With Aftermath on the horizon and several new Toronto acts catching our ears (holler at SΛRIN), we’re happy to get an update on what’s happening with all things dark in the city which occasionally forgets about the rest of Canada’s existence. No one’s better suited for the job than Ryan Cameron-Clark of 132 Productions, who’s been keeping extensive files on bands in the area for years (not a figure of speech: read on) while promoting all manner of local shows.
Relatively recently, Toronto has declared its interest in becoming a “Music City.” The city has created a Music Industry Sector Development office and held a handful of town hall type meetings to gauge the mood of the Toronto music community’s needs and see where Toronto’s music scene sits. Given the city’s desire to see where things are going with the overall music scene, it seems appropriate to take a step back to look at our specific scene. How is “Our Thing” doing here in The Six and what might happen in the future?
Simply put, the dark music scene in Toronto is in flux. Depending on how you look at things, there are either a lot of positives or a lot of negatives. On the negative side, Toronto has been plagued with many of the same issues as other cities: clubs have been closing and DJs have been moving their nights to new venues with new names, but the playlists remain fairly static. On the plus side, Toronto and the GTA has one of the deepest talent pools of music projects anywhere in North America.
DJs Osaze and Lazarus have remained at the heart of the Toronto industrial scene for over a decade, with a loyal group following them wherever they go, you can always count to one or both to have a night pounding on a Friday or Saturday at The Velvet Underground or Nocturne. While they both sprinkle in newer tracks from newer bands and locals, their playlists are heavily dominated by industrial and EBM anthems of yesteryear.
Outside of the scene’s two heavyweights, there are a handful of other successful evenings. DJ Darkness Visible’s monthly event, Dracula’s Daughter, has found a home in the Junction, and is built around a solid goth rock foundation. Guest DJs are encouraged to expand beyond that narrow niche while DJ Darkness Visible happily mixes in metal and quite a bit of local flavor. Jason Solvent, founder of I Dream of Wires and Solvent, and DJ Neal Twosixzerozero run a night out of Kensington Market pub The Embassy called I C E M A C H I N E on the first Friday of every month. The night mixes early EBM with minimal synth, wave and dark electro to bring together a great night of carousing with friends. Get to this one early: it fills up fast due to The Embassy’s small size. Hybrid is another fun event held at The Round Venue on the last Saturday of the month. Featuring DJ Dwight, the night is build 90s and 2000s anthems and remixes.
There is also a growing outrun / new wave revival scene here. Currently, there are two monthly events in that genre. The Nightwave Collective throws a mixed live music / DJ night on the second Friday of the month at The Handlebar. Electro Overdrive puts on a great dance party at Bassline every month, hosted by DJ AutoNemesis and The Advantage.
Of course, there are always a handful of smaller, mid week events that come and go. Many have moved out of the traditional Queen West neighbourhood and up to Dundas, College and Bloor, and they play a mix of new, old and obscure, including a monthly all Morrissey night for those of you who like to cry into your drinks.
In terms of music projects, Toronto is an honesttogoodness embarrassment of riches. With over 125 active projects in the GTA, and another 100 within a five to six hour drive, you could throw a quality four band show every week for a year and not repeat a single act. The biggest issues here are trying to find enough stages to showcase the talent we have, and trying to bring in enough money to support all this great talent. The center of our scene’s music projects in Toronto are heavyweights Crystal Castles, Austra, TR/ST and The Birthday Massacre. While often seeming to be dismissed by many scene purists, these bands are some of the biggest acts making dark music today. They can consistently pack venues wherever they play, and they are great ambassadors for Toronto music. They help to shine the spotlight on what is happening here, not only in our scene, but in the larger music scene as well, by the simple virtue of being successful.
When you dig a little deeper past the big players, you will find the city is teeming with great bands. Sitting at the top of the traditional EBM club music is the talented Jenn Parkin and her band, Ayria. Lesser known artists with great following outside of the traditional scene include Deth Records recording artist ϟ†Nϟ; deep sea, theatrical, electro act Squid Lid; and Digits, who was recently picked by the legendary Gary Numan to open for him in the UK.
