Local music – NOW Magazine https://nowtoronto.com Everything Toronto - NOW Magazine Tue, 03 Aug 2021 16:23:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8 https://du9bj9c2s4nh.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/cropped-favicon-96x96-1-32x32.png Local music – NOW Magazine https://nowtoronto.com 32 32 First annual Canadian Music T-Shirt Day set for July 30 https://nowtoronto.com/music/first-annual-canadian-music-t-shirt-day-set-for-july-30 https://nowtoronto.com/music/first-annual-canadian-music-t-shirt-day-set-for-july-30#respond Mon, 26 Jul 2021 17:58:13 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=719771 The new campaign encourages fans to show love to their favourite artists, buy merch and donate to charity

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You probably don’t need an excuse to wear your favourite band shirt – but in case you need another one, the first-ever Canadian Music T-Shirt Day is happening this Friday, July 30.

The idea is to support Canadian artists, either by buying merch or wearing your favourite Canadian music t-shirt, sharing a photo on social and donating to the Unison Fund. The registered music industry charity offers counselling and emergency relief services to musicians and other industry professionals going through hardship and illness.

The campaign website conveniently links to merch stores for more than 100 musicians, including Jessie Reyez, U.S. Girls, The Weeknd, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Broken Social Scene, Haviah Mighty, Fucked Up, Cancer Bats and Lido Pimienta.

Music manager Adam Kreeft of Good Company and music marketer Jo Lukis of Just Really Good are behind the initiative, which is based on a similar campaign that’s been running in Australia.

With live touring put on hold during the pandemic, many artists were left with boxes of merchandise for concerts that never happened.

During the first-wave lockdown last spring, Nine Inch Nails began selling merch for their cancelled tour online, with proceeds benefiting local charities, including food banks in Toronto and Vancouver.

“Times are tough right now for Canadian artists and their teams with touring put on hold for over a year,” Lukis said in a statement. “The Canadian Live Music Association reports that the industry has suffered a 92 per cent average revenue loss since March 2020. Selling merch is a huge part of touring revenue for artists, and while shows are cancelled, countless boxes of t-shirts printed for tours that never happened are gathering dust.”

In the past year, Unison Fund reported a 3,021 per cent rise in applications for emergency financial aid. To date, the charity has helped 2,000 music industry professionals through various programs, including giving out more than $2.3 million in financial assistance.

Kreeft and Lukis plan to make Canadian Music T-Shirt Day an annual event that will take place on the last Friday of July. Visit the campaign website for full details.


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Jim Cuddy says that playing music with his sons is the best thing ever https://nowtoronto.com/music/jim-cuddy-says-that-playing-music-with-his-sons-is-the-best-thing-ever https://nowtoronto.com/music/jim-cuddy-says-that-playing-music-with-his-sons-is-the-best-thing-ever#respond Tue, 20 Jul 2021 16:49:17 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=718651 The Blue Rodeo musician has been doing gigs with familiar collaborators – his sons Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley

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Normally when you think about Canadian roots musician Jim Cuddy you envision him onstage with the legendary Blue Rodeo, standing alongside co-songwriter/guitarist Greg Keelor while the band blasts out killer tunes like Diamond Mine or Til I Am Myself Again. Or you might picture him doing a solo concert, performing a heartfelt number from one of his five solo albums.

But more recently Cuddy has been performing with his two sons, 34-year-old Devin Cuddy and 29-year-old Sam Polley. For him that’s one of the best things ever.

“It is absolutely,” says Cuddy on the phone from his home in “steamy” Toronto. “You know l love collaboration in general, to just step out of your own career path and just play music. And I’m so admiring of my sons, that they have developed their own careers, their own original music, and that they’ve become good professionals. They understand that when they get on a stage they have to perform well, and it takes some discipline.”

Cuddy says that the music his kids play could be described as roots, but that guitar player Sam makes is a bit more quirky and poppy, while pianist Devin has more of a blues base and “a lot of Randy Newman in him.” Both offspring gravitated towards music at an early age, but not, according to Cuddy, in a predictable way.

“The first people that Devin liked were Louis Armstrong and Jellyroll Morton,” he says, “it was stuff I didn’t know a whole bunch about. So he really tried to move as far away from me as he could. He went to jazz school at York [University] for four years, and then sorta came around to roots.

“Sam’s a little bit more like me – played guitar and wrote songs and covered the Skydiggers and things like that. So a little bit more closely inclined to my path. But they both did it entirely on their own. You know, their mother and I, we didn’t even know they wrote songs until we saw them on stage. They were living in the same house, but somehow they kept it from us.”

Though he’s been keeping himself busy during the pandemic, performing a lot of online gigs and working on Blue Rodeo and solo albums – both of which he expects to be out early next year – Cuddy always keeps his ears open to other artists. When asked what he’s been listening to in his spare time, he doesn’t hesitate.

“What I really like is Rose Cousins’ new record,” he replies. “She won a Juno for that too, which is great. I was listening to the Teskey Brothers, kind of a soul band I heard about that’s really good. And you ever hear of Jimmy LaFave? He’d be just about my age, but he died at 61, and he just does this most amazing cover of Walk Away Renée. I was listening to some new Jackson Browne and then all of sudden that stopped and he came on and I was like, ‘Whoa, who is this guy?’ He slows that song down and does a soulful version of it, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Speaking of touching tunes, Cuddy recently released a video for an uplifting ballad called Good News that will be included on his solo record.

“I was very moved by all the kindness and consideration that people were showing each other [during the pandemic],” he explains. “It’s not normal when we’re all shut down and people are all of a sudden inquiring about how everybody is and trying to do things for people that maybe are shut-in or scared. Then all the Black Lives Matter protests. I just thought it was really inspiring to see people go out of their way for others.”

Good News may make the set list when Cuddy and his sons play the online Mission Folk Music Festival on a “Fathers and Sons” bill with Barney Bentall and his son Dustin Bentall. Expect to hear some original compositions from his boys as well.

“I encourage them to do originals,” says Cuddy, “so they’ll probably do an original each and then a cover each, and I’ll do a couple of originals, and then we’ll do something together. Barney and Dustin and Devin and Sam and myself, we’ve done a lot of playing in bars, so we have quite a repertoire. I guess we can’t play together because the Zoom doesn’t allow you to play in time with somebody else, but we’ve got lots of encores and inspirational tunes. It’s great stuff.”

Cuddy officially became a senior in December, but turning 65 hasn’t caused him to look back on his career and ponder how things could have

“Oh, I don’t think I’d change anything,” he says. “You know, so much of a music career is just what leads you along. I was doing TV commercials and stuff and it was good money and I could have a family and we could play, then one thing led to another and the music business just took me along. And it’s not like there wasn’t planning and a lot of hard work, but you just respond to opportunities. So I don’t think I could look back and say, ‘I wish we’d done this, I wish we’d done that.’ I think we’ve been very fortunate, obviously, and it’s not a thing that I look back on without gratitude.”

Jim Cuddy, Devin Cuddy, and Sam Polley perform at the online Mission Folk Music Festival, as part of the Fathers and Sons concert. The virtual festival runs July 23-25. Jim Cuddy performs as part of Blue Rodeo at Budweiser Stage on August 28. See listing.

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.


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Toronto online radio station ISO moves into Stackt Market https://nowtoronto.com/music/toronto-online-radio-station-iso-moves-into-stackt-market https://nowtoronto.com/music/toronto-online-radio-station-iso-moves-into-stackt-market#respond Fri, 18 Jun 2021 22:44:08 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=714350 After 15 months of broadcasting remotely, the local online station finally has a new home

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In the spirit of many independent radio stations that have come before them, ISO Radio is now broadcasting live – from a shipping container.

Legendary online radio stations like NTS in London or The Lot in Brooklyn are housed inside of containers, broadcasting hundreds of sets per month from four metal walls.

“So many of my favourite iconic radio stations are in shipping containers, so I’m truly invigorated by the possibilities here,” says Josephine Cruz aka Jayemkayem, co-founder of ISO Radio, over email.

After 15 months of doing things virtually, the new space will allow the station to be a community hub again, a space for DJs, artists and presenters to convene and discover new sounds. The container is located at Stackt Market, with ample outdoor space around it to keep things friendly.

Josephine Cruz

The radio station originally launched in 2019 and quickly became known for platforming a distinct range of DJs, playing genres from hip-hop to Italo disco. They made a concerted effort to spotlight emerging producers and artists and to be space for mentorship, so it was pretty upsetting for the team when they had to shut down operations last March. Before the pandemic they were based inside of a studio space above Summerhill coffee shop Boxcar Social. They’ve been broadcasting virtually from their homes since the onset of the pandemic, but without a dedicated physical space, a lot of the DJs who don’t own or have access to equipment haven’t been able to keep their residencies going.

“It’s been quite the year for ISO – a lot of ups and downs and uncertainty. And while the pandemic is still ongoing and there’s still a long way to go to get a thriving music scene back in our city, having this new space feels like a big win for our community,” Cruz says.

To kick things off at their new home, ISO is hosting a 10-hour broadcast with local queer collective Yohomo on June 19. The all-day event will include sets from Jeremy Glenn, Sofia Fly, Kris Steeves, Valeroo, Black Cat, Mind Bath, Ace Dillinger, Jelz, Sammy Rawal and Yohomo’s resident DJs. There’s also a queer night market starting at 5 pm with different vendors selling their locally made goods.

