“Can you please explain Secret Society [Sessions] to me quickly?” reads a Facebook message from Matthew LeClair, a friend from another era. “I’ve been following [them] for a bit on Facebook. Looks like a great vibe. A bar with legit music. I’m certainly going to check it out!”
Toronto has a track record of appreciating what it’s got only after international validation (please, you weren’t repping Drake when he was on Degrassi in a wheelchair; take a seat) so you know you are going places when strangers in your own backyard start inquiring about your efforts – it is humbling. This is the case for Secret Society and their podcast gatherings happening every Wednesday, 6-9 PM at the Pacific Junction Hotel on King St. East.
The group knew they were onto something last summer when their small remote beach parties turned into a thousand-attendee affair only on three tries: no formal PR, local talent, packed like a headliner festival tho. After taking the fall/winter season to investigate what novel value they can bring to Toronto’s already bustling music scene, the group found their unicorn.
“Toronto is a hotbed of musical talent – there is no shortage of DJs who can curate three hours of great beats. These people need more platforms on which to be heard,” reflects one of the founders and the scene’s well known photographer, Tim Sandik aka Ded Pixel.
Thomas Cardin of Scardinius Recordings, a seasoned DJ from Hungary who takes care of the programming, provides further insight into the nucleation of the show from a DJing perspective: “Usually this profession attracts people who have a deep urge to share their new findings with others and to gather more souls for their flock. Secret Society was always a cult of music nerds; it is our passion to show how diverse house music can be. Since there’s a plethora of random podcasts and we were always aiming to do something different, the twist was to involve audience in the recording of these sessions.”
Stumbling upon Pacific Junction Hotel, a restaurant that boasts good bourbon (tested by yours truly) and most of all, a radio studio inside was, in Thomas’ words, “like finding the Holy Grail.”
“The venue was key. Pacific Junction Hotel is not your ordinary venue for electronic music, that’s why it works so well. The decorum resembles that of a cantina on some Acapulco beach, not a dive, but a warm welcoming environment with a booming sound system and a back room filled with games. We are keeping it bright and uplifting away from the dark and sweaty vibe of a club or an afterhours,” expands Matt Von Wilde, the third of the Secret Society’s founders, also a DJ himself.
On weekly basis, the podcast gathers regulars and not-so-regulars for food, drinks and house music curated by two local DJs playing back-to-back, live-to-air. No fighting over who’s opening/closing the set, no cover, no bullshit. The concept might seem almost too simple at first. After all, Toronto has a few radio stations, including TRP, all offering seemingly similar outcomes. However one doesn’t have to go further than the days of Electric Circus or, more recently, Boiler Room to understand that being able to incorporate the audience into making of the podcast is a much more organic way to connect fans to the talent that needs them and vice versa. Perhaps unintentionally, Secret Society boys succeeded in Seth Godin’s concept of “finding their own tribe” by helping others to achieve their goals, connect people with similar interests and give them access to information without asking for much in return.
There is something for everybody who partakes in Secret Society Sessions: the patrons get a great, relaxed, non-cliquey vibe with an amazing soundtrack…
“I am a first-timer and not really deep into this scene, although love the music. Wednesday 6 PM. I liked PJH even from the outside. My first impression was confirmed once I walked in: it’s a chill and unique space with a great patio and game of pool optionality but MUSIC was the best!” reflects Victoria Kikhard on her first attendance. “Danced my butt off to a perfect house set and made a lot of new friends. The crowd was unpretentious and fun; definitely worth coming back to.”
The DJs get a chance to curate three hours of music to their own taste while bridging the gap from local (in the room) to international (live to air) outreach. Having to travel for work, I’ve tuned into both Andrew Chorniy (aka Mundane)
& Dustin Nantais’ as well as Deadly Vanity’s podcasts across the ocean – that’s a tangible outcome, a connection in real time.
“It’s a strange disassociation at first, knowing you’re listening to the same music they [the audience] are, and there could be people listening online doing whatever they may be at the time – cooking, driving – and a couple tracks are what you all have in common,” shared Videri who joined juSt B on the decks for the 002 installment of the sessions.
