The Electro Swing Club is a dance night dynasty of modern-age fun with a vintage feel. Two of its Canadian editions are gearing up for a roaring battle royale this Friday at a waterfront speakeasy.
There’s about to be a showdown between two ports, set against a backdrop of flappers and top hats and a soundtrack of EDM. Born in London in 2009 by Nick Hollywood and the record label Freshly Squeezed Music, the Electro Swing Club can be succinctly explained in one sentence: “Incorporating the classic sounds of the first Great Depression with the cutting edge technology of the second.” But it’s so much more than that: It’s part costume party, part burlesque show, part dance jam. It’s legitimately—and effectively—nostalgic for the ’20s-to-’40s jazz/swing era. It’s about time-traveling—a marriage of the uncertain past with an uncertain future, where you do your best Mary Pickford or Al Capone and drink like Prohibition never happened. More importantly, it’s dead serious in its goal: to play out not only as a period piece, but as a well-designed fusion of musical styles.
As a true modern reflection of the speakeasy culture that “electro swing” emulates, the genre began to develop a following over the internet rather than the club scene. My first listening encounter goes back as early as 2009, when I fell for “Why Don’t You”, a track by Serbian DJ Gramophonedzie that sampled Peggy Lee’s 1947 record “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, which itself is a cover of a song from 1936. Gramophonedzie’s version landed at number one on the UK dance charts in 2010, and—in the grand millennial tradition of tributes to yesteryear—yet another sub-trend went viral. Of course, there were others before him, but the music-buying public didn’t know who or what to call any of it. Electro swing soon became the club complement to the Prohibition era’s recent pop-culture boom, which includes everything from Boardwalk Empire to the resurgence of the almost lost-to-porn art form known as burlesque.
Since the inception of Electro Swing Club, the brand has spawned incarnations in cities the world over, from Paris to Tokyo, Berlin to Turin. There’s also a Vancouver edition that launched in August 2011. Last April, Euan Lampitt—along with DJs Richard Medicineman, Foxtrot Holmes, and Jay Tripper—inaugurated an official Toronto jam at The Gladstone Hotel, which featured the DJs, a 10-piece horn band and a striptease by Esther De Ville.
Each 416 edition has grown stronger and louder, with more performances and partnerships with Toronto clothing stores/treasure chests/time capsules Cabaret Vintage and Kingpins Hideaway. Most recently, swing/hip-hop MC/DJ duo (and the newest pioneers of the genre’s continual fusion) The Correspondents—who’ve played to critical praise at Glastonbury two years in a row—were set to perform at the last Toronto instalment, but unforeseen circumstances kept them from crossing the Atlantic.
This all brings us to this Friday’s Porch Swing, an outdoor, waterfront swing-off between our beloved Toronto edition and Montreal’s own Speakeasy Electro Swing, born out of a loft in the summer of 2010 by DJ Eliazar before moving to La Sala Rossa on St. Laurent every month. Both will perform, although we’ll have the home court advantage (even if that doesn’t seem to help any of our sports teams). From Toronto, Medicineman will spin with the support of Foxtrot Holmes and Amanda Raygun. DJ Eliazar is bringing his co-conspirators Don Mescal and DJ Khalil.
After a brief sojourn in Montreal earlier this month, I’ve concluded the 514 after-dark mentality is loud and brassy, but always handled with care. There’s no such thing as understated, and that’s okay. It’s all about decadence and, with a 3 a.m. last call, partying at a steady pace. You get dressed up—there’s no such thing as plaid there, apparently—for dinner and cocktails at 10 p.m., and almost every resto-bar has a perfect sidewalk patio like the uncool ones we were so amazed by on Yonge Street recently.
As for music, forget Arcade Fire or vinyl records. In MTL bars, conversations usually happen over blaring sounds I imagine would be dubbed EuroMix 2013. Even drinking, at the very least, is an experience. Nights out are similar to what you’d see on Richmond, minus the binge drinking on the limo ride in from Vaughan. If you want to dance, you go to a very dedicated club space with killer sound or a very above-board “after hours.” (I danced until 7 a.m.—twice.) However, you’d be hard-pressed to find my favourite type of late-night Toronto experience (a dark bar with a makeshift dance floor), since those are two separate entities in MTL. (My biggest recommendation? La Distillerie.)
