Are Toronto’s small concert halls doomed?
At 16, I knew the TTC like the back of my hand. I took trams, subways, and buses to go to concerts at Mod Club, Kool Haus, Phoenix, and Massey Hall – and I wasn’t alone. Attending concerts was an invaluable way to connect with others and familiarize myself with the various boroughs of the city where I had moved only four years earlier.
Navigating Toronto with a lens is the best way to introduce yourself to the streets outside the core of Harbourfront: I knew my way around Greektown after my trips to Danforth Music Hall and Little Italy to Sneaky Dee’s.
Seven years later, much has changed in the concert landscape in Toronto. For one thing, the types of concerts I’ve attended – sweaty kids piled on top of each other in poorly ventilated rooms, vibrating bass thorns – have been virtually nonexistent for the past year and a half.
And of the sites I mentioned, two have since changed their name (and management), one has closed, and another is on the verge of being sold to developers. Sound Academy is now Rebel Nightclub and Mod Club is now Axis; Kool Haus, which was part of the iconic government complex, was sold and demolished to make way for a $ 700 million tower in 2015; and on Sunday, a rearrangement the application has been filed to the City of Toronto to transform Phoenix into a 39-story building.
Although small and discreetly nestled between a medical center and a residence on Sherbourne St., the Phoenix has a rich history spanning more than half a century. In the 1950s, it was a German-Canadian ballroom, boasting oompa bands and community gatherings, before evolving into a dance club 30 years later. The current iteration of Phoenix opened in 1991 and has been a staple of the city’s music scene, visited by independent bands and hip hop artists. To erase it from the map would be a big loss.
It feels like Toronto has grown colder and colder and inaccessible to young children who don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on a night out. That’s not to say that the only venues left are behemoths like Scotiabank Arena and Rogers Center; Lee’s Palace and Velvet Underground are as strong as ever and, more monumental, a new concert hall has opened last Saturday: History, a collaboration between Drake and Live Nation.
The story has just over 2,000 guests, which brings it closer to Phoenix than to the Budweiser stage, which hosted Drake’s annual OVO festival. The ticket price range, however, is more like Toronto stadiums: Ground tickets for July Talk in December cost $ 72.50 apiece, while a gig at the Mod Club wouldn’t cost you more than $ 20 and change. . The the iconic Massey Hall, which closed in 2018 for renovation, is expected to reopen later this month with similar capacity and a similar price range for tickets.
Even with these two openings, it still seems like the city is losing its small rooms faster than it is gaining them: the beloved Hoxton club closed in 2017, just like Soy Bomb HQ. This year alone we have lost Hiding place, Rock Crocodile, Club 120, and The Matador.
But the future of Toronto’s concert halls does not have to be bleak. Two iconic places – the aforementioned Sneaky Dee and a must-see in the gay village Crews and Tangos – developers have filed condominium plans to abandon. And so the proposal filed for Phoenix does not necessarily provide for the disappearance of the place.
However, it does show that many of Toronto’s small concert halls are located on land that becomes more and more valuable with each passing year, and that at some point having a rich history and being a community center may not be. be enough to save them.