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A guide to Toronto’s feedback-drenched noise-punk scene

October 14, 2014

The creators of the Toronto noise-punk movement doc 'Untold Noise' curate a list of their favourite artists and labels.

When watching Untold Noise, the über-concise documentary about subterranean Toronto noise-punk, there’s a sense that the film isn’t documenting a scene—it captures a moment. And that’s because in less than 20 minutes, Untold Noise, which premiered last June, covers a lot of ground: It talks to major players in Toronto’s punk scene, from HSY, to Soupcans, to Thighs. It interviews community cornerstones—Wavelength, Weird Canada, and Pleasence Records all make appearances. And, of course, it touches down on the D.I.Y. spaces that house the scene—Jay Wydra, for instance, chimes in about Soybomb, the long-standing Queen and Bathurst noise-punk-hardcore venue.

The crystallization of these forces—and the community that’s mobilized around them—is what Untold Noise captures. As director Nicole Lawr and Ariel Yang explain, Toronto’s noise-punk scene is something they both hold dear; in fact, they met while going to shows. “My friendship with Nicole started because we have similar interests in music, and we were constantly attending shows together,” says Yang. “She was actually the one who introduced me to Odonis Odonis back in 2011/2012 through a bandcamp link, so I knew that passion would lend itself well towards working together on a project like this. This, in part, acted as a gateway into the Toronto music community for me.”

“We really believe that Toronto has a lot to offer musically but we feel that the city is often over-looked, probably because of it’s reputation as this corporate capital and because of it’s proximity to cities like New York and Montreal,” adds Lawr. “I think this project was a result of that love and frustration. We wanted people to know that there is something happening here. Right now, there are a lot of exciting artists producing music in Toronto, we wanted to capture that feeling of creative energy and community by highlighting one of our favourite corners of the city.

[pullquote]More than that, we wanted to open up a dialogue about the greater shifts that have been happening in the music industry towards more community-driven, independent production.[/pullquote]

The bands in Untold Noise also mark a cultural shift within Toronto—for the last decade, indie rock reigned in the city. Now, Hogtown’s developing a taste for uglier, more aggressive, and more discordant fare, often created outside of the confines of the traditional music industry. “The fact that communities like the noise-punk scene can not only exist, but thrive the way that it does in [Toronto’s] environment is extremely fascinating. People really pull together purely because they’re so passionate about what they’re doing.”

“It’s a community that leverages the resources that are available to them,” says Yang. “The DIY attitude itself easily allows people to get involved based purely on their desire to be involved. There’s no barrier to entry or participation—all you need is a ‘get it done’ attitude… Once people start feeling like they can achieve something that previously seemed insurmountable, you just keep attracting more people that want to be a part of that cause.”

The result? A unique environment that Yang calls a “creative hive,” one which attracts people from across Canada. Her choice of words is deliberate: While bands like Odonis Odonis and Soupcans don’t share sonic qualities, there’s a shared mentality that comes from operating as a band in Toronto. Accordingly, for all the disparate people interviewed in Untold Noise, the two filmmakers says that everyone “expressed similar sentiments separately.”

“People end up moving to Toronto for school or work and meeting a lot of like-minded individuals,” says Lawr. “There are a lot of different voices from everywhere that end up creating music together…. there are just so many people from so many different places that the blurring of musical genres was bound to happen.”

So, who makes up the hive mind of Toronto’s noise-punk scene? We asked Lawr and Yang to curate a list of their favourite artists and labels. Watch Untold Noise in its entirety right here.

HSY

[bandcamp id=”3225966610″]

HSY are one of three acts featured prominently in Untold Noise, and for good reason—grimy and pummelling, their industrialized take on noise rock fits neatly on Buzz Records, home of Odonis Odonis. (And fun fact: Odonis’ Ian Gomes and Dean Tzenos have served as the band’s producers, readily evident in their wall-of-shit sound.) Their Cyber Bully / Phantasm Blast 7-inch dropped earlier this year, but we also recommend digging into last year’s self-titled EP.

Soupcans

[bandcamp id=”4264993515″]

Currently on a U.S. tour with Calgary terrors Hag Face, Soupcans released one of Toronto’s best EPs of 2013 with last fall’s Parasite Brain. Blending paranoid punk with dumpster-ready hardcore, it one-upped their also-excellent, Don Pyle-produced Good Feelings LP, both released via Telephone Explosion. The band’s latest release is a split with Vancouver D.I.Y. mainstays Shearing Pinx titled Incesticide II, and its two songs find Soupcans at their filthiest—you’ll need a full-body checkup after listening to “Crimes of the Future.”