In an email statement, the Yohomo team says, “We were so happy to work with ISO on this Pride pop-up party because we’re such big fans of what they do in this city’s music and nightlife community, but also because it was an easy excuse to ask some of our favourite queer DJs to play IRL, with BIG SPEAKERS and PROPER EQUIPMENT for the first time in too long….We can’t have a massive Pride party like we’d love to this year, but this lineup, venue and the idea that you can stream the sets live all day from wherever you’re celebrating Pride Month is a moment. It’s a real chosen family affair.”

Yohomo also stresses in a post on their Instagram that this is not a party, in case there was any confusion: “This is not a ticketed dance party situation. Stackt is following all the provincial rules and this is DJs in a studio playing live all day with our pop-up shop outside.”

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Feist is bringing her Multitudes residency to Toronto this fall https://nowtoronto.com/music/feist-is-bringing-her-multitudes-residency-to-toronto-this-fall https://nowtoronto.com/music/feist-is-bringing-her-multitudes-residency-to-toronto-this-fall#respond Wed, 16 Jun 2021 21:53:56 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=714105 The limited-capacity concert series at Meridian Hall is designed to bring people together after lockdown

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Leslie Feist will perform new material at a series of intimate concerts at Meridian Hall in Toronto this fall.

Multitudes is billed as a concert residency with an “unconventional production” and “limited capacity.” Specific dates have not been announced, but Feist will debut the show in August with a five-day run in Hamburg, Germany, at the Kampnagel Festival – which co-produced the show with Meridian Hall operator TO Live – before heading to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre and then to Toronto.

The concerts will run from October 20-30. Tickets are $125 and go on sale on July 29 via tolive.com. Each show is limited to 200 people and show times are 7 pm and 9 pm nightly.

Feist developed the production with lighting designer Rob Sinclair, who’s worked with Pet Shop Boys, Roisin Murphy, M.I.A., David Byrne and Tame Impala. Todd Dahlhoff and Amir Yaghmai, from Julian Casablancas’s band the Voidz, will join the singer/songwriter and guitarist on stage.

Feist conceived Multitudes in reaction to the pandemic, and bills the show as a “reclaiming of the stage.” She will perform in the round surrounded by the audience and custom 18-point D&B Soundscape immersive audio.

“It is an intimate, radically communal and topsy-turvy concert that muddies the roles between audience and performer. It’s formulated to bring people together as they re-emerge from lockdown while providing an outlet for connection between artist, art and community,” the show’s description reads.

Multitudes also promises to blur lines between audience and performer – in other words, sounds like audience participation will be an option.

Feist recently joined the surviving members of the Tragically Hip on stage at Massey Hall for a performance during the 50th anniversary Juno Awards. Her last studio album was 2017’s Pleasure.

Update (July 26, 10:45 am): This story was updated with concert dates and ticket info.


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Mustafa sets release date for debut project When Smoke Rises https://nowtoronto.com/music/mustafa-sets-release-date-for-debut-project-when-smoke-rises https://nowtoronto.com/music/mustafa-sets-release-date-for-debut-project-when-smoke-rises#respond Mon, 05 Apr 2021 22:06:50 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=702016 The Regent Park singer/songwriter's long-awaited debut record is coming out on May 28

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Mustafa has set a spring release date for his debut project When Smoke Rises. The Toronto singer/songwriter will drop the eight-track record on May 28 via his Regent Park Songs imprint.

When Smoke Rises is one of the most anticipated local releases of the year, marking the Regent Park-raised artist’s long-awaited debut and the culmination of a six-year process that saw him transition from poetry to music.

He has also released a new video for the song Ali, which is about his late friend Ali Rizeig, aka NSK (North Side King). In an interview with NOW last fall, Mustafa described Rizeig as a sensitive soul who always kept alive the memories of other friends who had died.

“It was so important for me to write a song for Ali because he wouldn’t let us forget anyone we lost,” Mustafa told NOW. “He would say we don’t talk about Santana enough or Yusuf enough. It’s important for us to remember the way that they took them from us.”

Mustafa has previously released videos for the singles Air Forces and Stay Alive.

Check out his self-directed video for Ali, as well as the When Smoke Rises track list and cover art, below.

When Smoke Rises:

1. Stay Alive
2. Air Forces
3. Separate
4. The Hearse
5. Capo [ft. Sampha]
6. Ali
7. What About Heaven
8. Come Back

The album cover for Mustafa's When Smoke Rises


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The sound of Toronto in 2021: 20 local musicians you need to hear now https://nowtoronto.com/music/toronto-music-2021-artists-to-watch https://nowtoronto.com/music/toronto-music-2021-artists-to-watch#respond Thu, 04 Mar 2021 12:00:00 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=697465 In a year with no concerts, these artists are building music culture and burning it down

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What is the sound of a city with no concerts? Tracking the Toronto music scene has been different this year. There are no live shows to scout out bands, find instant favourites or dance our faces off. It’s not an easy time to be an emerging musician in Toronto or anywhere else. But music, like everything else, has found ways to pivot and find meaning in this strange new world.

Without real spaces to congregate in, Toronto music scenes are taking shape online, over TikTok and Zoom, in Instagram lives and Bandcamp Fridays. Artists are taking action in other ways, building music culture from the ashes of what we took for granted, and in some cases burning it down themselves.

Here are five snapshots of Toronto music acts pushing boundaries in this pandemic year, as well as recommendations of 15 more to keep your ear on.

Samuel Engelking


The sound: Punk to burn the Canadian music industry down by

The OBGMs are loud as hell – both onstage and off. 

“We’re not just happy to be here. That might work for some people, it doesn’t work for us,” says Densil McFarlane, lead singer and guitarist of the punk trio. “We are hungry, and we’re going to show people that we’re one of the best bands in the city.

“And we’re going to do it loudly.”

You can feel the heat coming off their sophomore album, The Ends, which came out this past October on Black Box. It’s a searing collection of punk songs, combining rhythmic swagger with hardcore intensity and some Pixies guitar hooks peeking through the cracks. 

Their confidence carries into interviews, where the band is about as modest as a Gallagher brother. That’s on purpose. As a majority Black band in the Canadian music industry, they know there aren’t seats at the table for bands that don’t look or sound a certain way. Being humble and waiting your turn just isn’t an option. 

“Why is Canada always getting behind the same old bands?” he asks. “Since I grew up, it’s always been the same bands. We’re ready to move on.”

McFarlane and drummer Colanthony Humphrey have been making music together since the mid-2000s. They started out as a hip-hop production duo, but found there was a certain ceiling to hip-hop acts in Canada. They wanted to do something to stand out, so McFarlane taught himself to play guitar and they morphed into a rock band. 

“At the time it was less common for two Black guys from Neptune Drive to be running shit like DFA,” McFarlane says. “Now, there’s more diversity there, but not enough.”

The OBGMs released their debut album in 2015 and got a bit of a following, but they got much more ambitious for this follow-up. It’s mixed by Dave Schiffman, who’s done production for a handful of A-listers. He hooked them up with Stefan Babcock from fellow Toronto punk band, PUP, who co-wrote a few songs and helped them refine and re-approach the songs they’d already written to make them as strong as possible. 

By 2020, they were ready to burst back out of the gates. On March 11, the band (slimmed down to a trio, with Joseph Brosnan on bass) played their first concert in two years, an invite-only house show that they packed past fire code regulations. It was the same night Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA suspended its season. It’d be one of the last times they or any other band in the Toronto music scene could play a show like that. 

That’s unfortunate. They’ve played some virtual concerts since then and you can still feel the energy, but this is a band whose legend is made in the mosh pit. 

But rather than sit on his hands, McFarlane has used the time to strengthen what the OBGMs can do around their music. Humphreys’s brother is the do-it-all Toronto rapper Clairmont The Second, and they took a page out of his DIY book, learning to shoot and edit their own music videos and taking creative direction into their own hands. 

And they’re paying it forward to the next generation of BIPOC artists in the rock scene. McFarlane is launching an artists’ network called Burn Industry, which is designed to share resources around production, videos, streaming and radio, grant-writing and access to other assets that often aren’t available to them in an industry that doesn’t represent them or support them. They want to help bands find each other and create a community, and they’re currently working on a directory of BIPOC artists. 

“We’re going to make way for the next generation and give them the supports we don’t have.”

The OBGMs are tired of being treated as a novelty or being minimized. Don’t compare them to Bad Brains. And don’t even think to call them underrated. 

“We’re tired of being underrated. Overrate me!” he says. “I just want my Grammy, I want my Juno and I want my Polaris. Give me that and other things. Give me a Nobel Peace Prize. I want that too.” RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

More Toronto music to watch


Maryam Said makes introspective and emotionally intelligent alt-folk songs. Poolblood’s recent releases have been more stripped-down than their 2019 Yummy EP (recorded with the artist Shamir). More recent songs are labelled demos, but their aching intimacy is perfect for this moment. In a solo performance of In My Little Room recorded for Toronto music series Long Winter, Said sings about the claustrophobic experience of being trapped in your own space and mind while in an actual little room. It gives you chills. 


