Stereo in Montreal, Canada is not only one of the longest standing nightclubs in North America, but arguably, the most resilient. Not many venues are around after being burned down—twice. Since its nascence in 1998, Stereo has been under the guidance of DJs. First Angel Moraes and later David Morales, neither of whom are Montreal natives, but felt so much of a connection to the city, and to the club, they committed themselves to it. Alongside these gentlemen is another DJ, Tommy Piscardeli, a nightlife veteran, who was raised in discos under his club owner father.
It was at Piscardeli’s nights pre-Stereo that Moraes was a guest DJ, and within six months of Moraes working toward Stereo, he got Piscardeli involved. It was during Morales’ reign that Stereo fell victim to its first fire, while Piscardeli was across the continent, working on opening its sister venue in Vancouver. Stereo’s landlord brought Piscardeli back for the rebuilding, which took a year, and right before they were set to open, it fell victim to its second fire. 300 volunteers turned up to help reopen Stereo, meeting the deadline for the original reopening date. The bathrooms didn’t have any stalls, but the club was ready with the stamp of approval from the fire department.
A consistent presence for Piscardeli has been Mike Rein who started as his night manager at the start of Stereo in the ‘90s and was brought back for the reopening as his business partner. The two balance each other with Rein handling the administrative side of things while Piscardeli focuses on the sound and social aspects—although as he admits, “My stamina is going downhill. It’s not easy to stay up nights anymore.”
Can you speak about the physical structure of the space that houses Stereo, which is constructed specifically for nightclub purposes?
Stereo has always been an amazing club, but when it was originally built, there was zero budget. It was friends reaping some funds together. When we rebuilt the space in 2009, there was help, particularly from the landlord who assisting in the rebuilding to a much higher standard. I focused on building what I always wanted Stereo to be: a room with another room inside it. Between the two rooms are six feet worth of material that stomps the sound, absorbs it to give the quality you hear when you’re at the club. If we are in the room alone, when I talk to you, even though we’re in this huge space, there’s no reverb. It sounds like we’re in your kitchen. Before, the club bothered the neighbors with sound. Since we did the renovation, you don’t hear it outside the building anymore. There are so many condominiums going up. We wanted to avoid having to shut down because of condominium construction. The room is dope like that.
We built the sound system using the original sound system with today’s technology, immersing it together to create a system that’s more versatile, less problematic, and easier to control with the different mediums the artists are using. Back in the day, everyone played vinyl so it was easy to build a sound system, one that sounded good for vinyl. Now, one week they have vinyl, the next week they have CDs, the next week they have USB keys, the next week they’re playing on their computer. It all sounds incredibly different. On a big sound system like in Stereo, you really hear the difference. It’s my job on a weekly basis to tune the sound system for the artist that’s coming. Still, if your room doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter how good your sound system is.
How come Stereo has always been an afterhours?
In Montreal, if you have an alcohol license, you have to close at 3AM. There is no other option. Stereo has an afterhours license given out by the city, one of six back in the ‘90s. The reasoning was there were dangerous warehouse parties going on and by giving afterhours licenses to legitimate venues with proper fire codes and capacities, the city could avoid people getting hurt. Stereo is allowed to stay open 24 hours a day. We never have to close. But we can’t have alcohol, so it doesn’t make sense to open before 2AM since the bars close down at 3AM.
Stereo has never served alcohol, has it?
Stereo Bar in the basement has an alcohol license, and the city offered us an alcohol license for upstairs when we reopened, but they would have to revoke our afterhours license. You can’t have both. But I said no. In the 18 years we’ve been open, there has been three fights, because there’s no alcohol. The vibe is completely different because there is no alcohol. Even people coming from bars drunk, once they get in the club, they’re chilled out. People think of an afterhours as a sketchy place, but that’s not what Stereo is, and it’s never been that.
You also have a drug box. What is that?
The drug box has always been there. We’re not denying there are drugs, but we need to do our job. We’re not looking for a pill. We’re looking for big quantities. We’re not anti-drug but when you see the devastation a particular drug causes, it’s scary. Having to call an ambulance multiple times during the night is not something I want to do. Back in the day, you would never call an ambulance to a party. At one point it was week after week, the culprit always being GHB, partially because it’s so easy to hide. Now anyone that’s caught with it is barred for life. It was the only thing that scared patrons enough not to do it at Stereo—and we’re not calling the ambulance as much anymore.
At the door, customers are given a choice: you can either take your drugs and leave, or we can put them in this envelope, give you a receipt, and it goes into the drug box. Only the police have access to the box. I don’t even have access to it. The police come once a month and empty out the box. And they really appreciate what we’re doing. It seems to work because honestly, the issues are very minimal. We must be doing something right.
Have you had any drug-related fatalities at Stereo?
No one’s ever died at the club. Our security is not your regular club security. They’re normal-sized people, not aggressive looking, not dressed up in uniforms with black gloves. They are trained at noticing if people are about to crash, what symptoms of somebody who is about the get into trouble because they did too much of something looks like. The first thing we do is, call an ambulance. We don’t take chances. The owner of a club calling the ambulance all the time is not good for your file, but I don’t care about the file. For me, it’s like, what would happen if we don’t call an ambulance? Somebody dies?
A lot of times we call an ambulance, somebody leaves in the ambulance, and they show up two hours later wanting to come back in. And we’re like, “You just left unconscious, convulsing, in an ambulance, and you’re coming back two hours later?” Most of these crashes are GHB-related. The thing with GHB is you don’t know what goes on. The last thing you remember, you were dancing at Stereo, you wake up, you’re in the hospital, attached to an IV drip, and you feel normal. You don’t feel like anything happened to you. All their friends are still at Stereo, so they come back. We do recognize them at the door and we don’t allow them back. We definitely send them home.
I know how people should be reacting to the music. If I see that that’s lost, that bothers me. I want to bring back the amazing vibe we had in the ’90 when it was all about the music and everybody loved each other. That was always so pure and always so good.