Written by Steve Weinstein
He’s best known as the DJ who helped build up Black & Blue from a tiny gathering of friends into the super-event that it is today. But Mark Anthony has long been a mover and shaker on the Montreal club scene. There’s no irony in a straight DJ being the impresario who has helped make this Canadian city the gay nightlife capital of North America: He readily and happily confesses to enjoying playing to a gay crowd.
“It’s the gay crowd that made me who I am today,” he says. “That is the crowd I prefer to play. I prefer gay because I get to be more me. In a straight venue, they want it a little harder. It’s a whole different vibe. I’ve always been more comfortable in the gay scene.
“When you’re playing a gay venue, it’s more vocals,” he adds. “They love their divas, and so do I. I’m a song kind of guy. I have a preference for vocals. In a gay venue, I play vocals, whether I’m in Provincetown, New York or Miami.”
In a way, Anthony came to his signature sound of “big room” vocals from a journey that’s the opposite of many of today’s signature-name DJs, who moved from vocals to a tribal, drum-and-bass percussion-oriented playlist. He began in his teens scratching as the DJ for a rap group. From there, he developed an interest in House music. He worked with a handful of promoters to transform Montreal from a sleepy city in a once-conservative Catholic province to the powerhouse it is today.
He began making trips to New York to absorb the hip hop scene. It was there that he discovered the old Sound Factory and Sound Factory Bar, where Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of House, ruled the turntables. For the young up-and-comer, it was a revelation.
He returned to Montreal and, with local gay club pioneer Pierre Viens, proceeded to help remake the clubs along Saint-Laurent Boulevard. He started at a club called Mekano and moved on to places sprouting up and down the Ste.-Catherine corridor in the gay Le Village-legendary venues like Garage (later Mars l’Alternathéque), the Bronx, Joy, and Sex Garage.
Then, in 1991, he was invited to headline Black & Blue, which is what brought him to a larger North American audience. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he reflects. “I was producing a lot of events myself, several warehouse parties so that I could play the music I liked, get the music out there.” Right after Black & Blue, he established a residency at Playground, Montreal’s first legal afterhours club. Not long after that came Stereo, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Playing the Circuit
The U.S. beckoned, and Anthony answered. He has played many of the major Circuit events, from Miami to Los Angeles and points in between. These days, as the father of two young children (he has a daughter, Cozette, and a son, Massimo), he finds himself less inclined to travel, although some gigs still do manage to tempt him out of town, such as the Provincetown Airport during the huge Fourth of July weekend earlier this summer. Along with his wife and business partner, Sandra Jean-Bart, he’s been working on several fronts.
He has established himself for innovative remixes. Unlike many DJs who content themselves with tinkering with other people’s songs, Anthony is that rare breed who actually makes original music. With his wife, the two have their own band, Lectroluxe (along with some session musicians). They have been busy in Anthony’s Montreal studio creating ambient music-not the Brian Eno “music for airports” stuff; downtempo, yes, but very, very danceable.
He favors original music to compilation CDs, although his discography includes well-received compilations under the Circuit Sessions, Global Groove, Circuit Party and, of course, Black & Blue monikers. Original productions date back to the early ‘90s. He’s now putting out a slew of Lectroluxe songs on the local Dark Panties label, which also has produced DJ Oren Nizri and local chanteur, Derick H.
Regardless of where he’s spinning, Anthony sees the DJ’s responsibility to get people dancing over making an artistic statement. That’s one reason why he favors vocals over tribal beats. “A beat all night long gets boring,” he says. “I understand what those DJs are trying to do, but today, the accessibility of different genres from the Internet has made it possible to play so many sounds. Why play one when you can blend them together?”
Playing the Big Events
As someone who’s most closely associated with Black & Blue, Anthony is one DJ who knows the difference between an intimate club setting and a stadium-sized crowd. “When you play a large venue, you have to please a larger audience,” he says. “That forces you to look at the big picture.”
Black & Blue actually allows him to be more experimental. The length of the party, the near 50-50 crowd mix of gay-straight, and the mammoth size all mean that he has to do more for more within the timeframe of a limited set. “That’s where I can introduce both crowds to new sounds,” he says. “For the straight crowd, that means more vocals; for the gay crowd, techier stuff. B&B is where I can really have fun. When people come to B&B, they want to hear a different sound; they know they’re not going to hear the typical Circuit stuff.”
For this year’s Black & Blue, Anthony has ceded the main event to others. Instead, he’ll be playing the Military Ball the night before. It’s an upbeat party that perfectly suits his style of music. This summer also sees him returning to another of his favorite events, Montreal Pride. For the past few years, he’s been headlining a giant party in a city park. Although the crowd can expect vocals, he always throws in a few sounds to the mix to keep people’s ears perked. “It’s always hard when people ask me my style,” he says. “I push the envelope. There are a lot of DJs out there, and they are known for a sound. I just try to be different.”
Today, he says, there are so many different kinds of music available. Just as the recording industry imploded, the explosion of the Internet allowed niche artists to get their work out there. He cites some of the “amazing” techno that’s being released right now as indicating a renaissance for a genre that was in danger of going stale. At the same time, the Circuit itself has been changing, evolving into … what? No one knows yet, but Anthony will undoubtedly be there. “The younger crowd is always into newer music,” he notes. “Maybe there are less big parties, but the scene is doing well. People will always be dancing.”