Weekend at Toronto underground parties


The Hot Spring Party, featuring Ben Cormier, is one of many feel-good gatherings at Round Venue, which draws house-music lovers to Kensington Market. (Donna Caoili photo)

Column by Ofelia Legaspi Music Columnist

TORONTO, ONTARIO — Let me tell you a secret. I say secret because a staggering number of my friends are still stuck doing the mainstream parties in this city. Sure, this is a skewed sample and is by no means the barometer of fun in the city, but it does make me wonder how deep this complacency runs. And, honestly, I blame this party plateau on the whole lot of you who haven’t embraced the untz and the underground.

So, when your friends from out of town pay a visit, when they are not being dragged snoring to the CN Tower or ferried away to the Centre Island with your room-temperature KFC picnic, they are either forced to dance to Top 40 music or down beer to it in some plush booth in a dark, depressing pub downtown. Since I had voluntarily banished myself this month to the sleepy suburbs of Oshawa to spend time with my family, I decided I was due for a short moratorium on this self-imposed exile. So, I  hopped on the Go Train with a toddler-sized hiking backpack full of crazy outfits and couch-surfed in Toronto for the weekend. Since I grew up in the over-populated, over-stimulating city of Manila, Philippines, Toronto to me was initially a shock to the system. I was bored for years. That is until I decided to board a midnight party boat.


Party-goers bond at hot spots like Round Venue, one of Toronto’s best spots for all-night parties. (Donna Caoili photo)

It was on this crucial moment gliding on the murky waters of Lake Ontario that I was baptized, so to speak. Here were kinships based on shared love of art, music and booty-shaking. This Friday, I found myself at Round Venue at Kensington Market. It was Dirty Decibels night and the theme was Hot Spring. The venue’s simulated environment, though, was more akin to a place where they only have two seasons: hot and hotter. With the power of suggestion, Round seemed to have rolled south from the northern hemisphere to the equator. Okay, maybe the mass of warm bodies immersed in deep house dancing had more to do with the microclimate, but imagination was everything.

Hot Times, Free Drinks and More in Toronto

My friend and I only caught the Dirty Decibels act — Toronto duo Ben Cormier and Dan, who have been delivering deep house staples for almost a year. Booty-shaking to all that bass was such an immersive activity that I only faintly remember wordlessly and ungratefully accepting free beer from a stranger. But this community is so inclusive that freebies like that are often given without strings.

In fact, the next night, when I started to turn away from the bar because I didn’t have the cash for bottled water, a kind, tattooed stranger in a cut-off shirt stopped me and paid for it. This time, I said thank you, and, this time, I was at a garden-themed party inside the Lithuanian House, a banquet hall on Bloor Street West with cathedral ceilings, wooden beams and dramatic chandeliers. That night, veins of laser pulsed through the darkness and revealed the whimsical decor, including overhanging flower puffs and iridescent see-through curtains.

Montreal-based Strange Town was in charge and delivered sinister beats that were dark and danceable. The Electric Garden set was haunting and ominous, bringing the off-beat chill to the decidedly spring bloom theme of the main stage. At one point, moving amongst the crowd to a foreboding soundscape of rain and breathy vocals was like being taken for a ride down the River Styx. The light moments were swallowed by the slow swelling of synths the throb of deep bass. This was the Garden of Eden post consumption of the forbidden fruit. Upstairs was the jungle music room and, appropriately, a total jungle — intimate, humid and sweaty. You could break your back dancing to the old-school jungle offerings of turntablist DJ Ghaleon. His drum and bass was a warm change to the chilly sorcery downstairs. This is the kind of party where you stay until the local McDonald’s switches to their breakfast menu.

If you want to attend a Promise Party – they host a few every year – follow them here:

Dirty Decibels celebrates its one-year anniversary on Friday, May 8 at Round Venue (152A Augusta Avenue). 

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