Continuing to explore, you will find even more talent that is poised to break through. One of the best things about this city is that there is music for every taste being recorded and performed in Toronto. Want to jump on the Chicago Coldwave kick? Check out Promonium Jesters and Nanochrist. Like your dark music more retro flavored? There is Glass Apple Bonzai, Depression Era, and nTTx, all reaching back and pulling the past into the present. Feel like getting more experimental? We have Istvan Kantor’s Red Armband and Toronto legend Corpusse. More ubergoth? Check out Amy’s Arms, Double Eyelid or Dead Red Velvet. Need something dance floor friendly? Look up Killjoy Collective artist VIRE or futurepop artist Atomzero. Feeling more introspective? Check out Dinosaur Dinosaur, ELMS, Animalia. The list could go on for ages. From Ottawa import Adversary’s IDM to Zord’s synthpop, the Toronto dark music scene has something for you.
However, actually finding all this great new music can be difficult. Thankfully, there are a handful of dedicated people working to make this music more accessible. The major event of the Toronto dark music scene is Aftermath, hosted by Darker Side of Light. Troy Hilton and company are tireless workers, and Darker Side of Light has been bringing big name talent to Toronto for years. They have also consistently been showcasing up and coming local bands by having them share the stage with such notable acts as Grendel, Faderhead, Hanzel und Gretyl and more.
Until very recently, 132 Productions was working closely with Nocturne, a local venue, to put on numerous shows, with an emphasis on supporting local acts. Though with 132 recently shutting down operations in July, there are some questions about who will replace them for local shows and whether or not Nocturne will keep hosting local scene bands.
Other venues and promoters have also been hosting dark music scene events. The Velvet Underground, The Central, Smiling Buddha, Handlebar, The Drake Underground and S.H.I.B.G.B.’s have all hosted live performances of various sizes over the few months, featuring a mix of great touring acts and local bands looking to make it big. The great hope, though, is that major festivals like NXNE, Canadian Music Week and Indie Week have all taken notice of what we are doing and have started booking more bands from our scene. With the dwindling of the traditional black-clad club kids, it can only be seen as a good thing. The world is changing and, like it or not, we are all changing with it.
For those of you looking to dig a little deeper into the Golden Horseshoe’s Dark music scene, click here to get a fairly comprehensive list of active music projects between Quebec City & Windsor.
Thanks for letting me vandalize your site!
Thanks for writing it! Always cool to get some perspective from the opposite coast!
Thanks! I catch live acts as I can, but I wasn’t really connected on the clubs. We get an embarassment of shows here, with international and local acts on the bill.
speaking as a former vancouver girl transplanted here, the amount of stuff going on is stunning.
Great article and wonderful mentions to bands in Toronto. That scene was just as important for us traveling Detroiters back in the day for inspiration, clubs and record shopping, as home was.
A few notes in addition:
Jason of Solvent runs a label called Suction. They’ve recently put out records from Skanform, Celldod and June (all with darker and sometimes ebm influences) and there’s a re-issue of early Toronto EBM band Digital Poodle (remember them?) on the way in the next few months.
Whatever happened to Kontravoid? Wasn’t Cam Findlay involved in a new project?
also look into:
Memorex – https://mmrx.bandcamp.com/
Huren – https://huren1.bandcamp.com/album/liquidation-world
Kindest Cuts – https://kindestcuts.bandcamp.com/ (exposure is a jam)
Need to visit Toronto again soon.
Thanks for the article 😀
Memorex is a riot, Marc. They are a lot of fun. Kindest Cuts is back in Winnipeg for the time being, unless Patrock moved back and didn’t drop me a line.
