The Slow Decline Of Toronto's Live Music Scene
An examination into the slow decline of the Toronto live music scene over the past few years.
I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone living in Toronto that the city is in the middle of an artistic crisis. In the last few years I have witnessed a consistent stream of closing venues (now an almost monthly occurrence) and a massive out-flux of talent to Hamilton, Montreal and other Canadian cities.
I’ve witnessed the slow erosion of any semblance of musical community and camaraderie in this city while at the same time seeing an explosion of it in adjacent cities and the 905. I’ve had endless conversations with multiple venue owners over the sudden and seemingly inexplicable flood of noise complaints that are coming from only an incredibly small group of Toronto residents. Apparently there are a growing number of people in this city who are so concerned with their property values they’re actively engaged in a kind of artistic-gentrification; removing unwanted musical “noise” and sterilizing creative freedom in each of the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods.
The City of Toronto’s response to this has been predictable: immediate and inflexible by-law infractions and court summons for venue owners and musicians for even SINGLE complaints from local homeowners. New condo buildings are going up with contractual agreements with the city and unit owners that no live music venues will be allowed in the near vicinity and older venues are being pushed out and replaced by fast food restaurants, drug stores and barber shops all without a sound from local Councillors or BIAs. While our mayor and Councillors give inspiring speeches about Toronto’s vibrant culture and hail it as “Music City” they are at the same time ignoring the essential components that make this a reality.
Every time a live music venue in a city closes or is forced to shut its doors we lose more than just a bar and stage, we also lose some of the artistic potential that a healthy music scene tries to foster. This is no small or trivial detail, there are demonstrable social and economic benefits to having a rich art scene, not the least of which is insuring people want to move to and live in the city, something that is essential to not only tourism but to the property values these people are so concerned with.
The initial goal of the Indiehint project was keeping an up to date database of the different venues, promoters, studios and industry professionals in Toronto and the city’s surrounding areas. The past couple years have been great and I have received a ton of feedback and information from people all over the music industry; the only problem I’ve had is the vast majority of information I receive has been extraordinarily negative and sometimes even outright disgusting.
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even know what to do with some of the things people tell me anymore, or what I am even allowed to legally publish or talk about. Call me crazy but I feel as if a healthy, robust arts and culture scene supported by artists, citizens and the city shouldn’t have these kinds of problems and the fact that it does signals to me that something else must be very wrong.
I’m not going to get into specific examples here (for several reasons, mostly legal) but for one since I started keeping track of live music venues in the city a couple of years ago I want to share with you all the ones that have closed:
- Annex Wreck Room
- Aspetta Cafe
- Cadillac Lounge
- Coalition Toronto
- Gate 403
- Hard Rock Café
- Holy Oak Café
- Hugh's Room (Twice)
- Magpie Tap Room
- Not My Dog
- Parts & Labour
- Tattoo Rock Parlour
- The 460
- The Annex Live
- The Central
- The Dominion On Queen*
- The El Mocambo*
- The Silver Dollar Room
- The Sister
That works out to about one every 2 months or so, at this point I would be willing to say this artistic crisis needs to be addressed in a serious manner with some deep systematic changes. On top of all of this there are a few other places in town, for example Castro’s Lounge one of my favorite venues in Canada, that are holding on by a proverbial thread thanks to continuous lack of support from both city hall and their respective BIAs and MPs.
I’m not really sure what to do here and I would love some feedback/ideas or even to go for a beer and get some brainstorming happening so message me or come over or comment here or whatever and let’s fix this nonsense please.
About The Author
I'm Steve Frise, a Toronto based guitar player and recording artist and administrator of indiehint.com and mindformusic.com. You can find more info about me at stevefrise.com and on Instagram at @stevefrisemusic.