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Don Berns – Dr. Trance RIP
I was in South Africa when Don Berns – Dr. Trance passed away and did not have access to any of the TRIBE MAGAZINE archive photos and documents to do a proper obituary. Upon my return to Toronto, I dug out the DJ profile I did with Don in August of 2000, the pictures associated with it, and a few other pictures from TRIBE that he liked. I include the lederhosen pic because it was one of his favorites. I thought of just scanning the TRIBE DJ profile directly off the magazine page and including that, but instead I am including the email he sent back to me, in its entirety, answering my DJ profile questions.
When I first started TRIBE in 1993 I had already heard of Don Berns, mostly from his large CFNY reputation, but I also knew he was starting to throw raves in Toronto as Dr. Trance. I had never actually met him in person until one night at the RPM warehouse (which later became the Koolhaus, soon to become Condohaus) when he was talking with Chris Sheppard at the CRAVE party in 1993.
Don was immediately interested in what I was trying to do with TRIBE. I was breaking new ground in the Canadian magazine market by launching a free monthly magazine entirely about DJ music culture, at a time when the only free mags across the country were “alternative weeklies” focused entirely on live indie bands, rock and grunge music. It was my feeling that I had to do TRIBE because no other media would give Canadian DJs any recognition or press and there were great stories that had to be told. I thought it was something Canada needed.
Don explained to me that he was trying to bring raves and DJ culture to new people by throwing great parties in creative spaces. He wanted to throw underground parties in overground spaces, and I wanted to put out an underground magazine and widely distribute it across Canada in places where people could find it (cool streetwear stores, DJ music nightclubs, record stores).
Only after having read his various obituaries did it dawn on me that he was giving up a relatively stable paycheck and career in radio to launch himself into uncharted waters as a rave promoter and rave DJ. My life had taken a similar track: I was giving up a fulfilling career in the health care sector to launch TRIBE, just because it was something I felt I had to do, and I wanted to do it before I got too old to even want to attempt it. I guess we were both going through big life changes at the time by venturing into the unknown. We had that in common.
We became friends after that first meeting, we would yell greetings to each other across crowded dance floors, “Donnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I would yell. “Aaaaaalexxxx!!!!!!!!!!!!” he would respond in his booming radio voice.
I supported his events with coverage in TRIBE and attended almost every one. He supported TRIBE by buying ads for his events when budgets would allow.
When the rave scene got very big at its peak, competition became fierce and promoters began backstabbing and dissing each other as they competed for raver attendance. I used to hear a lot of it because I was the neutral person in the midst of it all, not affiliated with any one promotion company. Thankfully, it was the kind of negative backroom stuff that average partiers weren’t even aware of. Don, though, never got involved in that gossipy shit. In fact, I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. Ever. OK, maybe once, when he got miffed at the Christian Island ferry operator who charged his dog $10 to take the boat across to Christian Island to WEMF! But 99.9999% of the time he had this kind of positive cloud of energy that moved with him wherever he went. Whether he was wearing lederhosen and DJing in the dark for 18 or 20 people at Fat City (in the Boom Boom Room), or headlining on a Pride stage festival for 100,000 people, he was the same guy: positive, new music driven, and looking to create a good vibe wherever he happened to be.
When the electronic music scene (EDM, as we know it today) began in the early 90’s, Don was there. He was a formative player in the explosion of electronic music and DJ culture, not only in Toronto, but across Canada. He broke a lot of boundaries by throwing raves in the most amazing places: The CN Tower, The Toronto Island Airport, The Ontario Science Centre. As our scene grew and became massive and TRIBE spread the word about it coast to coast, other rave scenes started to sprout up around the country. You have to remember this was a time before smart phones and texting, even the web was very primitive, so the hard copies of TRIBE spread the word about events that had already happened, and also about events to come. I am quite certain many promoters around the country tried to emulate the events that Don and his Atlantis partners Claudio & Iain had created, on a smaller scale. I recall promoters in Saskatchewan, BC, Alberta, and Nova Scotia calling me to ask how to get permission to throw events in Art Galleries, Cultural venues, and museums because they had heard of the Atlantis events.
Don was a character to be sure, and a bit of a showman at times. “Aaaaaalexxxx!!!!!!!!!!!! I am going to fire a confetti cannon into the crowd at midnight from the DJ booth during my set!!!!” he would excitedly tell me. But to me, the props always seemed kind of lame compared to the actual set he was playing, which was usually flawlessly mixed and creatively programmed, and already had the crowd going mental. He was a hell of a DJ who could educate as well as entertain.
Donnnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will miss you dude. You are gone, but your legacy lives on.
The Official Don Berns Tribute Party takes place on May 30th at the Opera House. I am going, and you should go too. Or at least just buy a ticket. 100% proceeds will be donated to three of Don’s favorite charities: Heart and Stroke Foundation, SOAR (Southern Ontario Animal Rescue, and the Off Centre DJ School (“Dr. Trance Scholarship Fund” to be awarded to students with special financial needs.)
Subject: RE: Don!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 21:49:37 -0400
From: “Don Berns” <email@example.com>
To: “‘Tribe Magazine'” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Tribe Magazine [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: August 12, 2000 9:05 PM
Here we go….. Answer as wordy or short as you want, but remember that
I have to squeeze it all on a page. Actually 3/4 of a page.. OK, maybe a
Here is my intro (please correct it if you hate it):
>>>>I would add the following to this paragraph: “After Atlantis, he moved
into the house realm with Effective, the group that introduced Bad Boy Bill
to Canada. A well known radio dj from his days at CFNY (now Edge 102), he
introduced techno music to the “commercial” airwaves with The Dr. Trance
Radio Program (Energy 108, Hot 103.5), and “founded” the Global Groove
Network in 1998. He currently is….”
