1980’s: TORONTO HARDCORE
From 1979 to the early 1980’s the Toronto punk scene was in transition. The big break that many groups were probably hoping for never happened. While the U.K. and New York scenes were considered the vanguards of the the punk movement, the Toronto scene was largely ignored by both the local and international media. Perhaps if there had been a hypothetical UK tour with, say, the Viletones, Teenage Head and the Ugly, it might’ve been a different story.
Only the Viletones, Teenage Head and Forgotten Rebels played continuously (more or less) in one form or another into the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s. By the early to mid-1980’s, the first wave bands splintered and ex-members started or joined new groups such as the Jitters (ex-Mods), Wayouts (ex-Tyranna), Australia (ex-Existers) and the Wild Things (ex-Ugly). The Viletones even gave rockabilly a try.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was a shift to the New Wave side of the musical spectrum, where hair and fashion took precedence and the bands didn’t take themselves too seriously. But some old school punks resisted and there were some new bands like L’Etranger, the Young Lions and Youth Youth Youth that had a political bent. Charlie Angus and Andrew Cash from L’Etranger were actually elected to parliament in 1994 and 2010, respectively.
As happened in the UK with the Oi! bands and in California and Washington, DC, with the first wave of hardcore bands, many Toronto teens were disenchanted by the current state of punk and started doing their own thing. A change of direction was evident as new bands began playing shorter songs, at faster speeds and with more anger and intensity. At the same time, they were singing more about personal politics, the search for identity, police brutality, racism — although singing about beer, drugs and girls was still important.
The earliest Toronto hardcore bands in 1980 and 1981 included the Young Lions, Youth Youth Youth, A.P.B. , Direct Action, Ugly Models, Quarantine and Zeroption (from Oakville), among others. Several of these bands came from the Scarborough suburbs and, interestingly, Quarantine played nothing but house parties until their first offical live show in 1983. The stop-start American style hardcore was first played in Toronto by Chronic Submission whose members were 13 to 14 years old when they first started playing shows in 1981.
A.P.B., Blank Generation, Chronic Submission, Dead End, Direct Action, Lethal Playthings, Nothing In Particular, Prisoners of War, Quarantine, Sickies, Ugly Models, United State, Unknowns (St. Catharines), Young Lions, Youth Youth Youth, Zeroption (Oakville).
In 1982 Brian Taylor, singer for Youth Youth Youth, played a significant role in Toronto’s hardcore scene. In addition to working at the Record Peddler, then located at Jarvis and Queen streets, which was the source for getting all your punk imports, Brian had his Accusonic recording studio and N.R.K. record label. He was responsible for recording many of the early hardcore bands, releasing their albums on cassette tape (vinyl was too expensive) and selling them at the Record Peddler. He also put together the landmark compilation T.O. Hardcore ’83 which represented the very best of the Toronto hardcore scene.
Today Brian is manager of Rotate This and has started to re-release some of those early recordings on vinyl. A Young Lions compilation was also released in 2011 by Schizophrenic Records out of Hamilton, Ontario.
In 1984 many of the above bands made it into the film Not Dead Yet,
In 1985 Bunchofuckingoofs opened the DMZ which, like the Crash’n’Burn before it, was a punk club run by punks. The first circle pit in Toronto started at the DMZ during a Gang Green show but it was also introduced by touring Montreal bands. Later on the BFGs were known for their Fort Goof hangout/home/boozecan in the heart of Kensington Market. The market was their turf and included the Greeks which later became Planet Kensington in the 1990’s and continued to have hardcore shows there well into the 2000’s. Steve Goof and various versions of the BFGs stuck to their hardcore code of conduct right up to 2012 when they played their last show.
Afhakken, Berlin Wave, Blibber and the Ratcrushers, Bunchofuckingoofs, Creative Zero, Hype, Jolly Tamborine Man, Living Proof, Madhouse, Microedge, No Mind, Problem Children (Dunnsville), Section 8 (Oakville), Sudden Impact, Wet Spots (Hamilton), Wrath.
In the mid 1980’s there was an overlap of hardcore and metal. Specifically, metal bands started playing faster and gave us speed metal which became thrash metal. Hardcore sped up even more and the faster version became known as thrash. Some of that metal influence seeped into hardcore. By the late 1980’s the difference between a thrash hardcore band and an old school 1977 punk band was enormous, resulting in a divide between fans of hardcore and old school punk. Or at least in Toronto, to this day, you don’t see fans of the two genres mixing at each others’ shows too often.
