The top 5 labels for psychedelic music in Toronto
The top labels for psychedelic music in Toronto are putting out releases that may differ from your parent's psych on the surface, but when you dig deep these releases are still about getting weird and spaced out with light and sound, and maybe ingesting a buffet's worth of spiritual inspiration.
While Toronto may not be the first place the word "psychedelic" conjures, existing in a small corner of the music community is a vibrant scene that has recently even received attention from influential cosmic bible Arthur Magazine. Unlike cities such as Austin or San Francisco, Toronto's modern psych sound owes little to a retro past - it's more the product of parents gifting children guitar pedals instead of video games (or perhaps both). It's weird, it's mind-expanding, and it's happening right here in Toronto.
Here are five labels that are getting the local psych sounds into your ears.
Founded by brothers Richard and Robert Gibson in 2008, Optical Sounds puts out vinyl, cassette, and digital releases by a youthful herd of underground Toronto psych and shoegaze artists. Operating more as a collective flag than a proper label, Optical Sounds is largely a community of friends who constantly gig around town with one another and frequently congregate at Kensington Market's Embassy Bar. Grab their Psych Pop comps for free on Bandcamp.
Arthur Mag's mention of Toronto's scene was in reference to cosmic son Matthew "Doc" Dunn and his longtime collaborator Mike "Muskox" Smith - and both of these veterans, along with their extended family of cohorts, have put out music on Healing Power. HP were also behind some of 2013's best album artwork, Petra Glynt's debut. If Optical Sounds is home to Toronto's youth scene, Healing Power is its cool, yet significantly more far-out, mother. They've supported local dance artists with their Heart of Toronto CD/party series, and host picnics, monthly Tranzac installs, and more. Read an interview with Healing Power Records here.
Home to some of Toronto's more well-known, yet still mostly underground, psych acts, Reel Cod's roster includes the likes of Fresh Snow, Mimico, The Pinecones, and Mystic Triangle. Based in Kensington Market from 2006-2012 but now located "elsewhere in the city," Reel Cod grew out of a community-driven music and art hub that has blossomed into a full-on label in recent years.
Key artists: Fresh Snow, Mimico, The Pinecones, Village, Conconquidore Truidore, Mystic Triangle, Career, grfnkl, Lanterns, Circus School
Medusa Editions, while unfortunately rather dormant of late, is one of the more influential under the radar psych labels in the city. Curated by artist/musician/filmmaker/writer Ayal Senior, Medusa is a unique private press handmade art and music editions imprint, meaning each release is extremely limited and features nifty things like one-of-a-kind cover art and hand-cut vinyl lathes. Having a catalog that includes releases by big US names like Woods, MV&EE and Steve Gunn, Medusa still focuses heavily on the local scene with cassettes by Zacht Automaat, "Doc" Dunn, Not The Wind, Not The Flag, and more.
Key artists: Zacht Automaat, Matthew "Doc" Dunn, Not The Wind Not The Flag, Glass Tomb, U.S. Girls, Fleshtone Aura, Carl Didur
Owned and operated by Deirdre O'Sullivan and James Lindsay, Pleasance Records is not a psych label, per se, but it has put out an impressive list of local psych releases since its formation in 2010 - one could say they have a flourishing psych department. Home to acts like Odonis Odonis, Slim Twig, Das Rad, and Black Walls, Pleasance focuses primarily on vinyl and cassette releases ranging from astral psych to avant-pop to pummeling punk noise. They're also known to book a wicked show here and there in the city, so keep your eyes out. Read an interview with Pleasance here.
Key artists: Odonis Odonis, Das Rad, Black Walls, Astral Gunk, JFM, Moonwood, Slim Twig, Gay, Tropics, Fleshtone Aura, Sexy Merlin, The Ketamines, The Soupcans, Induced Labour
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Located a couple of blocks from Healing Power Records, Inyrdisk slinks by as a noise/psych/experimental label with almost 100 releases that's been comparatively quiet during what from all appearances is a noise/psych/experimental revival in Toronto, and so has been missing from a few lists - we'd hate for this to be another. While the focus is often on noise - from the minimal to the screeching - there's plenty of psych offerings to be found. Read an interview with Inyrdisk here.
Key artists: Man Made Hill, The Pink Noise, Wolfcow, Bile Sister, Voidfolk, Brian Ruryk, Toddler Body, Doom Tickler, Kapali Carsi, Wizard Of, Matthew "Doc" Dunn
To maximize your psych bang for your buck, find many of the above labels on Wyrd Distro.
Top 5 written by Sam Davis. Photo: The Hoa Hoa's via Facebook