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.