Councillor Mike Layton Stands Up For Dancing

In what felt like a strange reprise of the late 90s battles with Mel Lastman, the topic of banning raves on city property was once again on the table last week at City Council. And, just like last time, it was a Layton on City Council who helped set things right. This time it was Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Mark Grimes leading the charge against dancing, but it was the same old hype we’re all used to: raves attract “drug dealers” and “13 year old kids” and needed to be stopped (at one particular place, that coincidentally was competing with a particular club… but nowhere else).

Councillor Mike Layton
Mike Layton

In fact, the club in question – Muzik Nightclub – turned out to be the source of the allegations that Mammoliti and Grimes cited, and the impetus behind the drive for a ban. The owner of Muzik, Zlatko Starkovski, has gone on to say that “there is no underground scene, [this] means that 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 year old children will be at home safe.” The news that our beloved underground scene is both unsafe and non-existent at the same time was as big a surprise to me as it probably is to you.

Of course, Mr. Starkovski may simply have no interaction with the underground dance community, seeing as Muzik is a business better known for high-priced bottle service, exclusivity, and a questionable array of political connections. His attempt at instituting a ban on competition has prompted a fierce response from the rave community, which turns out to not only exist but also to have strenuous objections to being used as pawns in a political game – a #BoycottMuzik campaign began almost immediately.

While the ban initially passed the board of governors, Councillor Mike Layton – whose father was involved in overturning the 2000 ban on raving – brought a motion to City Council to repeal the ban. While Councillor Mammoliti didn’t bother to show up for the debate, Councillor Grimes did his best to oppose the repeal with any tactic that came to reach, including an attempt to defer the debate to June (which would effectively kill the summer festival schedule, no matter the ultimate outcome). Despite this,; Councillor Layton and Councillor Perks held him to account and successfully demonstrated the overtly political character of the initial decision. The repeal was passed 31 to 4, with only Councillors Pasternak, Robinson and Crawford joining Councillor Grimes to vote against.

This column has always been focused on electronic music and rave events in the city. These events and this music are my passion, a passion I share with many Torontonians. Together, we make up a vibrant part of the incredible tapestry of culture that makes this city awesome. I do not intend to make this an overtly political entry, but I also feel that it’s important to live up to the legacy that was left to us by the iDance rallies and our raving forebears to ensure we would always have a right to dance together. In this case, that means calling attention to who is trying to stop us for their own gain, and who is standing up for us and our rights.

To that end, I spoke with Councillor Mike Layton about his spirited and engaged defense of the right to dance in Toronto, and the events leading up to the ban and its repeal. Read on to learn more, and then go out and enjoy your weekend. In fact, dance anywhere you like – it’s your right.

Why were electronic music events banned at the Ex in the first place?

Well, it depends who you want to believe, but the series of events was that the club owner at Ex place has a lease arrangement with the board of governors and he brought a letter concerning the events, saying they were in breech and they were competing with his business and they should stop because there are certain agreements we need to honour. The board said “no, we’re allowed to host events of a certain size”. Then all of a sudden a claim came saying you shouldn’t host these events because kids are getting sent to hospital, kids are doing drugs, there are 11,12 13 year olds overdosing, pedophiles at the event.

So we went from a purely financial claim to an “altruistic” one in the blink of an eye. That’s why certain board members felt compelled to vote to no longer hold events at the Ex.

However, there is a long standing city policy that we should be hosting these events on city property because we can ensure there’s a certain level of safety that we can’t ensure at private venues. That’s the long standing city policy, and it’s good policy from a risk management and harm reduction standpoint, that’s what we should be doing.

And when was that policy put in place?

I believe that policy was put into effect in 1999 and confirmed that it was the best policy in 2000 after a coroner’s inquest ran its course (ed. this was triggered by the death of Allan Ho). Nothing has changed that would cause us to revisit this. This was brought back before the board because of the concern for the neighbouring business.

Why do you think electronic music in particular was targeted? Just because it was seen as an easy target?

Well that depends on who you believe. If you believe the first letter, it’s because it’s the same genre of music that the club owners prefer. If you believe the second letter, apparently it’s 11 and 12 year olds going to events and drug dealers and pedophiles attend them, if you want to take Councillor Mammoliti’s stand on it.

