Toronto struggles to keep music venues open amid soaring rents

by | Apr 21, 2017 | A&E

Junisha Dama
Arts and Entertainment Reporter<

Toronto live music venues are dwindling in the face of spiraling rents – and the artists are feeling it.

“It’s upsetting how so many places are shutting down,” says Taylor Adams, a student in Humber College’s Bachelor of Music program and one part of the country music duo Jess and Tay.

Toronto has lost seven venues so far in 2017; King St dance club the Hoxton, Queen West rock bar the Hideout, Dundas West folk institution Hugh’s Room, Bathurst St DIY event space Soybomb HQ, Annex all-ages venue the Central, Bloor West queer-friendly café Holy Oak, Spadina’s legendary Silver Dollar Room and Richmond St Black community hub Harlem.

These closures have forced artists to take up their own venues, DIYs are venues not necessarily designed for formal events, but are alternative spaces that host a range of groups and artists.

“We don’t want a business, were not running a business we want to build and have some crazy events, some good gig parties, that’s all we want to do,” said Jason Wydra in the CBC Doc “Where’d the night go.” Wydra is Co-founder of Soybomb a former DIY event space in Toronto.

As Toronto’s real estate continues to soar, Adams says that venues are also charging too much to watch artists perform.

“I would honestly go and perform for free. But, as a musician it’s very upsetting because there are only that many places that one can perform at. It also sucks as an audience to have to pay $20 to go see a band,” she says, stressing that the high prices attract fewer people to watch bands live.

The diminishing number of Toronto music venues appeared to receive a saving call in November 2016 when city councilors Josh Cole and John Fillion filed a motion asking encouragement to open more live venues and preserve the ones that exist. However, not much has been done yet.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Mike Tanner, the city’s music sector development officer, said rising rents are causing venues to shut down all across North America. While the city cannot control who landlords lease out spaces to, they however, plan to find a way to allow venues to develop in areas they are currently restricted in due to zoning bylaws.

Music venues are under similar stress across the globe. The Guardian in September 2015 reported that of the 430 venues in London, between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remained open.

Mumbai, India – popularly called maximum city because of its lack of space and overpopulation – has a handful of live-music venues and some others are facing a shut-down due to cost and resident complaints. Old mills that are in ruins are being used as alternate pop-up spaces in India, but that hasn’t always worked out as there are usually no restaurants or bars nearby for concert-goers to go to after the gig.

So from Torino to Toronto, artists continue to scramble for venues to showcase their talents.

“Jess and I have applied to a lot of festivals for the summer, who need musicians to perform. Some pay and some don’t, but that’s the way we’re going,” says Adams.

Other musicians are using platforms like YouTube to reach out to audiences.