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a city by city guide to the best indie clubs, bars, record shops and local bands

Toronto, Canada

by Sandy Gill and Felicia Moursalien

Toronto! It's a lovely city - it's by the water, it's clean, it's really culturally diverse, there are great places to eat, the exchange rate is awesome, and if you're a girl, you can walk around topless and nobody can arrest you! (but calm down boys, it doesn't happen very often). Historically, Toronto hasn't done well with indie cred, but that’s all in the past - now you’ll find lots of indie bands coming out of this city, both well-known and lesser known names: The Hidden Cameras, Broken Social Scene, Metric, Final Fantasy, The Russian Futurists, The Airfields, The Vulcan Dub Squad, Pony Da Look, The Diableros…This also makes Toronto a great city for gigs, and the weekly wavelength music series (http://www.wavelengthtoronto.com - every Sunday at Sneaky Dee's, pay what you can) is just one of many fantastic places to see all these cool local indie bands (on the cheap!). Have fun, and beware of mounties riding horses down the street! (SG)


Clubs


Kensington Station

Neu + Ral, 349A College, Saturdays
Indie, Britpop, punk and shoegaze at this weekly night hosted by Pop Noir DJ Lawrence. (IW)
(www.myspace.com/kensington_station)

Dance Cave

529 Bloor Street, W Toronto, $6 Friday and Saturday
Friday is mod/sixties night, Saturday is "alterna modern rock requests". Described by one Indie Travel Guide reader as "the fabbest place to have a boogie to your fave indie tunes in Toronto"! (IW)
(www.leespalace.com/dancecave.html)

Steady On
Annex Wreckroom, 2nd floor, 794 Bathurst, Fridays, $5, 10pm
Britpop, rock'n'roll, retro and soul at this weekly club night. (IW)
(www.myspace.com/theannexwreckroom)

Revolution Rock
Velvet Underground, 510 Queen W, Fridays
Alternative, indie, retro and electro. (IW)

Fake Prom
Venue varies, once a year.
Annual event where DJs play eighties classics and indie favourites to a fancy dress crowd. (IW)
(www.fakeprom.com/)

Venues

El Morcambo
464 Spadina
A bit trashy and sketchy looking on the outside, this venue has housed the best show I’ve ever seen : Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s. Its small, dinginess is what makes it awesome, putting you face to face with your favourite band (ie chilling on stage in a giant hippie circle with Alexander from Edward Sharp, holding his hand!!) (FM)

Silver Dollar
486 Spadina
Don’t let its location next to a skeezy by-the-hour hotel scare you (or tempt you away) from one of the oldest venues in Toronto. This is where you’ll be the first to discover the up and coming talent in Canada. (FM)

Sneaky Dee's
431 College
Great Nachos is the first thing people (or late night drunkies) will say about this place. Cool, albeit a bit on the grungier side, this bar/resto/venue is a staple in the Toronto scene. Good thing is that it is super cheap.(FM)

Mod Club
722 College
Venue and club night on College. We went here for a club on a Friday night and it was packed and fun, but a bit like what we imagine going to London's Club NME is like. If you want to be part of a beery crowd cheering the latest Kasabian tune, then head here. (IW)

Phoenix, 410 Sherbourne
Lee's Palace, 529 Bloor
Rivoli, 332 Queen W
Horseshoe, 370 Queen W
Funhaus, 526 Queen W
Opera House, 735 Queen E
Kool Haus, 132 Queens Quay E
Music Hall, 147 Danforth



Bars


The Green Room

296 Brunswick Street – in the alleyway
Not a bar in the strictest sense, but most people go there to drink! Crowded, but chilled out and relaxed vibe, and you can also get food. (SG)

The Labyrinth Lounge
298 Brunswick
Yummy and well-priced mixed drinks in a cute environment. Transformed into a club/dancefloor (but still has a separate lounge/bar area) depending on which night you go (usually weekends) (SG)


