Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Black & Blue Powertrip 2007

Originally posted at, Oct 17, 2007...

First off, let me say thank you to HouseAddict for the ticket draw, I was one of the lucky winners. At first I thought it was odd that the winners names weren't publicly announced, but in the end it made sense because the tickets were to be picked up at the door; where they didn't ask me for any ID. It sure would have sucked to get there only to find that some unscrupulous sort had already snagged them!

There were a bunch of us who carpooled down in two vehicles, myself driving Dusan and Tina (some good friends of Sheldon's, now good friends of mine) and Johnny Action driving Sheldon and Lea. Despite our best plans to leave around 12:30, I think it ended up being almost 2:00 (my original target departure time) before we actually set off. Things were overcast at first which was a bit of a downer (I don't know why, we were going to an indoor party) but a little bit past Trenton where the 401 gets hilly and pretty we drove out from under this ridge of grey cloud into some beautiful sunshiny sky. W00t!

We arrived a Montréal about 8:30 p.m. and headed straight to the stadium to take care of our tickets. Never having been there before we parked just off Rue Sherbrooke, which made sense to us as it's the main north-south drag running by the stadium. There was an information kiosk and some ticket machines with long lines of people at them, so we headed right over to take care of our ticket situation. Only something was wrong, the people lined up for tickets were parents with kids in tow... not the kind of crowd we expected for Black & Blue! Alright, we figured it out, we were across from the stadium at Jardin Botanique, and there was some big spider show going on that night. We duck into the greenhouse to exploit the bathrooms, muse over this brilliant 4 metre long architectural model of the entire gardens, then head for the stadium.


Everything changes then as we cross the street and into the land of the surreal. We stand on acres of futuristically sculpted concrete, sweeping multi-level curves evoking grand themes of unity and accomplishment. You can just visualize the teeming masses of people surrounding us in every direction, minions of some intergalactic hq. Only they don't -- in all the land as far as we can see, there's just us. It's... it's... post apocalyptic. "There's supposed to be a giant party here, right?" "Yep." "Hmm." We descend space-aged ramps of concrete, feeling like Bugs Bunny wandering around on mars, to make our way towards the stadium edge. In the distance we manage to spot a few folks, perched on the edge of some unreachable level, silently watching us like the gargoyles of art deco New York. Ominously, they don't look like Black & Blue party types either.

So there we are, tiny and insignificant against the faceless wall of black glass that encircles the stadium. There's banks of doors; some saying exit, some enter, others offering tickets; yet all are lifeless and locked. Following the slight curve of glass a quarter way 'round we come across a single lonely strobe light, blinking away soullessly inside. It's on our level and pointed down into some anonymous staircase. By its flashes we can make out interior hallways, bathrooms and food counters; but all are as lonely and desolate as the space outside. "This is the right stadium right?" "Yeah-huh."

Half way around we descend to a lower level at the base of the graceful sloping roof tower, discovering the swim complex nestled under giant arched roofs like the lungs of some alien beast. The pools within are perfectly still, their audience of surrounding grandstands deserted. We pass between the swimplex and biodome, coming to the base of a driveway and the doors of a giant ticket hall, but it too is dark and deserted. For the first time there's people here close enough to talk to, but they're just teenage skateboarders hanging out and not Black & Blue'rs, so we pass by with nary a word. Farther around yet we come to a loading dock, but there's not a single equipment truck, nor any of the roadies you'd expect to find setting up for such a massive show. "Is this the right night?" "It should be."

After having circled the entire stadium we gave up and crossed back to our cars. We know we were early but it's 8:45 by then and the show starts at 9:00, surely there should have at least been some sign of it? We just can't figure it out, but fortunately have a standing invite from Sara to crash by her hotel room, so at least there's somewhere else for us to go. In the back of our minds though we're thinking, "If we leave now maybe we can still catch some of Carl Cox at Guv, and we can definitely make our Fcuk'n Beats at Zone." We call Sara and make for her hotel, still scratching our heads.

The surreal air evaporates once we get there, almost. A girl none of us recognize is just darting out of the hotel when we arrive, but she says hi and tells us to go right on up to room 406. "WTF?" "Okay, that was weird." Normalcy finally returns to our life when we get to room 406, your typical messy party-for-the-weekend room with a laptop spinning house in the corner. Ahhhhh yeah! Introductions are made as we meet Nancy and mystery lobby girl, Magen, who joins us shortly thereafter. Apparently she's a friend of Sara's that I've met before at Zone (¿que?) who also recognized Sheldon and Lea from a bunch of Sara's pictures. Okey dokey. We relate our post-apoclyptic vision of an empty stadium and the girls assure us that, "Yes Virginia, there is a Black & Blue." They even pull out a magazine-sized event pamphlet to prove it, but at this point I'm still thinking it's an elaborate ploy to sucker Ontarians into driving 6 hours for no reason, possibly staged by Irving Oil. I'll believe in the party when I see it.

