Divers/Cité: Inside the Corporate Throb, Rob Labelle
From Vol. 2, No. 4
“I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd;
I was shocked to find what was allowed.”
Shot By Both Sides, Howard Devoto
Making my way up the bike path on the hill at Berri, I could still feel the big beat echoing around all that concrete, a hungry, raging monster looking for more writhing, raving bodies. The thousands already devoured weren’t enough. More were needed. Needed to feed the Throb.
Everyone talks about the parade as being the main event of Divers/Cité, but really, the centre, the heart, or rather the soft, devouring underbelly of the event is the Throb. Hot weather, half-naked bodies, drugs and alcohol, and big, big speakers, are all ingredients necessary to create it, but the Throb is more than a dance party. The difference from being inside the Throb and outside is as different as being born or unborn. Inside there is a pre-birth like connectedness which can seem either ecstatic or sinister-either at one with the universe or relinquished of all individual control-like the pod-people in the Body Snatchers or the Matrix. On the outside, the controlling structure is evident. Great efforts have been made to claim control of and master the Throb’s energies for evil purposes. Molson Dry is doing a pretty good job of this.It is the only beverage besides Naya and Guru available to the captured, captivated crowd. Their symbol is a wave, a whirlpool, meant to pull in and submerge. I’m convinced the porta-toilets are directly connected by tubing to the beer tents, creating a stronger more refined brew as the afternoon and evening
But Divers/Cité did exist before the Throb. Early incarnations saw a much smaller parade down Sherbrooke to Lafontaine park, where a stage was set up for live acts with ne’er a DJ in sight. I remember a friend commenting testily about one of these singing and dancing troupes as being like “Up With People.” And it’s true that everything was tinged with a kind of innocent, self-congratulatory joy of “being ourselves in the great outdoors in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.” “It’s gonna be ‘fierce’,” announced an MC from the stage, referring to a dance later that night, but it was an unconsciously prophetic statement regarding Divers/Cité’s future. The parade route soon changed to St. Denis street. At this point there was a dynamic mix between an influx of money and people still being allowed to participate. Big floats with oiled, muscular bodies gyrating to loud dance music appeared, and they waved people in to follow along. In fact, jumping into the parade signified an extra step in affirming sexual identity. The other great thing about this incarnation of Divers/Cité was that St. Denis street is at least partly residential. The balconies of flats above the bars became prime territory. I remember one particular moment when a beautiful young woman dancing on one of these balconies pulled off her t-shirt, an act which caused waves of jubilation, a kind of sexual liberation VE day. Then the moment of silence for the city’s thousands of AIDS victims would sweep up the hill with a different kind of wave. A lot of people saying hello up to the blue sky.
At that time, just Ste. Catherine street in the Village was shut off and the parade route emptied directly into it. The street never felt so crowded–it took hours to squirm through all the people from one end to the other. It was here, like wispy, swirling eddies of infant tornadoes, that the Throb was born. Clubs like Sky would set their DJ’s outside their doors, and in the heart of the crowd the circles would form.People performing for each other, first to show off their hard work at the gym (or the hard work of their anabolic steroids), then finally losing personality, affectation, only funny Cheshire cats grins remaining. To cruise, to even touch at his point seemed unlikely. Those possibilities seem lesser than what was actually going on in the moment. I don’t speak for everyone but even without much in the way of artificial stimulation (maybe a little pot) I was able to feel its grandeur, the Throb’s gentle swipe, a bear with velvet paws.
But if the Throb, back then was a kind of Gentle Ben, it’s now more like a giant, needy octopus. At some point in the last few years the sheer weight of numbers tipped the balance in favour of corporate and security intervention. I don’t have names or numbers, but it is rumoured original Diver/Cité organizers have been pushed aside to make way for smoother corporate inclusion. These new players have savvy enough know that the Throb must be kept happy-well fed, but contained, and in return the dollars will flow. Today, parade goers must stand and watch along the route down René Levesque and the cold, closed business section of the city. Their participation is neither needed nor welcome. Once the parade is over, all of Ste. Catherine east of St. Denis is open to stroll and mingle. Emilie Gamelin park offers live shows not unreminiscent of the “Up with People” genre of years ago. The Throb doesn’t live here anymore. Instead, it has been given an enormous cave, a two-block area of wide unflinching concrete at the bottom of Berri street, transformed into an enormous dance floor.
Once you’ve passed through a few layers of people you enter a kind of Throb village. It feels like being on a large destabilized water bed. The music is much louder than Sky or Kox could ever produce, so loud I’m not sure it really qualifies as music. It is more like low-level super-sonic flight testing, the kind the Innu in northern Quebec were complaining about. Penetrating the outer layers is a kind of aural equivalent to being penetrated-the initial pain is replaced by that strange pleasure of complete bodily surrender. No one can talk. The Molson Dry tents and their cynical display of rainbow flags, seem less annoying. The Throb, like a giant maw, chomps and chews and coats all in a sticky, tribal goo.
This year, I escaped basically by accident through “a glitch in the Matrix.” I unwittingly drifted to the perimeter, where the Throb’s attractions are less profound and found myself in a “security corridor,” a fenced-off area populated by SWAT team-like guards I first took them to be just guys who were into “uniforms.” I was gently but brusquely ushered out the back way onto the edge of Ontario street, bustling with real, regular Sunday evening traffic. Here, I was told to go all the way around to Berri and Ste. Catherine (more than a ten-minute walk in my condition), if I wanted to get back in. Too much effort. In spite of the Throb’s plaintive wails, I made my way up the hill, leaning on rather than riding my bike, wondering how “fierce” next year’s Divers/Cité will be.