My Gay Toronto - Ray's Anatomy

Catching Up With DJ Barry Harris

by Rolyn chambers

As I danced around my loft to an epic remix of Whitney Huston's mega hit, It's Not Right But It's Okay, all I could think about was Ross. It was 2001 and I had just broken up with him for the third time and though I was mourning the loss, I was also very relieved. He was crazy. This song, about breaking up with a cheating lover, captured my sad sentiments but the way it was recreated and remixed for the dance floor invigorated my soul. This remix was much more than alright, it was more than okay, it would  go on to become a classic on dance floors all across the world. Little did I know it at the time but this particular remix, the one that I would listen to three or four times a day, every day that summer, was created by a fellow Torontonian, the legendary Barry Harris.

I say legendary because as I would later discover, this DJ turned, turned song writer, turned musician, turned producer had not only created some memorable remixes before I discovered his Whitney wonder, but his offshoots into other areas of the music scene were impressive to say the least.

Before he hit it big with his remixes, Harris created Kon Kan in early 1988. Some might remember their chart topping single, "I Beg Your Pardon". A decade later he teamed up with chart-topping DJ/Producer Chris Cox to form Thunderpuss. From 1997- 2003 they were responsible for some of the biggest remixes of the day for such artists as Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, Céline Dion, Cher, Janet Jackson and Spice Girls. But then he disappeared for a while.

My Gay Toronto caught up with Barry while he was down in LA, to find out where he's been and why he's back with a vengeance.

My Gay Toronto: You were out of the Toronto club scene for a while. Where were you and why are you back?
Barry Harris: I took a time off DJing from 2005  to 2014 as at the time I didn't really like where gay music was going. It seemed to have painted itself into a corner and wasn't going anywhere anymore. Record store culture was dying, the NYC scene was dying and the whole music business was changing dramatically. My instincts felt it was time to take a little time out. I was happy to step aside for a bit and simply observe until I felt the times had changed enough, were interesting again and my passion and fire lit up again and has ever since.

When and why did you get into DJing, and what's it like "staying in the game"
I got into DJing in Toronto in 1983. I played all the gay bars at the time, Dudes, Stages, Charly's, Boots, The Barn up until 1998. I made my own record which went huge around the world with "I Beg Your Pardon" so I focused on that being signed to Atlantic Records NYC until 1993. I then returned back and played the gay bars in Toronto once again until 1998 when I moved to Los Angeles. Suddenly the success of Thunderpuss and Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Ok" and "Dive in The Pool" changed my life yet again.
Music has always been a big passion with me all my life. I came out and went to my first gay bar "The Manatee" when I was 16. My life changed that night and I've been hooked on dance music ever since. I don't know why. I guess sticking with gay dance music culture is my comfort zone. I'm the kind of guy that gets bored musically easily so 'staying in the game' isn't hard for me as long as it's fun, challenging, changing & evolving.

What projects do you have on the go right now?
I just finished a remix for Tracy Young "Peace, Love and Music" which just came out a few weeks ago, and I also just finished a new Erasure song "Just A Little Love". I'm enjoying 'feel good' music again. Music culture also goes with the times and I've chatted about this with a few different DJ friends. We all agree 'feel good' music is back. I think the world is crazy enough on a day to day basis. Let's escape and dance with positive vibes. I'm happy that dark era (2000 - 2008ish) of gay club music is behind us. 

What are the parties you remember most and why?
I'd have to say when I DJ'd at Twilo in NYC and debuted "Dive In The Pool" first time ever, the crowd instantly went nuts. The second time was when I DJ'd at Roxy when I met Cher & she performed, the place was packed and it was like a football stadium cheer when she came out. Simply goose bumps.

What are the parties that you hated to be at?                                                                     
The ones I didn't go to and the ones that just seemed to playing the same sound and vibe for the past 14 years. Just not my 'cup o' tea. It's 2017 now not 2003 on a loop.

What will be the hot queer anthem this summer?
I'm not really sure, the audiences will tell us. I would certainly like to see Peace, Love & Music be a contender.

What are your classic Pride songs?
Oh geesh there are a lot, but a few that come to mind now are ; Free - Ultra Naté, Proud - Heather Smalls, Born This Way - Lady Gaga, Firework - Katy Perry, We Are Family - Sister Sledge, I'm Coming Out - Diana Ross, Dive In The Pool & I Got My Pride - Barry Harris/Pepper Mashay. Sorry don't mean to 'blow my own horn, but you asked.

What events are you looking forward to this Pride?                                          
I'm travelling around a lot and will be in San Francisco Pride to DJ the Sunset Boat Cruise Friday June 23 then back to Toronto to DJ OLG Central Stage Sunday June 25th so I won't be around to check out too many of the Toronto events. All the events are great and a lot of people put a lot of 'blood, sweat and tears' into them. The overall "electric Toronto Pride vibe" is always a great experience.

Do you have any thoughts on the so -called police ban controversy that has over shadowed this Pride?                                                                                                           
I see a whole brand new committee now on board as of January 2017 looking forward and putting this behind us. I prefer to stay out of politics in every way and keep my thoughts to myself. It's unfortunate that the whole issue really ripped a lot of us apart from each other. Hopefully time will heal and we can all get back on track and continue to move forward. This is Toronto, Canada, an amazing & diverse city and country that I am SO proud of.

As I reflect on the year long drama that has surrounded this years Pride festival, I turn up the volume on Harris' Whitney remix. The words, "It's not right, but its okay," take on a whole new meaning, but the beats are still refreshingly the same.