Since the early 1990s, Ryan Kruger has been a significant figure in Toronto’s electronic music scene. Destiny Events has hosted some of the world’s biggest DJs and electronic artists in all the best venues around the city, including Ontario Place. An entrepreneur with a love of music, Ryan’s success comes from his passion for music and his ability to deliver quality entertainment.
In this interview, Ryan talks about his humble beginnings hosting weekly club nights, the popularity of his World Electronic Music Festival, and his latest project, the Vujaday Festival, which has begun hosting yearly Barbados events.
While I’m told I am the longest-running electronic music promoter in Canada, I wasn’t the first. I attended my first rave almost by accident. Coming out of a club in downtown Toronto in the very early 90’s, I was handed a flyer for a Sykosis party just down the street at a venue called 23 Hop. It literally changed my life. From that point forward, I was attending a rave as often as I could, and back then, that was about once a month. The music, the energy, and the people made it a completely new experience from anything I or anyone else in Toronto had ever experienced before.
About a year in, my entrepreneurial side drove me to become more involved in the scene. I started working with a company called Mayhem and invested in their parties. It wasn’t long before I had a desire to do something bigger, so I got four of the smaller promotion companies to join forces under my new Destiny banner. Our first event was July 1993 and the rest, as they say, is history!
At a base level, it’s the music. Growing up, my father was, among other pursuits, the lead singer and lead guitarist for a country ban. So the business and love of music runs in the family. In high school, I fell in love with electronica. While not unusual for someone growing up in Toronto, this was rare for a private school kid in Winnipeg, where I was raised. Listening to New Order, Depeche Mode, Erasure helped define us. While not outcasts, it made us different and somehow cooler than the other kids.
This love of electronic beats and a strong desire to stand out made promoting concerts a natural choice for me. I suppose I got lucky that the most significant music change since Elvis was about to hit Canada. When electronic music – house and techno at first – hit our country from the UK and NE USA, I was literally at ground zero in Toronto and knew it was for me. All it took was a chance encounter with a flyer guy in 1990.
The biggest challenge we faced was our youth and not knowing what we were getting into. We were essentially learning everything from the ground up. Marketing, production, security, the regulatory environment, and everything else you need to know to throw a party. We made a ton of mistakes but learned quickly and were eventually throwing the largest concerts in Toronto of any music genre.
A second major challenge was dealing with the negative press our scene began to receive as it grew to 10,000 person events on a weekly basis. The newspapers, the city, and the police were all looking to over regulate, over police and over expose what we had created. It took one of the largest protests in the history of Toronto to overcome this. I’m referring to iDance at Nathan Phillips Square. We literally changed the law by having over 20,000 people close down the streets to ensure the rave scene could continue in the city. It was an amazing feeling and taught us all a lot about the power of the people and the power of PR.
From humble beginnings and less than 1000 people at our first event in 1993, we quickly grew to be one of the largest electronic music promoters in Canada. But it didn’t happen overnight. Within a year of the inaugural event we started a weekly called Destiny Friday’s at the Party Center on Church Street in downtown Toronto. This weekly event helped us build our fanbase at the grassroots level. In just our second year, we were throwing 56 parties a year and looking for the next big thing.
That came in the summer of 1995 when we launched Canada’s first multi-day electronic camping festival at Mosport Raceway. At first it was called WTF (World Trance Festival), but then evolved into a multi-genre affair called WEMF (World Electronic Music Festival) in 1997. The festival peaked at about 25,000 people a day in the early 2000’s, slowing down as the scene itself slowed down through the mid 2000’s.The final years of WEMF in 2011 and 2012 were at the start of this next big wave of electronic music and got us noticed by Live Nation who took over the brand and brought me in to create their new electronic division called Electronic Nation.
As the Managing Director of Electronic Nation, I put together an all-star team of Toronto promoters and created the largest electronic events in Canada, including The Digital Dreams Music Festival at Ontario Place. That grew to 80,000 people over three years, and we had multiple sold-out events at the Rogers Center, including AVICII, which drew upwards of 40,000 fans. I was also the first to do an outdoor electronic music festival in the middle of winter with our Brrrrr!
Winter Festival at Ontario Place for two years. At this point, my interests turned to the United States, where I helped execute a festival in the desert just outside Las Vegas called Further Future and help design and build a massive immersive experience facility called AREA15. At the time, I also decided I wanted to create a smaller bespoke festival, and that led to the launch of the Vujaday Music Festival in Barbados. Vujaday will return in February of 2022 after a forced COVID hiatus.
If you could pick two industries NOT to be working during a pandemic, travel and concert promotion would rank pretty high! Like most folks in the entertainment industry, we hunkered down and planned.
I don’t think anyone expected things to last as long as they did but with some much-appreciated government support and an eternally optimistic promoter mindset, we’ve made it through and now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We very much hope to be doing events in Toronto in 2021 and Vujaday in early 2022.
I do see a bit of a clubbing renaissance coming after COVID. I say this because of two key drivers. First, people are absolutely itching to get out again. There will be a massive demand for entertainment in general, and I really feel a “roaring 20’s” mentality will take over for a while. The second driver is available space. There hasn’t been this much commercial space available in major cities in a generation or more.
Clubs, parties, events are all great short-term income drivers for landlords, and coupled with demand, you will see a lot of fun being sold. The best advice I can give is just to do it. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we learned on the job and created history. There is a massive opportunity coming, and it’s critically important that new blood comes into the scene and helps build back better.
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