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Jul. 7, 2005. 01:00 AM
 
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Say goodbye to the Hullabaloo! era
Chris Frolic calls it quits at No. 44

One, last blow-out party this weekend

BEN RAYNER
POP MUSIC CRITIC

Even if fun-fur finery, glo-sticks and happy hardcore were never your thing, you can't be a raver past or present in Toronto and not feel a twinge of sadness at the looming retirement of the Hullabaloo! brand.

Although neither the largest nor the longest-lived of the party-promotion outfits once so numerous in this city by the close of the 1990s, Hullabaloo! the brainchild of cherubic happy-hardcore DJ Chris "Anabolic Frolic" Frolic has always staged the "raviest" of raves, colourful nighttime playgrounds where the childlike whimsy, elaborate costumes and unabashedly upbeat sounds that characterized the scene's U.K. origins have never gone out of fashion.

Hullabaloo!'s singular brand of cultural idealism, not to mention its championing of rip-roaring, 150 bpm hardcore sounds, has earned it a faithful following that has endured over the years while most of the other promoters who came up alongside it have vanished. Yet late last year, Frolic stunned the Hulla hordes by announcing that he would soon be getting out of the party business and putting the Hullabaloo! name to rest for good.

The moment of truth is upon us this weekend. Sometime during the wee hours of Sunday morning, the lights will come up on the 44th Hullabaloo! event and that will be it.

"It's gonna be rough," concedes Frolic, 30. "But it's run its course. I sort of came to the hard conclusion that brighter days weren't ahead, and Hulla is such a brand that I sort of owed it to go out while it still meant something rather than to beat it into the ground. Ever since I made the decision, I've felt really good about it because it sent shockwaves around the world. Literally everywhere."

Indeed, while hardcore parties have been a mainstay of the European party scene since rave's inception (and are even slightly resurgent these days), Hullabaloo! and Anabolic Frolic have pretty much owned North America since the franchise began in 1997.

Frolic, an Ottawa native first introduced to electronic dance music via the University of Ottawa radio station, started throwing parties for much the same reason he stumbed into DJ-ing: "Out of necessity." He simply wasn't hearing the music he liked specifically, the pathologically giddy, oft-maligned genre known as "happy hardcore." So he took matters into his own hands, first as an importer of hardcore vinyl, then as a DJ and finally as a promoter.

"I literally starved while I was doing this in the beginning," Frolic says. "I knew if I had a job, I would not be able to focus while working. So basically I couldn't afford a place to live. I had an office that was 10 by 12 feet, no windows. I slept on the floor of this thing for two years. When my wife, Robin, moved up here from L.A., we lived in there together for three months until we got our own place. It was trial by fire. If you can make it through that ..."

It has, of course, paid off. Anabolic Frolic and Hullabaloo! have occupied a fairly unique niche in the North American market ever since. And, thanks in part to Frolic's hugely successful Happy 2 B Hardcore series for the long-lost Moonshine Records (at 400,000 units moved, it's the bestselling electronic-music series ever), the Hulla name has gained notoriety amongst ravers around the world, regularly drawing curious partiers from points as far afield as the States, the U.K., Germany and Australian to Toronto.

But Hulla and Frolic wound up being in the wrong place at the wrong time when one of three much-reported Ecstasy deaths to occur in the city in 1999 happened at his "A View to a Thrill" party that October.

Called before a public inquest into the unfortunate death of 20-year-old Ryerson student Allan Ho, Frolic wound up bearing the brunt of the media's anti-rave pillorying when the city's rave hysteria hit full force in 2000. It's still hard for him to talk about the time.

"Anybody who knows me knows I was very passionate about what I did and I never messed around in anything bad. It was just bad luck, I guess," he says.

Frolic who suffered through another crisis a year later when a Hullabaloo! partygoer was stabbed through the heart says the whole thing was an "eye-opening experience about the media."

"I remember the morning after our party when the police were giving their spin on the whole thing," he says. "They were painting this terrible picture of, like, kids sleeping in trash and stuff. And it turns out my mother was in Toronto that weekend it was Thanksgiving weekend and I'd invited her to our party because she'd never seen what I do. So she came at 5 in the morning, she got up onstage and I introduced her to the crowd and everybody went crazy. My wife, Robin, gave her some glo-sticks and she danced onstage with glo-sticks for my entire set, and afterwards some kids took it upon themselves to escort her through the building and get her a taxi.

"She was so impressed by the whole experience, it reminded her a lot of things she did in her youth. She was there, she saw it with her own eyes and all of a sudden we saw what they were reporting."

In the midst of this dark period, Frolic nevertheless resolved only to end Hullabaloo! on "my own terms." And while the parties have grown smaller since the heyday, but a stable core of fans has remained.

So why end it now? The way Frolic sees it, the scene, now well into its 15th year in North America, is only going to keep fragmenting and contracting, as the infrastructure that allowed it to get so big in Toronto no longer exists.

"For years and years and years, there wasn't a single weekend in Toronto where there wasn't a big event going on. I'd say with any given Hulla, there were 500 new kids experiencing their very first rave. And if you think about that going on every single weekend and just gaining momentum, that doesn't exist anymore ... For the past two or three years, I've sort of felt like I've been carrying the whole scene on my shoulders."

Frolic, who recently became the proud father of a baby boy, will continue to DJ "as long as Anabolic Frolic's bookings do," while pursuing his curious second calling as a trained stage hypnotist on the side. He's also working on a book about his experiences.

But Hullabaloo!, he vows, is done. Following a pre-party at the Marquee Event Theatre tomorrow night, then, the final Hullabaloo! fittingly called "All Good Things ..." goes down at the Opera House on Saturday, featuring a DJ roster of Hulla residents and concluding with a two-hour "history of Hulla" set from Anabolic Frolic.

"The sound and lighting budget exceeds anything we've ever done, even in our biggest days," he laughs. And for a place like the Opera House, it's totally overkill. On paper, if you saw what we had planned, it's totally crazy. But I think for a lot of people there, it's gonna be the last rave they're ever going to be at. So I'd like Hulla to personify what the rave scene is and was ...

"What people don't understand about raving is there was such a community. They're the ones who made it what it was ... Every Hulla was sort of this really creative celebration of fashion and culture and music, and that came from within. That came from the people who came to it."

Additional articles by Ben Rayner




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