The decentralization of partying

Gary Lachance takes his boom boxes and banana suits on the road

The street party that really moves

Gary Lachance sounds exhausted when he answers his cellphone. “My brain’s a little slow in the morning,” he says in a flat, expressionless voice, neglecting to acknowledge that it’s 4 p.m. “I’m more of a night person.” It becomes clear that’s an understatement as Lachance explains how, the night before, he led hundreds of people on a roving dance party through the streets of Phoenix, Ariz. The next night, the Vancouver filmmaker drove more than 1,600 km so he could do it again in Austin, Texas.

Such is the life of the self-described “twentysomething” who declines to name his suburban Ontario hometown and instead claims to have travelled from the future to change the world, one decentralized dance party at a time. “Our goal with these parties is to create something that’s novel and revolutionary and unique,” says Lachance. And he’s pledged to bring one to every country on Earth—even North Korea.

Lachance and his partner “Tom” came up with the idea to remove the dance party from the confines of a single location while “decentralizing” the source of music by dispersing hundreds of boom boxes to the crowd. Each stereo is dialled to the same radio frequency, which receives audio from a portable FM transmitter connected to Lachance’s iPod. His playlist is loaded with “booty bass,” ’90s dance tunes, and crowd-pleasers like Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith. The result, says Lachance, is a “really cool, distributed sound effect” amid a party atmosphere that’s spontaneous and mobile.

Lachance threw his first party on a Vancouver beach in August 2009 with “Tom,” who is really a mustachioed character played by several people, including Kyle MacDonald, who famously traded a red paper clip for a house. Since then, Lachance has put on more than 35 parties in the U.S. and Canada. His stated goal is to “allow people to transcend the identities they’ve created for themselves in society.”

Jody Gnant says the parties are indeed “life-changing.” The 29-year-old was recently in New York when Lachance led a dance party through the streets, into subway stations and through the lobby of a Hilton hotel. “The scene of the party changes,” she says, “and it starts swelling like a snowball.”

Each party’s starting point is announced a few hours in advance on Facebook and Twitter, after Lachance coordinates the route with local police. “We never have problems with fights or arrests,” he says.

Lachance travels in a rented motorhome full of “party props” like retro exercise equipment, random office appliances and banana suits. Then there’s the integral stereo supply. “You go in there and all you see is boom boxes,” he says. “We don’t even use the bathroom or shower. It’s just stacked with stereos.”

In keeping with his “decentralized” philosophy, Lachance eschews corporate sponsorship and turns to the Internet for support. Much of his travels are crowd-funded through Kickstarter, where people donate money to ventures they like. “It’s a totally organic, people-powered undertaking,” says Lachance.

University of Alberta music professor Michael MacDonald has lectured, submitted a research paper and made a podcast on the social impact of Lachance’s parties. “It’s the best part of a wedding reception transformed into an occupation movement that takes over an entire town and lights it up with a free social energy,” he says.

MacDonald says having a manic dance party on downtown streets changes the feeling of being in a city by allowing people to enjoy public space without spending a dime on food, drinks or tickets—a rarity in modern urban life. “It’s a social experience that you don’t buy. For whatever reason, people tend to experience that as something that is more honest and truthful.”

Lachance admits the party bracket isn’t the most lucrative. “So far it’s been a labour of love,” he says. But it hasn’t gone unrequited. His parties regularly draw hundreds of people to sing, dance and carry stereos. As MacDonald puts it: “Tom and Gary are broadcasting it, but 150 people are carrying the sound on their shoulders.”

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