In a massive house somewhere in Toronto, Holly Knowlman and her group of housemates are reinventing the magical art of the house party.
Crashing house parties and glowing in the dark. That’s what I did on the weekend. And—in the words of my lovely hosts—summer is, like, zero per cent over, so it’s time to detour into that mode where you do other shit besides stand and bop from one corner of a bar to the next, where everything’s too loud and everyone’s too (self-)conscious.
And if you’re willing to break out of bar-hibernation, there’s a chance you’ll be lucky enough to meet Holly Knowlman. When you talk to her, you get the sense that she doesn’t belong to us. Her sharp-as-a-hook English accent aside, she’s merely on loan from somewhere different, maybe somewhere better (it is Europe after all), but she sees Toronto through fresh eyes, with that hope some of us don’t have, and that excitement some of us have lost.
Tonight, Knowlman and her six housemates are throwing one of their recently-legendary house parties. It’s themed, and the multi-multi-storey maze of a house is on offer to wander around and/or worship. In the spirit of respecting some semblance of privacy, I’ll refrain from giving any concrete details about where this old-world mansion actually is, or what the party was called. (And yet, if you have any sort of Google sensibility, it’s game on. Plus, as we’ve seen, if you want something bad enough, FOMO will make sure you find it.) But the intention isn’t so much “secretive” as it is a pleasant surprise, kind of like the way you can stumble through a wardrobe into Narnia. There’s a Facebook event page that’s totally public, and the house has its own “Like”-able page as well.
The effort is what makes it interesting, and what makes it special. Tonight’s theme centres around “alternative light sources.” The directives are: “From sundown, we’re saying NO to traditional power sources and YES to alternative lighting. We’ll be turning off all the lights and asking partygoers to get creative with their own light sources.” That means: bike lights, reflective clothing, head torches, LED lights, rave wear, etc. etc. Knowlman and her housemates throw these parties from time to time, and have grown into the habit of opening up their home to friends of friends of friends of strangers. And each, she says, has become more elaborate than the last. (Previously, in February, the group resurrected the 1920s and turned Knowlman’s bedroom into a speakeasy, with a peephole in the door so everyone had to knock in and out.) For this instalment, the group cleared out the local dollar store and locked all the important shit in one room. There are balloons with lights inside them (don’t ask me how), the stairs are lined with glow sticks, and some “installations” verge on sheer art. It’s like Project X meets that one scene in Miss Congeniality where they go clubbing in dayglo body paint. What was in that test tube I just drank?
That’s why we love house parties—especially during the first warm weekend when you can wear jorts and burn jackets. You can pop in and not worry about anyone else’s rules, indignations, and binge drinking fuckery. If you’re walking by, come on in. If you see it on Facebook and a mutual friend is going, tag the fuck along. It’s a lax, and communal environment: BYOB, and donate to the fun if you want. House parties that veer on college keggers inspired by the Greek alphabet bridge the gap between any sort of neighbourhood-defined social stratum; it’s a blank canvas, it’s Switzerland for the night. There are people here who wouldn’t accompany you for drinks at the Gladstone, nor would you follow them to do whatever at Velvet Underground. But you’re here together, talking. And you totally scored your broken-hearted friend a date.
Knowlman is one-half of Tegan & Holly, a new-on-the-scene Brit/Canadian duo that can only be described as, in their own words, “two awesome chicks with a habit of throwing amazing parties.” Their track record is modest, but they’ve got a good support system behind them, so these massive house parties are like training camp. It’s a logical progression for the budding social starlets; the Mansion crew (who celebrate their third anniversary this Friday) and the philanthropic Dudebox collective are just two examples of how the city’s current best parties began with people doing stuff out of their home base. At the beginning of next month, the girls will get one step closer to their official arrival with the second edition of their #SEQUELSERIES parties, a “three-part concept party fusing films, bands and beats” (the first was based on Grease 2) at Cinecycle, down an alley off Spadina, arguably its own best-kept secret. As for the next big house party: “We’re thinking a ‘reggae BBQ’ with loads of jerk chicken and stuff like that. Maybe in a month or two.”
But for tonight, it’s a blend of live music out back courtesy of Diamond Dogs, and a set from the ridiculously, notoriously, could-this-be-any-better HotKid, one of last year’s most buzzed about acts at NXNE. (The proof: vocalist/guitarist Shiloh Harrison stealing all the bros’ hearts with each chord/note.) Inside, under a chandelier made of who-knows-what-or-how, local favourite DJ Ben Cormier (wearing a hardhat with track lights) spun all the best of all the rage right now: Italo-disco and synth-pop. And the cops showed up, of course. And no one minds, and we keep dancing, and talking, and smoking indoors, wearing glow bracelets and finger lights like it’s 1998.
If bars are the blood of the nocturnal, and the streets are the veins, then house parties are the heart—where it all begins. Where it all began.
On June 1, Tegan & Holly present Back To The Future 2 at Cinecycle (in the old coach house down the lane behind 129 Spadina Ave., #ENT), a party that bigs up the one and only Marty McFly featuring The Lazy DJs and Ben Cormier. Find out more here.