After passing the fourth Rush shirt of the day, it’s clear to everyone in the city that music is on Toronto’s mind. Yesterday kicked off North by Northeast, a festival celebrating Canadian and international bands at more than 50 venues. It’s generally great for bands that are looking for exposure, but that’s not the sole reason why they come out here. After talking to a few of these musicians, it’s clear that they’re here for the passion of it all.
The Bovine Sex Club is one of the oldest venues for the festival, harboring particularly colourful music acts. It’s a great scene for anyone looking for something a little more adventurous. It’s unmistakable with its twisted metal front, framing two unmarked metal doors. I knew I was at the right place, though I was hesitant to go in. Standing in front of a place like this, you soon say “screw it” and make your way through unflinchingly.
Ever since this ‘70s and ‘80s rewind hotspot opened in 1991, it hosted different bands, parties, and festivals – one of the most prominent being North by Northeast. The original look on the front is thanks to some local artists like Dave Grieveson and Great Bob Scott. But aside from being a place where bands hope to get their starts, it’s also a decent hang out where prominent members of famous bands like U2, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Motley Crue, the Strokes, and others once viaited.
The TIFF parties here have drawn in actors like Mickey Rourke and Nick Nolte. Above all, this club prides itself in being one of the first establishments to serve Jagermeister on tap – a fact unforgettable with the shrine-like sculpture behind the bar of a scrap metal deer head with a orange glowing cross above it to mimic the logo.
The Bovine gained a recent addition two years ago: a patio bar upstairs called The Tiki. It’s perfect for the weather we’re having and the island theme is pretty nice, even when it scarcely hides the inner-city graffiti.
The place gives a lot to look at: the twisted metal sculpture on the outer wall of the club continues inside and ensnares miscellaneous objects like toys, motorcycle gear, mannequins, and other crap. It really does look like everything punk from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s just exploded here and stuck to the walls – a bar and stage carved into its center like a bunker in the middle of Toronto. This is where the tame bands come to lose their innocence.
“Time stands still down here – there are no windows, it’s shut in, and it’s really easy to lose track of time,” explained Laura Desiree, an on-and-off bartender at the club and Toronto night-life personality. “This is where a lot of impulsive decisions are made, whether they’re about drinking, who you talk to, or who you go home with.”
I took a shot of jager with her and I knew things were about to kick off.
The Ballantynes hit the stage, and as if answering a siren’s call, people came in and packed the place soon enough. Go where the music is – that’s the Torontonian way.
Jarrod Odell is the clean-cut frontman and the most emotive performer of the night. This isn’t to diminish the role of the other band members, they all have their own original flavour on the stage. Vanessa Dandurand is the balls-to-the-wall chick whose voice hypnotizes and inspires. Their music mixes garage and gospel – a combination they say works seamlessly with one another. They have definite inspirations from ’60s wave music throughout their latest EP with a gospel feel to the singing. Another thing you’ll notice is how the image of the band perfectly portrays their music. Their live performance has a great transition from the album too.
Being from Vancouver certainly helped their growth as well, remarks guitarist Corey Poluk: “Vancouver is big enough to get noticed, but not too big that you can’t be experimental.” Other members agreed, but Vanessa lamented the city’s focus on business and infrastructure growth: “Vancouver doesn’t want you in a band, they want you in a condo.” It occurs to a few other patrons in the bar that Toronto might be going down the same path – blaringly obvious as Pan Am ads cover the city.
The Ballantynes are releasing a new album this August, their first musical publication since their Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church EP back in 2013.
Next up were Mad Ones, a duo that had the full force of a full band. I have to say that these guys were the ones the audience really responded to. They kicked off with some solid tracks and had everyone on their feet. In a grating edge that Laura described as “stripper rock”, they were wild without going over-the-top. And hey, fewer people on stage means more space to manipulate the guitar when things get rougher. They’re like a full-throttle Nirvana, though when I spoke to Andrew Devillers (vocals, guitar), he described it to be more like folksy rock and neurotic.
He and phenomenal drummer Phil Wilson have been touring for a bit, also making a few stops at South by Southwest in the States. Their latest album, Walking the Ceiling was released last year – so study up, because they’re going to be releasing a new one this fall.
Blaise & The Bombshells killed it as well, providing the same passion on the stage that they have on their albums. This Detroit-based band of young musicians weren’t lying when they their influence was ‘60s wave. Their music drips of another time, but despite the retro twang, there are a few marks on it that make it decidedly modern. It’s fast and it’s fun, which is probably why ‘60s surf music is making a comeback on the indie scene. They really made it their own.
Night one hit off with a smash, but that’s just what this was: night one. There are still three other nights of this.
Stay tuned, gang!
More at the Bovine Sex Club:
Thursday, June 18, 2015
9:00 pm – Fine Times
10:00 pm – Mushy Callahan
11:00 pm – ONFIILM
12:00 pm – Cobra Ramone
1:00 am – A Primitive Evolution
2:00 am – Midnight Towers
Friday, June 19, 2015
9:00 pm – Crawl
10:00 pm – The Sour Notes
11:00 pm – Shark Week
12:00 am – Sate
1:00 am – The Van Arks
Saturday, June 20, 2015
9:00 pm – Apache Darling
10:00 pm – Keram
11:00 pm – Urvah Khan
12:00 am – Terrorista
1:00 am – The Mercy Now
2:00 am – Public Animal
This article is possible because of a few people, so I’d like to make some acknowledgements: Laura Desiree for the Bovine history, Simon Davidson for the photos, and Nikki from Everything And The Kitchen Sink for the band hook-up.