The taxi door closed as the drugs took hold. The girls were young, overwhelmed by the raw pleasure of the first peak of MDMA. Pupils dilated, senses maxed, brains flooded with serotonin. It was close to 4 a.m., and the streets of Montreal were nearly empty. Most had left the clubs, heading home to be ravished by strangers. Yet in the confines of the taxi, the trip had just commenced. “Stereo,” the taxi driver said, “the party is just beginning…”
Located at 856 Ste. Catherine E., bordering on the Village, Stereo is an international icon. Rated as the fourteenth best club in the world last year by the prestigious DJMag, Stereo shines amidst the dim glow of subpar clubs throughout North America. As a strictly afterhours club, Stereo opens at 1 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, and caters primarily to a scene of clubbers who aren’t appeased by what the ten – three scene can offer.
Afterhours clubbing does not present itself as an extension of “regular” clubbing, but rather as an entirely new, rewarding experience. “Regular” clubbing is built around the sale of alcohol, as for many clubs, success depends upon how thirsty their patrons are. At Stereo, no alcohol is served. One of the major benefits of this are the extended hours it affords the club, liberating Stereo from the oppressive hours of liquor licenses. Mike Rein, co-owner of Stereo along with Tommy Piscardeli, stresses the benefits prohibition brings in terms of music. “We’ve stayed open until 5 p.m. before,” he stated. “If the people are here, and the DJ is having fun, let’s do it.” This allows for the handpicked international DJs to perform “ten hour sets if they want to,” Piscardeli claimed.
Music is clearly vital to the success of Stereo and the afterhours scene in general. Tommy pointed out that, “In alcohol clubs, music just becomes the background. Here, all you have is music; all you have is a dance floor. There is no VIP. You’re not judged on how much money you have like in a club. People are here for the music. They’re not sitting in a booth showing off with their bottles.” The lack of alcohol also plays a major role in shaping the mood of the crowd. A far cry from the often violent attitudes found in alcohol-fuelled clubs, there is no aggression at Stereo at all. According to Rein, there has not been a fight at the club in 11 years.
While alcohol plays no major role in the scene, drugs certainly do. Long-time patron Bruno explained, “The first time I went to Stereo and saw the dance floor, I was mesmerized. The lights, the deep resonating sound, the newest and best EDM [electronic dance music], and the crowd. They were all dancing, intensely, probably fuelled by drugs. I know I was, and the people I talked to as well. Cocaine, MDMA, speed – the party drugs. You could see their influence, they were all there. But everybody was friendly, I always felt safe, and I’ve never had to worry about the usual idiots that terrorize clubs.”
It would seem as if the drug crowd is safer than the alcohol crowd. Regardless of the prevalence of drugs, it would be illogical to assume all patrons of Stereo use them. The club itself takes all necessary precautions against drugs, with strict security pat downs upon entrance, and bouncers proficient in first aid. Furthermore, unlike many afterhours venues, Stereo has had no issues with law enforcement. Rein explained that, “We have a great standing relationship with the local police department. We have an open door policy with them. They can come and look around whenever they want.” The preconception that afterhours clubs are sketchy, or even illegal, is valid in some cases, but Stereo’s relationship with the authorities is one that most afterhours clubs cannot claim.
Another major difference between most clubs and Stereo stems from the elegance of the club itself. “There’s not many clubs that can say “turn on our lights” in the daytime and the club looks great. You can do that at Stereo,” said Piscardeli. Following a disastrous fire that shut the club down in 2009, Stereo was completely redesigned, and is now deceptively luxurious. From the outside, its mysterious black doors blend in with the neighbourhood, but once opened they reveal a world of fantasy. The dance floor is made of exotic hardwood. The mesmerizing collection of new and unreleased EDM tracks emanates from large speakers with high polish finishes. The club itself is constructed within a building, and this double layer of insulation helps to contain sound. The dance floor floats five feet above the bottom of the building, producing a bass you feel instead of hear. If you need a break from dancing, you can relax in the two beautiful lounge areas, adorned with multiple leather couches. “We took what people always complained about Stereo, and fixed it,” Piscardeli said. Essentially, the club is comfortable enough to allow for the long hours spent within it. Some patrons even take to calling Stereo home. They treat the club with respect: by the end of a night at Stereo, the floors remain clean, barring the exception of the odd tiny baggie with remnants of cocaine snuck through the security screenings. The plague of sticky alcohol coated floors littered with cups, napkins, and whatever else clubbers leave behind does not infect Stereo.
Evidently, something about Stereo makes it stand out. Rein reflected on the popularity of the club, claiming, “We’ve had sold out nights where you’re waiting outside for three or four hours in the snow. I remember last New Years, there was a guy who had about three inches of snow built up on his hood because he hadn’t moved in three hours and was waiting patiently. When I saw that I looked and said ‘You! Get inside! You’ve been way too patient, you’ve got three inches of snow on your head, let’s go inside.’”
For the loyal patrons of Stereo, it is more than just a club. Tatyana, an occasional Stereo patron, observed, “It’s a whole new scene that I didn’t even think existed. The drugs, the sex, and the music. It’s just so different. I think if you’re somebody who likes to experiment and likes to try new things and is open minded, this would be a positive experience.” Yet passion for the establishment extends beyond the patrons. Piscardeli said, “What I’ve always loved about Stereo is that it’s an escape. It’s an escape from everyday life, work, problems. Leave it at the door. You come in, don’t worry about anything. Enjoy yourself.” Stereo is seen as a “pleasure dome” where, in Rein’s words, you can “turn your reality into fantasy for ten hours.”