Thighs

[bandcamp id=”2086199607″]

Just like their live performances, Thighs’ Not Unlike-released 12-inch is discordant and disorienting. Shearing post-hardcore guitars combine with Mark Colborne’s unpredictable, spastic vocals, resulting in an apocalyptic aesthetic that compares favourably to Arab on Radar. (Head over to their Bandcamp page, and Soybomb’s Jay Wydra compares the band directly to Philadelphia noise unit Skin Graft.) Their live footage—shot in Soybomb’s signature half pipe-performance area—is among Untold Noise‘s most arresting.

Odonis Odonis

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Yang says that Odonis Odonis have reached “hometown hero status with me,” and that’s no surprise—their wall-of-sound approach to shoegaze-inflected industrial is nothing short of singular. Hard Boiled Soft Boiled, their latest Buzz-released LP, was a visceral gut-punch, in the most literal way—innard-rumbling tracks like “New Obsession” are built on waves of tribal drums, surf guitar lines, and roaring power chords. “The long-term goal of the band isn’t to stick to one sound vibe,” bassist Denholm Whale told AUX prior to the LP’s release. “It’s to really spread out across different ends of the spectrum.”

Teenanger

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Singles Don’t $ell was an excellent outing for Toronto punk-scene vets Teenanger—it blended melodic punk rock, guitar, and menacing post-punk into something that was equally caustic and infectious. Guitarist Jon Schouten is involved with myriad projects—he co-runs Telephone Explosion, home to many bands on this list, and has mixed LPs like Wrong Hole’s 2112—but Teenanger, a band he adorably shares with his partner, Melissa Ball, is among his best.

Cartoons

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Next, Lawr suggests Cartoons, a grunged-up garage act who’s put out records via Buzz—no surprise, considering Odonis Odonis member Denholm Whale is in the band, alongside Brendan Black and Dim Ulch—and Daps Records, the Hooded Fang-helmed imprint that’s long supported Toronto’s weirder acts. Check their three most recent-released songs—simply labelled “Voice Memo,” one through three—below.

Petra Glynt

[bandcamp id=”2573498731″ mode=”track”]

It wouldn’t be accurate to call her noise-punk, but Petra Glynt, a.k.a. musician-artist Alexandra Mackenzie, shares the D.I.Y. tendencies of many of the names listed by Lawr and Yang. Her shapeshifting take on beat-based fare—please, don’t call it tribal—is admittedly hard to put into words, but it’s fair to call it the percussive extension of her mind-bending, psychedelic artwork. Her arresting live performances, incidentally, are not to be missed.

VCR

[bandcamp id=”747816324″]

Venom-filled and trashy—the A-side of their Greatest Hits 7-inch begins with “Beer Shit Night” and “Pizza Party,” two concepts we sense are related—VCR’s built a name on scuzzy, synth-driven punk. Singer Scott comes off, at his best, as a rabid animal: At his most feral, VCR’s vocals are half canine barks, half lupine howls to the moon. Unhinged? You bet.

Wish

[bandcamp id=”585614474″]

Kyle Connolly’s Wish project is a wonderful exercise in psyched-out dream pop—no surprise, considering he’s also spent time in prominent ‘gazers like Beliefs and Breeze. (Wish’s debut, meanwhile, was also produced by Josh Korody, who performs in the latter two projects.) The band’s self-titled debut dropped via Hand Drawn Dracula earlier this summer, and it’s not purely shoegaze—listen closely enough, and you’ll find sunglasses-emoji-ready influences present, ranging from Lou Reed to the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Wrong Hole

[bandcamp id=”3146678642″]

Wrong Hole is yet another band to feature Jon Schouten, but they’re fronted by Nick Flanagan, the comedian ex-singer of Brutal Knights. (Andrew Moszynski rounds out the trio.) And much like Flanagan himself, Wrong Hole’s debut, 2012, is hilarious: It’s synth-heavy, willfully idiotic punk with a penchant for the absurd. (Choice cuts: “So many dogs in this bar / This is not legal at all / That’s not a beagle at all,” he sings on “Dogs.” Or simply just see the entire lyrics for “What is a Car?”) Add in a Rush-aping album cover, and 2012 is pure, lobotomized mayhem.

Cellphone

[bandcamp id=”1467318829″]

Pairing sci-fi synthesizers and over-the-top confrontational vocals, Cellphone are a synth-punk monstrosity—and we mean that in the best possible way. Their Telephone Explosion-released album is set for release this November—it was produced by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s Don Pyle, who connected with the band via Soupcans—and if the unsettling synths in their teaser video are any indication, it’s going to be an absolute terror.