Yes people take drugs at concerts. That was true 40 or 50 years ago, but it’s not more true today. It’s nothing new that young people are doing drugs. And a harm reduction approach to public policy, which is the best practice, is aware that these events are going to happen, so don’t push it underground and make it less safe. We should be aiming to make it more safe. You know in Portugal, they actually have testing rooms so you can test your MDMA before you take it so you know if it’s been cut with something that could be harmful. There are other jurisdictions that go even further. Now I’m not advocating for that specifically, but harm reduction is the approach to take if you want to save lives.

Even simple things like alcohol, at the Ex there are stronger rules around all-ages events regarding alcohol. Instead of a stamp or wristband or single barrier, there’s actually a double barrier with security in between, so you can’t pass drinks across or give alcohol to minors.

So it is a much safer environment.

Yes.

So it was this focus on safety that motivated you to work to overturn the ban?

Yes. Not because I go to those shows or because I hang out with the promoters of them, unlike some of the other councillors, the very few councillors who voted against overturning the ban. I think there were only four of them.

Yes, there were four, including our old favourite Mark Grimes.

Yes, well I think he’s made it clear he’s been to Muzik before, and our mayor obviously has a unique relationship with the owner. But beyond that connection everyone recognizes that a harm reduction approach is what needs to be taken. We’re not here to protect that one business, we’re here to protect the public good.

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VIDEO RODEO: The first time we dealt with an attempt to ban raves, it was a much more pervasive effort, but our response was up to the challenge. The iDance rally on the steps of City Hall showed City Council both the passion and the responsibility of our community, which helped to ensure that City Council took a rational, evidence-based position on the rights of the community and the understanding of harm reduction. But it was also a great party! Video footage from the event is this week’s Video Rodeo. Enjoy!

ATTENTION: VIDEOS WANTED!  Did you have a great time at a rave or EDM event and managed to capture it on video? We’d love to showcase short clips of you and your friends having a great time with great music.  Reach out to us with your name, the name and date of the event, and a link to the video if you’d like us to consider yours!

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Looking for a party? You’ve come to the right place! Below is a sample of what you can find this weekend and next in the rave and EDM community around Toronto; check out The Heather Network for even more!

UPCOMING EVENTS: VIRUS – Friday, May 16th – 9 PM  *TONIGHT*

Dub Hub joins Raise The Levels to take over both floors of Li’ly Lounge (656 College) for a night of Drum’n’Bass downstairs, featuring the legendary DJ Spinz, and Electro and Trap upstairs. Cover is free until midnight and then just $5 afterwards, so why not kick off your long weekend with some bass?

UPCOMING EVENTS: NICE SHOES, WANNA FUNK? – Saturday, May 17th – 10 PM

Also holding it down at Li’ly Lounge, Jay Tripper is back in action with “Nice Shoes, Wanna Funk?” The event features Dutty Moonshine mashing up Ghetto Funk, Electro Swing and more, with support from an eclectic and talented cast of locals across a variety of genres. In keeping with Jay Tripper’s style, there will also be an emphasis on decor, lighting, and extras like the tie-dyed Framebow photo booth. Tickets are just $15 advance, $20 at the door, and it runs til 4 AM – you’ve got Monday off, so party hard!

UPCOMING EVENTS: OTAKUBALOO AT ANIME NORTH – Friday and Saturday, May 23rd and 24th – 5 PM til 1 AM

It was just a few years ago that a few ravers (including yours truly) set up a pair of turntables in the Anime North parking lot and kickstarted an outdoor rave event at the widely beloved convention. We didn’t explicitly have permission to be there (hey, we didn’t NOT have permission either), but since then we’ve worked with the convention and now the event has become one of the can’t-miss pieces of programming for thousands of congoers and ravers alike. A huge cast of Toronto locals and international talent keep the beats going out in the sun and well into the night. Worth it for the costumes alone! Note that the event is part of Anime North and an Anime North badge IS required to attend; Friday night badges are still available for $35.

Your bonus link this week: Not technically an electronic music event so it’s not in the event listing, but who doesn’t enjoy the Toronto Circus Festival? The circus is in town this weekend and you can check it out face-to-face down at HarbourFront!

 

Tim Ellis
About Tim Ellis 32 Articles
Tim is a writer, DJ, event coordinator, campaign manager, dog lover, and recovering American who now makes his home in Toronto. He's quite confident that this is the best city in the world.