GENE KING with the GROOVE INSTITUTE at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (January 17). $5 with flyer before 11:30 pm, $10 otherwise. email@example.com
It used to be that DJs were marketed mainly as having the newest unreleased records and being at the cutting edge of whatever the new sound was. Lately, it's more common for them to portray themselves as representatives of true old-school sounds. You find promoters boasting about their guest DJs' huge collections of rare vintage vinyl, and younger mixers have been known to add a few years to their history in the interest of appearing authentic and educated.
Disco veteran Gene King recently found himself face to face with this phenomenon when he was asked by MuchMusic to be part of a documentary on the roots of dance music.
"They're doing a documentary on DJs who've been playing for 20 years and more. I thought back about all the stuff I've done and I realized, man, I'm old," King laughs.
King started his career in Montreal in the late 70s when he was barely into his teens. He soon had a regular gig playing at a roller disco, and was also playing school dances and birthday parties. By the early 80s, the still underage King was starting to play at adult clubs and bars.
"At that time, it wasn't even really one sound, it was a whole bunch of sounds mixed up. You'd hear funk, disco, rock, new wave, stuff like the Clash -- anything that was a bit funky, basically.
"These days, a lot of club owners have specific ideas about what they want their club to be, and even if the dance floor will go along with what you want to do, you have to cater to what the owners want. I think things are changing a bit now, but there's still a limit on how far you can go."
Within a few years, he was playing five nights a week in different clubs. At the time, Montreal's scene was hopping, but disco was ending, and King soon noticed the beginnings of house music.
"I hated house the first time I heard it. I thought it was badly produced disco, disco made by guys who couldn't afford any good equipment. But then I heard Marshall Jefferson's House Music Anthem on a big system; the DJ had doubles and must have extended it for 20 minutes. The sound of those chords on that big system was amazing. I went out the next week and picked up every house record I could find. You have to go to a club and hear it in that atmosphere to really understand it."
King moved to Toronto in 1987 because the club scene in Montreal was changing and being an anglophone in Quebec was increasingly frustrating. Initially, he found little work here but soon started getting gigs at sports bars playing top-40 tunes.
The pay was good at mainstream clubs, but he missed the underground. In 1993, he started playing on CKLN for a show called Midnight Madness, which would later become the Soul Fusion Express. When the name changed he started a show called Vibes And Vinyl, which he and Ray Prasad continue to host to this day. The local underground scene got to know him through his radio shows, and he started to get gigs in the after-hours scene.
Since then, he's maintained this curious split identity that allows him to relax about ups and downs and trends. When things get tough in the top-40 clubs he has his radio show to keep him happy, and when things change in the underground he's still got paying gigs in normal clubs.
"The radio show is my outlet, it's how I maintain my sanity."