Break out the party hats, streamers and birthday cake: From modest beginnings to three-floor parties and jammed clubs, dance music fans will celebrate the 11th anniversary of Massive Productions, a local company that has been bringing top-name DJs to Halifax for over a decade. More than a birthday party, the show at Rain this Friday featuring New York City DJ Miss Honey Dijon is a celebration of the vibrant local electronic scene.
“It amazes me because pretty much everywhere else in the world it’s electro at this point, but Halifax seems to really embrace house music,” says Miss Honey Dijon, AKA Honey Redmond. “It’s so much fun for me as an artist to be able to play to people who get it. And it’s kids—it’s not like 34-year-olds that are out there, it’s young kids that are still really up for it and into it.”
If there’s anyone who can track the highs and lows of dance music in the SuperCity, it’s Massive founder Tony Hage. A Lebanese immigrant, Hage got into electronic music after being introduced to the club culture while on a trip to the Middle East as a teen and as a university student in Montreal in the mid-’90s. Upon his return to Halifax, Hage started booking and organizing shows at the now-defunct Cafe Ole and Khyber Club.
“It was small and everyone knew everybody back then,” Hage says of the scene a decade ago. “It was a tight-knit community. It was more art students and alternative rock fans.”
Hage threw his first multi-DJ party in what is now the UpCountry furniture store on Barrington, but it was his second party that proved to be more memorable. On the day of the show, fire marshals told him he couldn’t hold the event in the empty space. In an act of desperation, he turned to his parents and friends with vehicles, who transported the attendees to the new location.
“The day of the event we were like, ‘Holy fuck, what are we going to do?’” Hage says. “I had to move it to my mother’s church hall on Dutch Village Road. We had to clear out by 9am for mass.”
Massive has since booked a who’s-who of acts, contributing to the reputation of Halifax as a DJ’s town. Those who’ve passed over Halifax stages in the past decade include Richie Hawtin, Donald Glaude, DJ Dan, Bad Boy Bill, Sasha, John Acquaviva, Mistress Barbara and Detroit Grand Pubahs.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the dance scene came in the late ’90s, when large warehouse parties became popular. Some scaled three floors and included buses to shuttle the audience to the venues. Events attracted just as many, if not more, nightclubbers as sold-out rock shows.
As quickly as dance music became an overnight sensation in Halifax, the scene suffered a huge setback on September 11, 1999, when Port Hawkesbury native Jaimie Britten died from an overdose of Ecstasy after ingesting four pills of the drug at a local party. The fallout from his death spelled an end to the big rave-style parties in the area and sent dance music back to the smaller clubs.
“I knew right away that things were going to be different,” Hage recalls. “It’s a small city and to have somebody die was not anything that anyone would have imagined. It was depressing to lose someone like that.”
What many saw as a blow ultimately made the scene better, with true electronic music fans refusing to give up on the genre they had grown to love. The demand for top-notch talent remained, artists kept on coming and the club atmosphere proved to be more conducive to a more intimate and fun experience.
Where the scene could head next is a mystery, but dance music certainly isn’t going anywhere and fans continue to fill local dance venues such as Rain, Reflections, SubRosa, the Waterfront Warehouse and Evolution.
“As far as someone like a Buck 65 busting out, there hasn’t been a huge impact yet,” Hage says. “But as long as people keep working and supporting each other, it’s going to keep growing.”
Massive Productions 11th Anniversary w/Miss Honey Dijon, Zoo, Steve Nurse and Steve the Viking, April 21 at Rain, 1661 Argyle, $10