EDITORIAL: There’s No Place Like Zone 1996-2017

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As soon as I entered Comfort Zone for the first time I knew I had found my Studio 54. Sure, it didn’t have all the glitz and glamour – actually it had none – but what it did have was amazing! The music played there was unlike anything you would hear at any regular nightclub; it hosted the best in local and international talent. There were no music rules which is why I feel so many DJs wanted to play there. Regulars went there to dance, and loved it so much because they were free to be themselves.

CZ was dark, damp, dingy, dirty, and to some even downright creepy, but to me CZ was my music wonderland. There was no other place I wanted to be on any given Sunday. There’s no place like Zone.

Comfort Zone was located at 480 Spadina Avenue, and its new location is at 327 King Street, in the same building as Z-Teca Gourmet Burritos. CZ was located in the basement below the famous blues bar The Silver Dollar Room, which also recently shut it doors. However, stipulations set down by the Ontario Municipal Board state when the site is redeveloped, the space must be rebuilt as the Silver Dollar Room with the original exterior sign and other heritage elements used. The site development agreement also stipulates that the room must include a set-up for live music. According to Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, the agreement stipulates the space can only be used for commercial entertainment purposes.

Comfort Zone, CZ, Zone, or CZurch to those who frequented the infamous after-hours club, has been around for 21 years. Before it was Comfort Zone, it was called Buzz, and before that, it was a strip club which featured different rooms to titillate one’s fantasies. It can be said that the space most recently known as CZ has been a delightful and wicked playground for adults for virtually all of its existence.

If Zone’s walls could talk, their stories would put any story you have ever heard or watched on any realty TV show to shame. These stories are full of the seven deadly sins, yet also include love, kindness, compassion, and peace. In Canada’s electronic dance music (EDM) scene there is no other venue that can compare to the niche Comfort Zone carved out for itself.

CZ was the type of place you would never tell your mother you went to. Yet, it was the friendliest, most welcoming, and most spiritual place you may have ever gone to in your life. Comfort Zone was a journey every time. It wasn’t a regular club night. Many regulars didn’t even go out the night before; they would set their alarms for four or 5AM, wake up and enter the deep, dark, depths of the city’s most well-known in-tuned venue.


CZ never cared what skin colour you had, what your religion was, what your sexual orientation was, what income you had, where you lived, what you did for a living. No one cared because once you went down the stairs, walked past the coat check, and turned left and entered the Zone, we were all the same.

P.L.U.R. was in full effect and as some advised if you didn’t know what that meant then Zone wasn’t for you. The most memorable and popular Sunday sets served up were DJ Addy’s musical “Continental Breakfast” and Deko-ze’s “Sunday MASS”.

I am proud to say I worked at CZ from 2005 to 2012 as a host and promoter of the long weekend Come Get Your F*ckin’ Beats parties, New Year’s Day, Halloween, and the Pride parties. I scheduled and posted the set times online. I booked talent, some of whom had their first taste of fame on the Zone decks – such as Nathan Barato and D-Unity. I handled customer and media relations, contests, and promotions. I was the only person allowed in with a TV crew to enter the depths of Comfort Zone and shoot footage for a special “bpm:tv Presents After-Hours” that I hosted and co-produced on the former bpm:tv specialty channel.

My journey through the years of Comfort Zone allowed me to find myself and helped me to realize that I can be free to be who I am. I met some of my best friends there, people I am still friends with today. I found love with the well-respected and appreciated bouncer, Glenn, who was the love of my life. I learned a lot about the music business, how to successfully produce events, and about life. I am happy to have been part of Toronto’s music history that will never be repeated.

In order for the essence of Comfort Zone to shine through I decided to let a few of the DJs and patrons share their stories, in their own words.

Kathryn Morrison – The Cox Experience

“I was at the Silver Dollar, the spot where everyone went to hear a different DJ than who was playing at the Comfort Zone downstairs. I was feeling fantastic and therefore felt everyone should experience the same joy. As I was dancing I saw this big man in a trench coat sitting alone at the bar with a beer placed in front of him. He appeared to be older and not interested in anyone else or anything that was going on.