Densil McFarlane of the OBGMs credits Joncro’s Daniel G. Wilson with making him more vocal about the issues surrounding BIPOC people in rock music. The Mississauga musician’s Festival Lingua Franca has been making space for people of colour in punk and has continued the mission online. Joncro have been prolific on Bandcamp too, stretching from the usual punk and noise sounds to everything from doo-wop to ska, spoken word poetry to hardcore. He’s been doing some good writing too with the new Canadian music journalism co-op New Feeling.

Dorothea Paas

Dorothea Paas has been a presence in Toronto music for years now, solo and with acts like Badge Époque Ensemble and U.S. Girls, but she’s finally set to release her solo debut. Anything Can’t Happen, out May 7 on Telephone Explosion, shows off her timeless voice, infused with the emotional mysticism of Joni Mitchell, English folk like the Fairport Convention and her own religious upbringing singing in church choirs.


The sound: Bad gyal anthems with island flare

Ebhoni can’t stop thinking about summertime in Toronto – when block parties and bashment reign supreme and you can catch a whine with a friendly stranger.

She’s been splitting her time between Atlanta and Toronto ever since her mother remarried and says the most noted difference between the two cities is that people in Atlanta don’t listen to dancehall, reggae or soca. As an artist whose music always has an island flare, she misses the influence of Caribbean culture. 

“When I hear island music, I want to be in Toronto before anywhere else. The culture there is so crazy. I can’t wait to come back.”

X, her EP released last month, is sung mostly in patois with the panache of a true bad gyal. It’s fun, bold and undeniable.

Like many children of the Caribbean diaspora (she has Antiguan, Jamaican and Indigenous roots) she remembers soca and reggae blasting on Sunday mornings. She grew up in Weston with a lot of West Indian friends who introduced her to the whole gamut of Caribbean music.  

The past year has given her time to come into her own. She deprioritized the expectations she had about how her music should sound or who it should appeal to, and feels more in control than ever. 

“The pandemic has had a lot to do with me finding myself in the music because I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time alone,” she says. “I feel like I’m learning to just trust god and trust that my work is going to get out there.” 

Ebhoni has been releasing music since she was a teenager, and when she goes back through her Soundcloud archive she can hear the moments where people pushed her to veer from the sound she wanted. 

“There’s always been someone who says ‘maybe we should try a happy pop beat’ and I would always do it because I’m the type of person that likes to please people. And I would always find myself being unhappy.”

Now, if she has a vision, she sticks to it and the people around her build her up rather than making her second-guess her intuition. 

Ebhoni always wants to put her true self into her lyrics. She uses songwriting to process everything she experiences and is sitting on a gold mine of unreleased tracks. Enough to fill two new projects, one coming out later this year.

X almost went unreleased but thankfully her producers and friends convinced her the tracks needed to be heard. It’s some of her most compelling music to date. 

MIA is a standout track with the lyric that gave her a new Instagram bio: “qween of tittie dem small.” 

“Tittie dem small” is a defiant reclamation of her body, which she’s grown to love again. She went from being a body-positive Tumblr girl to beating herself up about being too petite after she turned 19. 

“Last May when I wrote MIA, I was actually booked for a surgery consultation,” she says. “But writing that song made me feel so good about myself I didn’t go through with it.” 

Her music empowers any listener to walk with their head a little higher, but she’s really creating these anthems of defiance for herself. KELSEY ADAMS

More Toronto music to watch

Savannah Ré

Savannah Ré’s video introduction to her 2020 EP, Opia, describes the word as “the intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.” Her soulful and melodic R&B is a contemporary take on an old standard – she is singing the hell out of these notes. Ré started making music a decade ago and has written for artists like Babyface and Daniel Caesar but this is her first EP. The Boi-1-da produced project is a study of the kind of vulnerability necessary to truly let someone else see and love you.


Amaal’s recent cover of India Arie’s Brown Skin, a love letter to Black womanhood, is perfectly suited to the singer’s angelic voice and her propensity to centre her Blackness and her Somali identity in her songwriting. She started releasing music at 16 and has a catalogue of unquestionable R&B bops under her belt. Her music is smooth and pleading and imbued with raw sensuality.

Rochelle Jordan

We’ve been fans of the Los Angeles-based Toronto music artist for a while, but her latest singles All Along and Got ‘Em is giving us the bounce we need right now. Putting modern spins on 90s pop and R&B subgenres and heavy on layered vocals, the tracks are among her headiest and hardest-hitting to date. We’re ready for more.


The sound: Smooth hip-hop full of rewindable bars

DijahSB makes you want to click Follow.

In their music and on Twitter, their smooth mix of no-bullshit vulnerability and hilarious one-liners makes you want to go back and hear more.

“I just engage a lot,” the rapper says from their place in Brampton. “Maybe sometimes too much.”

For musicians, being good at social media is more than a side skill. With no in-person live shows or networking opportunities, it’s a crucial way to get your music out there and show off your personality. But while thirsty artists and labels spend truckloads on online marketing specialists and Zoom workshops, it rings hollow if it feels too manufactured. The same goes for music that’s brazenly trend-chasing or A&R’ed to death. 

DijahSB avoids all of that just by being their authentic self. They have the tracks to back up their tweets, so when people discover them anywhere online they tend to stick around for the music. 

On last year’s 2020 The Album and their upcoming album, Head Above The Waters (out April 23), it’s clear they’ve found their sound. They started making music about a decade ago as part of a duo called Class of ‘93. That project had a 90s boom-bap vibe, but the stuff they’ve been doing recently has a groovy lo-fi house production inspired by Montreal producer Kaytranada. Vocally, they’re always in the pocket and always spitting rewindable bars. 

“A couple years ago, I realized I was making music for other people, like looking for key slang words that people use to put in the hook to make it more catchy or relatable,” they admit. “As soon as I dropped that mentality and started making music for myself, it opened up a world of creativity to me. As long as I’m saying whatever it is I want to say, I know that someone somewhere will be able to relate to it.”

On their latest single, By Myself (produced by local beatmaker Harrison, who has three tracks on the new record), DijahSB raps “I don’t want to fight with any crab that’s in a bucket.” It’s an allusion to the Screwface mentality of a few gatekeeping Toronto rappers who’ve come at them online. 

“I’m a masc-presenting lesbian, and men who have huge ego problems see a big issue with that because I’m in a space that they usually occupy the most and I’m doing better than them.”

For the most part, though, Dijah says people have been supportive, especially over the last year. 2020 The Album was paid for by a successful crowdfunding campaign, and recently they’ve got co-signs from their heroes like Kid Cudi and Jay Electronica. The latter had his mind blown when he randomly picked DijahSB out of a crowd to rap onstage in 2018. He invited them to open officially at Mod Club last year, but that concert was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID.

Without the help of any sort of label or management support, Dijah got themselves onto some key playlists and says people message them all the time saying they discovered them streaming and then listened through their whole discography. 

“The stuff I’ve been putting out lately is just undeniably good,” Dijah says, matter-of-factly. “It’s kind of hard to ignore me at this point.”

But the best compliments, they say, have been coming from Brazil. It come after DijahSB recently did a cross-continental collab with the Brazilian artist NiLL on the song Control.

“The love that I’ve been receiving from the Brazilian hip-hop scene has been nuts,” Dijah says. “I’ve been speaking Portuguese for a month, bro.” RT

More Toronto music to watch

No Tourists

No Tourists is made up of five artists (Deelo Avery, Kafayé, Keynes Woods, Lan’do and James Wesson) whose diasporic Congolese, Jamaican and Nigerian backgrounds inflect their music with fervent energy. Their explosive sound bridges hip-hop, jazz, house, dancehall, funk and grime – something that is worldly and simultaneously very Toronto. They’re releasing their Ultraviolet EP in April, a meditative follow-up to 2020’s more bravado-heavy Guerrilla EP.


Like his former Halal Gang compatriant Mustafa, SAFE has relocated from Toronto. But the formerly Regent Park-based singer is on a hot streak with the singles he’s been putting out lately. That includes a recent duet with R&B singer Kiana Ledé for the soundtrack to the Fred Hampton biopic film Judas and the Black Messiah that has his honeyed vocals in the ears of people all over the world. Whatever comes next could be a huge breakthrough. 


This consistently solid Toronto rapper has been releasing music for almost a decade, and is deservedly starting to bubble up. He dropped the album Because We’re Alive in late 2020 and landed on mainstream hip-hop radio with the hooky single Jungle (featuring Ruby Waters). DillanPonders has a knack for combining the melodic and booming over diverse rhyme patterns.

The Kount

The sound: Demystified beatmaking for everyone stuck at home

For the past five years, Koal Harrison has had a good presence in Toronto music as a producer for R&B acts like Allie. Under his producing alias The Kount, he earned a reputation for bright and sparkly synth-funk tracks but, in true behind-the-scenes producer style, he kept out of the limelight.

In November 2019, he decided to try something new and posted a video on social media of himself making a beat and noticed more people liking and commenting than usual.

“People were really interested in seeing the process,” he says. “The track is built out one layer at a time and they get to see it progress in real time. And I think people were happy to see my face.”

Fast-forward to 2021, 126 beat videos and a global pandemic later, the 28-year-old beatmaker is demystifying the production process, galvanizing a community of musicians stuck in self-isolation and raising his own profile among big names in American hip-hop.