Not sure what Cam is up to with Kontravoid. We tried to book him last year and he told us he was focusing on his new project. Haven’t heard anything from Kontravoid since. Though, I could have just missed it.
Kontravoid is relocating to Berlin with his new project Votiiv, so is Huren.
This is a good article. I would add the following great DJs and acts as well, often the female talent is overlooked in this city:
DJ Erin Neilly – often DJs for I C E M A C H I N E
DJ 666.biz & Weird L are great hard/dark/industrial techno DJs
Craig Renaud – power electronics
Artificial Sounds – books some great international dark electro acts and has a cassette label wing as well.
There’s so many more to list. The only thing going against the underground electronic scene is archaic 2am last calls and a lack of reliable DIY venues.
Yeah. There is just so much going on in Toronto. Probably could have got 1000 words just name dropping acts, DJs and promoters.
thanks for the mention. find out about other stuff here:
I’m just going to drop a link to my current favourite Toronto-based label: https://summerisle.bandcamp.com
Hello. I appreciated your article very much, however I can tell you 1st hand what one of the major issues is with the “dark” scene. I use to DJ in Toronto very early on, did gigs at the Savage and some other small venues. I left Toronto several years ago and have become very successful dj playing across Europe. The issue is the music that these, what I call “Laptop DJ’s” play. Osaze and Lazarus have been around for years and keep playing that crappy rettro music and although they have tried to keep the scene together, they have played a part in killing it. I’ve dj’d in LA, New York, Germany and just about everywhere in Europe. I play Sytnhpop in Sweden and 95% of my 6 hour sets is always, always new artists, new music. When I play Industrial and Dark Electro, same thng, always finding the new songs, new artists. I would love to come back to Toronto to play but #1, no club owner meets my fee, but I would welcome a visit to play to my fans, friends and family back home. I love this scene so freaking much, I along with my staff spend hours finding new music from new artists and I spend a lot of time perfecting my craft as I dj without laptops. Yes, I still mix on beat and on harmony and I provide a show to fans who come out to see me. Nobody wants to see these dated dj’s who do nothing but stand behind laptops and pretend to #1 actually dj and #2 play the same shit over and over again. I know I’m venting but I have been disappointed in what has transpired, especially the past several years. I’m in Hamburg and in the hub of the scene over here. If anyone wants to see what a real Playlist looks like, let me know and I welcome anyone from this site to pick my brain on music, past, present and future. I love this scene and everyone who supports it. Keep supporting your artists and the scene by buying music. Dj Minister
Computers have changed everything. To assume that evolving with technology available makes someone a good or bad DJ. The tool does not determine what the DJ plays. The DJ does. I have no issue with calling out lazy DJs but there are some exceedingly hard working DJs that play off laptops. DJing is ultimately about music and not the tools that the music gets played off of. In much the same way that electronic musicians are real musicians, same goes for DJs.
I totally agree with the gate keepers killing the scene. The refusal to evolve with the music and push boundaries with interesting music and actual skill as a DJ makes a lot of club nights a very boring experience but there are more people to blame than the DJs. The clubs are a problem. They stick with what is safe and don’t deviate. That is risk management and given rents in Toronto, I can certainly understand why they are risk adverse but that aversion has resulted in stagnation since they really don’t put money into new events and pull the plug on potentially great nights because they aren’t drawing enough people fast enough. Clubs want you to hit the ground running and that really isn’t reasonable more often than not. The fans also have to take some blame too. The scene is not very welcoming to new people. When I moved to Toronto, the scene needed to cred check before I was “welcome”. That kills scenes. Most people aren’t me. I have the creds and the willingness to put up with that kind of thing. Most people will just bail.
The most interesting things happening in dark electronic music is happening outside of the traditional goth and industrial scenes. That is a great thing! That is why things like the Killjoy Collective, Crime League and Deth Records are so awesome. Sure, people dismiss them as “hipsters” at times but the irony is that these hipsters know the truth, we aren’t relevant because we have made ourselves irrelevant.