Having just downed a Diet Coke and with Nikon camera in tow, Alex strolls along Queen Street West in downtown Toronto. With every step, the pulsating beat of hypnotic house music intensifies. As he reaches the apex – the door of Element Bar – the bouncer shakes his hand and waives him inside. Weaving through the crowd of sweaty, drunk, hipper-than-thou twenty-somethings, Alex is greeted with endless smiles and hugs. Barely legal and barely dressed girls drape themselves over the middle-aged man, whose motto is “Age is a state of mind.” His thin frame, outfitted in a grassy green button-up shirt and matching vest – from which camera lenses protrude from the pockets – dark blue jeans and a black baseball cap that perches above his thick-framed black glasses and graying sideburns, approaches the illuminated DJ booth. “Everyone knows me,” he says with a grin.
Tonight is not an unusual night for Alex Dordevic (a.k.a. Alex D.), the founder and editor of Tribe magazine. Since the magazine’s inception in 1993, Alex has made it his mission to document 10 times a year – largely through photographs – the Canadian DJ-driven music scene. And to his average 18- to 28-year-old, employed and largely male reader, he’s succeeded.
The oversize newsprint magazine, wrapped with glossy cover, is distributed free mainly in record and clothing stores. It has a circulation of about 100,000 readers a month and is distributed to clubs in cities across the country (although 85 percent of its readers are located in southern Ontario). It is funded partially by the Canadian Magazine Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage, while corporate advertising provides the remainder. Although the magazine started out with an abundance of nightclub ads, Alex says that since SARS hit Toronto the majority of ads have derived from alcohol and car companies.
Tribe’s accompanying Web site boasts more than 10 million page views and over 150,000 unique visitors a month. Its message board is the most frequented event information community in Canada, according to marketing company 24/7 Canada Inc. Not bad for a guy who, when launching Tribe from his home on Danforth Avenue in the Greektown area of downtown Toronto, had only a handful of volunteer writers and no previous background in magazines – aside from years of reading National Geographic.
Though Alex is a former DJ who owns nearly 10,000 disco-era albums and still spins at the odd corporate Christmas party, few know that he was inspired to create his bible of the rave generation while counselling. A former psychotherapist – with a private practice specializing in eating disorders and clinical dependency – he says he often advised his patients, “You can do anything you want – a thought prevents you from doing something.” One day, he took his own advice. He stopped accepting new patients and started giving birth to Tribe. “I always wanted to start a magazine before I was too old,” he says. “Now, I’m making less money, but I’m happier.”
A decade later, with eight volunteer staff – aside from the circulation man and the makeup artist for cover shots, Alex is the only one who draws an income from the magazine – and content largely generated by readers, Tribe seems to stay afloat in an otherwise tenuous industry. “We know what’s coming,” Alex says of Tribe’s survival. “The people who write are involved with the scene.” Deko-ze, a well-known Toronto-based DJ who has played his mixture of house and trance music at over one thousand parties, has a regular column in Tribe. Jennstar, a former Tribe gossip columnist, was one of Toronto’s most prominent party hosts, throwing parties at such venues as the Guvernment and Turbo.
It also helps that Tribe doesn’t have many competitors. Toronto’s alternative newspapers, NOW magazine and eye Weekly, pose a threat because of their bigger budgets and lower ad rates, according to Alex. But of the dedicated club magazines, Tribe has little to worry about.
There’s Rinse magazine, a bimonthly publication that specializes in drum ‘n’ bass music. It launched in June 2002 as a print extension of TorontoJungle.com, a Web site catering to the Toronto drum ‘n’ bass community. It sends its 10,000 copies to record stores across North America, but is much more of a niche magazine than Tribe and is struggling. “Advertising is a little difficult,” says editor Richard Yuzon. “We haven’t been able to get corporate advertising at the level we need.”
As for other dedicated club magazines in Toronto, none seems to have thrived as well as Tribe. Klublife, an attractive glossy magazine distributed free in music and fashion stores, has lived a fragile existence. Never on a consistent publishing schedule, it’s impossible to say when the magazine will be available. Right now, Klublife’s Web site simply promises an upcoming relaunch.
Back at Element, Alex doesn’t seem too concerned about Tribe’s competition. Having meandered through the club, snapping pictures of unsuspecting partygoers in the haze of smoke and multicoloured lights, he heads towards the exit. A master of hitting a party at its peak, Alex is also careful to leave before the party begins winding down. Before departing, over the relentless pounding of the music, Alex leans over and declares: “Tribe is the bible of this scene, and it always has been.”