NOW’s predictions for 2019 in Toronto music

As the scene explodes in various different directions, here’s what we think will happen this year

This past year was an eventful one for the local music scene, but the conversations around support, spaces, sounds and scenes aren’t quieting as we move into 2019. Here’s what we predict we’ll be talking about this year. 


The success of Drake and the Weeknd brought the hype machine to Toronto over the last decade, and there have been concerted efforts by the music industry and the media to find the next in their mould ever since. For awhile, that meant the city was producing a million watered-down sound-alikes. Then Daniel Caesar broke out in 2017 and the narrative shifted to a warmer, more organic R&B sound taking over. 

The reality is… both sounds were here all along. And there are a thousand more in their own interconnecting lanes, each with the potential to produce a breakout star on the same level. On the hip-hop side, the Regent Park scene has rallied behind the memory of Smoke Dawg, who died tragically in 2018. Young artists like Prime Boys, Puffy L’z and Lil Berete are ready to make their own moves. And that’s just one micro-scene out of dozens.

With less of a public profile, beatmakers are making their mark both here and on major rap releases internationally. In the club and queer scenes, ballroom culture is thriving. Techno and house scenes, meanwhile, are staying vital in mostly underground venues. Punk is getting weirder and more inclusive. 

It all overlaps, but it’s certainly not one monolithic sound. In 2019, hopefully, we’ll stop treating it as such. 

el mocambo.jpg

Samuel Engelking

The El Mocambo will be back in 2019… for real this time.


Vanishing venues was an issue we talked about in last year’s look-forward, and all throughout the year. It sounds like a broken record, but the problem hasn’t slowed (neither has gentrification), despite a lot of lip service from people with financial and political interests in branding Toronto as a Music City. The El Mocambo will be back this year, but it’s still unclear what kind of shows will be booked there.  And the Matador is a perpetual question mark.

This year, punk and experimental scenes lost D-Beatstro and Double Double Land, and Faith/Void is closing in February. Graffiti’s closed in Kensington Market, as did Parts & Labour in Parkdale. Goth and metal lost Nocturne and Coalition. The electronic scenes are on a constant hunt for spaces and are improvising while they search. 

Hip-hop is having the hardest time: many venues in the city either won’t book rap shows or do so reluctantly, giving them extra scrutiny, security and fees. For smaller promoters, it often makes shows all but impossible to book. 

Expect these conversations to continue into 2019. Without any solutions, this list will likely be a lot more boring next year. 


Samuel Engelking

XO Records’ Hxouse exemplifies the DIY spirit taking over many of the city’s music communities, often out of necessity.


Unfortunately, hip-hop is used to being passed over when it comes to industry support, which is why many creatives in Toronto’s scenes have adopted DIY mindsets. It’s happening on a smaller level – with micro-labels forming and every breakout artist coming with their own “collective” – and also a bigger level, with initiatives like XO Records’ creative incubator Hxouse on the waterfront offering opportunities to young artists who might not otherwise get them. 

Expect to see a lot more of that craftiness this year in hip-hop, but also in electronic circles – which have begun to legitimize their warehouse venues – and beyond. 

Last year saw the end of MuchFACT, for instance, leaving a big hole in funding for music video directors and artists. So Charlotte Day Wilson stepped up and formed the one-time Work Film Grant for women and non-binary artists, the Prism Prize launched the MVP Project, while Dropout Entertainment will present the first Canadian Independent Music Video Awards on January 31. 

If no one’s going to help the indie scenes, they’ll help themselves. 


Samuel Engelking

Viktoria Belle’s Dandelion Initiative offers sexual violence prevention training to venue and bar owners.

More discussions on how to make scenes safer

There’s a lot of self-reflection happening in music scenes right now, and it has often felt very contentious – but also necessary. 

Communities have had discussions (and call outs) about harm reduction and drugs, fair compensation, inclusivity, abuse of power and sexual violence. In a perfect world, venue owners would be creating progressive and well thought out policies and implementing them with adequate training, but programs like the Dandelion Initiative, which offers safety training for service sector staff, have not been adopted in a widespread way

With so many spaces being forged on a DIY level, often out of necessity, many communities are having internal discussions about what a safer scene might look like and whose responsibility it is to uphold it. 

Expect 2019 to be an introspective year. 

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Kate Killet

Field Trip is one of the few Toronto-area summer music festivals still going on strong. 

What about music festivals?

The last couple of summers have not been kind to a once-thriving music festival circuit in and around the city. Many, like WayHome, have folded or gone on hiatus, while some touring festivals like Riot Fest and Warped Tour have stopped coming to Toronto. Of the really big local ones, only Field Trip seems to be weathering the storm, mostly by sticking to its tried-and-true formula. Others, like Manifesto, continue to shift with the times, and under new executive director Kiana “Rookz” Eastmond will likely continue to do so. Red Bull, meanwhile, has made its relationship with the city official with a full-on Red Bull Music Festival.

But for at least a year or two, the most exciting shows have not happened under a festival banner. Will that change this summer? You never know, but so far it doesn’t seem likely. 

wes borland.jpg

All your favourite bands in 2019.

The NU-METAL REVIVAL you’ve been waiting for

From Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s 1999 to the return of Aqua and Prozzak, to Amy Shark’s cover of Teenage Dirtbag and Grimes and Poppy’s early-00s pop explosion, it seems like 2018 was obsessed with the late 90s and early 2000s. A nu-metal revival can’t be far behind, right? I’m betting there are a few bands scrutinizing their old Korn CDs, digging out their wallet chains and black contact lenses as we speak. 

@nowtoronto | @trapunski

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