Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It’s probably kitschy (not to mention dated) to use a quotation from Almost Famous here, right? But the classic line from its central muse, glorified groupie Penny Lane, will always ring warm, and true: “If you ever get lonely, you just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Whether or not it’s your meeting place, or just a place you choose to spend your money, record stores still have that romanticism.
It’s been a good year for visiting local independent music retailers such as Sonic Boom, Soundscapes, and Criminal Records, thanks in large part to their ongoing use as alternative live music venues. In-store performances certainly aren’t new (in fact all three of the aforementioned stores have been holding them for years), but the stores are adapting to draw and serve new crowds. They have, importantly, built active online presences—advertising shows, hosting contests, sharing photos and videos, all in addition to just straight-up talking about music—and, as Sonic Boom did, have even gone so far as renovating their basement for better accommodation.
Stores have also taken the all-ages torch. All-ages venues are dwindling in the city—the death of one of the last vital ones was one of our Villains last year—and there’s value in the record stores picking up some of that slack. The experience of watching performances in this context is different than a show proper, mind you; often it’s dedicated fans who flock to watch a show under bright store lighting, but it doesn’t have to be, and often curious accompanying friends, customers, passersby, children, parents, store staff, and musicians (the latter two often one and the same) fill the small space, creating an attentive environment for an intimate show. A record store as a drop-in alt-venue is entirely fitting, but it still transcends expectations and fosters a type of collective community experience—informal, inviting, tangible, memorable.
Of course, there’s also the lure of a free show (more money for the store’s music and books!). Sonic Boom requests (but doesn’t require) food bank donations for your attendance, and usually stores give away (or sell for cheap) a select number of posters from the event. Considering the acts range in levels from just-breaking (like recent guests PS I Love You or Hooded Fang) to revered international indie stalwarts (like Superchunk and Lou Barlow), and of course grown-up hometown heroes (Broken Social Scene’s store-hopping in May), it can be quite an event, not to mention a steal. And the band will likely take requests. From like two feet away.
Of course, old faithfuls like Rotate This and recently relocated punk mecca Hits and Misses are engaging too, albeit more exclusively. Regardless: the committed development of community from our local music haunts feels inspired. It’s rooted in a rich past and remains important for all facets and factions of the city’s musical future.