AndyCapp: Toronto's House Music Beacon of Cultural Authenticity
Not your typical DJ profile.
It's been a long journey for Andrew Hicks. He began making mixtapes for his friends—with his voice as the radio host—and by spinning his high school dances in the early 90s. Today, Hicks is known by many as AndyCapp and has played at just about every club in Toronto. Not bad for someone who "didn't want to be a DJ in clubs."
Originally from London, Ontario, it was around the same time that a new club was opening called The Century Room, which would shortly become AndyCapp's first residency. "I took every other Friday and played classic hip-hop and classic house," he tells THUMP. "I can't remember what it is now...actually I think it turned into a comic book store."
It was during his residencies at The Shot and Bacchus Lounge in London in the late 90s when AndyCapp began to notice a change in the scene he was now very much a part of. "I just gave up on hip-hop and started playing everything," he says. "A year earlier you would have never seen a sorority white girl asking for hip-hop and now they're swarming the DJ booth saying, 'Can you play this?' I just wasn't having it."
Though that didn't mean that the town itself had lost its touch, he says. "What was great about London was that there was a night for every kind of music." It was not only the musical aspect of the business that was changing but the manner in which it operated as well. "We used to have really good connections to Industry nightclub in Toronto. DJ fees weren't as astronomical as they are now. Then, Industry had Daft Punk play and I'm sure they weren't cheap, but I'm sure they weren't ridiculous at that time."
Fast-forward to 2005, when AndyCapp moved to Toronto. "The scene had just kind of crumbled [in London] and I think the music had changed too." It didn't take long for him to settle he says—part of which he says is due to the community around him—which led to great parties.
But AndyCapp's fascination with cultural communities flourished outside of the music industry as well. He is directing a documentary, he says, "it's built around a play on the brief history of alternative dance—like voguing and housing. It's basically about how we absorb information—in particular, through movies, TV and even YouTube."
To AndyCapp, he says it's not difficult to see the linkages between film and music. "I enjoy editing," he says. "I think that comes out of DJing—that sort of piecing together things—I think that's just me."
He's also published his master's thesis along the way. "I went back [to London] for two years to study as a sort of diversion," says AndyCapp. "I wanted to to deal with the late 70s, early 80s in downtown NYC—the meeting between downtown New York and hip-hop and the way things merged before anything was anything."
It was his interest and knowledge of that timeframe which led him to DJ at the opening of the famous Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at Toronto's AGO, but things did not go as planned. "It was awful. It was the worst thing I have ever done. I could talk about that for a long time," he explains. "That timeframe was really special to me because people just sort of tried anything to see if it worked and I think that's the last pure moment in American culture."
Regardless of his DJ equipment lacking monitors and its poor location, it was the art show itself which would take the biggest toll on him. "That actually made me feel depressed for several weeks after," he says. "When I saw that line from Jay-Z about owning a Basquiat, I just wanted to grab it and run with the painting—I just felt like they were trying to box it in."
"I think why I was so depressed was because if, this is the best thing to come and they fucked it up, what could possibly be next? Nothing."
It was the exhibit's lack of authenticity that irked him most, which in his own performances, is something he has always sought to ensure. "I've never used a computer," says AndyCapp. "That was the one rule we had if you were a guest: you could never use Serato. To me, it looks really boring and we wanted guests to really dig."
He believes that there is a calculated yet spontaneous aspect of DJing that isn't there when you use software. "When you bring a limited amount of vinyl you have to work with what you have and you have to think two, three records ahead," he says. "I've sort of trained myself to be that way—kind of forever."
Despite the honesty, it's an attitude not necessarily shared throughout the city. "I think we need a centralized place or venue that is really committed," he says, referencing former 90s hotspots like Roxy Blu. "Some of our afterhours have been $20 at the door. But we also provide a space, even though we're not saying it, you can do whatever you want and you're there until 6 AM."
AndyCapp can sense a changing of the tide in Toronto. "I think it's the conservative nature, everyone wants everything nice and quiet here. Turn the noise off at 11 PM outside—it's just fucking ridiculous," he says. "Ossington is horrible now, Dundas is getting there—that was kind of our get away from other places and then there's Kensington market."
Until then, he's setting his sights on other places. "I don't have faith," he says, "unless we make a scene in the Junction or something."
All photos by Daniel Melfi.
Originally published on Thump.