Each month he hosts the Kount Challenge, a social media competition in which he posts a “genre-less” drum loop that musicians use to build out songs, manipulating the break into disco, hip-hop or whatever they want. Last March, Luna Li (aka Hannah Bussiere Kim, who was in our Sound Of Toronto issue last year) layered harp, guitar and violin to create a dreamy instrumental that went viral. She ended up releasing a whole album of one-minute jams.

Gradually, bigger names would see the videos and retweet – or reach out. This month, Chicago rapper Noname released her first song of 2021, the Kount-produced Rainforest, which she was inspired to write after coming across a Kount beat on Twitter.

“She was like, ‘Could you send me this track? And I saw you did a beat video here, and could you send me that one too?” he says. “That guaranteed I was in the right wheelhouse.” 

“I don’t think it’s enough to tell somebody that you make good sounds and then have them just listen through a bunch of sample packs,” he says. “The videos show everything that you’re going to buy in context, how you can use them in a beat and what the final beat will sound like.” 

Harrison began playing drums while attending Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. He initially convinced his parents to buy him a guitar, but never got a handle on the instrument. He realized he could hold rhythm (hence his name – which is also inspired by the Sesame Street character that terrified his sister as a child) and fashioned old boxes, a wicker basket high-hat and other objects into a “really janky” homemade drum set.

In high school, he obsessively listened to Madlib and the late J. Dilla, hip-hop beatsmiths who mix live percussion with samples to defy genre convention. So you can imagine his elation when Madlib tweeted his name alongside two fire emojis last November.

“It made me feel like a million bucks,” Harrison says, adding he’d noticed that Madlib had bought one of his sample packs but never had direct contact with the California-based producer. “I was shaking in the studio a little bit.”

Inspired by Madlib, he has focused on working quickly and taking a less-is-more approach to production. He knows when to pull back and say a track is finished. Last year, he says even though he only released a few songs he made “close to 300.” He’s prepping an EP with producer Kaelin Ellis for the spring and promises summer will be “very exciting” – COVID notwithstanding.

When the weather warms up, perhaps the video shoots will move outdoors since it’s unlikely live gigs will be happening.

“At least a drum circle in the park,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.” KEVIN RITCHIE

More Toronto music to watch


Zosia Mackenzie recorded the demos for her upcoming electro-pop EP Obraz (out May 15) in her grandmother’s attic in Warsaw. She returned to her home on Roncesvalles to flesh them out with her Soviet-era Formanta Polivoks (as well as more familiar synths and drum machines) and her partner John O’Regan. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the guy behind the DIY glam-pop project Diamond Rings, once a NOW cover star himself. This is his return to music after nearly a decade. Dub techno pioneers Mark and Matt Thibideau also contributed. But this is Zosia’s project, a warm and pulsing bit of electronic music with lyrics in Polish.

Korea Town Acid

The producer/DJ with an affinity for polyrhythmic and subversive club sounds slows the pace somewhat and melds her love of hip-hop, drum n’ bass and grime on her debut LP, Metamorphosis, due out April 6. Featuring collabs with local R&B singer Desiire and hard-edged South Korean MC PNSB, the project promises to bring her myriad influences together in ways that push the Toronto sound into new and exciting directions.

Jane Inc. 

This is the new project from Carlyn Bezic, best known as one-half of the post-punk band Ice Cream (though she also plays with U.S. Girls, Darlene Shrugg and more). If you like Ice Cream’s mix of sultry disco funk, throbbing pop and critiques of modern life and its fragmentary identity-formation, this will definitely be up your alley. Jane Inc.’s debut album, Number One, is out March 19 on Telephone Explosion.


The sound: Whiplash-inducing pop from your imagination

Moneyphone are entirely uninterested in the conventions of genre.

Their sound exists somewhere between post-punk, hyperpop, drum and bass, alternative hip-hop and UK garage. The duo describes their music as pop, which they see as a conduit for disseminating ideas.

“Pop is a form of communication. It just means you’re able to communicate your ideas at a really high level that connects with a lot of people,” says Enoch Ncube, one half of Moneyphone alongside longtime friend David May. 

“From the very beginning, David and I have been interested in trying to understand our references and then filter them through ourselves. We use pop as the medium to take things like really loving post-punk music and loving drum and bass and figuring out how you can take those seperate things and communicate them as a single idea.”

Their recent mixtape is an illustration of this synthesis. FAITH is a trip. It’s braggadocious with rowdy 808s on one track and subdued and contemplative on the next. Centred around the multiple meanings of “faith,” it includes clips of the duo’s friends sharing their own interpretations of the word. It was recorded in late 2018 and 2019 and they look back at it with the sheen of nostalgia. 

“We’re paying homage to all the people who impacted us and to have this archive with the people who made that time so special is beautiful to me,” said Ncube.

Before FAITH, they had released two EPs and a handful of singles going back to 2017. They both see Moneyphone as a project that they grew up in. Ncube and May met years ago on the school bus that took them to their Stouffville high school. They’ve been inseparable friends ever since. 

They started living together when they moved to Toronto and helped each other with their respective projects. Eventually, they decided to make music together. 

“The fact that we live together is how everything happened so fast,” says May. “I think that’s the benefit. You live with the music, it’s all around you. It’s all you’re thinking about. If Enoch is working on something and I’m downstairs and I can hear it, I can be tuned in.”

Their upcoming project is a dance album – all the duo cares about right now is “making people feel good.” They’re avid fans of the dance and electronic scene in the city, dropping names like Bambii, Prince Josh, Teesh and Harrison as inspirations. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of learning about dance music while making the album, but we haven’t had the ability to go to a club and hear how bass hits on speakers and take that back into the studio,” says Ncube. 

Without being able to pull from real experiences, they’ve relied more on their imaginations. And that feels perfectly Moneyphone. KA

More Toronto music to watch

Jonah Yano

This singer/songwriter’s debut album explores questions around loss and identity. His songwriting is tender and emotionally eviscerating and he bares intimate parts of himself in the music. One of his definitive songs is shoes, a duet in English and Japanese that features his estranged father whom he reconciled with after 15 years of distance. You may have also heard Yano’s yearning croon on songs by his frequent collaborators and friends Moneyphone, Monsune and BADBADNOTGOOD.

R. Flex

The falsetto-voiced singer and producer (and backing vocalist for Sound of Toronto alumni Tush) is floating into 2021 on the delicately caressing Tulips, an R&B cut that sees their artistry hitting new heights. It’s a stripped-down showcase for their ethereal vocal acrobatics – and clear love of whispery Janet Jackson balladry – that delivers the straight-up heat we all need right now.


Kizis is technically a Montreal artist, but the Algonquin two-spirit artist’s new album Tidibàbide / Turn is a monumental album that transcends any sort of artificial boundaries. Over 50 artists contributed, including Owen Pallett, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Tara Kannangara, Elle Barbara and many more. The sprawling, genreless album is over four hours long and it’s a lot to absorb, but there’s surprises in every minute.


Listen to Richard Trapunski’s panel with The OBGMs, The Kount, Moneyphone and Poolblood in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

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The best Toronto albums of 2020 https://nowtoronto.com/music/best-toronto-albums-2020 https://nowtoronto.com/music/best-toronto-albums-2020#respond Tue, 15 Dec 2020 22:33:52 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=685412 We weren't able to see many of them live, but local artists still gave us a lot to listen to this year

The post The best Toronto albums of 2020 appeared first on NOW Magazine.

From hip-hop beatscapes to celestial R&B gong punk, local artists didn’t let their creativity dip despite all the challenges they faced during this pandemic year. It’s a shame we couldn’t support the music live and in person, but here are the Toronto albums that were filling our ears while we stayed home this year.

1. U.S. Girls: Heavy Light

Heavy Light came out just weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown, and now it feels like a time capsule. It’s simultaneously Meg Remy’s most personal album and her most collective. Her first-person form gets unusually high usage as she sings about her teen years. The music is lush and joyful as ever, and she’s still a clear-eyed critic of American exceptionalism. She leans on a hugely talented group of musicians crammed into a studio together, including some of Toronto’s unheralded powerhouse singers (Kritty Uranowski, James Baley, Basia Bulat, Dorothea Paas, etc.). It’s the musical feeling of personal trauma worked out through community support. It’ll be a while before we can show up for each other like that again, at least in person.

(Royal Mountain)

Get it here.

2. The Weeknd: After Hours

Abel Tesfaye was advised to delay his fourth official Weeknd album after we all retreated indoors, but he wisely put it out anyway. Blinding Lights still became a ubiquitous hit, and After Hours was everywhere. The Weeknd isn’t making claustrophobic loft music anymore (break out House Of Balloons next time you start to feel quarantine malaise and want to wallow), but he’s still an expert at creating and sustaining a mood. His newfound taste for 80s pop flavour suits his heart-rending R&B perfectly, including a Phil Collins drum break that puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. Easily his best album since his mixtape days.

(XO/Universal Music Canada)

Get it here

 3. Lido Pimienta: Miss Colombia 

It took longer than expected for Lido Pimienta to follow up her Polaris Prize-winning 2016 album La Papessa, but it was worth the wait. She’s said Miss Colombia is about the duality of longing for your country of origin while feeling you don’t quite belong there anymore, and also feeling you aren’t fully embraced by the country you call home. It’s also about trying to define what home means. She combines Afro-Caribbean traditions with soundscapes that reach into the future and her own unparalleled voice. It could only have come from her. 


