An inteview with Electric Circus diva Monika Deol
But did you know Deol was once a club kid herself? She's a big music nerd just like us who wanted to shine a spotlight on all the brilliant freaks that would cross her path. We spoke with the dancing queen from her home in Vancouver where she's raising her four girls and ahead of her hosting duties at this year's Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives Electric Circus Gala.
Yohomo: Hi Monika! Tell about moving to Toronto as a crazy club kid...
Monika Deol: I am a farm kid. I was raised in a very small town in Manitoba. And I was obsessed with music. I wanted to be Madonna. So that’s what I really wanted to do.
Me too! What a coincidence.
That would be an original goal. I don’t know what happened there. So basically I then moved to Winnipeg to go to university. And I paid for my own education. I would go to this club and keep talking to the DJ at first asking him to play songs and then I would suggest was he should be mixing. So eventually I started to DJ and I was the only female DJ in the city at the time.
I was that kid did not drink, did not smoke, did not do drugs. But I loved music. And that’s why I was in the club.
So I was a club kid from that point of view. So eventually I started to DJ. And I was the only female DJ in the city at that time.
I can imagine
For me it was a very natural thing to do because I got to control the dance floor. I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do that.
So how did this bring you to Electric Circus?
Well, I had a band in high school; I had a band at university. And I then had a life changing event which was my father passed away while I was in University. Obviously on many levels that affected me, but it also was a wakeup call. It made me realize that this is not a dress rehearsal. And for the rest of my life, I will live that way.
So I started a band, yet again. And I was in Toronto sharping my demo, hoping to get a record deal and I ended up getting a job offer at MuchMusic. I started out doing the weekend entertainment, and they came up with this idea for a dance show. Most of them knew I was a DJ, so it was a very natural fit. All of it! Working with a live audience. Because I had a band, and I was a singer and I fronted the band, I learnt how to work with live audience. That kind of came into play. Being a club DJ and just getting into that culture and getting what’s make it authentic ... I really feel that the reason electric circus worked, the reason it really resonated, is because it was like a mini U.N
You looked around the room and you saw everybody represented. It didn’t matter if you were black or white or Indian. It didn’t matter if you were gay or straight or uncertain. I mean it was just everybody. If you wanted to dance. It actually wasn’t just about being a good dancer, it was about spirit. It was about energy. If you have that kind of energy and spirit, we weren’t even picky about you being an awesome dancer to be honest. It was about bringing a sense of your personality to it. And that’s what I loved about the show. We did not discriminate anybody and it was like if you have that attitude, bring it! Get in here!
Monika goes on to explain that Electric Circus first aired in the afternoon, but she eventually convinced Moses Znaimer to make a nighttime show so they could bring actual club kids and let everyone watch in real time. People were never paid to dance to keep it as authentic as possible and create a real dance party vibe.
The only rule was engagement. You had to dance to everything. You couldn't say 'I don’t like this music.'
I, like many queer kids all over Ontario watched the show from afar. Electric circus was our dance club. That’s who we would be dancing in our living room. We learned the moves, we learned the fashion. For a young gay kid, specially, it was so important to have that. I am wondering if you ever hear from LGBT kids or people that grew up with it and told you about situations like that.
I got to tell you that I do hear, all the time. And it is . . . it makes me emotional. Because that was me. I grew up in a small town of 2500 people in Manitoba. And I know that. I watched video hits on CBC and that half hour . . . and there was no dancing. But it was escape. It was my empowerment thinking there are other people like me. And it was part of my aspiration that one day I am going to get out. One day I am going to belong. One day I am going to be part of that, no matter what anybody here thinks of me right now, in my reality, right now.
I have to tell you, this happens all the time. And I can’t even tell you how happy it makes my heart. Just in the last month a couple of the people that I met on the shoot said to me “I'm gay. I used to live in Red deer, Alberta and I watched EC and I thought “oh my god I want to be part of that and I am a part of that, by watching this. And here I am working in fashion in Toronto and was like EC was part of my journey getting here.” I look at them and I go “oh my god, you have no idea how amazing that feels”. I tell you, it’s so moving. It makes me feel like ‘wow we mattered’. In way that we thought we did that my own experience growing up, but to actually get the validation of that, for me, that’s why I did the show as long as I did it.
My main motive was the way I was able to connect to people. That was really worth it.
It was a lot more than just a silly dance party on TV.
I don’t think for a second that I am this hip and cool person. I am an impostor. Because the real me was the person that was dark skinned in a small town, that was always the last one to be chosen on any sport team any sport, even though I was 5 foot 10 and actually pretty strong being a farm kid. I didn’t have friends. I was always the outsider. So suddenly being this person, who is supposedly, the ultimate insider, was a joke. I related more to the people who were disenfranchised. I couldn’t relate to the people who were hip and popular. I think people watching at home got that. I think they could tell who I went outside and talk to. I didn’t walk outside and look for the prettiest person there, I looked for the person who was interesting, and I looked for the person who would be sometimes quieter. And I looked for the person I felt , you know what, I wanna make you feel special. As corny as it sounds, that really was it.
OK finally, let's talk about your clothes. Your looks on the show was ferocious! Who styled you? How did it work?
In those days we didn’t have stylists at all. We had a makeup artist. I had an awesome makeup artist, Laurie Quinn (who is now Laurie McDonalds; she’s still a makeup artist.) As far as fashion goes, I tried very very hard on Electric Circus to support Canadian designers. So we had clothing deals. I got a lot of free clothing from a lot of Canadian designers. 10 years of doing EC I never wore the same thing twice, which was a lot of work to keep going. I have always loved clothes, I have always loved fashion and I have always believed that fashion articulates who you are. It’s not superficial. It’s quite the opposite. I guess I had a little bit of fashion sense. I didn’t know I had until I got access to it. But people would walk up to me and say “I just tune in to see what you wear”, which for Canadian television was very different. Because in those days in Canadian TV, we weren’t known for personalities. But I think Moses was amazing in that way and people don’t give him much credit as they should. The reason I was able to be who I was because he would let me be who I was. He always said he wants to put people on air who have lived the life. With me he really did that. It was a magical time. It was a magical time for all of us because there was nothing corporate about it.
This interview has been edited from the original. Ask us when you see us for the recording and we'll sit down with some popcorn and listen to the rest.
Thanks Monika, you're truly a beautiful woman and we owe you a lot.