Everyone here looks like art.
That’s how I felt at my first concert in the local Toronto music scene. Self-expression manifested in the form of colourful shirts, blocky shoes, and jewelry that was about to be tucked away during the mosh pit. A beige ushanka, bright dresses, and the coolest prints on tote bags. It’s hard to look around the venues without your eyes being pulled in five different directions.
My friend Annabel Barbon, a first-year humanities student at U of T, was performing there as the bassist in an indie rock, post-punk band — Kingdom of Birds. On September 10, a few of our mutual friends gathered and headed over to the Tranzac, a self-proclaimed, “Not for profit arts hub in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood.”
Ruckus Women, a local art collective working toward facilitating the decolonization of creation founded by Maia Taruc-Pilling — a third-year U of T student majoring in Critical Studies in Equity and Solidarity — had organized this night. Titled “RUCKUS I: THE RISE OF RUCKUS,” it featured a diverse live music lineup and Toronto artists lining the sides of the venue selling everything from ink prints to sketched computer stickers and mystery poem bundles. The concentration of creation was staggering.
The second show I went to was hosted at Press Vinyl Cafe. Vinyl boxes of thousands of records ran along the sides of the store, and at the back, Hockey Academy was playing its way through their setlist. If you’re like me, there’s nothing quite like live music. The pulsing of the drums and the bass, that electrifying energy everyone has as a band works up to the chorus, to that guitar riff, to the beat drop. It’s magnetic. Everyone gravitates toward the music like bees to honey, leaning in on one another to feel the beat.
The energy is just incredible. The entire community wants to be here, really wants to be here.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Kingdom of Birds, who have been in the Toronto music scene since 2016, and talked about their experience with shows, what it’s like to be the ones performing on the stage, and how they see the crowd.
Ása Berezny, the guitarist and lead singer of Kingdom of Birds who founded the band in sixth grade, described the mini-concerts as get-togethers. “When we book the shows and choose the bands we want to play with, it’s like we’re playing with our friends… It’s like a house party. Live music and we just mess around… It’s music we like, with people we like,” said Berezny.
During the show at Press Vinyl Cafe, Berezny’s guitar strings broke in the middle of Kingdom of Bird’s setlist. Massimo Jolicoeur of Hockey Academy let her borrow his guitar, and within a few minutes, the band was up and playing again. Berezny laughed at the memory: “I consider us to be friends with Hockey Academy, Grumpy Truck… we are friendly with lots [of bands].”
“I feel like it’s generally pretty community based. Everyone gets to know each other,” Barbon added.
The found family bleeds beyond the bands and the lineups into crowds as well. At Ruckus Women, a girl in a Backseat Lovers shirt with sunglasses struck up a conversation with me. Another girl with pink makeup joined in. It was impossible to tell if everyone was old-time friends or had just met.
Zoe Deligianis, a first-year humanities student at U of T, is both a huge concert goer and a developing production technologist. From their view in the crowd, they describe the shows as “a really beautiful thing. I’ve met so many incredible people.” The second you walk into a venue, you know you have a common interest with everyone you brush shoulders with. They’re all here to appreciate the music.
Deligianis’ specialty lies in lighting and general stagehanding, and they just helped handle lights for a show for the band Motel 67 and the Scratch Collective in early November. “I got to see people… I haven’t seen since high school.”
Music draws people out. It takes intention to get into the crowd. To look up the shows, to trek your way over to the venue, to see through every artist and appreciate their craft.
Jacob Leslie, also known as Stretch, is another Toronto-based production technician who has worked on all sorts of events. He’s set up giant lighting rigs for corporate gigs, handled audio for smaller shows at Tail of the Junction, and worked the live sound at festivals like Riverfest Elora.
“I’ll be at some one-off jazz show… and I’ll run into some random person I met playing bass for some metal show in the middle of nowhere,” Leslie said. “It’s cool to meet those connections and be able to just recognize these people… They’re in this with you.” The musicians are in the crowd, and half the crowd is musicians in one way or another.
“You get to know the crowd as well,” Barbon said. “As you keep playing shows, you see the same groups of people showing up and it’s always like a nice little reunion.” The performers stay after shows to sell merch, hop outside for a smoke with friends, and converse with the attendees. They listen and mosh and cheer for other bands just before ripping through their own setlist.
Another testament to how connected the scene is — the fact that Beatrice, the drummer of Kingdom of Birds, also plays for another band, Heavenly Blue. When asked about how she approaches balancing double the gigs and practice sessions, she said: “I just really enjoy playing with both of the bands. It’s different music, different people, different vibe, different crowd.”
“That’s the one thing I love about it. It’s never boring,” Leslie stated. “There’s no [monotony] in this job. I’m at different venues all the time, every job is different, the crowd is different.”
It’s such a physical, visceral experience. Proof-of-payment stamps are slapped on the back of your hands in sharpie. Mosh pits swallow you up and throw you around just to spit you out. The kick drum vibrates through the floor as the band goes at it. Sometimes you sway to softer, kinder songs, and other times you can’t breathe after the last verse ends. “It’s always interesting,” said Leslie. “There’s always a story to tell.”
As for Kingdom of Birds, they’re planning on just doing what they love. Barks and Moans, their next album is set to be released soon. You can catch them at Monarch Tavern on December 22, and you know what? I want you to go to a show. Are they a little intimidating? Yes, because everyone’s so passionate. But are they an absolute blast? Yes.
“You should feel welcome to go to any show even if you don’t know people personally… Just like show up. It’s super chill,” Berezny said.
“All the bands will be thrilled when people show up,” Barbon added.
“Yeah, that’s all we want. For people to come to the show,” Berezny concluded.
So, go to a show. See the moving, breathing, art. I’ll see you there.