Matt Blair is a regular face in Toronto’s indie music scene. Whether he’s promoting an event or supporting someone else, Blair has become a fixture all over town. Apart from working a regular day job, Blair owns and runs Transient Orange, DJs, blogs, and volunteers in the community. Blair talked with Torontoist about what’s happening at Transient Orange, upcoming events, indie books and even Toronto landmark fights.
Blair DJs for Vanishing Point every Thursday at Labyrinth Lounge and is hosting a brand new night called Dynamite Soul at the El Mocambo this Friday.
What is Transient Orange?
Transient Orange is an independent art and media network based in Toronto. It started off as an umbrella for a number of things that I wanted to keep doing once I got out of school, like DJing and promoting and what not. But during the past three years it’s developed into a community in its own right, through the shows that we’ve done and the volunteer efforts that we’ve organized.
Do you have any events coming up in the next few months?
We’ve got a lot of things in the works right now. We’re launching a new night called Dynamite Soul later this week, and we’re hoping to re-launch a weekly electronic night of ours called Inner City/Outer Space in March, as a monthly night with a higher profile. We’ve got plans to kick off an all ages showcase in April. We’ve been doing a reading series for nearly a year that I’d like to push to the next level, and there are a few in-house volunteer programs that I want to develop. If all goes well, then it’s going to be a fun and productive time for us.
What kind of people are involved with Transient Orange?
All kinds of great people. It’s a very informal community, ranging from the bands and DJs that we promote to the volunteers and well-wishers who dedicate their time to us. In the eyes of the law, Transient Orange is my own project; I handle most of the administration and the office work. But I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of all the other people involved. We’ve got all kinds of volunteers who dedicate unreal amounts of time to one project or another, which is amazing.
One of the things that I would like to do this year is make things more official. At the moment, Transient Orange is a sole-proprietorship business. Within the year, I want to start releasing records and books, and I want to hire a bona fide staff. I’m glad that we have so many people working for us, but I’d really like to be in a position to compensate them for it. And of course, it’ll always be the dream to quit the day job and do this sort of work full time. I’ve just got to figure out how to go about making that happen, you know?
I noticed your site is undergoing changes and you setup a new forum. What’s happening to the site? What’s the purpose of the forum?
That website has been online for a couple of years, and I’ve never really been satisfied with it. A few weeks ago, I finally got around to working on a better one, and I’m hoping to get it online any day now. I’ve always wanted to build a website that’s more than just an ad for whatever Transient Orange is doing at the time, and I think we’re close to launching something that will also serve as a forum and a resource for people in the indie community.
That’s what the message board is all about. We launched it in January, even though our website was still under construction. I want that to become a place where people who are active in the indie community can come together and communicate, instead of just networking, because I don’t think there’s as much of that happening in Toronto as there could be. Naturally, we’re promoting a lot of our own nights and projects on the board, but we’ve also invited other people to promote their stuff, and the response has been strong. I’d say that most of the people who have registered so far are people who are doing things of their own, and who want to get the word out about them. As it opens up, it’ll hopefully become less promotional and more social.
You mention you’re writing a book about the Toronto indie culture. What inspired this idea? What kind of progress have you made so far?
Well, I’m not actually writing the book. What we’ve talked about doing is producing a book about Toronto’s indie culture. It’s still in the planning stage, so I’m not sure what form it’s going to end up taking. But what I’d like to do is bring a range of people together, from all sorts of this city’s scenes and communities, to talk about why they do what they do, and what they get out of it.
I’ve been doing this sort of work for a number of years now. I mean, I founded my first record label when I was eighteen. And I’m not trying to brag, because a lot of the people that I know are in the same boat, and they’ve got a lot more to show for it than I do. I’m 25 now, and I’ve got a job and all kinds of grown-up obligations, but I’m more active in the indie community now than I’ve ever been. The thing is, you eventually hit a point where you ask yourself why you’re putting so much of your time and energy into something like this, and I think that’s the point where a lot of people throw in the towel.
But the people who keep doing it know that they’re doing it for a reason, even if they can’t necessarily articulate it. That’s why I think a book like this is so important, especially if we can bring people from a lot of different scenes and genres into it. The indie scenes in this city are really segregated; there’s not a lot of interaction between the indie rock community, the hip hop community, the metal community, the hardcore scene and so on, even though the people involved in these communities probably have a lot of common ideas and goals. I guarantee that if you got a bunch of those people in a room together, and got them talking about what they’re trying to do, they’d be blown away by how much they have in common.