Get it here.

4. Andy Shauf: The Neon Skyline

In a year when we all understood the vital importance of local businesses, and of places to be out in the world with other people, Andy Shauf made us miss and appreciate the Skyline. The classic Parkdale diner/neighbourhood hangout is the setting of this album. Through expertly orchestrated folk-rock, Shauf crafts a tale that is wistful, sweet, philosophical, self-deprecating and relatable. The tour was shaping up to elevate Shauf to a new level of popularity, so it’s a shame he never got to go. Still, this was something nice to come back to.  

(Arts & Crafts)

Get it here.

5. Caribou: Suddenly 

There are few electronic musicians who exude warmth quite like Dan Snaith, and we really needed it this year. His first Caribou album in six years was a soothing balm during a very anxious time, full of plush vocals and lived-in melodies. The title speaks to emotional whiplash, which manifests through sudden beat switches or codas in nearly every song. But it still feels gentle, a feat of quiet endurance. Let’s not argue over whether we can still consider Caribou a “Toronto act.” More than ever, Caribou’s music feels like its own sonic universe.

(City Slang/Merge)

Get it here.

6. Junia-T: Studio Monk

This is the moment Junia-T goes from rapper to super-producer. The album has “opus” written all over it. He was meticulous in how he built these beat-based compositions from scratch. It’s packed with features from talented Canadian singers and MCs from Sean Leon to Jessie Reyez (Junia-T is her touring DJ), but much like Montreal’s Kaytranada, no matter how many guests he has, his cohesive sound that is always unmistakably him. It’s like he’s producing in 4D. 

(3-5 Playa Productions/Pirate’s Blend) 

Get it here.

7. Witch Prophet: DNA Activation

“We carry our ancestors with every step and every decision we make,” begins the short film that Witch Prophet’s Ayo Leilani and FroCasso made to introduce her sophomore album at this year’s Polaris Prize virtual gala. You can hear that generational focus on DNA Activation, an impossibly cool and laid-back mix of soul, Ethio-jazz and 90s trip-hop. Leilani floats above it all, mixing family history with learned mythology and her own Eritrean and Ethiopian roots. It feels like an invitation deep into her being. 

(Heart Lake)

Get it here.

8. Pantayo 

Pantayo describe their music as “something like lo-fi gong punk celestial R&B” and it’s a fitting description. The group of Filipinx-Canadians formed back in 2012 to explore kulintang, an ancient form of gong music from the Southern Philippines. But they’ve expanded way beyond those origins for this debut album, using the gongs as a hypnotic rhythmic foundation for all sorts of sounds. Produced by Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s Alaska B, the album has laid-back R&B ballads, shit-kicking punk anthems and everything in between. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s unlike anything else we’ve heard this year.

(Telephone Explosion)

Get it here.  

9. dvsn: A Muse In Her Feelings

On their third album, the OVO duo of Paul “Nineteen85” Jeffries and Daniel Daley refined their craft, doubling down on rich-sounding slow-jams, with some reggae and faster club rhythms mixed in. It revels in subtle textures, samples and retro riffs that deepen dvsn’s sonic affinity with 90s R&B. They didn’t get to do a proper tour, but they did have probably the year’s most successful run playing steamy drive-in concerts, specifically at Toronto’s new City-View Drive-In. There were more than a few cars a-rockin’.


Get it here.

10. Nyssa: Girls Like Me

On her self-released debut solo album, Nyssa is both a keen student of rock and roll mythology and someone who doesn’t mind pulling it apart. She’s got a heavy-duty voice and a palpable swagger as she distills decades of pop and rock, from Motown to Dolly Parton to the Pretenders, into danceable synth-pop. She’s got a country-style flair for simple but powerful storytelling and a theatrical flair, turning each song into a self-contained short story with a common theme: outlaw women, women on the edge, women at odds with the modern world. 

Get it here.

Honourable mentions

DijahSB: 2020 The Album 

This Toronto rapper was already showing a ton of promise with their relatable point of view and humour-laced bars, but when they leaned into swinging Kaytranada-esque groove beats they hit another level. One to keep an eye on next year. 

The OBGMs: The Ends (Black Box)

The OBGMs were not shy talking up this breakout album – a perspective hardened by years being overlooked in a very white Toronto punk scene – but the confidence suits them. You can hear their swagger in this set of songs, which runs the gamut from breakneck hardcore to psych, grunge and punk anthems destined for Canadian rock radio. The perfect mix of melody and energy. 

Prince Josh: The Joy (Hand Drawn Dracula)

Josh McIntyre took a little break from his dream-pop duo Prince Innocence for an album that sounds like the future. A textured mix of house, downtempo, hip-hop and ambient productionthe album weaves a sonic narrative that feels like how we exist online – not just because the samples come from random vlogs and videos from all corners of the internet, but also because of the way it expresses multiple identities at once. 

TOBi: ELEMENTS Vol. 1 (RCA/Sony Canada)

Still, TOBi’s 2019 debut full-length, was a tender self-portrait in soul. This project is looser and less cohesive, but it might forecast even higher highs for the Lagos-born artist. There are elements of hip-hop, afrobeats, jazz, R&B and soul, but he’s got a soulful sing-song flow that comes through on every song. He oozes personality in a way that could turn him into A Thing any minute now.

Daniel Romano’s whole Bandcamp page

Some of us have spent the quarantine discovering new chip flavours. Former Attack In Black songwriter Daniel Romano spent it making at least 10 full albums. From collaborations with Fucked Up and Tool’s Danny Carey to full-album Bob Dylan covers to more traditional (for him) albums of psych, punk and country, it was all quality. We don’t really know how he did it.

A photo of the Toronto singer/songwriter Mustafa
Samuel Engelking

50 bonus tracks

That’s not all. This year had so much good and strange stuff, we thought we’d give you some bonus content. Here, you’ll find fantastic one-offs from artists like NOW cover boy Mustafa, quarantine livestreams, socially distant collaborations, even an incendiary version of the Canadian national anthem.

Jennifer Castle: Justice

Badge Époque Ensemble feat. Jennifer Castle: Just Space For Light

The Weather Station: Robber

Robin Hatch: Heatstroke

Austra: Risk It

Teenanger: Trillium Song

Lee Paradise: Message To The Past

Paul Chin feat. pHoenix Pagliacci: Slow Wine

Roam: Reckonings

Owen Pallett: A Bloody Morning

Regina Gently feat. Kelly McMichael: Sex All The Time

Casey MQ: Celebrity Crush

Scott Hardware: Engel

Cindy Lee: Heavy Metal

Black Dresses: Mirrorgirl

Clairmont The Second: Flip-A-Bird

Drake: War

Allie X feat. Mitski: Susie Save Your Love

LAL: End Of This World Together

Rosina: Dance Alone

Luka Kuplowsky & The Stardust Players: Live At The Golden Lion

METZ: Parasite (live from the Opera House)

PUP: Edmonton (live from Sneaky Dee’s)

Joncro: Degenerates

Mil-Spec: Colony

Respire: Cicatrice

Fiver & The Atlantic School Of Spontaneous Composition: (It Won’t Be Long) And I’ll Be Hating You

Bruce Peninsula: Make A Sound

Moscow Apartment: New Girl

Orville Peck feat. Shania Twain: Legends Never Die

Savannah Ré: Where You Are

Jessie Reyez: O Canada (on top of the CN Tower)

Mustafa: Air Forces

Shabason, Krgovich & Harris: Philadelphia

Hiroki Tanaka: Bare Hallways

LA Timpa: Quarterback

Just John: This Is Fate

Born Ruffians: Dedication

Kiwi Jr.: Undecided Voters

Bonjay & Queer Songbook Orchestra: Medicine for Melancholy (Live from Yaad Version)

Ciel: Hope Breaks

Luna Li: harp jams all day

Absolutely Free: The Office / The Community

Memory Pearl: Number 28, 1950

TOBi: 24 (Toronto Remix) ft. Haviah Mighty, Shad, Jazz Cartier, & Ejji Smith

OKAN: Espiral

Choir! Choir! Choir! & Rufus Wainwright + 1500 singers: Across The Universe

NOBRO: Don’t Die

Donovan Woods: Seeing Other People

Blink-155: Been Here For Too Long (28 versions of Dammit by Blink-182)


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Club Quarantine is raising money for Encampment Support Network https://nowtoronto.com/music/club-quarantine-encampment-support-network https://nowtoronto.com/music/club-quarantine-encampment-support-network#respond Fri, 09 Oct 2020 16:11:37 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=672446 Club Quarantine continues its dedication to activism and grassroots organizing with a fundraiser for Encampment Support Network

The post Club Quarantine is raising money for Encampment Support Network appeared first on NOW Magazine.

Club Quarantine has been partying for a cause ever since people started sheltering at home in mid-March.

At first, the online party was a way to gather donations for local DJs and performers who were out of work. Eventually they started fundraising for causes like their May “fundraver” for the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and the Black Lives Matter-Toronto Legal Defense Fund.

Today, Club Q is having a party in collaboration with Encampment Support Network (ESN) to raise funds to cover basic winter needs for residents of the city’s park encampments.