Buzz Records

[bandcamp id=”2384232844″]

Buzz Records is the home to Odonis Odonis, and while their brand of noise-punk is emblematic of the imprint, it’d be foolish to stop with them: Dig around their Bandcamp, and you’ll find some of the best bands in Toronto. Like who? Try the turned-to-11 punk of the Beverleys, the bombastic post-hardcore of Greys, and the smooth synth-pop of Beta Frontiers (who’s employed vocals via DIANA’s Carmen Elle and, in the case of his collab with Anamai, HSY’s Anna Mayberry).

Pleasence

Pleasence founders Deirdre O’Sullivan and James Lindsay feature prominently in Untold Noise, and it’s largely because their imprint—which isn’t limited to noisy fare by any stretch—is among the city’s best. Yes, they cut Wrong Hole’s 2012 LP, but elsewhere, they’ve also released records by the haunting Black Walls, the cerebral dance of Sexy Merlin, and the underwater funk of Man Made Hill. Best of all, Pleasence is prolific: Not content to rest on their deep catalogue, the label just cut releases by New Fries and Das Rad.

Not Unlike

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Thighs cut their self-titled release via Not Unlike, but the label isn’t limited to brazen post-hardcore. Most recently, they released a 12-inch with Lee Paradise, the new project by Daniel Lee (of Hooded Fang and Phedre fame) in conjunction with Pleasence. Look down their roster, though, and you’ll find the blown-out electronics of Michael Jacket, the dancefloor-ready electro of Pants & Tie, and even the silky smooth dream pop of Elsa.

Telephone Explosion

Jon Schouten and Steve Sidoli’s Telephone Explosion have been involved with plenty of acts cited by Lawr and Yang: Teenanger and Soupcans, to name two, have put out records on the imprint. Dig deeper, though, and their back catalogue offers plenty of left-field surprises, from the kraut-gaze of Young Mother, to the confrontational punk of Anagram, to the murky garage of Holy Cobras.

Healing Power

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Healing Power thoroughly mines the left field for Toronto’s best experimental fare. Petra Glynt and Bile Sister are among its most exhilarating acts, but the best introduction to the label may come from their comps, F R U I T S, Heart of Toronto, and The Many Moods of Healing Power, all of which serve as wonderful intros to the city’s burgeoning weirdo electronic scene. Seance Centre, Man Made Hill, Lido Pimienta, Wildlife Rodeo, and Fleshtone Aura have all contributed to HP’s comps—along with dozens more.

Optical Sounds

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Optical Sounds dabbles in plenty of, er, sounds, though they’re usually most obsessed with garage, psych, shoegaze, and punk. The label has handled the ear-soothing pyschedelic pop of the Auras, the electronics of Ken Park, the post-punk of the Disraelis, and even the shoegaze of good Mimico boys Mimico.

Reel Cod Records

It’s hard to believe that Reel Cod’s been in operation for a full decade. But they have, and in the process, they’ve released some phenomenal records: The Pinecones released the wonderful, ’60s-obsessed Ooh! last year; Fresh Snow‘s cassette came courtesy of Reel Cod, and for us, was one of our first taste of their motorik madness; they’re also responsible for Jay Holy’s delectably macabre Scopalamine Dream, which, for its upbeat synthy pop, covers some pretty heavy ground—scopalamine, after all, is commonly known as the devil’s breath. Very, very spooky.

Hand Drawn Dracula

Like Reel Cod, Hand Drawn Dracula is yet another Toronto mainstay—and they’ve put out plenty of bands already name-checked on this list, like Beliefs and Breeze. Still, it’s worth digging into their near-inscrutable back catalogue: They’ve cut records by beloved Torontonians like Bruce Peninsula, By Divine Right, and Dusted, but as a label, they’ve refused to pigeonhole their style. (For instance: They released the excellent, gothy Mausoleum EP, which is highly recommended.) As for their newer releases, the last Wish LP and Doomsquad—who released the hypnotic, cult-ready Kalaboogie last spring—are as good a starting point as any.

Arachnidiscs

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The last label Yang and Lawr list is Arachnidiscs, whose motto—”music for and by weirdos”—summarizes this list neatly. Still, the imprint doesn’t focus necessarily on noise or punk; instead, they focus on the avant-garde. What that means? You’ll find everything from free jazz experimentations to droning psych to darkened EBM among their cassettes. Indeed, they take being weirdos very, very seriously.

 

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