I can’t wait to see how it all translates.
In anticipation, I asked members from both Electro Swing Clubs for insights on what to expect, and about how the 416 differs from the 514.
Describe your version of the Electro Swing Club concept in 60 seconds. Go.
Euan Lampitt (416): Part Prohibition speakeasy, part modern-day dance party, Electro Swing Club events evoke the sounds and spirit of the ‘20s and ‘30s, giving them a contemporary twist. With vintage dress code in effect, guests become immersed in the experience and are treated to an evening of DJs, live acts, fashion, dancing, burlesque and visuals. At the heart of the events is the electro swing sound, an intoxicating mix of old and new that fuses traditional swing with vibrant electronic music ranging from house & electro to dub step, drum & bass and hip hop.
DJ Eliazar (514): We are a group of folks trying to bring the vibe of the Prohibition era party to the present. We focus on electro-swing music, performances by circus/variety show performers, and also live musicians. We have live bands some months, and usually always have live horn players join us on stage when we DJ.
What made you believe an event like this would do well? How has the reaction been so far?
416: The electro-swing sound seems to appeal to such a wide group of people, from minimal and house fans through to Lindy Hop dancers, jazz lovers, hip-hop heads and Balkan aficionados. I’m sure Toronto’s love of vintage fashion doesn’t hurt either. The reaction has been amazing so far—it’s always something of a gamble starting something totally new and different, so to average around 300 people per event, all dressed to the nines and partying into the wee small hours, has been pretty special.
514: Most club nights are based on music that makes people feel tough, or overly cool. Electro swing is all about dressing up kinda funny and acting like the old days. You are out of your everyday comfort zone, and it allows you to head in the direction of silly instead of serious. Our nights have been selling out a lot recently. We have been the longest-running monthly electro swing event in North America, and [we] plan to keep it growing and evolving. We already have a branch in Oslo, Norway, and plan on spreading the sounds in other unlikely fashions to other unlikely places.
How would you describe your city’s approach to a night out?
416: Perhaps a little conservative on the surface, hitting up the same spots week in, week out, regardless of what’s happening (similar to most cities, I guess). But I think excitement can generate very quickly when something special comes to town or there’s a unique party happening. Then it’s go time. There’s also a certain stigma to dressing up for events (unless it’s Halloween or New Year’s), which is something we’re keen to break down.
514: Montrealers have a habit of going out late and staying around until you turn the lights on. Having lived in 11 cities around the globe, I am always amazed at the energy they show for a style of music, or band that they like. They have no shame and usually we have about 150 or more people still around when we turn on the lights at 3 a.m., yelling at us for stopping the music. It is a big town for dining out, and I feel everyone goes out for dinner, then hits a bar for a few rounds, then shows up.
Toronto’s best asset: The people.
Toronto’s room for improvement: The restrictions around hosting outdoor events.
Music of the moment: Apart from electro swing? I think Toronto is bringing in some great electronic acts at the moment, and the growth of EDM festivals is only going to help with this.
The women dress like: Retro hipsters.
The men dress like: The women.
Best neighbourhood to party: Dundas & Ossington
Montreal’s best asset: Eye candy. This town is full of good-looking people, and it never gets old.
Montreal’s room for improvement: Police harassing clubs for noise issues. Especially since it’s all the new condo dwellers that complain about noise, when they choose to move into the noisy neighborhoods.
Music of the moment: Minimatic is currently blowing my mind.
The women dress like: Thrift store meets the runway.
The men dress like: Metros
Best neighbourhood to party: The Plateau
Porch Swing: An Electro Swing Showdown happens this Friday, August 31 at Keating Channel Bar & Grill, 2 Villiers Street (just off Cherry Street). #HAR $10 at the door. Doors at 9 p.m.