While the crowd’s music experience is mostly uninterrupted: drink, eat, listen, shuffle your feet; being confined to a glass booth necessary for a live-to-air broadcast gives a very different dimension to DJing. For some of the DJs this was comfortable right off the bat: juSt B has done several of these before and “didn’t mind being in that little ‘radio pod’, shoeless and comfortable on the red shag carpet, in my own little zone” and JAD appreciated “any opportunity to have more space and less distractions in the booth.” For others it took a bit to get used to at first: “…something I originally was sceptical about…” admits Alberto Jossue, one of the creators of the enigmatic 007 set along with JAD.
“To be honest, at first, I felt blinded and deafened. It almost felt like being in the eye of a storm; it wasn’t quite seclusion, because I could look down and out and see people grooving and talking, and reacting to the music I was playing,” explains Videri.
“It was a sensual experience like no other; kind of like when Luke Skywalker had to learn to fight blindfolded, using only his ears or some force,” agrees Mundane. “Usually I can feel the energy of a room just by listening to it, but this time we (Mundane & Dustin) had to rely on our eyes to observe if the crowd was into it. It was totally weird at first, but later I got used to it (or maybe it was the alcohol),” he jokes.
For JAD the visual assessment of audience’s reaction was more than enough: “At the end of the day, being able to see people’s responses is the most important interactive information you can get as a DJ. Still having that connection while mixing in a good sounding room was a solid combination.”
Secret Society Sessions go beyond just being a new experience for the audience and DJs, however. The venue is packed with patrons on a Wednesday night; not a bad business problem to have mid-week. Although we couldn’t get a comment from the managers, the recent Facebook group request to extend these sessions to 10 PM speaks to the level of success the operation has ramped-up. What might not be immediately obvious though is that the sessions actually enrich Toronto’s growing (in both, expanding and ageing, senses) electronic music scene by providing a new set of opportunities: for the working, adult crowd to get to know the local talent outside of the drug-induced haze of the night scene…
“It’s a chance to hear some quality music in a cool venue right after work. I don’t think any other promoters are offering that in Toronto,” shares Gary, who popped by the PJH for Jeff Button’s set, “[he is] one of the best DJs in Toronto. I drank some quality craft beer, ate some tasty food, and had a bunch of laughs with friends. It’s a great concept!”
Alberto agrees, “… this is something special because it is about sharing music you love and connecting with people. That sentiment sometimes gets lost in clubs because of drugs, alcohol and social activities. And when events like this happen that feeling is uninterrupted.”
…for the DJs, this is an opportunity to expand their skill-set and network on their own terms.
“I think it’s important as you are developing your sound to be open to new things. The sessions showcase the music to a varied crowd that perhaps isn’t the standard listener but who may become one after a session like this. It’s these kinds of fresh, progressive, passion-infused collectives that can only serve to push the scene forward. And to be honest, we need a lot more of it in Toronto!” suggests juSt B.
For Videri the session provided her with an opportunity to connect with other local talent as well as tune into her inner DJ: “Some of the most talented artists in the city are coming together, meeting each other, playing together, and learning from each other, it’s great! You’re elevated in a glass box, and the feeling of being put on display without the connection to the crowd made me feel stripped. I honestly wasn’t expecting to learn that much about myself and the way I play. It felt like an introspective exercise…you zone in on the story you’re telling.”
“Playing back-to-back, 3 tracks at a time with someone you haven’t played with before really keeps you on your toes and having to improvise sometimes,” adds Mundane on playing with Dustin.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s world, Secret Society are the connectors – they provide a platform to link supply and demand in a way that tipped the scale to a sustainable operation on the already saturated electronic music scene. “Since our low-key soft launch, the amount of people reaching out to me is overwhelming,” shares Thomas, “I get new submissions every other day!” “Considering we make our mark celebrating local talent, it would be nice to be able to say that we are able to throw the greatest jams without a major international headliner – maybe we can get people more galvanized about supporting our locals,” hopes Tim…and not just as opening or closing acts. If you listened to any of the podcasts you’d agree that these guys are worth being THE acts in the spotlight and those attending the sessions recognize that first hand.
“And it’s this kind of stuff that I want to be a part of – to form relationships with people of similar integrity and to diversify my experience as I continue to grow my intense love affair with electronic music,” concludes juSt B.