I walked up to him ignoring all my friends cautioning words telling me it was a bad idea. As I approached this magnificent sized black man hovering over his pint I bravely said to him, “Don’t be sad, the music is amazing! The DJ is great! I really think you’d feel better if you were dancing and you should since you’re here. Music is the answer after all!” The man turned to me, stood up towering over me and looked down at me as his face broke out into a huge smile. It was at this point I realized what I had just done. This is Carl Cox! I had just chastised one of the legends of house music. I swear there must have been a look of horror and regret on my face the minute I understood who I had just said this to. As he looked at me his face broke out into a huge grin and he said, ‘You’re completely right, I was just a bit tired. Most people would never dare do what you just did because of who I am. Thank you, you’re right. Never stop loving it as much as you do right now’.  I apologized and walked away stunned.”

DJ/Producer Deko-ze (1998 – present)

“The Comfort Zone is responsible for Toronto’s after-hours culture. Period. Many clubs have come and gone over the years but Comfort Zone was Toronto’s longest running after-hours, and it was one place, no matter where I go in the world, someone brings up “The Zone” in reverential tones. Industry was one of the few long lasting venues that went into the wee hours, had a complete mix of straight, gay, black, white and everyone in between and killer music every single week. Comfort Zone’s sole focus was on the after-hours culture and has forever shaped and moulded it into what we have today.

It was also one of the early home and adopters of tech-house and techno – which helped some of the Toronto’s talent: Paranoid Jack, Greg Gow, Sydney Blu, Kenny Glasgow, Nathan Barato, The Junkies and Carlo Lio to name a few step onto the international stage.

There was nothing “nice” about Zone and that was part of its charm. It didn’t need bright overpowering lights.  It didn’t need lush decor. It didn’t need flashy LCD TVs. Several tall people (and people jumping) bumped their heads on the low ceilings, yet its height was perfect for funnelling that bass so it pummelled you in the chest.

Most of all it was important because you could be yourself there. Being an openly gay black fella has never been an issue there. I loved seeing people of all sizes, shapes and colours integrated into the Zone fabric.

Was there shady stuff going on? What’s good grungy dirty nightlife without a little air of mischief?”

Mike MacCowan – That time

“That time when Steve Lawler showed up unannounced and spun!”

DJ Matt C – 1995 – 2002

“Way back in 1994 after attending the Billboard Music Conference in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of visiting a nightclub that was a mainstay of the San Francisco dance scene called The EndUp. Needless to say- this is where people would end up after the clubs. I came back to Toronto and together with Ben Ferguson, Ronnie Ferszt, Gavin Gerbz, James Applegath, and Nnamdi Gryphon. We formed a company and went searching for a venue to bring the idea behind The EndUp to Toronto. That space was at 480 Spadina Avenue; it became Buzz and then The Comfort Zone for 21 years.

When we first opened Buzz, we would open at midnight on a Saturday night and stay open until 8PM Sunday evening….After running the space ragged for two years we started to look for a new venue which is when we came across Industry. We left Buzz one week and opened Industry the next. The week after we left Buzz, Dave (current owner of CZ) took over the space and The Comfort Zone was born.

I DJed there for seven years until 2002, and I was honoured to have played the closing party. It has almost been 14 years since I’ve been in that building!”

DJ/Producer/ MC Flipside

“What can I say about CZ? As one of their long time residents and party-goers – it holds a dear place in my heart. Comfort Zone was one of the first residencies I held as a DJ at a time when most ravers knew me for my voice – the founder of Devine Sundays. Amanda Young allowed me to hone my skills on the decks, and the atmosphere at that time at CZ was really inspiring. The warehouse, gay, and rave scene would intersect and provide critical lessons that sharpened many a DJ’s programming skills! The mornings there were surreal!

My favourite short story from Zone was me dancing on the main floor while Ivan Drago (Rocky) a.k.a. Dolf Lundgren was rushing to the beats; very, very awesome!”

Corey C Ouellet – Happy Zoner

“My most memorable night at Comfort Zone was the first time I ever went there. I remember being excited but at the same time wondering, “Where the hell am I?” I went there alone to shake my ass to some sick beats. I thought I knew no one… but from atop a speaker shouted an unfamiliar girl. “Oh my God! Is that Corey from Stereo?” — So much for being incognito. She jumped down and introduced herself and thanked me for a time I helped her experience Stereo for the first time…She asked if I was in town for the Scenester Magazine launch… to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it yet. So she took me to the bar and while writing down her details I met Miss Raquel Richards who was coincidentally standing right behind me. It was a brilliant moment in CZ history engrained in my mind forever!”

