Scene Swap: DIY Toronto
Scene Swap is an exciting new feature in which we partner with artists and fans across the country to exchange musical recommendations in order to shine the spotlight on those bands who haven’t yet broken out beyond the confines of their own local scene. In this installment Canadian Dance/Electronic artist Katie Stelmanis (Austra) looks back at her formative musical years in Toronto’s queer/art/punk scene. Austra will be performing at the Triple Rock Social Club this sunday (9/1)
“I spent my late teens and early 20s involved in a Toronto music that I am only realizing now was pretty special. There was a guy named Will Munro who put on this party called “Vazaleen” once a month that was basically the center and development of a queer punk/artist and music scene in my city. Everyone would go to it: my friends in the band Fucked up hung out there, indie kids, gays, trans people, old queer people, art school kids and anyone else who may have wanted to watch Nina Hagan perform along side people getting blow jobs in the corner. Will brought tons of queer or feminist acts to Toronto for the first time, bands like the Gossip, Peaches, Tracy and the Plastics. It was during the time when the Knife was still a well-kept secret between music aficionados.
While this was going on, there were a bunch of other kids starting a DIY recording collective called Blocks Recording Club. The idea was that everyone who was on the label helped run the label, and any profit made on one persons album went directly to making someone elses. I put out my first solo album with Blocks. Owen Pallet, Fucked Up, Creeping Nobodies, and S.S. Cardiacs did too. It was a really cool thing to be a part of because I got to see how the whole album campaign process worked: we called radio stations and told them to play our songs, contacted writers in Canadian cities, secured distribution, and even shared a list of promoters all over the world we could contact to book a DIY tour. It was cool to be able to write to a promoter in Finland and say “Hi I’m an artist with Blocks” and they knew what I was talking about cause so many of us had booked our own tours.
Eventually I booked my way to SXSW and ended up signing to Domino, at which point touring took over my life and I’m pretty disconnected from my community in Toronto. Vazaleen ended with the sad and terribly early death of our cities beloved Will Munro; I feel like part of the city died with him. People became a bit too busy for Blocks and its not quite as thriving and present as it was 5 years ago, though there are some wonderfully committed artists still keeping it alive. Maybe its because I’m not really living here anymore, but every time I come home I feel a bit sad. There are so many people in Toronto now that seem to be more concerned with moving into Condos and buying fancy cheese than they are with making DIY art and creating interesting spaces for people to come together and experience a performace or an event.
I am sad, but it could just be that I am older now, and some other 21 year olds are making it happen on such a DIY level I don’t know about it. I hope thats true so I can go retire (assuming turning 30 is retiring) in Montreal and not feel bad about it.”
You can catch Austra this Sunday (9/1) at the Triple Rock Social Club (tix here). Check out a couple Austra tunes below and see you at the show!