Counting down to 2012 at the revival of MuchMusic’s one-night-only dance party.
Ten… It’s 9:30 p.m., on the dot, thirty minutes to air. For the first time in 2011, I’m punctual, managing to make the call time for my access into Electric Circus (EC) at the MuchMusic building on Queen Street. Or rather, its shiny reboot that’s been brought back this New Year’s Eve for just one more installment. We’re escorted past the growing crowd of spectators outside, here to watch through the glass because, duh, we live in Canada and no way they’re opening that up. Already forming are two distinct camps of people: walking headsets and tube dresses. I bypass the main studio; it’s mostly empty with a few people actually…um, rehearsing? We’re taken to the upper deck that will house the Much/MTV personnel, and other people like me, who are here but not allowed to be on camera. Really, it’s just a space between the DJ booth and the control booth. I was told via e-mail to imagine it like a “booth in a club” when I asked for clarification on the vague-ish holding pen. So here we are.
Nine… Electric Circus is a cultural institution, despite how lame you want to think it is (because that’s all anyone feels about anything these days). I mean, hands up if you’ve ever wanted to witness the spectacle back in the day? When EC first aired in 1988, Monika Deol was the host. Deol represented a strong blend of journalism and cultural cachet, and, as a woman of colour, represented the very real diversity growing within the city. In many ways, I’d consider her even more hardcore than the original VJs who made you love music television before it became increasingly difficult to believe in it.
Eight… Fifteen minutes to air. I’m led into the “green room” where all the dancers have been primping and pre-drinking. The idea, as far as I can tell, is to have a good, but wholesome, time. There’s no hard liquor being served, just beer and wine. Despite the younger demographic of the crowd, no Jägerbombs allowed. I’m guessing the producers are opting to make people feel loose enough without losing their lunch. It’s a beautifully-lit space, and by that I mean it’s totally fluorescent lighting that allows me to see the creatures who will be providing Canada’s entertainment—in some form or another—for the night. They’ve all auditioned to be here, and they’re all of legal age, so my expectations for the show—good or so-bad-it’s-good—are high either way.
Seven… The energy is infectious now, and it appears that everyone arrived promptly because, as one girl told me, “No way in hell I’d miss this chance.” I don’t think there’s anyone over 25 here. There’s a hi-lo mix, fashion-wise: boys in mesh tank tops and three-piece suits and bow ties and blazers offset girls in complete vinyl whatever-she’s-wearing. There’s lamé everything, yet none of it looks American Apparel. But whatever, this is EC—the last thing you could hope for is convention. It’s like every eager ego went traveling deep into the racks at the Black Market to find the worst of the best of the ’90s—and I’ll gladly grab a spoon for seconds. Everyone just wants to have a good time, despite how quiet and shy and nervous they look—and I can dig it.
Six… It’s 10 p.m., and it’s show time. All 250 dancers are herded into the main studio for the live-to-air portion as the producers yell out things like, “Are you ready for Electric Cirrrrrcussss?” (In Internet-speak, add several question marks to that.) But who are all these kids? I don’t smell too much 905, it’s more like those true city rats who might have even come down to the windows back in the day, because why hang out at a friend’s house when you’re a downtown kid? But still, most of these people are probs from the Rainbow Sun Francks/Amanda Walsh/Bradford How/Rick the Temp era. Some of them still have the baby face, others dance like they’ve been training their entire lives for the centre stage platform, and some even think this might be their big break! Me? I yell out, “Monika Deol!” and no one flinches.
Five… We’re halfway there. And it’s looking a lot more like that episode of Friends when Ross and Monica dance on Dick Clark’s NYE thing. I swear people are even plotting to find some way to do their own version of “The Routine.” But they’ll be put to shame anyway, when dance crews battle it out live for a chance at $5,000 from 5 Gum. (Side note: The crews were fun.)
Four… Juliette Powell took over hosting duties in the mid-90s, and EC entered its “golden era” that led people like me into our teens. It underwent a redesign, acquired the theme song that became its own mini-hit on a MuchDance compilation (“Hang on, here we go!”). It was a multi-camera program, with larger audiences across the country and into the US, a even had a French version with a similar format broadcast out of even clubbier downtown Montreal. I don’t think people remember (or care to remember), but EC was a big deal—a real deal. The show championed a lot of the dance music that wouldn’t air otherwise, and provided a platform for obscure global artists—and their genres—that didn’t have access to budgets for music videos, much less a YouTube account. The Internet barely existed at all, and I remember Powell sauntering over to a bulky-ass monitor in her platform boots to take requests and shout-outs from viewers at home in chat rooms (!). This was also the era when I wanted to go to EC at Canada’s Wonderland, selling out to the tune of 40,000 people with headline acts like Brandy and Ma$e (Uh huh, “Top of The World” was a favourite.) Yeah—you’re remembering a little more right? So, again, I’ll ask: Not even a little part of you wanted to see what it was like?
Three… The camera loves them all. From the monitor, I can see a sea of satin/velveteen shirts, too-sequined dresses, fur accents. It’s like everyone’s dressing for their favourite street style blog—and that’s okay, right? The lights, the sounds, Much VJ Liz Trinnear’s three or four outfit changes. There’s a girl with wine in her purse, a teenager asking me to dance, a security guard looking so cute and miserable. Overalls, backpacks. “No time to stop dancing or moving because the cameras are everywhere,” they keep repeating. RapCity’s Tyrone “T-RexXx” Edwards is co-hosting, if I haven’t mentioned that yet, and he’s just my favourite guy ever. Watching a girl attempt to dance in her Jeffery Campbell Lita heels never gets old.
Two… Starting in the late ’90s and into the new millennium, Electric Circus underwent another subtle shift in demographic and structure. Powell was on her way out, succeeded by Nadine Ramkisson, a former featured dancer who can easily be considered the show’s last great host. By this point, as with so much in new media, the focus shifted to celebrity and more mainstream music began to hit the playlist. During this NYE special, a flashback video montage is aired with performances by a young Britney, ‘N Sync, Diddy (or whatever he was called then). It’s interesting, yes, to see the shift in popular music—the need for a program like EC to showcase niche dance music is almost obsolete since genres melt into each other without regret. Tonight, almost ten years since the show’s last official and important installment in 2003 (aside from a tragic attempt in 2006), DJ Grandtheft spins Drake, Lil Wayne, now-old Britney’s “I Wanna Go,” some Rihanna, that annoying new Flo Rida song. It’s like the Much Countdown (that still exists, right?) personified, a chart the “old EC” seldom imitated. At least Grandtheft opened the night with “Rhythm is a Dancer.” Am I right?
One… We’re all wearing party hats, and everyone cheers. Here’s hoping this isn’t the end-end for EC, and that a new generation will be able to accept it for what it is, and you and I can still love it for what it was. Happy New Year indeed.