By the end of the decade most of the first wave of Toronto hardcore bands had broken up. From the mid to late 1980’s the Toronto scene was also open to bands from the outlying cities, such as Sons of Ishmael from Meaford, Problem Children from Dunnsville and the garage punk of UIC from Exeter.
FILMS & BOOKS
In 1984 many of the early hardcore bands made it into the film Not Dead Yet, directed by Ruth Taylor and Edward Mowbray. In 2002, Mowbray did a follow up documentary Punk X, focused on members from the Bunchofuckingoofs. In 2012, Jennifer Morton also told the BFGs’ story in her book Dirty, Drunk, and Punk.
A great archive of Toronto punk history is Equalizing X Distort, a University of Toronto radio show on CIUT 89.5 FM that is produced by Stephe Perry who was in the 1990’s hardcore bands One Blood and Countdown to Oblivion.
CLUBS & PROMOTERS
In the 1980’s, a lot of the clubs would book shows themselves. The Garys were still booking great shows, moving to the Edge after the Horseshoe Tavern went back to country and western. John Brower, who at one time co-managed Teenage Head, had the Heatwave Festival in August 1980. In June 1980, Teenage Head played Ontario Place and caused a riot. There was also the Rock Against Radiation festival held at Toronto City Hall in July 1980.
All ages dances with punk bands were booked at church basements, halls and the like under the event name Start Dancing. The first all ages bar shows were put on by Pete Jones from Quarantine in 1983 at the Upper Lip. Jill Heath (Jill Jill), Al Ridley, Don LeBeuf and Tony Meaney booked hardcore shows from early to late 1980’s. In 1988 Elliot Leftko started booking punk shows at the Silver Dollar and later the Apocalypse Club.
The main clubs from the 1980’s were the Beverley, Bridge, Cabana Room, Concert Hall (aka Masonic Temple, Rockpile), DMZ, Edge, El Mocambo, Horseshoe, Ildiko’s, Larry’s Hideaway, Lee’s Palace, Quoc-te, Starwood, Turning Point, Upper Lip, Voodoo Club and RPM for larger shows.
ROOTS ROCK & INDIE SCENES
In the early 1980’s Toronto had a few rockabilly bands like the Bopcats, Sidewinders, Razorbacks and Tennessee Rockets (with Problem Children co-founder Bill Culp). The early 1980’s also brought Toronto it’s first surf band, Mark Malibu and the Wasagas. (Mark was involved in the above mentioned Start Dancing shows.) In 1979-80 there was Crash Kills 5 and it’s members eventually formed Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, one of Canada’s best known instrumental bands, becoming the house band for the 1990’s TV show Kids In The Hall.
In the mid- to late-1980’s Toronto had an emerging roots country scene centred around the Cameron House and Handsome Ned‘s Saturday matinees. Some of these bands were made of former members of the Viletones, Tyranna, Ugly and Battered Wives. At first it might seem odd but, when you think about it, there are common themes running through both genres: women, drugs, drinking and fighting, although country has a higher percentage of songs involving murder while punk songs can be more overtly political. But when it comes right down to it, both punk and country songs are about everyday, common people and there’s a truth and genuine honesty to the best punk and best country song.
Blue Rodeo, Bopcats, Crash Vegas, Cowboy Junkies, Dundrells, Handsome Ned, Leslie Spit Treeo, One-Eyed Jacks, Prairie Oyster, Razorbacks, Screamin’ Sam, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Sidewinders, Tennessee Rockets.
Roughly during the same time frame, Toronto developed an interesting indie scene, ranging from punk influenced (Stark Naked & the Fleshtones, A Neon Rome), pop influenced (Rheostatics, Spoons), roots rock influenced (The Lawn, Plastercine Replicas) to experimental new wave (Dave Howard Singers, Jane Siberry). William New from Groovy Religion started his Elvis Monday series in 1983 at the Beverley Tavern which, along with the Cabana Room at the Spadina Hotel, helped nurture Toronto’s indie scene. Elvis Monday moved to the Silver Dollar in 1986, the El Mocambo in the 1990’s and then the Drake Hotel in the 2000’s. It is a Toronto institution.
A Neon Rome, Change Of Heart, Dave Howard Singers, Dik Van Dykes (Hamilton), Fifth Column, Groovie Religion, The Lawn, Living Proof, Look People, Negro Jazz Funeral, Plasterscene Replicas, Rheostatics, Jane Siberry, Vital Sines.
The compilation series It Came From Canada, put out by Og Records from Montreal, regularly included some of these indie and roots country bands.