Music filled the air last Friday night as Tom and Gary's Decentralized Dance Party hit Calgary's streets. Attracting well over a thousand people, this traveling circus is on a cross-Canada tour with one thing in mind -- to bring about a party revolution.
One look at the Decentralized Dance Party's website and you'll find that it reads more like a political call to arms then a touring street attraction. Led by the mysterious Tom and Gary, these two Vancouver natives have made it their goal to push the social norms of public events by staging massive, locally organized street parties in Canada's major cities. The concept is simple -- partygoers are expected to bring portable stereos to a chosen location, and a FM transmitter is used by the party leaders to play the same music through the various sound systems. With no centralized sound system, the party is free to move from place to place, creating an organic movement of party mayhem. The event has had a number of themes, ranging from vintage ski suits to Canada for the Olympics, and members are expected to wear costumes and bring various props. All of this is outlined is the DDP Party Manifesto, where they explain partying as "the complete loss of the social conditioning that makes adult life monotonous and depressing."
With well over 20 street parties under their belt, and with the concept going international, the DDP consists of eight dedicated members traveling by RV -- or the Canadream -- across Canada. Led by Tom and Gary, the crew is filled out by "the elite banana task force," a costumed group of party managers whose goal is to keep the party respectful and contained. The group has used the website Kickstarter to fund their cross-Canada tour, and have raised $10,131, all from individual donations, exceeding their $10,000 goal for the tour.
Like fundraising for the event, organization of the parties are completely grassroots, relying on social media and word of mouth to make them happen. This is all part of the DDP's approach to partying -- aiming to create a self-animating national movement based on camaraderie and the challenge of social norms, turning public ass-shaking into a kind of conceptual art.
Describing the group as a "force for good," DDP leader Gary Lachance "just wants to have spontaneous fun in a public place." Lachance even indirectly cites the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when he passionately yearns for "the freedom to assemble" when seeking his "spontaneous parties without permits."
By the time the DDP reached Calgary for a second time -- they threw a party here last October -- word had spread through social media, quickly reaching the U of C campus.
Over 2,000 Facebook users marked 'attending' for the event, and Twitter feeds were buzzing in anticipation.
U of C business student Vanessa Cotes-Humen received this text on the day of the event: "My house. Seven. Business attire . . . This is a must."
The theme of the event was "Strictly Business," and as the party began at around 8 p.m., the skate bowls of Millennium Park filled with hundreds of suit-sporting party animals blasting Daft Punk through cheap, Value Village boom boxes. By 9 p.m. the crowd had grown to well over 1,000, the music deafening in some spots and barely audible in others. Men in office chairs rolled through the bowls as excited faces streaked by to the blur of portable fog machines and beach umbrellas.
Fourth-year U of C business student Elliot Labonte said the event had "good vibes all around." When asked about the size of the event, Labonte added "it blew me away, way more than I expected. I didn't know what it would be like, and it was a lot more than I expected."
By 9:15 p.m., the party began to move east down 8th Avenue southwest. Police kept a close eye on the group, as the infectious atmosphere began to affect surprised on-lookers -- some confused by the colourful mob, others joining in out of some laughter-induced instinct. The mob soon entered a parkade, filling two floors with a level of excitement and jubilance rarely felt at a downtown nightclub. Everyone sang to the music as it seamlessly shifted between europop, classic rock and Diana Ross.
By 9:30 p.m., the party had made its way to the park on the corner of 8th Street and Stephen Avenue, the space packed shoulder to shoulder, resembling an ant hill that somehow knew the dance for YMCA. People became increasing uninhibited -- swayed by catchy dance music -- as the dancing became more widespread and distinctly less controlled. At 10:30 p.m. the festivities returned to Millennium Park, and the party kept going until 1:00 a.m.
When asked about involvement from the U of C's Students' Union, vice-president of operations and finance Patrick Straw said "The entire executive was there. We knew it was going to be a pretty wild event, so we thought it would be a good little dance."
Police refused to comment on the event, but one officer said he had "only the smallest problems that you could expect from an event of this size." The whole event finished with little hassle, and the DDP packed up to bring the party to Victoria for September 14th.
The DDP had achieved its goal -- as Gary Lachance put it -- to bring the "street party revolution" to Calgary.