The Godfather of Mtl Disco

Richard Burnett

The Montreal of the 1970s is really a city of broken dreams, dreams that had their roots in the cosmopolitan explosion of Expo 67, the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century, and the 1969 inaugural season of Nos Amours, the Montreal Expos.

Then came the FLQ and the October Crisis; the billion-dollar Summer Olympics that Montreal’s then-mayor Jean Drapeau infamously claimed couldn’t have a deficit any more than a man could have a baby; increased pressure by police on gay businesses as bathhouses and bars were raided. There was the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976 – which shattered yet more dreams and fuelled the anglophone exodus – and four years later, the failed referendum of 1980, which in turn crushed the dreams of Quebec separatists.

Mirabel Airport – built where it was because politicians and urban planners anticipated that Montreal would triple in size to become one of the world’s great metropolises – became a symbol of everything that had gone wrong in Montreal.

So disco music became a salvation of sorts for Montrealers and discotheques their new cathedrals. As Harry Wayne Casey (aka KC of KC and the Sunshine Band) once told me, “Disco was feel-good music that delivered on the promises of the 1960s.”
And the epicentre of Montreal’s famed disco scene – which cranked out many international disco stars like Gino Soccio and France Joli – was the city’s famed Lime Light disco founded by Yvon Lafrance in September 1973, on Stanley Street above where the Chez Paree strip joint stands today.

Montreal DJ Robert Ouimet was the house deejay at the Lime Light from 1973 to 1981, and today Yvon Lafrance says Ouimet – known worldwide as the Godfather of Montreal Disco – was hands-down the best deejay in Canada from 1973 to 1982, when Ouimet won Billboard magazine’s Best Canadian DJ Award.

“The Lime Light really was better than Studio 54, and that’s [mostly] because it was a fun place for everybody – men, women, black, white, straight and gay,” says Ouimet. “I used to go to New York all the time during the week – I remember I was flown over there once for the premiere of [the movie] Thank God It’s Friday [starring Donna Summer]. Then I used to work in Montreal on the weekends.

“A lot of international stars also [partied] or performed at the Lime Light. I saw Alice Cooper. Grace Jones used to come often. The Ritchie Family and Gloria Gaynor played there; so did James Brown [for five consecutive nights in 1977]. One night I was at a David Bowie [concert] with a promotion man and I brought them and Iggy Pop to the Lime Light afterwards to see Gloria Gaynor perform live at the club!”

While the homophobic “Disco Sucks” movement claimed discos from coast-to-coast, dance music never really went out of style in Montreal.
So Robert Ouimet will be spinning just like old times at the Village People concert and party at the Olympia Theatre on March 16.
However Quimet points out being a deejay in the 1970s and being a deejay today are essentially two different jobs.

“When I first started I was mixing fade in, fade out. After a while you get the hang of mixing records because the beats were never the same, so you wait until the end and you enter the other one. Today it’s not the same thing. Today it’s mostly machines doing drums and beats. They’re not real drummers like in the 1970s who were very hard to mix because the tempos were uneven. Disco was great because you had down-tempo stuff, mid-tempo and up-tempo stuff. I would start at 90 beats-per-minute and finish at 135-140. You don’t see that anymore. Today you hear 125, 126 to 127 and that’s it. There’s no variety. Today it’s easier to [deejay] because there is no fluctuation in the beat. It’s always the same thing.”

Whatever you do, just don’t call Robert Ouimet a living
legend. He won’t have it. “I don’t feel like I’m a legend at all,” he says. “I feel more like a pioneer. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time. My career never went down. After the Lime Light I had a lot of gigs, was a resident at a lot of clubs. I never went away. I [even] won a Juno. I just really love music and I love what I’m doing. And disco is happy music. You feel it because it’s from the heart.”

The Village People with guests Alter Ego, Martin Stevens (Love is in the Air), DJ Robert Ouimet, DJ Abeille and DJ YO-C, at the Olympia Theatre (1004 St-Catherine E) on March 16. Show starts at 10 pm. General admission tickets: $51.74.

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