In 2013, Toronto made a push to earn the “music city” label, with the mayor making a point to prioritize Toronto’s growing and thriving music scene, and help the city gain attention around the world for the incredible musicians we produce. The Toronto Music Advisory Council was set up in City Hall to focus on making this a reality. Many official trips were made to Austin – the “music city” we were trying to base ours on – and a growing focus on creating a thriving music scene seemed to be happening.
But a few years later, that push is struggling. With smaller live music venues closing at a rapid rate over the past two months – The Hoxton, SoyBomb!, Hugh’s Room, The Silver Dollar Room, The Central, the constantly up-in-the-air state of the El Mocambo – plus the closure of Rancho Relaxo in 2015, the amount of local music venues in this city seems to be constantly shrinking rather than expanding.
The amount of local music venues in this city seems to be constantly shrinking rather than expanding.
While two of the venues are said to be undergoing renovations (El Mocambo, Silver Dollar Room) and not disappearing completely, they won’t return as the same venue we spent many nights trying to avoid drunk bros spilling beer on us at during a particularly awesome set. And it will be quite a while before they return at all.
Hugh’s Room has struggled to make ends meet financially, and the campaign to keep the venue alive will be conditional on it meeting its fundraising goals.
With NXNE moving away from club shows last year, this news doesn’t seem to come as a huge surprise, but it is definitely damaging to our hope for a reputation as a music city.
NXNE and CMW seemed to play a big part in the relevance and financial sustainability of these smaller venues, ensuring that at the very least, twice a year, they would be busy showcasing what Toronto has to offer in terms of its burgeoning music scene. My first time being introduced to all of these now defunct venues was during these club focused festivals when I would be jumping around Spadina and Queen from show to show every night. Those are easily some of my best music memories in the city.
Smaller venues will have less opportunity to be discovered by young music fans.
Now that the focus is instead on building a standalone festival – last year NXNE held a two-day festival in a gray, dreary parking lot by the Port Lands that could have been served better in almost any other location – these smaller venues will have less opportunity to be discovered by young music fans.
While I long for NXNE to return to its SXSW form and stop trying to be WayHome or TURF or Field Trip or Bestival or the failed Riot Fest, I also know it’s not on NXNE to save these venues. If the city truly wants to cultivate a “music city” label, they need to put their money (and regulations) where their mouth is. Landlords are making it impossible for these kinds of venues to survive as rent in Toronto continues to skyrocket at an unbearable pace. If live music is going to be a central point of pride in our reputation internationally, funding needs to be made available to venues that are facing eviction due to skyrocketed rent.
On the other hand, perhaps the dream of a music city was too much to hope for? Maybe Toronto has reached its musical peak (if you’ve followed the very quick boom and bust of the location specific Toronto festival scene, you might be inclined to agree).
There was one summer where I spent almost every single weekend at a Toronto music festival, around the time when TMAC was being developed, and it seemed completely rational to focus in on developing Toronto’s musical reputation, but just as quickly as we went from zero festivals to one every weekend, those festivals began to flop. Most people don’t have the budget to attend more than one pricey festival a summer, and the competition proved to kill the profit for many of them.
I hold out hope that the city will find a way to keep these smaller venues from disappearing, because without them, Toronto is not a music city.
While it doesn’t look promising right now, I hold out hope that the city will find a way to keep these smaller venues from disappearing, because without them, Toronto is not a music city. Being a music city has nothing to do with having a bunch of large festivals that pull international acts. It has everything to do with being a destination where young musicians can come to develop their performance skills in these clubs and build a passionate fan base.
While we can’t control what landlords or the city or the owners will do, we can make it a point to show up regularly and show our support at the venues that remain.
What do you think about the state of Toronto’s music scene? Has the city peaked? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section below or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.