Toronto’s CTRL Room keeps it underground

The artist incubator and DJ collective brings live electronic music and more to the airwaves

The popular Toronto-based internet radio station TRP shut down its regular programming indefinitely last summer, but the city’s underground electronic music airwaves didn’t go silent.

Since 2015, the lesser-known CTRL Room has been building a following of its own, streaming DJ sets from an unmarked studio in the Junction. 

“We wanted, basically, to have an incubator where artists can come over and play,” explains Hubert K, part of the CTRL Room crew. 

A DJ himself, he couldn’t practise at home and wanted a place where like-minded artists could reach a broader audience without neighbours making noise complaints. So he sought out what became CTRL Room’s headquarters, stumbling upon it “by magic” after biking around the Junction.

The low-key, second-floor space is now a site for live broadcasts of DJ sets. Sometimes artists even master tracks there, a testament to the work and money CTRL Room staff have put into engineering the space for sound.

“It’s a labour of love, but we cultivate the community because I don’t want it to die,” Hubert K explains. “I want people to have outlets, and to come around and do different projects. We’ll try to accommodate whatever people are thinking of doing.”

CTRL Room’s programming predominantly features electronic music – mostly techno and house – but Hubert K says other genres are welcome.

“We have one kid who’s about 19 or 21 who really wants to come back and do another EDM set. We don’t discriminate,” he says, even though some listeners emailed the station afterward to question the EDM booking. 

Those reactions hint at what’s holding Toronto back from having more outlets like CTRL Room, as far as Hubert K’s concerned. 

“We need to learn how to coexist,” he says of a musical scene that he considers too siloed and fractured by cliques. “Something that really bugs me about Toronto is the fact that we don’t have 10 of these outlets.” Belgium and the Netherlands, he says, are better at fostering talent. 

DJ Johnny Lopez, who hosts a weekly CTRL Room show called Beats United, agrees that Toronto doesn’t have enough independent music outlets. 

“It’s [a] sustainability [issue],” says Lopez. “I think shows and studios and stations like TRP – and even CTRL Room – need some sort of financial support.”

At CTRL Room, anyone can buy a weekly radio slot for $75 a month, and the crew is available for hire to record (both audio and video) parties anywhere in the city. CTRL Room has also post-produced the performances of all of the 400 artists it’s hosted, free of charge. 

And the outlet continues to grow. CTRL PLUG in, a live electronic-music open jam planned for the last Saturday of each month, starts January 28 at 8 pm. While open mic nights like Regent Park’s Hummingbird and the Drake’s PRACTICE cater to songwriters, CTRL PLUG in is for analogue-synth gearheads. You can sign up online and detail what equipment you’ll be bringing.

“There will be one person mixing and another six people plugging in synthesizers and drum machines,” Hubert K says. “Basically we’re gonna jam for 10 hours straight. It’s gonna be crazy.” | @nowtoronto

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