New Year’s Eve rarely falls on Sunday. Since the inception of Sunday Skool 21 years ago, only in 2000 and 2006 has Sunday Skool fallen on NYE. This Sunday is set to be a great celebration, with LurkN, DJ Reed Rock and the legendary DJ Rice behind the decks.

I sat down last week with Mark “DJ Rice” Quan and talked about the local electronic music scene over the last couple decades. DJ Rice’s Sunday Skool is among the longest running residencies in the world, having started in 1996 at the Night Gallery. In 2003, the iconic installment moved to the Venue, after the closure of the former, and after just over a year, it became the Hifi. Patrons moved over easily, enjoying the newly-renovated digs and clever management of GM Sarmad Rizvi, and owners Pete Emes and Mike Grimes, also known as the Smalltown DJs.

For the past 21 years, Quan has only missed two or three Sunday nights, and never due to illness or vacation. In fact, he can only recall a couple of renovation days during the transition between The Venue and the Hifi Club—at the time when Emes and Grimes took over ownership with Graham Furse—as well as the couple of weeks that Calgary was shut down due to the flood in 2013. It speaks to his dedication to the night.

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Many years ago, Quan would call up his favourite record store in Toronto, Play De Record, where all the NY and Chicago DJs bought their music. Quan refers to it as—“hands down—the best record store in the world.” Each Friday there were new releases, and he would call the owner of the store, who would say “I gotta go upstairs, Rice is on the phone” and play tracks while Quan decided whether to purchase the albums. He recalls that he would regularly spend several hundred dollars per week on music and thousands per year for UPS. Luckily, two of his Sunday Skool fans worked for UPS and would take special care that his new purchases arrived on time.

Quan laughs, remembering working at the Night Gallery, with its “punk rock” management. “It was the character of the place that helped set the industry. We were the first to charge cover in order to pay for the DJs.” Collecting cover charge is an important element in supporting local residencies throughout the city, being the only way some resident DJs get paid. And if everyone else sticks around, the place will fill up, and you will have fun.

Quan reminisces about a time when patrons were hungrier for the music. Of course, this was back when all music was analog; played from nothing but organic vinyl. Back in the day, DJs used white label covers on their records to mitigate “trainspotting,” keeping people from getting information about music they had worked hard to come by. “You still have to know how to deliver it. Anytime I play a new track, I like to sandwich it between two classics. But trainspotting is good for the artists. I wish I had invented Shazaam myself!” Quan says with a laugh. He also delivers the friendly reminder that patrons should avoid asking a DJ for requests (unless you’re at a wedding or top 40s club) because DJs are artists after all, and their set is the canvas.

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Quan feels the genre has evolved and the original crowd has grown up, so coming out on a Sunday night has become more difficult, with jobs and kids and responsibilities. He misses the old patrons, but he appreciates the new ones. Cosmic “LurkN” Lurknbang, looks forward to opening this week’s show. When asked what genre of music he plays, he answers, “sex music,” with a giggle. “I think it’s going to be a vibin’ good time—with a legend like DJ Rice. I’m expecting a lot of his fans from the last 21 years. And you know the staff is going to treat you right!”

Sean “Essobee” O’Brien, bar manager at Hifi, says, “I’m just really excited for it. It’s the first NYE Sunday Skool that I’ve worked. My favourite part about Sundays [are] the customers, whether they’re old or new. They’re great tippers; they have a lot of fun. One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone is on that dance floor. On a slow night you’ll have people sitting at tables. [But] on a slow Sunday, they’re all on the dance floor.”

When Quan isn’t behind the decks, he enjoys hanging out with his wife and son, working on his investments, traveling, and supporting the local industry. He normally takes NYE off, but he’s looking very forward to playing this year, because he loves the reunion aspect when patrons won’t have work the next day. We can expect a lot of house classics from over the years played by our city’s most established and dedicated resident, who always finishes his sets with the iconic track by Frankie Knuckles, “The Whistle Song.” He invites his fans from over the last two decades to celebrate this Sunday at the Hifi.

Tickets are $15 through ticketfly.com for this Sunday, December 31 @ Hifi Club located at 219 10 Ave SW 

Words: Kasia Gorski

Photos: Courtesy of Hifi Club & Stoked On Photos

 

 

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