Don Berns AKA Dr. Trance is a pioneer in Toronto’s rave community. As a
DJ, he was instrumental in introducing trance to Canada back when the
only genres people had heard of were techno and house. As a promoter he
was a partner in one of Toronto’s first major rave companies, Nitrous,
later forming the Atlantis rave company that introduced raves into
non-rave spaces like the Toronto Isand Airport, The CN Tower, and the
Ontario Science Centre. Also a well known radio DJ, he currently is the
program director of 1groove.com, an Internet radio station based in
Toronto. About 15,000 of you might have seen him MCing the iDANCE RALLY
with MC Flipside….
I have often heard you referred to as the godfather of trance, or the
godfather of the scene in Canada. How did you get into this scene
>>>Chris Sheppard, whom I worked with at CFNY, introduced me to the Exodus
parties in 1991. At the same time, Craig Beesak was playing harder edged
techno at Catch 22; I became hooked on the music, then the people. I felt
like I had found a “home” with the fledgling Toronto scene.
I remember back in the days of the Nitrous rave company turning into the
Atlantis company. The Atlantis parties were outstanding! The amazing
flyers and the amazing spaces you guys used to find. How the hell did
you do it? I mean, getting the CN Tower for a rave !? Holy shit!
>>>Credit where credit is due: DJ Iain went after the Science Centre and got
it. I had connections at the Tower and pursued them. Both spaces are in the
business of making money and were not adverse to trying something new. The
people from the Tower came to our Rave-O-Rama party in Pickering and liked
what they saw, and we were in. Even though we were fogged in that night, I
think most people there were blown away by being able to attend a party at
the top of the world’s tallest free-standing structure.
What about trance. You were playing it back when even I had never heard
of it before. Why trance? And what does it feel like now that everybody
seems to be calling themselves trance DJs? What about all this trance
product coming out now. Will the glut of trance records bury us alive?
Is any of it worth playing?
>>>Like any other kind of music that becomes popular, there is a certain
amount of crap that is released along with the good and the brilliant music.
I think the key is (and always has been) finding music one likes and playing
it. It’s always been that way for me. Coming from a background of melodic
songs and structured music (even classical!), I found myself drawn to what
eventually became known as trance. I started playing it and found a core of
people who enjoyed what they heard. As the genre has grown, more and more
fans have become DJ’s and thus are playing all different styles of trance.
Although I prefer dj’s who have kept to one form of music with which they
are associated, I say, “bring on the competition!” It gives me a stronger
desire to keep fresh and find tracks that I can call my own.
Tell me about your radio history…. You have been involved with many
stations over the years, and I hear your voice on commercials too? Where
do you find enough hours in the day for all this?
>>>I started in top 40 radio way back in my university days (I went to Brown
U. in Rhode Island), and worked my way around the U.S., dabbling in album
and adult contemporary music radio before finding CFNY, where I fell in love
with the “alternative” music that eventually lead me to techno-an
alternative form of dance. Throughout this time I also maintained a career
in voice-over work, feeling that it would be my fall-back if and when radio
dried up (which it did in a big way last decade). Because it costs so much
to buy the music I play, I feel it’s important to maintain my “day jobs” in
addition to my dj career. And there aren’t enough hours in the day for it
all, but I’m having so much fun and still enjoy the people so much that I
don’t want to give up being Dr. Trance for anything.
You’ve had the advantage of seeing parties in Toronto from 4 sides: as a
partier, a promoter, as a DJ, and as a media person covering events…
Tell me what your favourite events were and why..
>>>In his book, “Rave Culture: An Insider’s Overview” Jimi Fritz describes
the overwhelming feeling one gets when “the entire room goes off at once,” a
feeling one can only get at a rave (or rave-style event). For me, the best
parties have been the ones where that has happened: The Messiah Rave
(L.A.-1992), The Nitrous Grand Finale, the last Chemistry party, Pleasure
Force: The Joker Is High, the first Destiny 3 Day, the first E! Network
party, The Plastic Puppet Motive 5th anniversary, and especially Atlantis:
Return to The Deep, the only party I’ve ever been to that was so emotional
that I (along with a lot of others) cried. There are also parties that were
favourites because of sound, lights, and/or staging: Atlantis:Airport ’94
and the first Syrous outdoor event at The Honey Pot come to mind.
Where do you think our scene will go from here? Where would you like to
see it go? Will you ever be in town for a TRIBE party?
>>>I strongly feel that our scene will go wherever creative minds who love
the music and the parties (as opposed to the potential financial gain) take
them. We are blessed with a great number of creative people in Toronto who
have the capability of taking this scene to another level-even with the new
rules and regulations everyone has to work with. If where we’ve been is any
indication of where we’re going, I have a great deal of hope that the scene
will remain fresh and vibrant. I’d like to see more promoters be aware of
the dramatic effects a well-thought-out party can have, whether it’s
decorations or a community effort to bring new and exciting concepts to the
event along side the music. But, as they say, whether it’s a mega-party that
draws 15,000 or an intimate affair for less than 1,000, it’s all good!
>>>As for your last question, well, gee, I’m getting booked out of town so
much these days that I would think if a promoter wanted to guarantee that I
experience one of his or her events, he/she would invite me to play!!!!
Especially since I read his or her monthly magazine religiously…..
Thanks Don. if you can get back to me with the responses by tomorrow
(Sunday afternoon) that would be wicked. I gotta say that there have
been times over the years when I was about to throw in the towel with
TRIBE, and then I would watch you throw these parties or get so into it
while DJing that it inspired me to go on. Don’t let that get to your
head now. 😉
Now look what you’ve done…I can’t get out of the door to my office!
(Thanks-your praise means a lot.)