvernment Saturday's, but we might not. Nothing is finalized yet. But I'd like by the end of February, beginning of March, to have a name to start marketing."
Despite the hiatus of Toronto's biggest nightclub, INK Entertainment has also partnered with Live Nation to help run their EDM division. "We're partnering up on all of the big EDM events and shows, and we'll be doing their bookings," Charles explains. "We have big plans with them, I think it'll be a great partnership and a great future."
Digital Dreams, VELD and Montreal's newcomer IleSoniq will all return for the 2015 festival season with the help of INK's direction. As the reality of The Guvernment closing its doors forever, Charles is confident that this change will be for the better.
"I hate when people visit and don't come back for two to three years and say 'things have changed.' Well, thank god they have. Nothing should ever stay still, things are always going to evolve and change. If things stand still, they die. As long as there is a change, it's always a good thing."
Rachael D'Amore is a THUMP contributor @RachaelDAmore
Connie Chan is the Editor of THUMP Canada @ConstanceChan