That’s the sort of message that I’d like to get out there, both for the sake of supporting the people who are active and encouraging the people who would like to get involved. I think that a book like this is the best way for us to do that, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback and support from people who want to get involved. So I’m really excited about what we might be able to accomplish, once we’ve gotten through the planning stage.
In addition to operating Transient Orange you’re a DJ as well. What kind of music do you spin?
I’m a fan of all different kinds of music, and I’ve never really felt like it would make sense to limit myself to one thing. I mean, the differences between most genres are usually pretty superficial, you know?
The music I spin depends on the venue, the crowd, the mood I’m in that night, all kinds of things. I spin a lot of punk, funk and indie rock, but lately a lot of soul tracks and even some hip hop have been making their way into the mix. Any night where I can combine all of these different kinds of music in one mix, and get people into something great that they wouldn’t have heard otherwise, is a good night.
Do you have any regular gigs?
I host a night called Vanishing Point every Thursday at Labyrinth Lounge, which has been going really well from the start. I’m also part of a Sunday night at Cobalt called Hallelujah, but that’s on hiatus at the moment. I’ve been doing that one for almost a couple of years now, and back in September we brought on a rotating team of DJs which now includes Ryan McLaren, Matt Nish-Lapidus and Kyle David Paul. I’ve had fun doing it, but trying to get people out on a Sunday night has always been a bit of a losing battle. So we’re taking a little time off until we figure out the next step.
This Friday will be the opening night of Dynamite Soul at the El Mocambo. How did this night start? Where is it going?
A couple of months ago, the booking agent at El Mocambo approached me about doing a new monthly night. Hot Times was just about to end its run, and they were looking for somebody to launch a new night in its place. I called up Nemo Burbank, who’s a good friend and a total genius when it comes to hip hop, and we started talking about doing a night together.
Neither of us are out to do another open-format dance party, because Toronto is saturated with them right now. And I don’t want to sound like we’re out to do Hot Times II, because we’re not. But I’m excited about the opportunity to fill that void, as daunting as it is, because I’ve been following those guys for years and their nights were a big part of what got me into DJing and promotion in the first place. Their parties have always been places where everyone was welcome, and where all kinds of different people came together, and that’s something I’ve always tried to bring to all the nights I’ve done. But I think that the success of parties like Hot Times, Expensive Shit, Santa Cruz and even Blowup has inspired a lot of look-alikes, which is part of the reason why there are so many redundant dance parties in Toronto.
So we’re going to try and do something different. We’re going to bring in some live acts, along with guest DJs from time to time. Nemo and I are coming from very different places musically, and we’re going to work hard to make our best elements work together, instead of just throwing a bunch of random shit out there in the hope of pleasing everyone. As for where it’s going, I hope that we’ll be able to create that fun and welcoming atmosphere that’s made all of these great parties truly great – and once we’ve done that, I hope we’ll have a good run of a few months or maybe even a year before the frat boys start showing up and everybody starts calling us sellouts.
What’s the best place in town to buy music? What about equipment?
There are so many great places to buy music in this city. I live right across the street from Penguin Music, so I spent a lot of time in there. The staff are always really excited about playing you their favourite new records. But there’s also Rotate This, Soundscapes, Sonic Boom, Flash and Crash, She Said Boom and all kinds of others. Matt Collins of Ninja High School just told me about a place called “Record Store” that apparently carries dancehall 45s, and I’m eager to check that out.
As for equipment, to tell you the truth, I’ve bought just about everything I own at Long and McQuade. If you’re looking for something beyond a traditional DJ setup, like if you’re looking to bring effects into the mix and stuff like that, then they’re great at helping you figure out what you need.
If Dundas Square and Union Station got in a fight who would win?
Wow, that’s a hell of a question. I’d have to put my money on Union Station, because it’s got heart. Dundas Square struts around like it’s the epitome of public places, but the amount of paperwork that you’ve got to do before you can bring people together there is ridiculous. Union Station, on the other hand, is a genuinely public space. Plus, it’s been a landmark in Toronto for ages, so you know it’s not going to take any shit from some poseur who just rolled into town. Dundas Square might have a pretty face now, but it won’t once Union Station is done with it.