A half hour later we're out of the hotel and milling around down on the street, and for reasons not fully explainable (hey, we'd been in the twilight zone since we got there) it takes about another 30 minutes to actually start heading off to the stadium, in two separate cabs and a Honda civic, all at least 10 minutes apart. Dusan, Tina and I are in the middle cab, which drops us off one block east of Rue Sherbrooke at a stadium entry hall we had never seen before. It's huge, and apparently we were walking on the roof of it during 'the surreal stadium circle tour' we'd taken an hour earlier. Indeed there are people here, and more than just a few -- Black & Blue is alive and well and we are about to partake! Woohoo!

As we walk in we see the girls (Sara, Nancy and Magen) just disappearing through the ticket holder door to leave the three of us on our own, strangers in a strange land. We spot the ticket window and are completely struck with fear. Dusan and Tina because they still had to buy tickets, and someone they'd gotten a hold of on the phone earlier said it was sold out, me because after all the surrealocity I'm convinced that they'll never have heard of HouseAddict and I'll be similarly s-o-l. The B&B organizers have got their shit together though, and all of us have tickets in hand in no time flat. We walk down the long ticket hall to the subway entrance to find some bathrooms and while in there get a text from Sara, apparently they're doing some serious security checks; shoes off and everything. Uh-oh. I take time out to re-arrange my persona, making sure any substances of questionable intent are all the way into the toes of my shoes under the insoles. "That oughta do it", I say to myself, "now to find Johnny and give him his ticket." (He was my guest on the other freebie.)

Okay, thence came the return of the surreal. Johnny, Lea and Sheldon have apparently dropped off the face of the earth. We call, we text and wander about aimlessly checking the crowd. Dusan and Tina are taking it in stride but for some reason I am getting seriously freaked out by their sudden unavailability. I call, text, and call some more as five minutes go by, then ten, then twenty. Agghh! Serious freak-outage is now going on here. In the meantime, the line by the doors, non-existent when the girls popped through, is now about one third of the way to the subway entrance. Things are getting crowded now and the remainder of our TO crew is still nowhere to be found. After a while the frozen line gets moving and then it's our turn to go through the doors. Only I can't, I've still got Johnny's ticket in my hand. I tell Dusan and Tina to head in and start letting group after group of people through ahead of me as the security guards give me that "you're a fucking idiot" look. Finally, just as I'm too freaked out to remain sane, I spot Sheldon, Lea and Johnny by the ticket window. Yeeha! I head over to meet them, unrealizedly (a perfectly cromulent word) losing my spot in line. Security's right, I am a fucking idiot. We turn around from the ticket window to join the line, only now it goes all the way down to the very end of the hallway to the subway entrance. When the @#!! did that happen?

We take the long walk back and await our turn in line. At first it doesn't seem like it's moving, but slowly it does and we finally get in. It's now at least an hour since the girls ducked through. We walk down the hall from the ticket check to the security zone. There's about ten security lines and it practically looks like an airport, with long tables full of little trays for personal effects. I'm feeling confident in my shoe solution but then see somebody not only have to remove their shoes, but get their insoles pulled and the shoes shaken out. It doesn't help that posters on the walls say that any violators will not be allowed in. I wouldn't care if my stuff got taken, but not letting me in? Now that's some serious shit! I tell Lea, Shelds and Johnny that my nerve has cracked, mumble something about going to the bathroom and excuse my way through the line back towards the entrance. Fortunately, this being a stadium, there are bathrooms just about everywhere and I get a chance to ditch my contraband. I rejoin the security line, having lost another twenty minutes before getting back to where I was, and finally go through one of the lines near the middle. The middle lines where, apparently, nobody is being seriously searched and no shoes are removed. Aw crap. Better safe than sorry I guess. I text Sara "Cleared through" and notice that it is now 1:00 a.m. -- where did the time go???

Let me break from the review for a second to give kudos to the organizers for how well they did with the whole drug thing. While it seemed pretty draconian on the way in, let me just tell you how much you really get a feeling of being cared for by the folks who put this show on. They had a pharmacist on staff to identify legal drugs from illegal ones, because being an HIV/AIDS event there are a lot of people who do have to carry around quite a cocktail with them. They also wanted to be really sure that everyone had a good time and nobody got stuck with a bad trip. Just check out some of the great anti-drug posters they had spread all around this event:

So after security we're all shepharded down a long dark ramp lit only by revolving blue police lights. Cool! The throbbing bass is practically blowing my hair around as I turn the final corner and make my way out onto the stadium floor. Wow! Just... Wow!

