THE ABRIDGED VERSION
The 1950-60’s: Before Punk
Toronto’s always had a vibrant music scene. All the major artists of the time played Toronto and often inspired fans to form their own groups. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Gene Vincent in the 1950s, the Beatles to the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, to the New York Dolls and the Stooges in the 1970s. Toronto 1960’s bands of note include Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (members from which became the Band and backed up Bob Dylan), Little Caesar, the Ugly Ducklings, Luke and the Apostles, the Paupers, Jackie Shane, Jon and Lee and the Checkmates, to name a few. The documentary Yonge Street: Toronto Rock’n’roll Stories (2011) superbly covers this era of Toronto music history.
….Read more about the 1950’s and 1960’s scenes.
The list of bands below is far from complete. This is meant to be a starting point. Please check out the extended scene reports for links to bands, feel free to point out any omissions and share any details you may have.
The Toronto punk scene really got its kick start when the Ramones played the New Yorker Theatre for the first time on September 24, 1976. Although bands like Teenage Head, the Dishes and proto-punk bands like Zoom, Eels and Simply Saucer were already around, seeing that show inspired the first wave of Toronto punk bands to form. Within months, the Viletones, Diodes, Ugly, B-Girls, Curse, Poles, Arson, Dents, Existers, among others, appeared and became the scene. Teenage Head, Simply Saucer and the Forgotten Rebels were from nearby Hamilton. There was also the Demics from London, Ontario.
The 1977-79 Toronto punk scene had as much vitality, energy, violence, characters and great music as the New York or London scenes but Toronto never got the recognition it deserved. Bands like the Viletones and the Ugly were notorious for some of their antics and their music has stood the test of time. The scene was also quite varied, ranging from art school punk to power pop to oblique rock’n’roll, represented by bands like the Doncasters, Drastic Measures, Government, Mods, Tyranna, Johnny and the G-Rays, Cardboard Brains, and the Scenics, to name a few. There was also Nash The Slash and Rough Trade from the New Wave side of the spectrum.
Two classic films The Last Pogo (1978) and The Last Pogo Jumps Again (2013) are the definitive documentaries of that time.
Although the Diodes (who opened The Crash’n’Burn, Toronto’s first punk club run by punks) did sign with CBS and the Battered Wives had a record deal with Epic, the big break that a lot of the early UK and US punk bands got never came to their Toronto counterparts. Some Toronto bands toured the USA and there was a weekend stint at CBGBs with the Viletones, Teenage Head and the Diodes, but no UK tours — which might’ve made a difference.
….Read more about the 1970’s scene.
Towards the end of the 1970’s, keyboard driven New Wave music and its associated fashion and hair styles gained prominence. In reaction to this, Toronto’s 1980’s punks became angrier, political, began playing faster, writing shorter, more abrupt songs. This turn to a more aggressive style was a repeat of what happened in the USA a year or two before and became known as hardcore punk, a term that became popular after Vancouver’s D.O.A. released their Hardcore ‘81 album.
The earliest Toronto hardcore bands were Youth Youth Youth, Young Lions, A.P.B., Direct Action, Ugly Models, Quarantine and Chronic Submission (who were only 13 or 14 years old when they started out). Later bands included Bunchofuckingoofs, Afhakken, Blibber and the Ratcrushers, Sudden Impact, Creative Zero, Living Proof, No Mind, Madhouse and, from the outlying cities, Problem Children (Dunnville), Section 8 (Oakville), Wet Spots (Hamilton) and Sons Of Ishmael (Meaford).
The first all ages shows were put on at various DIY spaces, from church basements to the Upper Lip and DMZ in Kensington Market, which was a club started and run by the Bunchofuckingoofs. The compilation tape T.O. Hardcore ’83 and the film Not Dead Yet (1984) give a great overview of those early bands.
In the mid to late 1980’s there was a blending of metal and punk which gave rise to speed metal, thrash metal and hardcore thrash. By the end of the decade most of the early hardcore bands had split up.
Also throughout the 1980’s Toronto had a pretty good punk influenced indie scene, ranging from bands like the Raving Mojos, L’Etranger, Wayouts, Jitters, Stark Naked & the Fleshtones, A Neon Rome, Rheostatics to the Dave Howard Singers, Spoons, Martha and the Muffins, Jane Sibbery. By the mid to late 1980’s some of the original 1970’s punks were now playing in roots country bands centred around the Cameron House where Handsome Ned lived and played. Rockabilly was also happening throughout the 1980’s with bands like the Bopcats and Razorbacks.
….Read more about the 1980’s scene.
In the 1990’s punk became almost mainstream with the success of bands like Green Day, Bad Religion, NOFX and Rancid. Toronto’s melodic punk bands at the time — often with socially conscious lyrics — included the Blundermen, Bitter Grin, Warface, Fallout, Stiffs, Riot 99 and Marilyn’s Vitamins. There was also the punk assault mayhem of the Sinisters and Teen Crud Combo. But the Kensington Market area of the city still retained its crusty, drunk’n’angry hardcore bands like Bunchofuckingoofs, Armed and Hammered, Random Killing, Dirty Bird, Spotty Potty, Politikill Incorrect, 2 Pump Louie and Hockey Teeth, to name a few.
Other bands like Trigger Happy, One Blood, Countdown to Oblivion, Five Knuckle Chuckle and Freedom Denied were more influenced by the more thrashy 1980’s hardcore. A strong sense of political activism was supported by the anarchist bookstore Who’s Emma in Kensington Market and the younger generation of punks played a lot benefit shows for Food Not Bombs and the Anti-Racist Action.