 Alex Rocha – Happy “Spiritual” Zoner

“The one that comes to mind was around Christmas 2004/2005. The vibe was extra amazing that night! Addy was killing it on three decks. What a set! What a night! It was extra dark that night and the fan had toilet paper stuck on it, spinning about, round and round. Only vet Zoners will understand that. Another time I was there, I found a bible in the VIP room missing some pages.”

 Charles PaviaParty Fairy Godfather

“I can’t exactly remember the first time I went to CZ – it was sometime in 2001 or 2002. I was brought by a boy who I had a huge crush on at the time. He was a couple years older and I was mesmerized by his fluidity when he danced – it was, perhaps, an earlier precursor to “shuffling”. After we danced at Fly and the club closed this cute boy told me we going to a club that went later and he and his roommate and I were going.

We paid the extra $20 each to by-pass the line (yes they did that back then too!) to a Hell’s Angels biker type – whose bike was parked on the sidewalk near the entrance, I got patted down and I paid the person in the little cubbyhole directly down the stairs and we entered the club. As I turned the corner I felt a thick band of heat hit me in the face like I’d never felt before. I felt unsafe and kept my back to the wall the entire time I was there (I continued to do this for many more months when I went). We found the large fan in front of the Silver Dollar stairway and that soon became our home base. There were only a handful of gays that went at that time – most saying they had heard the place was “too sketchy”. I’m proud to have been one of the people that has commandeered a shift in thinking in that regard and helped bring all the boys to the yard.

In those days I had no idea who was playing, except I could always see one black DJ who sweated a lot and really grooved and bounced to the music as he played (sometimes even skipping the vinyl – though it was usually some idiot on stage bumping into the set up that skipped the records). That black DJ was Deko-ze. I’m happy to now call him a friend.

The friend that brought me – the one I had that huge crush on – the reason I ever went to CZ for the first time – passed away at a cottage a group of us were at some months after we first started going to CZ. We don’t know the exact cause – his family was super homophobic and never let any of his friends (his chosen family) know what the toxicology report said. I tried mouth to mouth – unsuccessfully – and had to call 911. It was devastating. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the cause of death was. That death helped me grow my worldview and has taught me to respect life and make decisions wisely. I try to pass this info on – especially when it comes to substances – to others as I meet them. It has sort of made me into a Party Fairy Godfather.

Anonymous – No Longer Skeptical

“My first time at CZ was Pride 2016 with a couple friends and my boyfriend. It was the first real house/technology/EDM thing I had ever been to and I was nervous as fuck! I remember Deko-ze was slated to come on around 5AM or so and my friend Andy kept telling me to, ‘Wait for Deko-ze, all the swaying zombies are going to wake up and the entire energy in here is going to change, just wait!’ I was sceptical because in my head dance music is dance music is dance music.

Then Deko-ze came on and in those moments that followed I began to understand. The energy shifted, the room was electric. Nothing mattered except the sound and my body. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Deko-ze up there going hard as f*ck! Between the music and his demeanour he was literally fuelling me. Fuelling me in this dark dingy basement, in a room full of strangers with whom mere minutes earlier I had shared nothing. Now we shared this; this music, this energy, this escape, this bliss.

That night changed my outlook on me and the world, it sounds hyperbolic but it’s the truth. Sharing a little tiny rock with seven billion other people, in an incomprehensibly massive universe can leave an individual feeling disconnected and lonely. I’ve felt that way myself. Now, when I’m in the middle of a packed subway with my headphones on and my favourite tracks blasting, I know other people in other places are doing the same thing. When you’re at CZ you’re never in a room full of sweaty strangers, even if that’s how it appears at first glance. You’re with a community, embracing life in a way that feels true.

CZ taught me that you can share an intimacy with strangers halfway around the globe you’ll never meet. During the day we work and we commute and we pay bills, but come the weekend we chase the sunrise and dance away our consciousness. Together we chase those moments of ecstasy where the world falls away and all that’s left is us and the music.”

DJ Ticky Ty

“I’ve spent my entire adult life dancing between these walls. This place has been somewhere that has saved me, broken me, and brought me back to life more times than I can count. Dancing is something that makes me the absolute happiest and feel the most connected with the world, and this place has allowed me to do that without judgement or hesitation. Free to let go and move in your own space whatever and wherever that may be. It’s a place to release your fears and come face-to-face with your own reality whether you like it or not. The energy, escape, and connection. I’m grateful to have been able to experience a place like this in my lifetime. For better or worse CZurch has been a pivotal place point in my life. Thank you to the DJs, staff, management, and most of all the dancers and characters who have helped shaped our little warped ecosystem underground world into #TheresNoPlaceLikeZone”.

