Any Night of the Week – a look at how Toronto became a hub for musicians
There are plenty of city-specific music books and plenty of books about DIY music, but Any Night of the Week might be the first about a city-specific DIY scene. That’s no small task, yet Jonny Dovercourt, best known as co-founder of long-running Toronto concert series Wavelength, deftly weaves a narrative across genres and decades, illuminating how Toronto arrived at a point where our music is now the city’s (and maybe the country’s) greatest cultural export.
From Yonge Street to Yorkville to Queen West to College, the neighbourhoods that housed Toronto’s music scenes. Featuring Syrinx, Rough Trade, Martha and the Muffins, Fifth Column, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Rheostatics, Ghetto Concept, LAL, Broken Social Scene, and more! A DIY historical look at the years 1957 to 2001.
Dovercourt takes readers back the beginning of the rock’n roll era when every part of the Toronto (and Canadian) music scene was DIY. From “Toronto the Good,” Yonge Street, Yorkville and Queen West through the birth of CanCon, punk, indie rock, alt-rock and the blooming of “Torontopia,” he charts a creative community in constant expansion and contraction. It turns out that, though accelerated in the 20th century, creeping gentrification and closing venues are not a modern phenomenon, rather something that the arts scene has always had to contend with.
While the focus is squarely on the music, equal air time is given to the bookers, promoters, producers, record labels, publications (Exclaim! included) and prominent scene facilitators, putting the spotlight on many behind-the-scenes figures who’ve helped keep artists in front of audiences over the decades.
Overall, Dovercourt makes space for all comers — Caribbean and experimental music have long and rich histories in Toronto and clearly illustrates a hip-hop continuum that goes beyond Maestro and Drake. As he notes right off the top, each scene is deserving of its own book.
If the book has a fault, it’s Dovercourt’s deep involvement with the scene he chronicles. In later chapters, the book reads less like an objective narrative than a personal memoir, born out by a stronger focus on Toronto’s more recent punk and indie scenes. Yet that same experience gives Dovercourt the perspective and access to the many players who have sacrificed their time and energy to shape the Toronto sound with few expectations of personal gain. Every city needs their own version of this book.
Dovercourt’s book, a history of Toronto’s D.I.Y. culture, explores the communities which gathered around new bands and the stages they played on, and it’s a delight to visit, and in some cases revisit, those thrilling nights and recall what a blast it was to go out and make friends of strangers and the you-had-to-be-there earworms which got us through the daily grind. He lays out the lineage and legacy of Hogtown’s seminal acts, by way of their club beginnings, from 1957 to 2001, from Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks to Broken Social Scene, weaving a tale of the city’s underground scene as interconnected as the overhead wires of the TTC.
Jonny Dovercourt is co-founder of the two decade long 100% D.I.Y. indie to its core Wavelength Music Series and in ‘Any Night of the Week’ he completely avoids anything which reeks of industry organized nights out, and opts instead for deep dives into those start-up promoters, some of whom grew into major players, and the venues they discovered and converted. What Jonny’s book speaks to is the agility of the do-it-yourselfers, their tenacity, and drive as well as the creativity of the musicians and promoters who for the most part had one foot solidly in the city’s art scene. For TO punks, and we will use that in the outlier sense, it was all about freedom of expression, of enabling voice, and if the scene was politically motivated it was in the search for some kinda fun in dour faced Toronto the Good.
The role of the music industry is important, it has to be noted, as it is bait for musicians from all over the country lured by the promise of glittering prizes . Many acts ‘based in Toronto’ have members originally ‘hailing’ from in some cases, Durham Region and the D-Rawk’s own entrenched D.I.Y scene is a vital resource to fuel the big city. Dovercourt can not be expected to know the all of every small town’s scene, but there are welcome shout outs to a couple of places and bands I have fond memories of, including Pizza Pino and Kat Rocket.
Dovercourt states at the onset this is just one thread of history, his story. It is granted a well-researched and well told story but still his. He does speak to indie and punk and the city’s hip hop scene’s roots in reggae but metal is less his thing so its not covered. The book is not comprehensive but in the context of Canada, honestly can anything ever be?
Makes for a great gift for the music nerd on your list. Buy from Coach House Books
Watch Johnny read an excerpt from the book here.
For those who can read about music, while listening to it at the same time, Johnny created a playlist to accompany the book. Enjoy!
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.