Mansion aim to reinvent Toronto's dance party scene
For the past three years, Mansion, a.k.a. Konrad, Nancy, Matt and Tom Mansion, have been gaining speed as passionate DIY promoters in Toronto's electronic scene. They've gained a loyal following, and have some big plans for the future.
The group is no stranger to our music pages--the chill and approachable foursome's future bass and rave events in non-traditional venues have been highlighted in reviews (1, 2, 3), and Mansion were recently highlighted in a group of up and coming Toronto promoters.
Toronto's underground event coordinators do a lot with a little (plus some help from their friends), and we're curious about how they got going, what keeps them motivated, and their goals for the future. Who better to discuss the highs and lows of DIY with than a group of friends who are, in their own words, "not just dirty promoters"?
How did Mansion begin?
Konrad Droeske (KD) It started a few years ago: Matt and I used to throw house parties back at U of T, and Tom was living with us so we brought him on board. We started really small, booking parties at places like The Augusta House and other small conventional spaces in Kensington. Mostly locals nights filled with our friends and people who attracted our attention in Toronto.
We did some work with Embrace and were inspired by them, and decided to go out on our own. In the last year and a half, things started to really get going: we started doing bookings, we launched Happy Endings, and to me that's when Mansion became a serious thing.
Are you artists yourselves?
KD: I'm actually an engineer, so not really. Matt is too, but he can DJ.
Nancy Chen (NC): I'm kind of a musician, but not anymore--I used to play piano, flute and drums when I was young, now I'm more into just listening to music. I would love to get into DJing one day.
What was your involvement in the Toronto music scene before Mansion?
KD: We were all in university--we weren't club kids per say, but we went to lots of parties and lots of bars. The reason we started Mansion is we felt we'd developed a house party vibe and we wanted to bring that to venues around Toronto, and throw a different type of party where someone who's not necessarily comfortable going to King West or the club district will feel at home, at a place where you can still dance and listen to good music. That was our initial goal, but things obviously changed--they change every six months.
What's special about your DIY-style booking for these kinds of large parties in Toronto?
KD: Definitely the artists we're bringing here: we're able to cultivate something very different. There's a certain amount of excitement and novelty that accompanies our events--for example when you're entering a dim sum restaurant, a church, or even a warehouse. I think our particular generation wants to try something new every single time; we get bored really easily. Speaking for myself, going to the same place, even if there are different artists playing, I find there's there's a lack of effort involved.
Thomas Masmejean (TM): A lot of people can book a DJ, but we try to bring something else to each party, whether its the concept, visuals, lights, or sound system--all these small details that we pay attention to and that makes the party stand out.
KD: We've experimented with visuals, photo-booths--whenever we see a space we try to figure out what we can bring to it that's different than what everyone else is doing.
NC: Our crowd, the people that we bring out to our events, are youthful, creative, open-minded and just there to have a good time.
What are some drawbacks you've encountered?
NC: I think the biggest setback would be that we're booking a lot of rising artists who aren't yet well known. When we started Happy Endings, we were doing future bass--hip-hop-inspired electronic music--and for a while it wasn't very popular in Toronto. However, we've gained a following that has allowed us to experiment with other genres and artists.
KD: Yeah, building people's trust. Music changes so rapidly, too. We invest in artists we believe in, and people might not get it right away, but their tastes develop, along with ours. So we might upset some people at first, but they eventually come around--that's been our experience. There's also an inherent instability in booking non-traditional venues--obviously sometimes we've lost money.
How do you choose the artists you book?
NC: We have a lot of different resources, talk to a lot of different DJs, and people are always giving us tips on who is upcoming and who we should look out for. It's a balance between what people will find exciting and what's missing in Toronto.
KD: We have a very large group of people we work with, basically a collective of friends, local DJs, people like Ryan Hemsworth, Exeter and Kevin McPhee. Everyone is sharing music and mix-tapes, discussing artists, and suggesting events. It all comes together and we see what sticks combined with our own personal taste. We obviously want to lead, and strike a balance between what's new and interesting and what will be palatable.
Why is Mansion finding such a loyal following in Toronto?
KD: We have a really large group of people and a collective aspect, and we're always open to bringing people into the fold: asking people what they want to see, and what artists they'd like to come to Toronto.
TM: We don't compromise.
KD: Even if we know we're not going to make tons of money it's about the event and the long term--building our reputation and the community and building the scene.
NC: Our consistency. People know it's going to be a good party.
KD: The music, and taking the time to make sure people are having a good time and things are cool.
You put on multiple events every month. How do you keep from burning out?
TM: We have a variety of events, so after each type of party we have a month until the next one.
KD: We keep ourselves excited about our events: we obviously love the music we're bringing here. Because we're putting on events in such a wide variety of genres, I guess we're able to suck it up.
NC: We plan far ahead too, from conception to the final event, so we don't feel rushed. We already know what we'll be doing in October.
KD: From a more human point of view, we try to make each party fun. We don't want to run three or four small weeklies--we'll make sure it's a good one and that we're throwing events for 500 or 600 people instead of 200 to 300.
TM: Even for our monthly events, like Pop Kult, we'll have very different artists each month and it's a very different party.
KD: We party at all of our events. We're all still in our twenties. Hopefully as things develop we'll be able to hand over some of the front line stuff to the up and coming generation.
I heard you won't be able to host Happy Endings in the Forestview dim sum restaurant or in St-Stephen-in-the-Fields's church anymore. What are your future plans for Mansion? Do you have any desire to branch out further, for instance starting a label?
KD: Happy Endings is on hiatus--we've outgrown the Forestview, for sure--and I have hope that when the summer season ends for the restaurant it will come back. We didn't do anything illegal, rather they were worried about capacity issues. We're still keeping the Happy Endings spirit going on: Zebra Katz would have been a Happy Endings booking. As for the church--again, we obeyed all the rules, but the amount of publicity attracted some attention from clergy and church members.
NC: There's a lot of infrastructure that Toronto lacks to be a proper music city on an international level, so we have to find out whats missing and kind of fill in the gaps.
KD: We want to do everything, really. We want to own venues, we want to throw a festival, we want to start a label. We're trying to figure out what makes the most sense at the moment.
Where would you say the Toronto electronic scene lacks?
NC: There's no flagship artists who have started a label in Toronto, and no electronic labels, or at least not any very interesting electronic labels in Toronto.
KD: There are ones that are developing.
NC: Festivals, there are a lot of festivals this year...
KD: A lot of really cheesy mainstream festivals.
NC: Which are definitely needed in Toronto, but there has to be a well-curated festival as well.
When do you think this will happen?
KD: The next three years (laughs)... we're still growing.
NC: We're still trying to lay the foundation and grow with the Toronto music industry until it reaches a size that would allow us to achieve our goals.
KD: It takes several hundred people that really care to bring a scene to that kind of level. A lot of projects from a lot of different people. We do what we can, we always reach out to people, and we encourage people to do the same and create more diversity; it's healthy.
What's the best place for fans to reach you?
KD: Tweet us.
TM: Come over.
Matt Eckensweiler (ME): Facebook.
K: You can hit us up on the guest-list, there's my email address there. We all have Facebook accounts; we're all extremely public on our Facebook accounts.
NC: We also always listen to new music that people send us.
What are your picks for NXNE?
KD: Purity Ring.
TM: Zebra Katz.
Is there a DIY music promoter you would like to see profiled on blogTO? Email us at editors [at] blogto [dotcom].
First four photos by Denise McMullin and final three courtesy of Mansion & Conrad McGee-Stocks.