sonic boom toronto

Iconic Toronto record store Sonic Boom is launching an e-concert series

There's no record store on earth quite like Sonic Boom in downtown Toronto, and fans of the sprawling cultural institution are missing it fiercely right now after nearly six weeks of pandemic-mandated lockdown.

Sure, you can buy vinyl via the stores's newly-launched online shop, but you can't exactly recreate the experience of holding a record in your hands and chatting with fellow music-heads, or the serendipity of stumbling upon something special while browsing the bins.

Owner Jeffrey Barber, who opened Sonic Boom Music back in 2001, understands this well. It's part of why he resisted selling his wares online until recently, and why he's about to launch a truly unique virtual concert series from right within his Queen and Spadina store.

"The culture of records is all about the face-to-fact tactile experience... the ritual of browsing through your collection at home, shopping and browsing and placing the record on the turntable," said Barber by phone on Tuesday.

"I've never been drawn to having an online shop but, conveniently, two weeks before the shutdown, we finally decided to go online, and find a way to connect with people outside of Toronto."

While ramping up the site in time with the pandemic was "stressful as hell," Barber says reception has been excellent so far, with customers purchasing from as far away as the Northwest Territories.

"It was a mad rush to get the website as robust and as reflective of the store as we could, but it's been amazing," he said. "It was a great challenge. It feels like opening up a store 20 years ago for the first time again."

Now that Sonic Boom has managed to get its online sales ducks in a row, Barber is trying to recreate something else his store is famous for: its function as a live music venue and community event space.

What started as a way to connect with Toronto's arts and music communities nearly two decades ago has put Sonic Boom on the map as an entertainment centre of sorts — something that Barber says helped his business survive through a steady decline in music sales.

The store's frequent in-store events have featured both local and major international acts throughout the years: from intimate concerts with Broken Social Scene to autograph signings with members of The Cure.

"So many of these artists, their bread and butter is touring," says Barber. "We would never have the store without these musicians and you know, they're all falling through the cracks of a lot of the social support that's being put forward."

"They can't tour, and that's become a crucial part of their livelihood, especially with the absurd amount of compensation they get through music streaming services," he continued.

"They've got to get out there and connect with fans, they’ve gotta sell merch, they've gotta promote records."

In an effort to help keep musicians doing just that while all IRL venues remain closed, Barber is re-launching Sonic Boom's in-store concert series online.

Unlike the smattering of "virtual concerts" we've seen pop-up in recent weeks where artists play from their living rooms, Sonic Boom's series will be broadcast from its 12,000-square-foot space at 215 Spadina Ave.

"We're going to be doing it very responsibly from the store," says Barber, noting that social distancing measures will be in place.

Streamed via Facebook Live, the shows will have virtual merch tables, opportunities for fans and artists to interact and as much of the store's famous ambience as can be possible under the circumstances.

Hard dates for the first shows aren't yet confirmed, but Barber says the first concert will likely take place within the next couple of weeks.

Acts booked so far include Canadian multi-instrumentalist Joseph Shabason and the Toronto-based Ethiopian/Eritrean musician Witch Prophet.

"To keep the store connected with the community, keep the musicians connected with the community, and to sell a few records, quite obviously, along the way, we thought we'd try and recreate the in-store experience we've had," said Barber of the project.

"We just keep that up, keep it going during the shutdown and not be silent."

Lead photo by

Matt Forsythe

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