“ESN is doing what the government fails to do. The most marginalized in this city are at a whole new level of suffering because of this pandemic, and it’s clear the government doesn’t care about these people. ESN is a lifesaver,” Club Q co-founder Ceréna Sierra tells NOW via email.

On its Twitter, ESN stresses that it is not an organization or an agency but rather a group of concerned community members volunteering to help and advocate for people living in encampments.

The party will include DJ sets from Hunhouse, Nino Brown and Bambii, who was on featured in our Sound Of Toronto 2020 issue. Experimental electronic group Slash Need, drag queen Tynomi Banks and Montreal electronic duo Pelada will round out the performances.

As winter approaches, living outdoors will become increasingly difficult and dangerous. ESN is pushing for the decommodification of housing in Toronto.

Since June, the group has been on the ground visiting encampments every day, checking on residents and supplying essentials like drinking water, food and blankets.

In an Instagram post, ESN said: “The winter is already upon us and the funds we are raising are only to fill a gap in city planning. We appreciate you all for supporting us, we shouldn’t have to do this, the City of Toronto should.”

Club Quarantine is a popular queer party series started by four friends from Toronto. It developed into an international community over the course of the COVID-19 lockdown. Every night from March 16 until June 1, it hosted parties to offset isolation and create connections between worldwide queer communities.

It became notorious for hitting virtual capacity when stars like Lady Gaga and Charli XCX would perform.

But, at its heart, Club Q has always been about grassroots community collectivity.

“We do as much as we can with our platform to help a whole ton of causes that affect our community, so when our friend Wafa [an ESN volunteer] approached us about this fundraiser, it was a no-brainer,” said Sierra.


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20 new albums from Toronto artists to listen to this fall https://nowtoronto.com/music/new-toronto-albums-this-fall https://nowtoronto.com/music/new-toronto-albums-this-fall#respond Thu, 08 Oct 2020 23:30:27 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=671264 From brash punk to Afro-Cuban rhythms, this season will be a big one for local music

The post 20 new albums from Toronto artists to listen to this fall appeared first on NOW Magazine.

There’s a good chance we could be going back into lockdown, but at least this one will have a good soundtrack.

After COVID-19 altered the local music soundscape (along with everything else), the fall is gearing up to be a big season for Toronto artists. You’ve read up on the pandemic music heroes, so now check out our forecast of albums from Toronto artists that are on the way. We’re unfortunately good at predictions (read: number 3 on this list, written in January).

Also, don’t miss recent hidden gem Toronto albums from DijahSB, Casey MQ, Roam, Moscow Apartment, Nyssa and recent NOW cover girl Regina Gently.

Teenanger: Good Time (Telephone Explosion), October 2

Teenanger are always good for some catchy and melodic post-punk. They recorded this one at Studio Z, the affordable studio they founded and then opened up for anyone to use. It ended up being a blessing and a curse, with vermin, floods and a CO2 leak that could have killed them. Their power was eventually shut off just before they were able to get back in and finish. The city is becoming a less friendly place for creativity, and you can hear that disaffectedness in the music. But in a fun, sardonic way.

Luka Kuplowsky: Stardust (Next Door), October 2

Luka Kuplowsky, a hushed and understated singer/songwriter who used to go just by his first name, has been hanging around the Tranzac and Burdock scenes for a few years now as a songwriter’s songwriter. On his new jazzy folk album, he’s accompanied by a band full of fellow secret heroes like Thom Gill, Evan Cartwright, Felicity Williams, Josh Cole, Brodie West and Robin Dann (Bernice).

Born Ruffians: Squeeze (Wavy Haze/Yep Roc), October 2

They were buzzy wunderkinds during the early 00s Canadian indie rock boom, and now Born Ruffians have settled comfortably into a consistent hook delivery system – as it should be for a good power-pop band. Squeeze is actually the now-veterans’ second album of 2020 after Juice, and it’s full of bouncy rhythms, jangly riffs and catchy melodies.

Bahamas: Sad Hunk (Universal Music Canada), October 9

Bahamas leader Afie Jurvanen named his album Sad Hunk after his NOW cover, so we had to put it on this list. It’s a breezy and groove-heavy set of songwriter tunes influenced by his new family home life in Nova Scotia.

METZ: Atlas Vending (Royal Mountain/Sub Pop), October 9

You know by now what you’re going to get from a METZ album, and that’s not a knock. Their mix of visceral noise and hair-whipping punk hooks feels like a blessing from the recent past, or as lead howler Alex Edkins put it to NOW “primal scream therapy.” Thematically, it’s an album about dealing with parenting and an ever-gentrifying Toronto. The solution: volume.

METZ debut the album in a livestream from the Opera House on October 15 at 9 pm. $11.30. Tickets here.

OKAN: Espiral (Lulaworld), October 9

We named this local Afro-Cuban duo an act to watch in our Sound Of Toronto 2020 issue (which feels like years ago now), and they’re making good with this vibrant sophomore album full of danceable rhythms and themes of resilience.

OKAN play an album launch livestream on October 16 at 8 pm. Watch on Facebook and YouTube.

Gord Downie: Away Is Mine (Arts & Crafts), October 16

CanRock’s double-denimed hero Gord Downie had a huge flurry of creative energy before his untimely death in 2017. This double album, created with Toronto’s Josh Finlayson, represents the final 10 songs the former Tragically Hip frontman ever recorded, and they’re presented here in both electric and acoustic versions.

Hiroki Tanaka: Kaigo Kioku Kyoku (Coax), October 16

Former Yamantaka // Sonic Titan member Hiroki Tanaka is releasing his first solo album, a personal work reflecting his experience as a caregiver for his grandmother with Alzheimer’s and uncle with terminal cancer. He calls the album a “sonic archive,” recorded in the house in which he cared for his relatives and where he was born. It’s tender indie rock infused with his own family history, including Japanese folk snippets and voice recordings.

Robin Hatch: Noise, October 16

The always unpredictable experimental solo pianist/composer Robin Hatch, who we last caught releasing three albums in a year when we caught up with her three decades ago (in January 2020), has pivoted again with a new electronic album influenced by krautrock, new wave, Giorgio Moroder and Kate Bush. It’s full of crisp and chilly synths, big 80s hooks and meditations on tech-addled short-term gratification.

She’ll support it on her home turf with an album release Twitch stream on October 15. Tune in here.

TOBi: ELEMENTS Vol. 1 (Same Plate/RCA/Sony), October 21

One of Toronto’s most soulful rappers, TOBi is following his underrated 2019 album STILL with a project that could be an even bigger breakout. After a few bonus remix collabs with the Game and a big CanRap posse cut, he’s now showing hints of old-school Kanye soul beats, touches of Afrobeat and a flow that feels steeped in the classics.

PUP: This Place Sucks Ass (Little Dipper/Universal Music Canada), October 23

Hometown no-longer-quite-underdogs PUP have another mini-dose of existential pop punk coming your way. This one includes a Grandaddy cover, some gallows humour and a sentiment we can all use right now: “Everything sucks and that’s okay, because it sucks for everybody,” lead singer Stefan Babcock says of the EP in a press release. “And we can make it a little bit better by being together in the shittiness.”

PUP play a livestream show called This Stream Sucks Ass live from Sneaky Dee’s on October 23 at 9 pm. $13. Tickets here.

The OBGMs: The Ends (Black Box), October 30

The OBGMs will be the first to tell you they’re the next big thing in Toronto punk. Lead singer/guitarist Densil McFarlane has compared the band’s impact to Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Jobs, Drake, the Beatles and Steph Curry. And they back it up with insane confidence and swagger, big rock hooks and crisp production from Canadian indie rock go-to Dave Schiffman. The OBGMs even recently got a co-sign from Green Day, who put them on their Black Lives Matter playlist. Cutting through a very white local punk scene, this could be the year they break out in a big way.

LAL: Meteors Could Come Down (Coax), November 6

Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray have been making music as LAL for two decades now, but they’ve found new resonance making space for a community of marginalized artists at their DIY space Unit 2. Their new album of chilly and minimalist electro-art-pop is inspired by the revolutionary politics and the expression of that scene and similar ones in Oakland and Olympia.

Donovan Woods: Without People (Meant Well), November 6

Country-inflected everyman songwriter Donovan Woods has been making his name on his sensitivity and lyrical honesty with every album. His latest is an examination of the little moments in a relationship. It’s a cycle about intimacy and human connection, something that resonates right now.

Jennifer Castle: Monarch Season (Idée Fixe/Paradise of Bachelors), November 20

Somehow, this will be Jennifer Castle’s first fully solo album. The Lake Erie-via-Toronto singer/songwriter recorded it with her longtime producer Jeff McMurrich before the lockdown, but she’s the perfect artist to go to in this age of solitude. Her songs are fully attuned to herself and to nature and the seasons, a cosmic folk that aims for the moon while taking in the butterflies in front of you and the mind that contemplates them. She can’t tour the music, but you can play it live yourself: the album comes with a set of sheet music.

Badge Époque Ensemble: Self-Help (Telephone Explosion), November 20

Max Turnbull’s (formerly Slim Twig) jazz-funk ensemble is back with its sophomore album. Like the last, it’s full of lush grooves from its many members (now seven with the addition of crack saxophonist Karen Ng), shape-shifting through psych, prog, R&B, heady hip-hop production touches and yacht rock. They’re at their best when collaborating with singers – and there are some great ones on this one: U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy, Jennifer Castle, James Baley and Dorothea Paas.

