UNA MAS GRAND OPENING featuring IVANA SANTILLI, with DEE JAY NAV, A MAN CALLED WARWICK, JOHN KONG and JASON PALMA, at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), tonight (Thursday, November 30), 8 pm. By invitation only. 703-4862. DJ RON TRENT at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Saturday (December 2). 10 pm. $15. 760-3182. Rating: NNNNN
Standing in stone solemnity on Adelaide west of Spadina, where dusty fabric wholesalers rub sagging shoulders with deserted dot-com start-ups, a daring new dance club silently awaits its debut.
More than just another pile of bricks with bone-rattling bass bins, the swanky, low-key Una Mas has been designed, from the modish light fixtures to the stainless steel staircase, with a particular vibe in mind.
The place feels more like an airy artist's loft than a dingy dance den, and that's just part of the idea behind Una Mas, according to club co-owner Aki Abe, the entrepreneurial spirit who animated the enormously successful Movement DJ collective and Cosmos rare-record emporium. Una Mas isn't about hipster cool. On the contrary, as the yellow, orange and brown colour scheme underscores, the concept is warmly inviting, consistent with Movement's governing principle of inclusion. "Just like Movement is a unifying force in Toronto," explains Abe, kicking back on the club's austere couch, "I'd like Una Mas to be a comfortable place where people with different tastes and attitudes come together to enjoy the music and atmosphere.
"We'll regularly feature special guest DJs from around the world, like New York's Ron Trent and London's DJ Harvey, but we'll also maintain a strong resident DJ rotation. There are so many amazing DJs in this city -- that's going to be the core of the Una Mas sound."
The venue's most promising musical innovation is the addition of live performances to the programming mix. Ivana Santilli and her funky five-piece kick things off.
It's not at all unusual to encounter a salsa combo jamming between DJ sets in Los Angeles or South London, but here in Toronto such a radical booking strategy is still considered risky business. Most local dance club owners would never consider hiring a band and possibly losing money when they can turn a guaranteed profit with a DJ.
"I've been to clubs all over, and it's really a Toronto thing that live music doesn't seem to mix with DJs. You go to San Francisco and hardly anyone dances while the DJ spins, but as soon as the live band starts jamming, everyone goes crazy -- it's the exact opposite of Toronto.
"Even if we lose money one night of the week, having great performances will add more value to the club in terms of image, and that means a lot.
"It's also important for us to support the incredible Toronto bands that have been inspired by the club scene --artists like Directions, King Sunshine and, of course, Ivana Santilli. There are also some wicked groups in Montreal and, really, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis aren't that far away."
The choice of Santilli to launch the Una Mas live music program is particularly significant. It was through a Movement remix of Santilli's track If Ever I Fall that the collective's impact on the local scene first registered outside Toronto.
Now, each time the Kyoto Jazz Massive spins the batucada-boosted joint in Osaka or Russ Dewbury drops it in Brighton, the reputations of Santilli and the Movement crew continue to expand globally.
Because of Abe's Movement connection, there will naturally be residual benefits for Una Mas as well. Yet Abe wants to make a clear distinction between the club and the collective.
"Movement is an entity unto itself, with its own direction. It may parallel what we do at Una Mas, but Movement is a once-a-month party, whereas Una Mas is a venue where people can expect to hear great music each night.
"While I don't want to be seen as riding on Movement's accomplishments, I can't deny that I've benefited immensely from those parties. Just talking with people like Keb Darge, Snowboy and the Kyoto Jazz Massive has been an incredible experience.
"I've also learned so much from running a record store like Cosmos and dealing with customers who know a lot more about records than I do. The way we learn from each other is what I want to bring to Una Mas.
"The Toronto dance crowd is growing and maturing at a very quick rate, and club owners need to be sensitive to changing tastes in order to keep up."