Meanwhile throughout the 1990’s, the city was also developing a thriving garage punk scene with bands like the Leather Uppers, Suckerpunch, Danko Jones, Stinkies, Exploders, Shuttlecocks, Deadly Snakes, and the Texas Dirtfuckers, along with a mix of cow punk from the Speed Kings and Sadies. Since the initial late 1980’s-early 1990’s success of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet and the Kids In The Hall TV show, a cool surf scene was also growing with bands like Tijuana Bibles, LoFiHi, Atomic 7 and the Blue Demons.
….Read more about the 1990’s scene (coming soon).
After everybody partied like it was 1999, remnants from some of the 1990’s bands continued with their sound, forming new groups such as the Class Assassins, G-Men, Downbelows, Sinkin’ Ships, Hostage Life, and Dead Letter Dept. The surf, garage and rockabilly scenes (along with an associated burlesque scene) also did well throughout the 2000’s, with bands like the Blue Demons, Luau or Die, Royal Crowns, Dodge Fiasco, Creepshow.
In the early 2000’s, a new wave of Toronto hardcore crashed the scene with bands like Brutal Knights, Career Suicide and Fucked Up. Continuing into the mid-2000’s, the punk scene in general was quite diversified, with post-punk noise from the Creeping Nobodies and Anagram, metallic thrash from Cursed, Cancer Bats, Rammer, bass & drum attack of Death From Above 1979, power pop from the Bayonettes, Dangerloves, bluesy punk/garage from Bush League and CATL, to give a few examples. There was also some hardcore humour from the 3tards and Mature Situations.
The international and critical success that some of these bands achieved put the Toronto scene on the map at a level that had never been attained before. This was evident when Fucked Up put on their annual Fucked Up Weekend festival series, which drew bands and hundreds of hardcore fans from around the world.
By the mid to late 2000’s the scene was incredibly strong with lots of shows and bands, sustained by all ages DIY venues such as Siesta Nouveau, Adrift and, occasionally, Cinecycle. Bands associated with that scene are Urban Blight, School Jerks, Hazardous Waste, Teenanger, Bad Skin, Molested Youth, to name a few. The more prominent hardcore bookers of this time were Mark Pesci, Lynne Rafter and Greg Benedetto..
In the late 2000’s there was also a resurgent interest in the original Toronto 1970’s punk scene as the books Treat Me Like Dirt and Trouble At The Camera Club and the films The Last Pogo Jumps Again and circa 1977 The Diodes were released or were in production. This brought about a lot of re-union shows with original members from the Viletones, Diodes, Ugly, Mods, B Girls, Tyranna, Wayouts, Zero 4, Existers, among others. Tribute bands the Screwed and Sids Kids continue to sustain the class of ’77 get togethers into the 2010’s..
…Read more about the 2000’s scene (coming soon).
The 2010’s had a real sense of transition from the earlier scenes to the new generation of punk rockers. Naturally, there were fewer of the bands from 10 to 15 years ago, but bands like the Class Assassins, Bunchofuckingoofs, Politikill Incorrect, Leather Uppers, still put on the occassional shows. The re-union shows where Sid’s Kids would play backup to original members from the 1970’s punk scene continued to be a monthly tradition at the Painted Lady at Ossington and Dundas. The Ugly, Arson, Mods, Johnny McLeod, the Dave Howard Singers, among others, also put on the occassional shows. As great as these shows are, unfortunately, the younger and older generation rarely mixed.
Nevertheless, you can still draw parallels between the current scene and the 1970-90’s scenes. For example, bands from the 1970’s and ’80’s couldn’t afford to record full length albums and, instead, put out cassette tapes and the occasional 7 inch single; today’s hardcore bands put out their demos on cassette tape and frequently release 7 inch singles. Mainstream media totally ignored the earlier scenes and bands used word of mouth, posters on telephone poles and fanzines to get the word out; today’s bands ignore the mainstream media and stick to social media, fan based blogs and fanzines. In the 1970’s and ’80’s venues were harder to come by and so punk run clubs like the Crash’n’Burn and DMZ were set up; in the 2000-10’s, clubs were more open to putting on punk shows but the younger generation preferred DIY spaces, where lighting is minimal, bands play on the floor and people can bring in their own booze. For the most part, with the earlier punks it was more out of necessity whereas with the new generation it is by choice.
The momentum the hardcore scene gained in the mid-2000’s continued into the 2010’s thanks to the DIY punk ethic. One of the key people in today’s scene is Greg Benedetto who plays in Violent Future and S.H.I.T. He gained a following in the mid-2000’s with his blog Stuck In The City, started the Not Dead Yet festival in the early 2010’s and then began holding shows at S.H.I.B.G.B.’s, the rehearsal space for S.H.I.T.. S.H.I.B.G.B.’s is the focal point for the current hardcore scene, bringing together a supportive community.
Some of the key bands from the 2010’s, in addition to S.H.I.T. and Violent Future, are Kremlin, Wastoids, VCR, Ancient Heads, Absolut, Valley Boys, Hassler and Demolition (from Barrie), to name a few. Neighbouring Hamilton also has a strong scene with bands like Born Wrong, Pick Your Side, TV Freaks and the reformed Pantychrist.
…Read more about the 2010’s scene (coming soon).