The decor is so cool, there's a giant stage in the center with male and female fetish-clad gogo dancers getting their groove on, surrounded by 100' scaffolds of speakers, light towers and giant inflatable decorative balls. I look up, waaaay up, and can just faintly make out the oval of concrete and stadium lights surrounding the dimly glowing pool of the stadium's soft inner roof. It's my first glimpse of le Stade Olympique, and I get to take it in from the center of the stadium floor. Incredible! I get a text from Sara, "U in the room?" and try to reply but can't. The concrete has just cut off my cell signal; now how do I find everybody? I go for a quick walk-about in a vain search for signal. I travel all the way around the edge of the main floor, up the ramps to the chill out seats, into the restaurant at the back, across and down the stairs to the Alternator Room, then through the long hallway back to the Main Room. Nothing. I turn my phone off and on again; nothing. Where did I get that last message from Sara? Aha, main entry corridor! I head back out the main entry to the security check and graciously get a signal. Woohoo! I can find people again! I text "main entry" to Sara and she says she's on her way, then I bump into Johnny. We wait for a bit and no Sara, but he knows where everyone else is at so I follow him back into the main room and then lose him again, but then bump into Sara. It continued on like that for a while; I think it was over two hours before I had finally run into everybody again. Strangely, my phone had full signal bars no matter where I went after that, wtf? Chalk up another point to the strange night of the surreal.

Okay, now on to the experience... this event was absolutely incredible! Antoine Clamaran was just coming on in the Main Room during my first walkabout, as Michael Kaiser spun up in the Alternator Room. Michael's music wasn't really my thing and anyways, I really wanted to check out Antoine's set after Shel's great review of his TiL appearance, so the main room was where it was at for me for the next two hours. It was incredible, the sounds, the colours, 10,000 of my closest friends. You often hear about how bad the sound is at stadium events but the audio guys really had this place nailed down. There was less bass and more echo outside of the speaker towers that ringed the stadium floor (i.e. at the many bar areas and chill out seats), but within those towers the audio was perfect. The highs didn't echo and do that 'seashell distortion thing' in your ears, the bass moved you, and the mid-range was nice and crisp. The visuals were incredible. In addition to the standard arrays of vari-lights, there were fixed rectangular 'flood lights' everywhere that slid through the full spectrum of colours, with high intensity purples and ultramarines clear enough to make a grown man weep. There were lasers abound and a large video screen behind the DJ with trippy electro lightning arc graphics to go with the Powertrip theme and that also showed the DJ's name from time to time. Nice.

The center stage was huge and had about twenty gogo dancers on it who would mostly ad-lib but also did some choreographed numbers in between, as well as a number of full production theatrical shows to break up the evening. I wish I could say what Antoine was spinning but I didn't recognize any of it and didn't take any 'track id' notes either, I was just so completely immersed in the experience. Only one minor bad, I braved the car wash crew to dance right by the booth for a while, but to my great disappointment no-one else in front of the booth was dancing. They just crushed in and stood there, or plowed their way from point a to point b. I'd really like to have got my freak on in there, but there just wasn't any space that stayed put. No matter, bouncing my way out to the other three sides of the main stage there was plenty of room and plenty of dancing. Gays, straights, costume ballers, club gear, fetish gear; there was everything and everyone here and they all had massive smiles on their faces and were digging the vibe. It was probably the most life affirming thing I've done since parachuting all those years ago. Man, just really fucking incredible.


I took a little break from the crowd to just sit back in the chill out seats and drink it all in, then Sheldon found me to take me to the Alternator Room for Gabriel and Dresden. What to say about the Alternator Room? You go down another dark curving stadium hallway lit with those mondo-cool police lights, then around a sharp corner to enter into this big box warehouse space about the size of Koolhaus. If you picture it from above as a Canadian flag, the maple leaf area is a raised stage in the middle, the booth is top centre and the red end boxes are chillout seats surrounded by forests of 10' truss segments standing vertically for no particular reason. The booth is surrounded by what look like electrical cables strung from giant insulator cones, like a giant transformer in a power station at Niagara Falls. Uber cool! Back to the flag analogy, the borders between the red and white panels have triple video screens hanging from the ceiling with the power trip graphics and DJ names going by, as well as showing mood graphics composed live by some guy working banks of computers to the right of the booth. Sometimes you could just lose yourself watching those screens as landscapes flew by, or sun spots grew up, morphed, flared and died before your eyes, all set to the pulsing music.

Gabriel and Dresden themselves? Incredible! And I'm glad I let Sheldon drag me out to them for a musical education. I was so blown away that I started taking notes because I knew I wanted to capture this stuff in a review. I'm happy to report that they hit us particularly hard, and was especially thrilled when they threw down Columbian Soul, a track that I've wanted to dance to since first hearing it on Anthony Pryce' Four Fifty Four (Blue) set. Beatport says they have their own remix, that was probably the one they used. These guys were the gods of the remix in fact, taking out vintage tunes that stood the test of time perfectly well in their own right; then turning them into new found gold in a house-ish vein. Depeche Mode - Here is the House, The Police - Little Black Spot, Theme from Brokeback Mountain, Dust in the Wind. They had it all and made it all spectacular!