Lee Paradise: The Fink (Telephone Explosion), December 4

Dan Lee (of Hooded Fang and Phèdre) has too many twisting melodies floating around his head for just one or two projects. And so this solo project is back after six years for an album of apocalyptic electro-funk. It’s a mix of electronics and live instrumentals, influenced by hip-hop production and dark sci-fi.

Savannah Ré: Opia (Universal Music Canada), TBA

Sparse and sultry R&B is the name of the game from this up-and-comer. Savannah Ré has the right names behind her, with mentorship from local production heavyweight Boi-1da and a big co-sign from Jessie Reyez. She’s also worked behind the scenes as a songwriter with artists like Babyface, Daniel Caesar and Wondagurl. Her debut EP as a solo artist is out this fall.

Sloan, TBA

You can always count on Sloan, Canada’s power-pop tone-setters for the last few decades. Not much info on their just-announced upcoming album yet, but they’ve got a first single, Silence Trumps Lies. Guess who it’s about? They put the Can in CanRock, avoiding easy “cheeto” and “Drumpf” put-downs and giving the president an almost literary treatment: “You’ve never been accused of being curious. Put your private vanity away.”

And don’t miss the recent posthumous release from Matthew Grimson, either. The late songwriter got a double release for his lost classic Prize For Writing from Sloan’s Chris Murphy and Joel Plaskett. Get it here.

Drake: Certified Lover Boy (OVO Sound), TBA

Is there ever not a new Drake album on the horizon? This one includes the Lil Durk-featuring single Laugh Now Cry Later, a song with a bit of a throwback Drake feel. Maybe hanging out in his gaudy new Toronto house has given him some nostalgia for the old city days.


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Check out this stacked Bandcamp compilation of Canadian artists https://nowtoronto.com/music/ever-new-bandcamp-compilation-canadian-artists https://nowtoronto.com/music/ever-new-bandcamp-compilation-canadian-artists#respond Fri, 04 Sep 2020 17:22:46 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=665904 Ever New features Owen Pallett, Mac DeMarco, Jessy Lanza & Elle Barbara and many more

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It’s another Bandcamp Friday, the day in which the music selling and streaming platform lifts its revenue share and gives all the royalties to artists.

Since Bandcamp launched the series at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s become a chance for musicians to put out special releases. And following the George Floyd protests, it’s also started a new boom in charity benefits.

For this week’s Bandcamp Friday, a motherlode of Canadian artists have come together in support of Black Health Alliance, Indspire and the 519 – all Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ2S charities. The compilation is called Ever New, named after a Beverly Glenn-Copeland song from his rediscovered 1986 new age classic Keyboard Fantasies. Glenn-Copeland gives his blessing to the comp, and it’s bookended by two covers of his songs by Toronto artists – one by The Head (Joseph Shabason & Thom Gill) and Jennifer Castle.

The album also features artists like Luna Li, Chad VanGaalen, LA Timpa, Yves Jarvis, Jessy Lanza & Elle Barbara, Mac DeMarco, LAL and more. There are a number of covers too, like Owen Pallett taking on Nick Drake, Lydia Ainsworth doing Chic, Chasity on the Hip, Casey MQ covering My Chemical Romance and more.

The Bandcamp-exclusive compilation was put together by Sarah Mackenzie and music writer Max Mertens (a freelance contributor to NOW Magazine).

For a taste, listen to the twinkling vintage electronics of Nightingale, a solo track from Matthew Cardinal of Indigenous psych band nêhiyawak.

“It’s a snapshot of a memory, a spacey love kind of song,” Cardinal tells NOW. “I made it with an old Moog, a tape echo and a vocoder… I think giving music for causes like this is important and I hope it makes a difference.”

You can buy Ever New here.

Class of T.O.

Speaking of Canadian artists doing covers, Toronto concert promoter Dan Burke has brought his annual Class Of… series online with a series of performance videos shot at the Monarch Tavern.

It’s actually closer in format to the Halloween series Death To T.O., where local artists do whole cover sets of other bands. The latest is local electro-pop breakout Nyssa taking on the Psychedelic Furs. (Nyssa, who was in our own Sound of Toronto feature this year, has a new album Girls Like Me, which you can also grab on Bandcamp.)

You can check out the whole series here. It includes Witchrot covering Mazzy Star, For Jane covering Blur and Mother Tongues taking on Broadcast.


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Dvsn muse on drive-in concerts and how the pandemic has changed music https://nowtoronto.com/music/dvsn-interview-2020 https://nowtoronto.com/music/dvsn-interview-2020#respond Sat, 15 Aug 2020 19:00:05 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=662908 The Toronto R&B duo sold out five drive-in concerts in support of their third album, A Muse In Her Feelings

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Dvsn's Daniel Daley performs at CityView Drive-in in Toronto on August 12, 2020.

The last time we interviewed dvsn, the Toronto R&B were one of the city’s buzziest new acts. Paul “Nineteen85” Jeffries and Daniel Daley had made the jump from songwriting/production duo to artists, but maintained a reclusive vibe and did very little press around their debut album Sept. 5th.

It wasn’t even clear which one was the singer and they kept their faces in shadow in the shot that ran on NOW’s cover. Flash forward to 2020 and dvsn is front-and-centre in press shots, doing a round of phoners with journalists after selling out five drive-in concerts and their third album, A Muse In Feelings, is loaded with guests, from Toronto singers Jessie Reyez and Shantel May to top-40 rapper Future to reggae icon Buju Banton.

In short, this dvsn album feels like much more of a social affair. Too bad they announced it right as North America went into a lockdown mode due to the coronavirus pandemic. Like many other artists rolling out new albums, the OVO Sound-signed duo scrapped live dates and press opps and pivoted to virtual projects, including a series of karaoke parties on Instagram.

A Muse In Her Feelings sees dvsn doubling down on rich-sounding R&B slow-jams, with some reggae and faster club rhythms mixed in. It’s more finely crafted, as you would expect on a third album. It revels in subtle textures, samples and retro riffs that deepen dvsn’s sonic affinity with 90s R&B. The songwriting, meanwhile, sticks to the familiar territory of relationship highs and lows, though dvsn remains a gentler counterpoint to the Hot 100’s ongoing aggressive hip-hop moment.

As such, the crowds at their first live shows since the album release were heavy on couples. Dvsn sold out five nights at CityView Drive-In, an outdoor venue that sprang up during the pandemic to keep live music alive for big acts that would typically perform at Rebel nightclub across the street.

Some fans sat in the trunks of backward-parked hatchbacks or canoodled in convertibles. At least one car alarm attempted to compete with Daley’s falsetto while its owners disappeared for an extended period of time. After each song, disparate clapping and whoops could be heard mixed in with horn honks in the vast parking-lot space.

Backed by a three-piece band (85 was at the soundboard), Daley is a showy vocalist. He’s all about dramatic key changes, falsetto runs and lengthy, show-stopping held notes. He frequently interacted with backing singers Camille Harris and Kim Davis and gave the pair a handful of moments to sing lead.

Dvsn made lots of room for chimey guitar solos and extended riffage – Daley frequently duetted, guitaromny-style, with lead guitarist Ricky Tillo – into the brisk-and-polished 75-minute set. Lest you missed their R&B influences, they dropped in covers of massive Usher and Boyz II Men hits.

A day after their fifth and final drive-in show, we caught up with 85 and Daley for a short chat about the state of music during the pandemic, performing for vehicles and sampling Usher.

A couple canoodles in a VW convertible during the dvsn concert at CityView Drive-in in Toronto on August 12, 2020.
Anticipating a crowd full of couples, dvsn leaned hard into R&B jams at their CityView Drive-In concerts.

You announced the album just as Toronto went into lockdown. What was that like?

85: At the time that a lot of borders started closing, we were in L.A. doing press and we had just shot the video for Between Us. That trip was cut short and then we came home not knowing if the border would open again soon. Are we going to be able to travel again? Are we going to be able to do an album release party? There was a lot of uncertainty and then you just make do. A lot of the early plans we had to put to the side and figure out something new. We ended up coming up with the MUSEum, so we could do something virtual online for people. We had to think of new approaches.

How do you find the pandemic has impacted people’s relationship to music or how they listen to music?

85: It’s hard to say. A lot of people listen to music in cars, in gyms, on their way to and from work. When you take that aspect out of everyday life, there’s so many less places that people are listening. At home, the average person would probably go to Netflix quicker than streaming. Streaming is here to stay, but the way people listen to music is a little bit different than, for instance, last year. There’s so much music the prime place to listen to is in the club or a social gathering. Now that social gatherings are so different, I wonder how that will affect certain genres of rap. I feel like you gotta be around people to enjoy it properly.

What genres of rap specifically?

85: You take City Girls or the new record with Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. You need to hear that loud. You gotta be in a club or somewhere that it’s blasting.

Daniel Daley: Not even just loud, but that’s not something for the kitchen. You want people to be dancing, moving around and interacting. It’s not even just the volume. It’s right place and right time. There’s a context for every kind of music. Outside has just been completely changed or locked off, so it’s an interesting time. One thing working for us is we’ve always had music that can be played when you just want to have intimate time. We also have records that would be best outside.