Record Shops


Penguin Music
2 McCaul Street (Queen & McCaul) -
This little shop is located just off of Queen Street West, and has an amazing selection of new and used cds, as well as some vinyl. This is the first place to go to get releases that most other shops in Toronto don't carry at all, espeically if indiepop is your thing. (SG)
(www.penguinmusic.com)

Soundscapes
572 College
No vinyl, but this place still has a good selection of indie music, books, and magazines. Prices are pretty good and they're open late too! Also a good place to buy gig tickets. (SG)

Sonic Boom
512 Bloor St. W.
Huge store with lots of indie cds as well as vinyl. Open till midnight every night! (SG)
(www.sonicboommusic.ca/)

Criminal Records

She Said Boom!

Rotate This


Local Bands

 

The Hidden Cameras
Described as gay church folk music by some, but frankly, that doesn't do them justice at all. One of the best bands to come out of Toronto, EVER. If they're playing when you're in town, make sure you don't miss them, as they're one the finest live bands you'll ever see! (SG)
(www.thehiddencameras.com)

The Airfields
A bit Sarah Records, a bit ambient and a bit shoegazer! They list Felt, The Aislers Set and The Field Mice as influcences. Do you really need more of a reason to check them out? (SG)
(airfields.sullen.org/)

The Vulcan Dub Squad
Another of Toronto’s amazing live bands. These boys know how to put on a show! Musically, they range from slow and ambient and shoegazery, to fast and punky, to poppy and melodic. And pretty much anything else in between! (SG)
(www.thevulcandubsquad.com/)

 


Miscellaneous

Kensington Market
Located just off Chinatown, Kensington market is full of vintage clothes stalls and lots of eclectic little shops and food places. (SG)

Eye Weekly/Now
Invaluable street press crammed with listings for music, film, theatre, comedy and more. Just look out for the metal boxes on the pavements. Both publish on a Thursday. Now's been running for 25 years and is the bigger and more comprehensive of the two. Eye Weekly's a mere 15 years old, but feels slightly hipper than its elder. (IW)
(www.eyeweekly.com)
(www.nowtoronto.com)

Art Galleries
If you’ve already seen all the big galleries in the city and want something different, walk west along Queen St.W, past Bathurst, for a whole slew small, offbeat and edgy art galleries. (SG)

The Annex
Bloor and Bathurst area:
This is located near the St.George campus of the University of Toronto, so there are lots of cool studenty (in a good way) hangouts (coffee shops, pubs, bars) here, as well as some good record shops and venues. (SG)

Toronto Reference Library
Yonge st, corner of Cumberland
Just stepping inside the foyer, before you even get into the library proper, you can stop for lunch by the waterfall and pond, or get a coffee at the cafe while admiring the delightfully retro cream-and-maroon decor of the interior. The whole building is built around a 6-story atrium, with each floor overlooking the fountains and pools on the ground floor. Once you enter the library, there are several floors of books covering anything you could ever possibly want to know. If you take the time to wander around, there are glass cases with small exhibits of art and local history hiding all over the place. There are plenty of tables on all the levels to sit and pore over the books, or free wireless internet is available, if that's your thing. (N)

Retro Fun
Cumberland st, opposite Village Gardens (Yorkville)
Don't let the lame name and ridiculous amount of Family Guy merchandise fool you, this store is more than your standard novelty and merchandise store. Alongside all the recent rubbish, there are all sorts of old-school goodies, like original Star Wars figurines, Bettie Page playing cards, My Little Pony or Mork and Mindy trading cards, Elvis keyrings and Beatles coffee mugs. There's also a vast array of sweets and chocolate bars, including a pretty decent selection for any homesick Brits. (N)

Lil'Fel Rocks The World
Excellent local blog written by Indie Travel Guide contributor Felicia. Always worth checking.
(lilfelrockstheworld.blogspot.com)


Additional reviews by Noosh and Ian Watson

If you'd like to recommend a club, bar, record shop, band or any indie delight for inclusion in the Indie Travel Guide, please email us. If we've included a link to your band/shop etc, it would be lovely if you could link back to us. Thank you!

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