Interview: Joel Smye (Co-Founder – CODA; Partner – Electric Island)
Electric Island has really brought the heat for its fourth annual year with a fresh lineup of summer fun on Toronto Island.
Having already hosted the likes of Sven Vath, Jamie Jones, DJ Tennis, Tale of Us, and Ben Klock, each date that has featured international and local talent in an outdoor park side setting, overlooking Toronto’s waterfront and skyline. Acting as the official closing of each of Toronto’s four summer long weekends, Electric Island continues with three more events to close out the season.
Ahead of Electric Island’s next event on August 1 (Paul Kalkbrenner, Guy Gerber, Gui Boratto, Andhim, Nitin), we caught up with one of its founding partners, Joel Smye. Joel has his hand in much of the Toronto underground dance scene, having co-founded its seminal nightclub CODA. Alongside partners coming from the city’s Embrace, Platform & Footwork crews, Electric Island is, quite simply, the go to place for underground dance in Toronto.
“Pretty much immediately I knew I wanted to be the guy in charge of the music.”
When did you first discover electronic music/DJs/raves?
Late in high school I picked up on it. There wasn’t much happening in my hometown that I was aware of, but I started to hear some mix tapes and radio shows here and there before heading to Switzerland to finish school. I went to one party and it was on. I’ve been hooked ever since. That was about 1994 or ‘95 I think.
What was it about this particular scene that attracted you?
I think the counter culture of it all. The info lines, secret locations etc all added to that feeling that you’re dabbling in something you shouldn’t be. The music was new, parties weren’t licensed, late nights that extended into mornings (or afternoons), new style and fashion…all of this stuff added to the allure of rave culture. Being from Hamilton, these large scale parties in Europe blew my mind. It was another world. But no matter how new and exciting the spectacle of it all was, getting lost in the music was the real hook for me.
When did you decide that you wanted to start DJing? What were those early experiences like?
Pretty much immediately I knew I wanted to be the guy in charge of the music. I analyzed the tapes and cd’s I had, and really thought I could do this but didn’t know where to begin. I had to find out where the records were sold to start with. By the time I really got into it and decided to get turntables I had moved to Lake Louise, Alberta so finding records was tough! After that of course the first few gigs were shit, but mostly they were house parties so I don’t think anyone really noticed or cared at the time. Regardless, it was a good way to figure it all out.
At what point did you decide to start throwing events?
Moving around a bit it seemed the best way to break into the fold of things was to start your own nights. I had done a bit of this in Hamilton & Montreal, but when I got to Toronto, the scene was so well established it was tough to break in. Eventually I met a strange character name Steph Philion who convinced me that we should put something together at 99 Sudbury – a legendary spot in Toronto as far as warehouse venue’s go. The party was off the hook and we continued on. This was around about 2002 and Steph and I have been business partners ever since.
Tell me about the beginning of Footwork. How did you find the location and why did you decide to set up there?
After almost 2 years of parties at 99 Sudbury, we lost the venue to a movie production that took over the space. That same week by total fluke, we were invited by a pair of property developers we knew to check out a space that had previously hosted a piano bar. It took a few visits but we dreamt up a concept and signed the lease. Whenever one door closes and another one opens like that, you gotta walk through it!
What was different about Footwork compared to other clubs in the area? What made it such a success?
I think it was just built for the underground. I never really hung out in any other type of club so it was really all I had to go on from my end of things. Roxy Blu was across the street but on its last year. Roxy was a fantastic spot known mostly for Garage and House nights, but it was a staple of the scene and we really wanted that for Footwork – to one day be known as a staple for dance music in Toronto. But other than Roxy, everything was either hanging on to the Martini Bar/Resto-lounge trend, or moving towards bottle service. I think ultimately we filled a void in Toronto as most of the great underground spots were shutting down.
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