HARVEST FESTIVAL featuring ADAM MARSHALL, CHOCOLATE, JARKKO, JEREMY P. CAULFIELD, NEERAV, the DUKES and others, Saturday (September 21), Aldida Organic Farm, Bond Head (for directions, see www.harvestfestival.org). $33 advance, more at the gate.
Every few years the party scene goes through a period of self-questioning and change.
The issue this time around is the dissatisfaction with corporate-funded big parties and the move from warehouses to clubs in general. Yet most of Toronto's more successful production companies evolved out of similar crises years ago.
The Harvest Festival, located on an old farm, is a prime example. It's a community-minded, participation-driven annual celebration of the autumn equinox that grew out of the Alien Visitation raves of the mid-90s.
Centred around a huge bonfire rather than a famous international DJ, the Harvest Festival is the antithesis of Goldclub and Smirnoff mega-events.
"The idea came about through a party I throw called Boreal, which is a camping canoe trip," Justin Martin explains over the din of a Queen West bar. "About 80 people all get on a bus and go up to Georgian Bay and have a little party around a huge bonfire. We thought it would be great if we could get hundreds of people dancing around a bonfire."
And so the search for a location began. At first Justin Martin and his partner, Lana Pitkin, knocked on random farmers' doors, posing as film location scouts. Coincidentally, a mutual friend, Violet, who was the source of the introduction that led them to the Harvest Festival's permanent location, is also at the bar the night of the interview and sits down at the table to remind them of her role.
"Justin was telling me at an Apex event, 'I have this vision for a party and it's in a barn and there are lights coming through the sides.' A few minutes later I'm chatting to my friend Rocco, and he's telling me that he just moved back to his family farm, so I yell, 'Hey, Justin! This guy's got a barn!''
Now in its fourth year, the Harvest Festival has grown to three separate areas. The barn is the main room and focuses on techno, tech-house and house. Lit from the outside with powerful film lights, it features multiple levels and a huge sound system. Because of the obvious fire hazard, no smoking is allowed in the barn, which is one more factor distancing it from normal club events.
The second room is a huge pyramid built for the event where downtempo and drum 'n' bass play. New this year is the old tractor garage, which farm owner Rocco has organized as a space for dark tech-trance.
Participation is a big part of the party, and every year the organizers are surprised by the unsolicited projects that partiers bring to the event.
"People do really special things," Lana reminisces. "Like last year, a girl brought 80 homemade pumpkin pies, made from scratch, that were given out for free."
Alien Visitation parties grew out of the still-young rave scene of the early 90s. Justin had been working security for various bars, and got called in one night to work the door for a Kemistry rave at the Party Centre (now IT Nightclub). Blown away by the experience, he was soon working mainly for parties, and it wasn't long before he got the itch to start throwing his own events.
"It's always been about throwing parties that I would want to go to," explains Justin.