nocturne closing toronto

Toronto is losing its alternative dance music venues

Once upon a time, downtown Toronto was a hub for the alternative dance music scene. 

From the iconic industrial Catch 22 of the 90s (once graced by Cult Lord Supreme himself, Marilyn Manson), to the handful of bygone goth haunts like Sanctuary Vampire Sex Bar (now a Starbucks), the 80s and 90s marked a Toronto teeming with nighttime haunts for all things alt.

Those days are long gone, and it seems like every genre from new metal to drum and base have re-submerged into nightlife abyss. At an alarmingly fast rate, the number of venues for anything outside of Top 40 playlists have been pared down to basically nothing.

"Music venues have everything working against them," says Spencer Sutherland, the owner of the soon-to-be shuttered venue, Nocturne

As the co-chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Council (TMAC), Sutherland has been one of the most outspoken property owners in regards to—among many other concerns in the music scene—Toronto's vanishing venue crisis. 

Sutherland's own club, a 10 year-old institution in Toronto's goth and hardcore techno scene, is set to close at the end of the month, joining a steadily growing graveyard of alt dance venues who've fallen victim to soaring property taxes, insurance rates, and tough venue regulations. 

"It's sad," says Sutherland, who blames the rise of condos (and the ensuing increase of service retail like drug stores and banks), for "eroding" destinations like music venues and youth culture at large. 

"The music venues are where many of the younger people develop their social communities, and it's often around like-minded people." 

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When Nocturne vacates its property by Queen and Bathurst, the space will be renovated and replaced by a mainstream club whose playlist will presumably and depressingly "be a Top 40 thing." 

As for the slew of industrial, dark dance, raves, and EBM parties based exclusively out of Nocturne, they'll soon have to find another venue to run their events.

"There is no natural home for people to go to after Nocturne," says the founder of the hardcore event collective Embryon, who goes by Grant. "Losing Nocturne means that promoters doing small stuff don’t have that opportunity."

Scraping by with decent lighting systems and a passable sound system, the venue has historically been a perfect launching pad for newbie artists and promoters running small gigs from the club's smaller, more intimate second room adjacent to the main dance floor. 

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"[Nocturne wasn't] afraid to take chances and they weren't afraid to give people the opportunity to try new things," says Grant. "It never came down to the almighty dollar for them." 

While that's not to say live music events are a bust in Toronto – just look at Bovine Sex Club or the Velvet Underground, both on Queen – the presence of alternative dance-focused music specifically has been reduced to small venues that are barely scraping by.

Just head further north on Bloor, where the 5 year-old night club Bassline is fighting for its life. 

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Home to the drum and bass party, Church Sundays, a remnant of the now-closed Tota Lounge, the restaurant-turned-house music staple is standing on its last legs, and promoters are banding together in an attempt to save it with a three-part fundraiser starting this Saturday. 

"If Bassline closes and Nocturne is already done... our livelihood is at stake," says Paul Hattlmann, a longtime DJ and promoter of the 16 year-old drum and bass party TDotLove that's been running out of Bassline since it opened. 

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The number of event-goers has decreased by 50 percent in the past few years, he says, partly due to the surge of more attractive, mainstream EDM music festivals. But, it's mostly due to Bassline's physical space, which according to Hattlmann, is in "a sad state of affairs." 

"Everything has kind of fallen into disrepair, and everyone feels lost," he says. 

In a more focused approach to revitalizing the venue, Hattlmann and a team of promoters are trying to upgrade the club. A better sound system and washroom doors that actually function might help entice guests to check out a lineup of local artists, if nothing else. 

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With a goal of $3,500, it's not too much to ask of a town which at one point was poised to be the country's official 'music city'.

From the heights of City Council, however, Spencer Sutherland seems optimistic about Toronto's potential for music sustainability. Thanks to TMAC, changes via City Council are in the works – but just how long it will take to enact those changes is the urgent question. 

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"I think progress will be made," he says. "I just hope not too many more venues close down between now and then." 

Lead photo by

iona_grim


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