85: So much of the current state of music is based on reactionary records. There’s a whole genre of music inside of R&B and rap, especially for women right now. Women need to be able to react to those songs. You take City Girls, Megan The Stallion, Flo Milli – girls want to react to these things because they haven’t had records that’s just for them in so long. This is a great movement, or a great shift, in the way the female voice is being heard and it’s where things are going.

Is that something you think of when you’re producing songs for dvsn or other people? Or is it the lyricist’s job to create that galvanizing tone for a song?

85: It’s a bit of both. No matter how amazing Daniel’s lyrics are, how amazing the thought or the concept of the song, if the beat doesn’t get people to react, it goes over people’s heads. That’s something we learned being on the road. Certain songs connect better in a live space because of the way people can react.

At the drive-in concert, you really leaned into R&B jams even though there are clubbier rhythms on the new album. What vibe were you going for with the drive-in shows?

DD: We’re always about filling the voids and doing things differently. The idea of making our live show something you can’t get other places was the motive. We knew it was going to be a lot of couples. It was a lot of people pulling up with the drive-in movie theatre mentality, where they were going to have to hold their space and vibe. We were like, let’s just make this the ultimate vibe experience.

What are the challenges of doing a drive-in show? Small venues have been closing, medium-size venues are equipping with livestreaming technology and bigger acts are able to do these drive-in shows.

DD: [A drive-in concert] will best serve artists that make a point of their live shows being highlights of what they do. A lot of it’s about what you can do with the crowd and unfortunately the crowd is more restricted right now. Our challenge was how do we play to our strengths and make it the best experience the audience can have while understanding that I can’t go out and touch anybody. There’s not going to be a giant crowd singing along because some might be in cars, some might be standing up, some might be listening through their radios, some might be in their own bubble. There’s so much to say about the energy that’s created when a crowd is packed together. Whatever that intangible thing is is very real when it comes to concerts.

To shift topic to the new album, why did you decide to open it with No Good? It’s a solemn song about not being good at relationships.

85: That’s one of the best songs that sums up how everybody feels. There are songs that sum up how certain people feel at different times, but No Good speaks for so many different people at once. I feel like everybody’s thought at one point, “Maybe love is not really for me. Or maybe I’m not good at this. Maybe there’s something else out there for me, but I don’t know about this love thing.” Opening with that theme allowed so many of the other themes to follow.

Tell me about the interlude that follows that song. It has a woman explaining how she thinks of vulnerability as a sign of weakness, which is a big theme in culture right now particularly when people talk about men. But you have a woman vocalizing that sentiment.

85: We were looking for relatable references. If you go back to our Morning After album, we have one of those interludes in between Nuh Time/Tek Time. We’re always looking for pieces that feel like you’re having a conversation with a friend or somebody you know so it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to music that doesn’t actually fit into your life. When I heard that, it fit so well with the theme of the album. All of the women [in the interludes] were comfortable enough to give us these stories and let us know where they were coming from.

DD: Or vent at us.

Dvsn's Daniel Daley performs with singer Camille Harris at CityView Drive-in in Toronto on August 12, 2020.
Samuel Engelking

Scarborough singer Shantel May joined you on stage during the drive-in concert and she’s on the record as well. OVO and OVO Sound have a rep as being all dudes. Women like Jessie Reyez and Haviah Mighty have started breaking out in Toronto in R&B and hip-hop, but it seems like it’s been harder climb for women locally in those genres. What’s your take on that?

85: That’s a good question. I think timing is the biggest thing. We went through a five-year period in Toronto where a lot of the ground-breaking artists coming out just happened to be men. I don’t think it was like that for a very long time. Especially in the R&B space, a lot of the more known R&B artists in the past were women, like Kim Davis, Deborah Cox or Jully Black. Women have always been at the forefront and this is one of the first times where a group of men were pushing the boundary. I think it was timing. There’s a wave of a lot of super-talented women coming out of Toronto.

You covered two Usher songs at the drive-in concert, you sample Nice & Slow on Between Us and you have Usher songwriter Bryan Michael-Cox on the album. What is it about that era of Usher’s work with Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael-Cox that appeals to you right now?

DD: That’s what we grew up on. I’ve always just admired Usher as a vocalist. He’s one of those guys that makes things seem so effortless. There’s so many women vocally to talk about, but when it comes to guys who are a legacy act he can really sing while performing and dancing at that level. That legacy, for that generation, was Usher. He is that still. I put him at the same level as Beyoncé as far as the talent to sing and dance. Me and 85 bonded on how much we loved the Confessions album – from the production, the writing, the concept. Being able to get his blessing on sampling him was special to us.

85: Bryan Michael-Cox was one of the first people to hear dvsn and reach out. When we put out those first two songs, he hit [Drake producer Noah “40” Shebib] in days and was like, “Yo, what is this? I heard you’re involved. I need to meet these guys.” So that’s always been family.

Fans watch dvsn at a drive-in concert at CityView Drive-In on August 12, 2020.
Samuel Engelking


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Horseshoe to launch livestream concert series with the Sadies https://nowtoronto.com/music/horseshoe-to-launch-livestream-concert-series-with-the-sadies https://nowtoronto.com/music/horseshoe-to-launch-livestream-concert-series-with-the-sadies#respond Thu, 13 Aug 2020 14:45:46 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/?p=662528 The 73-year-old Queen West music venue's first livestream broadcast takes place on September 12

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The Horseshoe Tavern is emerging from pandemic lockdown mode with a livestream concert series.

The 73-year-old Queen West venue is launching Horseshoe Hootenanny, which will see full bands playing “fully electric, professionally shot and mixed” gigs live from the Horseshoe stage.

Horseshoe regulars The Sadies will kick things off on September 12 at 8:30 pm. The gig is also the venue’s first livestreamed concert.

“In the past 25 years, we’ve hosted a ton of live-to-air radio broadcasts via CBC and community radio,” Horseshoe Tavern owner and talent buyer Craig Laskey said in a statement. “However, we’ve never video livestreamed a concert!”

Horseshoe owner Jeff Cohen likened the show to live music performances that used to air on networks like MuchMusic. He added that regardless of how the pandemic plays out, livestreams will likely become part of a venue’s offerings.

“Finding live music on TV is a rarity,” he added. “While initially the idea for a full band electric live-to-air internet broadcast stems from the COVID-19 situation, I can see regular national livestreams as part of the lexicon our venue offers moving forward in the future development of Canadian artists.”

Early bird tickets are $12 in advance (plus fees) and are on sale now through August 27. On August 28, the price goes up to $13.50 (plus fees) and are on sale until September 11.

Same-day tickets will cost $15 (plus fees). You can also purchase tickets after the livestream until October 4 for $18 (plus fees). Advance tickets allow you to watch the concert until October 4.

All ticket proceeds will go toward the Sadies. Tara King Cohen, the Horseshoe’s special events coordinator, created the series.

Livestreaming: the Horseshoe’s new normal?

Prior to the pandemic, the new owners of the El Mocambo up the street on Spadina equipped the refurbished venue with gear to record and broadcast shows. That now seems like a prescient move.

Last week, Downtown Yonge BIA chief operating officer Mark Garner told NOW that he believes venues will need to upgrade with livestreaming technology in the event audiences remain reluctant to return after a vaccine is created.

Though live music is allowed in stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, many venues are opting to remain closed for safety and financial reasons.

Since Toronto entered stage 3 in July, only small clubs that offer dinner menus such as Jazz Bistro have started bringing back live music.

Rebel nightclub owner INK Entertainment has pivoted to drive-in concerts with an outdoor venue across the street from the club.


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Toronto just got a heavy metal record store, Stained Class, for Christmas https://nowtoronto.com/toronto-just-got-a-heavy-metal-record-store-stained-class-for-christmas https://nowtoronto.com/toronto-just-got-a-heavy-metal-record-store-stained-class-for-christmas#respond Wed, 21 Dec 2016 16:18:00 +0000 https://nowtoronto.com/toronto-just-got-a-heavy-metal-record-store-stained-class-for-christmas/ You can now buy headbanging-worthy vinyl and cassettes at the back of Parkdale Platters

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Hoping for some Angel Witch in your stocking? A little Judas Priest to offset all those seasonal songs? Your chances are better now that Toronto has its own heavy metal record store. 

Stained Class Records had its soft launch on Sunday, December 18, with plans for an official launch-party rager coming early in the new year. Operated by Inti Paredes and Ian Kilpatrick, the shop specializes in vinyl and cassettes, aims to keep prices reasonable, and can be found at the back of Parkdale Platters at 1614 Queen West.

“We specialize in all things heavy metal,” says Paredes, who also plays guitar in Manacle. (Kilpatrick plays guitar in Cauldron.) “We felt there was a void in Toronto for heavy metal fans. We’ve always struggled to find a good selection of metal titles in most of the local shops, let alone a metal section. So we decided to take matters into our own hands.”

And if accessories are your thing, Stained Class has heaps of pins, patches and posters. 

Stained Class

Stained Class Records is open noon to 6 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays (till 7 pm on December 21 and 22), noon to 7 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 5 pm Sundays. Closed Mondays, as well as December 24-26. Follow on Instagram @stainedclassrecords

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis

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