Montréal’s House Music History

Igloofest
Steven Ross

Steven Ross

This article was updated on February 13, 2023.

Montréal’s distinct house sound reflects the city’s unique mix of American and European musical influences. But have you ever wondered, perhaps while out on a crowded dance floor at one of the city’s many techno events, how this legendary sound came to be? Here's a brief history of house music and how it has influenced Montreal's nightlife.  

The end of disco

In the 70's, disco was on top of the international charts. ABBA and the Bee Gees spun on the turntables in all the nightclubs. In Montréal, nightclubs like 1234 and Lime Light helped make Montréal disco’s second city. It was a time of glitter, gender neutrality and extravagance. Disco became a major cultural movement, allowing certain marginalized groups, including gay and African-American communities, to express themselves loud and clear.    

Disco was all the rage until Disco Demolition Night, organized in 1979 by a Chicago radio host frustrated with his rock station's conversion to disco. The event attracted 60,000 people and turned into a riot as the crowd burned thousands of records. Dubbed "the night disco died," the event had an immediate impact on the music genre and was partly responsible for the birth of the Disco Sucks counter-movement.  

The Disco Sucks movement coincided with the onset of the economic recession and the outbreak of the AIDS crisis in the United States. Disco’s frivolity and flashiness suddenly clashed diametrically with social restrictions and a growing sense of homophobia. Overnight, the promiscuity associated with disco had no place and the liberating dance retreated underground. 

 

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Disco is dead. Long live house music!

Gay, African-American and Latino communities were forced to find alternative venues to continue dancing. Such is the case of the Paradise Garage in New York and the Warehouse in Chicago, with resident DJ Frankie Knuckles. Known as the "Godfather of House", he was one of the first DJs to incorporate two loops of disco songs into a remix. The new Warehouse sound was quickly labeled "house music". DJs then overlaid pro-freedom and pro-diversity vocal messages as a nod to the communities that frequented their club. House music became a soundtrack to spur progressive social movements.    

 

Montréal: where two styles converge

Disco balls stopped turning in Montréal in the 1980s. However, dance music streamed in from both sides of the Atlantic, giving Montréal its own unique sound.  

At the turn of the 90s while American house music reigned supreme in the city’s gay clubs, Eurodance took over the radio waves. The movement never really took hold in the United States, but was a smashing success in Quebec. French Touch, which would make Bob Sinclar and Daft Punk famous, also experienced early success in Montreal in the 90s, before they became international stars.  

At the beginning of the same decade, another musical wave arrived from Europe: England’s rave culture. Techno was still a very underground sound in Montréal at the time; only a few places played it, including the short-lived Crisco club on Sanguinet Street, which was open for only 90 days.  

A group of university students led by DJ Tiga decided to organize a series of techno parties that would quickly become all the rage. However, with Crisco closing so quickly, they were forced to find clandestine locations for their events. This is how Solstice, one of Montréal’s first raves, began in March 1993.  

Several thousand people from all walks of life came together for the rave, instantly changing Montréal’s electronic scene. Solstice was so successful that it launched a string of illegal raves, whose location was only revealed the day before by phone. However, the sheer number of participants and rampant drug use sparked major police raids, which would finally make it impossible to hold such events.  

 

Black & Blue Festival

Can’t stop dancing

In lieu of raves, DJs turned to clubs to keep their fans dancing. Several after-hours clubs were created, including Sona, opened by DJ Tiga. Stereo was co-founded by Angel Moraes, former DJ of New York’s infamous Paradise Garage. He created a custom sound system that is still recognized worldwide for its unparalleled audio quality. Angel Moraes brought along the influence of New York house music, adding his own unique touch to the sound of his adopted city.  

The 90s were also marked by important struggles for the rights of the LGBTQ+ communities in Montreal. The Black & Blue festival, in particular, was a result of these militant movements to provide these communities a platform to let off steam and celebrate diversity.  

 

Igloofest

Montréal, house city

Today, Montreal is considered by Billboard to be one of the best dance cities in the world, and the city has a special place for house music in its nightlife and event calendar.   

 

So now all that's left to do is to pull out your best moves and move to the rhythm of diversity! 

 

Steven Ross

Steven Ross

Steven Ross has been penning since the age of 17. A communicator specializing in tourism and entertainment, he’s travelled the world as a senior publicist for Cirque du Soleil and worked for several festivals and video game studios. Passionate about travel, languages and history, it is to the rhythm of house music that his heart beats the strongest.

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