Many things can be said about the experience of an all-access event in Canada’s largest and most widely known club, The Guvernment. Currently rated 27th in the world according to DJ Mag, this mammoth complex has been the staple of the Toronto nightlife scene for almost 2 decades. On Sunday, October 7th (Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend), Toronto celebrated the 16th birthday of it’s most iconic club with a multitude of major acts and probably the largest crowd I have seen there to date. In the Kool Haus, the go-to concert venue of the complex, one could catch Popeska and the American electro hero, Wolfgang Gartner. In Chroma, crowds got their bass on with the sounds of the Sour DJs and Canadian dubstep sensations, Adventure Club. But, like many passionately obsessed trance-heads, I had the opportunity to experience one of my favourite acts in the main room: Above & Beyond.
I arrived at the complex extremely early (around 11 pm) to make sure I got myself the best possible spot- near the stage to take everything in around me without getting too close to the absolutely deafening speaker setup. Looking around, it was clear to see that Trance was on everyone’s mind this night. Hundreds of Above & Beyond shirts and paraphernalia were littered across Kool Haus as we anxiously awaited the opening of the main room. As the doors opened, a rush of people stormed into the 4000 capacity area like a hoard of zebra. We were greeted by the deep and dark sounds of Toronto icon and resident DJ, Mark Oliver, who was also celebrating his birthday on this night. Mark’s opening set went from 11:30- 2 am (quite an opening set, I must say). Although I was enjoying his slow, pounding bass, it was clear that the crowd grew more and more restless during the last hour of his set. The heat from the crowd was beginning to suffocate, as (I’m assuming) well over 4000 people filed in. There was no room to move, no bathroom breaks to be taken (it took over 25 minutes to get to the bathroom and back to your spot), and no end in sight as the unruly crowd pushed and shoved its way to the front at 2 am. But all these things ceased to matter now; Above & Beyond had taken control.
Now, this wasn’t my first time seeing the Trance supergroup, as I had the privilege of seeing 2/3 members grace the decks 2 nights in a row in the month of February during back-to-back shows at Beta Nightclub in Waterloo, ON and Guelph Concert Theatre in Guelph, ON. Needless to say, the experience was an absolutely magical, emotional roller coaster. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, and hugged everyone around me. Those had been some of the best shows of my life, and I was eager to repeat the experience.
The show opened in full force with their new track featuring Richard Bedford, Stealing Time. The crowd went insane (which is the tamest way to put it). I have never seen a trance mosh pit before but this was as close as it could get, with swaying bodies bumping into one another and bringing me down. As they mixed into Porter Robinson‘s Language, all hell broke loose. The first hour was very much like any episode of Trance Around The World (Above & Beyond’s critically acclaimed weekly podcast). It was slower, melodic, and much more focused on being uplifting. Most notable tracks include Velvetine‘s latest hit The Great Divide, Above & Beyond’s own Thing Called Love and On My Way to Heaven.
In my opinion, the show didn’t really begin until I heard Alchemy (Club Mix). One of my favourite songs at the moment, it instantly energized a now grooving crowd. The energy level had really died down in the first hour, and that is definitely due to the sheer number of people and the lack the oxygen. But fatigue, meet your maker: Depeche Mode Personal Jesus (Eric Prydz Remix). This song was easily the highlight of the night for me, as it completely changed the sound and showed that Above & Beyond are skilled, versatile DJs. The night quickly picked up, as the boys played through their “Group Therapy” album, hit after hit. Notable tracks include Sun & Moon, Prelude, BT‘s Flaming June and the acoustic version of OceanLab‘s On a Good Day.
And then the show ended… or so we thought. After cheers and chants, Above & Beyond got back in the infamous hydraulic DJ booth and continued to play another 45 minutes, finally ending the night with the Above & Beyond remix of OceanLab’s Satellite. The power of this track was an excellent choice to end a fantastic set. The visuals, lighting (extra lighting towers were added to create ribbons of light which resembled their album cover), and music were completely on point. The whole experience is delivered by an extremely talented group of individuals who have perfected their craft over years of hard work and dedication. Kudos to the entire team.
But how does this show compare to previous shows and even previous trance acts in the main room (remember, Armin Van Buuren played a 5 hour set just the night before to the shock and awe of many)? It wasn’t the best I’ve seen from A&B, nor was it the best I’ve seen from The Guvernment. The music was fantastic but it lacked the energy and drive I was craving for the night. Select choices got everyone going, but for most of the night, it was a struggle to enjoy yourself due to the OVERWHELMING number of people in the room. The room itself was one small spark from being a tragic accident, as it felt like there would be no way for all the attendees to safely evacuate the building. I’m not sure if this was the case at The Guvernment, but all-access events are commonly used to get around legal capacity rules, as a room of 4000 now has the fire code of a 10,000 person complex. I have noticed an alarming trend of overselling tickets at many major events in Toronto, and the overall experience of a show has been tremendously dampened by many promoters’ general lack of concern for safety because of it. Save for the people in the front, the crowd was extremely disrespectful as well. As I tried to exit main room through Chroma, I (and the female I was accompanying) was pushed, elbowed, stepped on, and disregarded in the most disrespectful of manners. I was extremely angry but starting a fight in such a large crowd is always a bad idea, so I let it go. The music was well done, but the set itself lacked the magic I had experienced earlier this year for 2 straight nights. Of course, the atmosphere could have been a major contributor to this opinion, but I think a more energetic set was appropriate for the setting. The crowd, however, seemed to be enjoying every second of the show, so my opinion may not have been shared by those around me!
The beauty and wonder that is Above & Beyond’s music is something that always has moved in me ways other music just never has been able to do. They create music that touches the soul, that lifts you off your feet, and helps you realize how wondrous life is. The gift of sound is something I will always cherish, and the trio from London helped me realize how important it is for me to treasure it. Will I go see another Above & Beyond show? Definitely. Will I go if it’s hosted in The Guvernment’s main room? That’s the big maybe. In my opinion, the Kool Haus is the only venue in the complex that is capable of holding the tremendous number of devoted fans in a comfortable setting. If not, I may just have to pass.
Gary Sagoo – EDM TOR