This post is a continuation from Coalition TO Part 1 – a blog post adapted from Dennis William Lee’s paper: Local and Translocal Scene Formations in Toronto’s Punk and Metal Underground
Check out images from Coalition on the Photos page.
I first became interested in Coalition not because of the Kensington connection but because of its associated music genres, though as my research went on – the importance of the relationship with the neighbourhood became apparent. Besides the important fact that Kensington is central, the neighbourhood itself carries cultural cachet and cool factor, and for the punk rock community this includes memories of the neighbourhood as a punk rock enclave in the 80s and 90s, with the almost mythical DIY venue Fort Goof, run by Toronto punks Bunch of Fucking Goofs (also known as the BFG’s).
Coalition then was in some ways great fit for the market but in other ways it presented a clash. While there were never noise or rowdiness issues on regular nights, the one time the cops were ever called on Coalition was when they set up a punk band to play outside during pedestrian Sundays, an event where outdoor live music is the norm.
So, while Kensington’s mythology hasn’t disappeared, the present reality is a little more complicated. The days of punks living in Kensington, for example, seem to be long past. Matt lamented the fact that none of his staff could afford to live in the neighbourhood and had to commute long distances to work. Matt himself lived in the market years before Coalition started, but was, in his words, “renovicted” by his landlord.
And of course, the businesses are being pushed out. As I mentioned, in April of 2019, Coalition closed for good. Hanging out at the farewell shows, I spoke to a lot people who felt like this was the death of underground punk and metal in Toronto. Matt and the other folks behind Coalition have been looking for a new space, but with no luck—last I spoke with Matt, they’re still looking.
But the scene existed before, long before Coalition. And as discussed it clustered around different spots, and not always Kensington, not even necessarily anywhere close to Kensington. Location is important, but it’s only one part of the equation. There used to be multiple spaces, and for a while it seemed like as soon as one closed another opened. But it should be noted that coexisting with Coalition was the underground record store and DIY venue Faith/Void on College street, which also closed in 2019, and Double-Double land, a DIY multi-purpose space down the street from Coalition that closed in 2018.
With all of these venues closing and scenes dispersing, what does this mean for the idea of Kensington as a bohemian neighbourhood, or Kensington as a community? Matt told me he did feel like part of the Kensington community, even dating back to his time as a resident, but there were certain aspects of it that he never gelled with, such as the Kensington Business Improvement area, a group of business owners who meet regularly to discuss neighbourhood issues. Matt described the groups as mostly middle class white folks holding onto an unrealistic idea of Kensington as a hippie utopia
Placemaking isn’t a process that everybody has an equal say in. BIA is made up of some small business owners—people presumably like Matt—but also building owners and landlords. At the end of the day landlords will have much more leverage in what happens in the market, and quite often different goals. For example, the owner of the building that Coalition was in lives in Vancouver, so it’s unlikely that he has any vested interest in the day to day culture or identity of the neighbourhood.
But to return to the issues of ethnography, since Coalition closed, I had to decide whether my research would stay focused on the market or move to the coalition-adjacent scenes as they dispersed. I chose to focus on the latter option. There is much more to say about where the scenes went, but, in short, shows started happening in different venues all over the city, and none of the venues in are Kensington. No one spot took over the role of home base, but promoters and bands worked hard to keep shows happening, notably See-Scape, Bovine Sex Club, and Duffy’s Tavern, among others.
This, of course, was all before the pandemic hit and live music shut down in Toronto and around the world. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you don’t need me to tell you how devastating this has been for small businesses in general and live music in particular. In Canada, there has been some attempt at small business relief, and in Toronto, there have been some attempts to actively help live music venues through tax breaks from the city.
But, at the same time, Toronto had been talking big about making itself a music city for years, and venues still seemed to be closing faster than ever. (The failures of Toronto music city initiatives and the Toronto Music advisory council is a whole other side of our research, that we can answer questions about if people are interested – just leave a comment at the end of this post.)
All this to say, for underground music scenes, transience, whether through touring or the shifting of homebases within a city, has been built into the fabric of their existence. While the pandemic has made the future of venues shaky at best, For places like Coalition, this was a reality from the beginning.
A special thanks to Matt Black for taking the time to answer my many questions during multiple interviews.
Thanks to you, as well – for taking the time to read this post and learn more about Kensington Market and the music scenes in and around the area.
Here are some of the references that I used and cited in this paper:
Bennett, Andy, and Ian Rogers. “Scene ‘Theory’: History, Usage and Influence.” Popular Music Scenes and Cultural Memory. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 11-35.
Crossley, Nick, and Wendy Bottero. “Social Spaces of Music: Introduction.” Cultural Sociology 9, 1 (2014): 3-19. doi: 10.1177/1749975514546236.
O’Connor, Alan. “Local scenes and dangerous crossroads: punk and theories of cultural hybridity.” Popular Music 21, 2 (2002). doi:10.1017/S0261143002002143.
Straw, W. “Systems of articulation, logics of change: communities and scenes in popular music.” Cultural Studies 5 (1991): 368–88.
Tironi, Manuel. “Enacting Music Scenes: Mobility, Locality and Cultural Production.” Mobilities 7, 2 (2012): 185-210. doi: 10.1080/17450101.2012.654993.
Varas-Díaz, Nelson and Niall Scott, eds. Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016.
Valverde, Mariana. Everyday law on the street: City governance in an age of diversity. University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Varas-Díaz, Nelson, et al. “Predictors of communal formation in a small heavy metal scene: Puerto Rico as a case study.” Metal Music Studies 1, 1 (2014): 87-103.
Wallach, Jeremy, and Alexandra Levine. “‘I Want You to Support Local Metal’: A Theory of Metal Scene Formation.” Popular Music History 6, 1 (2012): 116–34.
Wallach, Jeremy, Harris M. Berger, and Paul D. Greene. “Affective overdrive, scene dynamics, and identity in the global metal scene.” Metal rules the globe: Heavy metal music around the world. Duke University Press, 2011. 3-33.