DJ Blackcat, known to a select few as Mykel Hall, was one of the first DJs to spin hip hop, reggae, and R&B in Toronto’s queer community, and has been making crowds dance for more than two decades. Here’s what Pride means to him.
The first time I went to Pride, I wasn’t out yet. I’m of West Indian descent, I’m Jamaican, and being an out gay man—or bisexual man, which is how I identified at the time—was very taboo. I had my own preconceived, stereotypical notions of what the gay life was, and I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of that. But my boyfriend at the time was out, and it was very important to him. So I went to my first Pride, and I was very guarded, but it wound up being a good experience. I think I really grew from that. I realized that a lot of things that I’d seen [previously] weren’t the only way gay men and women represented. I came out of the experience a lot calmer than I went in.
Now, Pride is about responsibility for me.
When I came into this scene, reggae, R&B, hip hop, and soca were not played in the [queer] community. That music just wasn’t, and I think the reason my popularity skyrocketed like it did at the beginning of my career was because I was the only one doing it…At first Blackcat was a job for me, and it was an amazing job and an amazing career change. Then at some point the politics started to come, where I couldn’t get certain gigs because they had me in this urban pigeonhole. [Bar owners] thought I was just going to spin reggae all night, or that because I was black they were going to get a whole lot of black people at their club and they weren’t going to be able to sell drinks…so I realized that I had to take on another hat. I’m not an extremely political person, but if something’s being thrown at me, I also won’t ignore it.
Letting people know that there’s more to Pride than just dance music or circuit music is really important to me. At first, I needed to be part of certain situations to make sure [that kind of music] was there. Then five years into my DJing, Blockorama came in, and then there was finally a spot where people of colour—or anybody who loves this music—were able to enjoy that music. And it became one of the biggest gardens at Pride. There are so many places where you can go and hear urban music on a daily basis, and that’s amazing for me.
I look forward to Pride because I don’t always see a lot of these [fans.] I have a big out of town following, and I have people that come in every year just to hear me and see me spin…I have people come up to me with CD mixes I released in the ’90s, asking for a new copy because theirs is all scratched from playing it so many times…It’s humbling and it’s an honour. I’ve had to go through so much fight, I’ve been fighting for the last 20 years, and sometimes you don’t always feel the love, but I feel that love at Pride, every year.
DJ Blackcat plays Blockorama at the TD Wellesley stage at 9:15 p.m. on June 30. His annual Shut ‘Em Down Pride ending party takes place later the same evening at Club 120.