I-DANCE is a huge free rave that was thrown in Toronto to protest the city's ban on "electronic music parties". To understand the spirit of I-DANCE, you first must know a bit about the underground history of Toronto.

Toronto has been well known as an excellent electronic music scene for some time. Our mayor Mel Lastman, however, began a campaign against "rave parties". Eventually, he passed a law stating (approximately):

"No parties with the performance of electronic music past 3 am shal be allowed within the city limits."

The response was a huge outcry from the ravers of Toronto. After much protest, it was decided that the true spirit of raves (which is music and dancing, not drugs as Mayor Lastman was continually claiming) would be demonstrated with a large, free rave thrown in Nathan Phillips Square, which is directly outside Toronto City Hall.

Even the drug-using members of the raver community abstained from ecstacy and ketamines for this party, and some of Toronto's best DJs were present, including St. Pete, Paranoid Jack, Flipside and MC Ylook.

Much of the music was specially composed to protest the ban. The two most notable songs were Ricochet by D-Region and Flipside, where a recording of an interview with Mel Lastman on the subject of raves was repeated using a sampler, emphasizing the quotes "I didn't know what a rave party was" and "I thought we could control them". The other was Strike Back by Flipside featuring the vocals of Ylook, which was a hip-hop/jungle track that spoke loudly about the true principals of raves:

"Hey yo Mel, you wanna shut raves down? And shoot blacks down? And shoot browns down? I say we vote you down out of the office! Your policies just aint workin for me, I don't smoke crack, THC or ecstacy! Lookin for the easy way out, but that aint the solution! Raggin on parties while my neighbourhoods gettin ruined!"

I-DANCE was largely successful. The next day, all 53 members of Toronto City Council voted on whether or not to keep the ban. The vote was 50 to 3 in favour of removing the ban. It is a point of interest that Mayor Lastman was one of the three who voted to keep the ban.

The organizers and promoters of I-DANCE now plan to instate it as an annual affair, however many feel that the spririt will be lost.
Toronto endured a curious political climate for several years under the rule of crazy bad-boy mayor Mel Lastman and pig-headed police chief Julian Fantino. Both clearly enjoyed having their names in print and would often go to great lengths to stir up controversy or incite fear to maintain attention on their respective posts.

On October 10th of 1999 Allen Ho overdosed on ecstasy at a high-profile rave by the name of Hullabaloo, an event which was unfortunately held in the dubious venue of an underground parking lot. The story took off in the local Toronto media and the hedonistic rave scene became a political issue at city hall. Fantino showed his colours with a rigged press conference where a variety of firearms allegedly seized from raves were displayed to the cameras, though it backfired when he was forced to admit that the guns were taken from patrons of nightclubs instead. Around this time an inquest into the death of Allen Ho was opened, and the mayor and chief continued to rail against the new menace to youth.

In June of 2000, just as an inquest was providing its recommendations to the city council, the mayor pushed forward a law that would ban dancing to electronic music after a particular hour. Objectively it doesn't seem like such a harsh measure, but this would drastically affect not only tens of thousands of party people but also the whole para-legal industry that sprung up around Toronto's vibrant underground. The city underestimated the grassroots support the rave scene was able to draw upon. On Labour Day weekend a huge protest rally was held in Nathan Phillips Square, right under the nose of mayor Mel, and an impressive 20,000+ turned out to dance from day into night as prominent scene players showed their stuff on the big stage and high-profile guests made gestures of solidarity in short speeches. It had the momentary taste of success, as the anti-rave law was rapidly struck down, in part due to support from Toronto city councillor Olivia Chow.

But this was not to last. Having lost the public battle, the powerful figures in the offices of the mayor and chief of police found an entirely different way to stifle the scene. Raves rely on venues to hold their events - they don't own a building like a regular club would. And after all the details that had emerged from the media spotlight, and perhaps from other tactics employed by the scorned officials, venues began to dry up. Soon there were but a handful left, attendance dropped, the survivors migrated to clubs, and it was just about all over. If that wasn't bad enough the loopholes and legalities that had become clear in the political struggle left promoters with few options. If you wanted an ambulance on hand as a safety measure, you needed PDOs (pay-duty officers, off-duty cops rented out) on hand, in a particularly wack proportion of cops to patrons (nominally because raves are "violent"). And if you wanted the PDOs you had to fork over big money, making it impossible to throw the party in the first place. And the few venues left were reluctant to do things under the table with the spotlight so recently having been on the Allen Ho inquest. What club owner would want to risk having some drugged out kid OD at their venue, after all? With this tangled web of liability the scene faced a new struggle where media attention wouldn't win them any friends. And that is the fight they lost.

iDance was held for a second year, as it was intended to be a yearly celebration of Toronto's electronic underground, much like DEMF in Detroit (which attracted close to a million techno-tourists at its peak). This was to be the last year. Without clear impending doom hanging over the city, the attendance was muted. The political aspect had grown soft as the fight was "won". Sponsorship was obtained from the most dubious benefactors: the Toronto Star (newspaper), and the new M$ console, the Xbox. And nearly no one paid attention to the unspoken "no drugs" rule that second year... it was a mess. Look at the write-up posted here and you can see the clear emphasis that raving is about the music and dancing, NOT the drugs. Horseshit. Though there are some dedicated 'sober ravers' the great majority of people go out to get f%#ked. Denying the rampant drug use in the scene became a survival mechanism for everyone involved, and that common white lie was repeated time and time again to the point where most people ended up believing it utterly. The second iDance was the time for truth. First-hand I saw how messed up people got... luckily, the media didn't bother latching on to any of that as the circus had already been run out of town. And after that year there was no more iDance... what purpose could it have served? Like I heard from one of those involved in the organization, if the rally showed dwindling numbers every year it would make the rave community out to be an easy target once more. It was clear from year two that the overground route was not a viable option for a fringe community, and those that wished to continue throwing and attending parties returned to relative obscurity, tip-toeing around the restrictive legislation, and doing their best to stay below the radar.

If anything, those that lived through this time can appreciate the amount of discussion that all these events opened up. How much responsibility does a promoter have for their patrons? How much responsibility do we have for each other, as human beings, in any kind of illicit counterculture? Was there someone that could have looked out for Allen Ho better than he looked out for himself? What right does a city have to tell people when, where, and how people can dance? Why must each generation endure a moral panic over the frightening new habits youth pick up to make their own? In the end, iDance can be looked upon as a final chapter of those golden days of rave in Toronto... for, whereas the scene continues today in a worthwhile underground fashion, it will never again be host to huge parties of 10,000+ people held in gigantic warehouses with lasers and huge speaker stacks pumping out the sickest tunes that take the whole crowd to a new level... then again, I never did get much out of the massive doofs.

Update (2006): this is an old piece but I'll leave it mostly as is. The big rave concept might be dead, but Toronto continues to be home to a thriving underground counterculture. In retrospect, I can say that the whole iDance debacle served the purpose of trimming the fat, so to speak. Rave might be out of fashion, but half a decade after the fact, the concept of the all night dance event continues to be refined and developed.

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