Shirley Almeida – Veteran Zoner

“Someone had busted the sprinkler pipes which ran from the front entrance down the hallway. The water flushed out like a waterfall into the club. Water started to rise upon the dancefloor. I remember it reached to my ankles. You think that stopped the party? Nope! We all kept dancing and having a great vibe until we got moved upstairs to the Silver Dollar.

DJ Addy came on the mic and said, “Welcome to the CZ continental swimming pool!” Moments like those is what made me fall in love with CZ. Our carefree attitude made the best of (any) situation and we just had fun. Something we forget in our everyday lives. I’ve met so many amazing people over the years. Some sad to say I probably would never have spoken to in the streets due to my upbringing. For 18 years it was my playground to meet new people and dance; great staff and vibes.”

DJ Jay Force

“There are so many memories at Zone. There have been some weird, wild and crazy stories, some I think are better left unsaid. That’s just how Zone is.. better left in the dark. However, I will never forget (my) times at Zone because (it) played such a great role in (my) career and in my life in general.

The first one would be before I started playing there back in 2003 I think. My friends and I would go every week after I finished playing at Film. Back then I used to bring my CDJ player every week with me to Film.

So we are at Zone and of course Deko-ze is crushing it as always. Suddenly the CDJ stopped working and someone (can’t remember who) asked me if they could use the one I had in my car. So obviously I was like “OMG! Yes! Of course!” I ran to my car, got the CDJ and boom! (I) kinda saved the day! It was epic!

The following week I get a call from JJ and Jenn (Double J Entertainment Film Lounge promoters) saying that Deko-ze called them and said ‘Jay Force needs to get a spot in Zone’. Just because I helped him out, I got to play Zone for the first time not long after, and the rest is history. I’ve never looked back since. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Thank you Michael for giving me that chance.

The second one would have to be after about a year or two being a resident at CZ. After playing Film, and then going to play Zone, I started chatting up this girl who I knew through our mutual friends. Found out we lived close by so I said, “Well maybe we should go get a coffee or something, sometime?” Well, she didn’t hear me and left! I was like, “OK cool.” A year goes by and we ended up meeting up because she wanted a CD (haven’t heard that one before). To make a long story short, 10 years later she’s now my fiancée.

The moral of the story here is that without Comfort Zone I don’t even know where I would be right now. I’ve spent the last 13, almost 14 years there and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been a great ride and I am truly blessed that I got to grow as an artist and as a DJ in that space. I made friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. It’s been everything that I could ever ask for. Writing this has made me sad to see it go. Thank you CZ for the memories, and thank you to all the fans, the friends, supporters and fellow DJs who played a part in my career at Zone.”

There will be no place like Zone. That environment cannot be replicated because it happened organically. The acoustics were raw and the vibe was natural. Here’s to CZ 2.0, starting a new musical journey when it opens its new doors at 327 King Street on Friday June 2nd when it will also feature longer hours and be fully licensed.

Eireann – The Last Dance

Sunday, May 28th, 2017 was Comfort Zone’s last day. Eireann recalls her final curtain call, “It closed at 2PM and the lights came on. Michael (Deko-ze) kept playing until almost 3PM. Not a soul left the dance floor in all of the time that we were dancing with the lights on. Security was in the booth filming and taking pictures. Michael played Michael JacksonBillie Jean (I think it was the Fab Strong remix) at about 1:30PM. I started bawling. I’ve been teary ever since. It was all so special. Amazing! It had to be him to close. Everyone kept saying that: It had to Deko-ze.”

You can watch the very last dance with Deko-ze at Comfort Zone in the video below, courtesy of Sean Star.

 

 

 

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About Author

Miss Raquel is referred to as Toronto's “Queen of the Dancefloor”. She is the Host/Producer of The Miss Raquel Show, Founder of Scenester Magazine and Channel, and writes a blog called “Poppycock!” on gayguidetoronto.com. She’s well-known for being the beloved VJ for electronica on the now closed bpm:tv channel. She is a staple host of the Toronto Pride stages including World Pride 2014. Lawrence Chau of Toronto’s Metro News wrote, "She’s been crowned Toronto’s Paris Hilton of club culture, but unlike the hotel heiress, our blond scene-stirrer… actually works". She’s interviewed many international and local DJs and producers which has made her one of the most notable and respected interviewers in Canada’s EDM scene.

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