And hats off again to the organizers, even in the Alternator Room we were treated to some extra spectacle. Dominic Lacasse is an amazing acrobat who does incredible stuff on the rings:

Although we'd shown up as a group I pretty much did my own thing at Black & Blue, and for Gabriel and Dresden that meant dancing right smack dab front-and-centre of the booth for almost their entire set. Friends came and friends went but my place was there by the booth, being schooled in the ways of House. I think it was right towards the end of their set when I finally let Sheldon pull me away to chill in the restaurant for a bit before heading back to the main room for Mark Anthony. I can't really say anything bad about Mark Anthony, but after my intense dance sessions to Antoine Clamaran and then Gabriel and Dresden I was feeling a lot more chill, and his set remained basically anonymous to me. It couldn't have been bad though, or I would have remembered that. I also bounced back to the Alternator Room for Misstress Barbara, but my overall euphoria was wearing off (and sickness was kicking in, ugh, that part of the evening sucked!) and I also don't remember much of her set, though I had a really good time chilling out to the spots on the video screens for a while... ("Who's agitating my dots?!")

I spent a good amount of time in the chill out seats after that, just trying to relax and do some 'mind over matter' things in my head to soothe my stomach down again. That was actually a bit of a blessing because it also gave me some great introspective moments. Leaning back and looking up again at that graceful concrete arch, I suddenly felt connected in time and space to 1976 and could just feel the history, the presence of thousands of people from all different nations and cultures of the world, brought to one place and time to celebrate human achievement. Yep, it was pretty mystical... I wonder if anyone else who was there that night felt it? I phased back in again for D-Formation's set and they also did a really good job of keeping the energy up while maintaining a smooth and all-encompassing vibe. I was still in a bit of a chill mood though, and just sat back to film it for a while. (Sorry, the visuals are great but my phone really over-compresses the audio, just mute it and watch das pretty blinkenlights...)

As time wore on and stuff wore off, the long drive from the day before was catching up to me and it was getting time to go. Sara was feeling it too and found me to ask if I'd be leaving soon, so we said our goodbyes to those we could find and taxi'd it back to the hotel. That was a bit of an adventure as the cab driver couldn't figure out where we were trying to go (you'd think given a hotel and a street name he'd have a clue, but nope, not this guy!), and I tried to tell him which cross street but kept saying Sherbourne instead of Sherbrooke (damned Toronto streets floating around in my head!) We finally got it sorted though and the ride back only cost a buck or three more than the ride down, so he didn't do too badly. It seems that we'd all decided it was time to go around about that same time, because I think we were only at the hotel for about fifteen minutes when the whole group was together again. We'd had the gracious offer from the girls to crash there but nine of us in one room was really too much, so I headed to the lobby to snag another one. Unfortunately the six hour rental rate wasn't much different from a full overnight, but fuck it, you need what you need when you need it... this way everyone got to have a shower and their own bit of space. Sheldon, Lea and Johnny were quickly off on their drive home, but Tina, Dusan and I needed some sleep. At least the two of them managed to actually get some; after all that illness and tiredness that I was feeling, in the end I never did actually fall asleep. Around 3:30 I gave up trying and we collected ourselves for the long drive home. We ran into some nasty rain and nastier traffic, but made it into to TO by 11:00, and I finally crashed in my own bed somewhere around midnight.

Let me just tell you all again; what a great adventure! It feels weird to call a party life-changing, but it felt that way at the time and I guess it still kind of does. The setting, the scale, the mix of so many different types of people all coming together to party, and the overwhelming thrill of drinking it all in. The whole thing was just -- wow! I'm so glad I went (though I had to ditch the family at thanksgiving, ouch!) and can't wait to go again next year. And this time I'm dragging the rest of you fuckers all with me! This is just something that everyone needs to do for themselves at least once.

Also, let me just say to the folks of Montreal, thank you! I was so moved by the feelings that overwhelmed me in that stadium that I did a bunch of googling about it the next day, and was sad to read that many Montrealers feel like the place is an embarrassment because of the problems with the roof and the fact that it took so long to pay off. (Thirty years, they just squared up last year!) Some of them even want the place torn down because they say the world is laughing at them for it. Let me just tell you folks that it's all in your mind! Nobody who has actually been there could possibly laugh at you, that stadium is something truly special and you guys are lucky to have it. It's not just another sports stadium, it's something epic that reaches out to you from across time and space, connecting you to the rest of the world. Keep it, treasure it, love it... because it damned well better be there when I come back!


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