PROMISE 3-YEAR ANNIVERSARY with SANS SOLEIL (live), PEACE HARVEST, ABACUS, LEE OSBORNE, KF, JAH REVEReND, JONAH K, FREEDON and DMS at the House of Props (55 St. Lawrence), Friday (March 21). $10 before midnight, $15 after. www.promiselab.com
Promise events are an anachronism in today's party scene. The promoters reject the current event models and offer an alternative for all those turned off by the state of nightlife.
Dave Macleod and Irving Shaw avoid headliners at their parties, and that sets them apart. Instead of relying on out-of-town guests and celebrity producers, they've chosen to promote local talent and refuse to list their artists in any kind of hierarchical way.
"Right from the beginning we've never had headliners. Every name is the same size on our flyers," Shaw says.
"Now we're starting to see some of the DJs that we initially believed in and supported starting to do really well for themselves, like Lee Osborne, which is really gratifying for us."
By making the event the focus rather than big-name talent, Promise have been able to make a name for themselves without identifying too closely with any one sound. At a typical Promise event, you might hear d 'n' b, hiphop, house, dub reggae, experimental classical music or techno. The fact that they've been successful with this strategy proves that the electronic music scene is much less fragmented and more open-minded than many are willing to admit.
Last summer, they threw a free Sunday-afternoon party at Cherry Beach. The response was so positive that they were basically forced to turn it into a weekly event, one that kept gathering steam through the summer.
Although their warehouse parties draw bigger numbers, the beach parties are what most people think of when the name Promise comes up. They were such unpretentious and welcoming events that it was impossible not to come away with a huge grin on your face.
"The beach was a great way to experiment with our format, because it's 2 in the afternoon, it's sunny -- do you really care if it's techno or someone playing violin through a computer or a hiphop DJ?" Macleod recalls over pints.
"In a case like Cherry Beach, we could book people we'd never heard before, because there weren't a whole lot of expectations," Shaw adds.
Their e-mail list now goes out to more than 4,000 people. In it, they've always included listings of events put on by like-minded competitors, as well as their own party. Talking with them, you can't help but get the sense that they're truly concerned with the overall health of the scene, and both possess an incredible optimism about the business of throwing parties.
"I think the current popularity of warehouse parties comes from the fact that the clubbing experience isn't really that nice. You're often greeted by aggressive bouncers, served by surly bartenders and generally treated like cattle. It's amazing how differently people respond when you greet them at the door with a smile and welcome them in. We've never experienced any significant problems at our parties with people misbehaving. When you give people a nice welcome, that vibe is reciprocated," Shaw asserts.
"You get your patrons troubleshooting for you. People will come up to us and tell us they changed the toilet paper roll for us," Macleod says. "The day we have a party that needs a security guard is the day we stop throwing parties."