when the rave community took its message to Nathan Phillips Square last year, thousands strong and mad as hell at councillors for banning the all-night dance-athons from city property, it was deemed a boldly political happening.With iDance, ravers attempted to show they were capable of organizing to protect their right to party, and in the end they stopped the ban in its tracks. Well, the event at Nathan Phillips Square is back this year on September 2, but this gathering of "Peace, Love, Unity and Respect," is now brought to you by Microsoft and the Toronto Star -- and that's making some ravers nervous.
Back then, the rave was organized by the Party People Project (PPP) and featured speakers, music and the message that the freedom to dance is a marker of a democratic society. This year, however, the event is engineered by promoters who have split off from the PPP, and some feel the involvement of giant Microsoft will negate the gathering's original activist roots.
"If you bring in corporations, they will feel a sense of ownership. There will be an implicit message not to go beyond what's acceptable," says Michael Isaac, a PPP member.
After iDance last year, he says, "Some of the promoters registered the name and set up their own company. After that, all communication was cut off, and word trickled back that they were seeking corporate sponsorship."
But Will Chang, executive director of iDance 2001, sees the situation differently. "I was one of the main organizers last year. The reason we did not go the PPP route this year is that in any large group it's very hard to get anything done. They wanted to debate every decision, and very quickly we realized it wouldn't work."
The new group started having their own meetings, he says, but didn't cut off contact with the community. "We've returned every phone call and e-mail that they've sent us," he says.
They saw no reason, Chang says, to turn the Star and Microsoft away. "We want to promote local talent and have iDance be an annual show of strength in the community. It's very expensive to put on an event like this," he says, pointing out that last year's iDance was also corporate-sponsored: lights, sound and security were all donated.
"We thought about contacting the same people. But why should the same four or five companies suffer every year?"
The divide is also apparent among local DJs and promoters. DJ Flipside (Natale Pizzonia), who is performing at the upcoming event, believes these new allies "show politicians that it's a thriving scene and that there's money to be made. As for Microsoft, most electronic music is made through computers, so it makes sense."
But Pedro Mondesh from Hot Stepper Productions disagrees. "The problem is with the integrity of the promoters' party. I've turned down a lot of corporations for my parties because I didn't want to jeopardize the integrity of it."
Bob Gallagher, from councillor Olivia Chow's office, says that although their office is quite positive toward organizers of the event -- the city is involved in the planning this year -- he does notice a difference from last year. "There's less community involvement this year, less of a political focus. Many complain that it's not political enough, but I think the context is different. To try to create a political issue would be artificial."
Calls to Microsoft about their iDance backing were passed to different PR departments in the U.S. and Canada and were finally answered via e-mail from the corporation's Toronto PR company, Edelman Public Relations. "Xbox is the future of video games, providing unparallelled quality of sight, sound and social game play. Microsoft is happy to support the electronic music community with iDance -- a social celebration of music."
But Steve Tanguay from the PPP is appalled at what Microsoft endorsement signals. "Last year, if you looked at the flyer, there were 50 or 60 sponsors involved. Now there's no fringe involvement by small companies. They're making a statement that they're a big boys' club. But who does it benefit -- community members or large promoters?"