We Missed The Boat

Today our good friend Don (aka – Dr. Trance) will be hanging up his Dr. Trance persona and serving up his last set of crowd -pleasing Trance on his retirement boat cruise. We are mighty pissed that we couldn’t be there (parental obligations, lack of cash etc)… But that’s what happens when you become a parent… You miss your friend’s retirement party and the last set he’ll ever play in front of a live crowd under the name Dr. Trance! Sorry, don’t mean to sound bitter… (Sidenote: I love my girls more than anything).

I have no doubt that it will be an amazing time and that Don will throw down a stellar set that has hands in the air and people screaming on the dance floor! I know our friend Glen will be smiling down on him from up above too!

Anyway, I wanted to share an article that was written about Don in The Toronto Star this weekend. It was really well written and a great tribute to him.

A doctor retires, and partiers mourn

Dr. Trance, a.k.a. Don Berns, helped bring rave scene to Toronto

Was lured to city by CFNY in the station’s trailblazing days


The scattered alumni of Toronto’s tattered rave scene have had even more reasons than usual to feel nostalgic for better days this summer.

This past June was the first in seven years that didn’t climax with the beloved Om Festival. Then happy-hardcore overlord Anabolic Frolic made good on a vow to retire his long-running party franchise with one last, bittersweet bash at the Opera House last month.

Now we’re faced with the imminent retirement of venerable DJ, promoter, radio host and scene figurehead Dr. Trance, who was indispensable in introducing dance culture to Toronto in the first place.

“I hate to quote Kenny Rogers, but, `You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,'” sighs the good doctor over iced tea and a succession of American cigarettes. “And I think this was true of my radio career, too — you know when the time is right. I haven’t bought records in over a year now, and when I was playing a lot, most of the money I made was used to buy records. … I can’t continue to party like it’s 1999 anymore.

“It’s an honourable thing — rare in the music industry — to be able to admit that you’re not feeling it like you used to, to bow out before you turn into a half-hearted caricature of your former self. But Dr. Trance’s decision to retreat from the dance culture can’t have been an easy one, because his story is illustrative of the life-changing powers of the increasingly remote rave movement.

See, in a previous life, Dr. Trance was a Connecticut-born radio personality named Don Berns.Lured to Toronto by longtime acquaintance and then-CFNY boss Dave Marsden, he joined the station in 1985, serving as both an on-air jock and programming director during what many consider to be the outlet’s peak years.

“It was an extraordinary radio station and I was there for the tail end of the `extraordinariness’ of it,” says Berns, who got out shortly before CFNY’s early-’90s repositioning as more conservative modern-rock outlet The Edge.

Berns credits his time at CFNY with opening his mind to all forms of new music, and it was during his tenure there that he first encountered the electronic sounds driving the original U.K. rave boom in the late 1980s.

Tipped that a similar revolution was trickling into Toronto, he ventured out to one of the infamous “23 Hop” after-hours events at 318 Richmond St. (now the Joker) and experienced an epiphany familiar to anyone who was ever similarly seduced by the underground party movement. His conversion was instantaneous, he says, “from the moment I heard (L.A. Style’s) `James Brown is Dead,’ followed very closely thereafter by `O Fortuna’ by Apotheosis.

“I went `Oh my God, this is dance music that’s got some muscle to it.’ I mean, disco was okay, but it’s just not me. I never felt connected to it. But here, after being on CFNY and playing everything from Depeche Mode to New Order to Ministry to Skinny Puppy, here was some dance music that took all the best elements of that. The hairs on the back of my neck just stood up. I and a couple of others spent a good six to eight months trying to convince CFNY to play that kind of music.

“A trip to a proper, old-school warehouse party in Los Angeles solidified Berns’s new allegiance. Soon he was enthusiastically sharing his wee-hours adventures over the airwaves, relentlessly pumping the music to anyone who’d listen.

This didn’t escape the attention of early scene builders like DJ Iain, who late one night out invited Berns to play at a rave he was throwing, despite Berns’s admission he didn’t have a clue how to mix dance records. Iain was insistent, and when Berns, full of ideas from his L.A. experience, offered to help promote the party, his mutation into Dr. Trance was nearly complete.

A slew of inventively themed parties ensued, while Berns parlayed his connections into additional gigs with other promoters (including, for trivia’s sake, the very first Destiny rave).

The name Dr. Trance was minted one memorable night when Berns and pal Ambient C hit upon the idea of smoothing out the party-going crowd with a closing set of mood-altering sounds and brain-tickling selections that passed for “trance” before the word became synonymous with Oakenfold-esque, hands-in-the-air Euro-cheese.

“It was very out-there, waveform stuff. If you go back and listen to old Dr. Trance mix tapes, it’s certainly nothing like what we’re playing now,” he says. “We had, like, little snippets of Disney songs in there, the Partridge Family theme, just stuff to make people feel a little different than they’d felt all night.

And in the middle of the set, John E — who was one of the first progressive DJs in the city — walked up to me and said, `We’re gonna have to start calling you Dr. Trance.’ And it was like a door opened and light was shining on the other side. It was the perfect way to get away from the Don Berns personality I’d established at CFNY and step into this whole new world and recreate who I was.

“For more than a decade — and despite the fact that he’s always been old enough to have fathered many of his contemporaries in the booth and in the crowd — Dr. Trance has been a fixture in a local scene fraught with instability.

His crowd-pleasing, big-room antics were inescapable during rave’s late-’90s flirtation with thousands-strong throngs. He coaxed exclusive sets out of such “superstar” DJs as Oakenfold, Carl Cox and Bad Boy Bill during his run with the (since automated) Internet-radio station 1groove.com. He provided a much-needed “adult” voice of reason during the City of Toronto’s anti-rave crusade a few years ago. He stayed loyal to trance even as the genre’s global popularity buried the decent records beneath an avalanche of commercial ecstasy.

And he has remained, like fellow oldsters-turned-ravers Underworld, an enduring symbol of dance music and dance culture’s universal appeal. It’s a shame everyone his age isn’t so open-minded, actually, as this city and its reactionary authorities might not have crushed one of the world’s most vibrant rave scenes so decisively had they been slightly less quick to judge and more willing to listen.

Dr. Trance takes to the decks one last time, then, tomorrow afternoon, as Berns headlines a “retirement boat cruise” cheekily staged in his honour (details at http://www.drtrance.com) featuring such friends and colleagues as Michael Drury, De-Koze, Jelo, his sometime production partner St. Pete and DJ Iain, who’s been “dragged kicking and screaming” from his own retirement for the occasion. The cruise will also serve as a tip of the hat to much-missed DJ Glen Vernon, who passed away suddenly last month.

Berns will continue to produce the occasional track and DJ once in a while under his own name (Pride is a must-play, he says), but otherwise he will occupy his time doing voiceover work, improv comedy and running a tanning salon in Brampton called Honey Brown’s. Dr. Trance is dead.

“I don’t mind leaving it behind,” he says. “I’ve had a really good run, I’ve made some great friends, I’ve had a chance to play some amazing music and, more than that, I have been one of the lucky few who got to experience the rave scene when it was really a rave scene.”


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