Personal Views: Hamilton, Ontario

PERSONAL VIEWS: A ground-level guide to Hamilton, Ontario’s music scene

Three scene fixtures from the so-called "armpit of Ontario" tell us their favourite music, venues and shows, from world famous to "Hamilton famous."

- Mar 19, 2015

This past weekend Hamilton, Ontario hosted the 45th edition of the Juno Awards, an institution that, as mentioned here before, tends to celebrate the stultifying mainstream of Canadian music despite inviting some of the more interesting fringes. In spite of this, and the MOR stylings of Hamilton’s biggest recent Juno-approved musical export, the city has a history of embracing and producing a wide range of interesting, anarchic and unusual music, and that history is very definitely being upheld in the city today.

In the interest of digging deeper into what’s going on in Steeltown we spoke with a few prominent contributors to Hamilton’s music scene about some of their recent local highlights and why Hamilton remains a haven for the weird.

JAG (WTCHS, Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends)

WTCHS This Ain't Hollywood

Favourite Hamilton Venues

My favourite venue/space in Hamilton, hands down, is HAVN, a DIY art space that puts on wonderful installations and shows curated by a group of like-minded individuals that are setting the tone for what is to come amongst the arts community.

Second would have to be This Ain't Hollywood. It has the best sounding room in town and with Doug behind the board who knows the room so well, it always sounds great.

Favorite Recent Hamilton Releases

SIANspheric, The Owl

Thoughts On Air, 7" lathe on PERDU (my own imprint)

Three Favourite Hamilton Bands

My three favourite bands???? I've gotta give you 5, I just have to. Currently they would have to be:

Eschaton

Black Baron

Thoughts On Air

Get Off The Cop

Pucumber Sasssquash Family Band

Most Memorable Hamilton Show

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead & Explosions in The Sky @ Raven (2001)

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Live at Reading Festival, 2001

For me the most memorable show I've attended was ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead & Explosions in The Sky at the Raven back in '01.  So small, so intimate, so intense.


Chart Attack: How do you view the direction of the scene in Hamilton right now? Are certain sounds or genres ascendent?

There's always been a lot of different types of music going on. We've just happened to have more of a spotlight on the city and its music scene right now.

JAG: I've never thought of 'the direction' or 'what certain sounds/genres' are ascendant in the Hamilton scene. There's a lot going on now. There's always been a lot of different types of music going on, we've just happened to have more of a spotlight on the city and its music scene right now. There's a lot of passionate people doing a lot of different things, which is important.

What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Hamilton?

I think it's like every other city. Music is being made. Music is being played. You know what we don't have enough of though? Fucking house shows! No one is having house shows. There have been spurts throughout the past but nothing in the last few years. MORE HOUSE SHOWS!!!

How does Hamilton’s location influence the scene? Are there particular benefits or challenges to being a relatively smaller place adjacent to a city the size of Toronto?

Recently Hamilton has been witnessing an ever-growing scene bringing larger/cooler acts through on tour en route to Toronto, so I could see where the benefits may lie being adjacent to Toronto, but I think that's all changing where we can stand our own ground now and have acts wanting to come to Hamilton for more of an intimate and enthusiastic crowd. I love the size of Hamilton and its music community. I've been here for 15 years and I've never experienced any challenges. Most times I avoid the chaos in the big city.

Grant Winestock (Owner and booker at The Baltimore House)

baltimore house

Favourite Hamilton Venues

HAVN is a great DIY art space on Barton St. near James N. A great, very unassuming little spot that is curated brilliantly by fantastic people.

If I had to pick another spot I’d say This Ain’t Hollywood. I’ve seen a lot of cool shows come through there over the years.

Favorite Recent Hamilton Releases

Mark Lenover, We’re In Motion Pictures

ttwwrrss, ttwwrrss_2

Pet Sun, Feel Like I’m Going Away

Three Favourite Hamilton Bands

New Hands

Well, my number one, New Hands, just broke up last week so I guess they don’t technically qualify anymore... but I have to put them on here none-the-less.

Jessy Lanza

As far as my tastes go though it’s always going to be Jessy Lanza right up there.

Allegories

Allegories-Don't-Exist

Allegories are also great!

Most Memorable Hamilton Show

Matthew Dear at The Red Mill Theatre, 2010

Matthew Dear live @ Meltdown Little People (Black City) continued Dallas 2010

So tough to say for this one. Wow... hmmm... I think I’ll always remember seeing Matthew Dear at The Red Mill Theatre in 2010. That was a really influential show for me.

Maria Minerva with Jessy Lanza at Baltimore House, 2013

Jessy Lanza "Pull My Hair Back" and "Keep Moving" (live) -- Polaris Music Prize 2014

Favourite show that I’ve booked though was probably Maria Minerva with Jessy Lanza at Baltimore House.


Chart Attack: How do you view the direction of the scene in Hamilton right now? Are certain sounds or genres ascendent?

How do we maintain our own unique identity without merely being sucked into the vortex of our neighbour?

Grant Winestock: It’s a pretty diverse musical landscape here, so it’s tough to think of it going in one particular direction. I do think punk and post-punk stuff will continue to be a Hamilton mainstay though and seems to have, perhaps, a broader appeal with Hamilton audiences than in other places (although that is just conjecture because I don’t know a whole lot about other places).

What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Hamilton?

Devotion to Hamilton artists. I think artists here can get “Hamilton famous” and feel like they’ve made it to the top. Maybe thats a blessing and a curse in some ways, but I know it happens because of the devotion local audiences show to bands that are from this city specifically. I’ve seen fairly big time bands from out of town play on a bill with a Hamilton act with, say, 64 Facebook likes, and it’s the Hamilton act that quite clearly fills the room. I think that shocks and impresses and confuses bands from out of town sometimes.

How does Hamilton’s location influence the scene? Are there particular benefits or challenges to being a relatively smaller place adjacent to a city the size of Toronto?

I feel like bands are, more and more, realizing the importance of gaining an audience in Hamilton and then the fact that Hamilton is just so easy to get to from Toronto is the icing on the cake. From a booking perspective this makes things relatively easy. The challenge though is the same one any place, person or thing faces when they are positioned next to a giant: how do we maintain our own unique identity without merely being sucked into the vortex of our neighbour?

Annie Shaw (Pucumber Sasssquash Family Band, glassEYElashes)

Pucumber

Favourite Hamilton Venues

HAVN on Barton Street is an awesome DIY space organized by a group of amazing hardworking people. The space is small and cozy and often includes intense projections. They also let our choir rehearse there once a week!

This Ain’t Hollywood is my favourite bar venue. It's run by a buncha punks and they just do everything right. Good shows, cheap booze and a fireplace.

Three Favorite Hamilton Bands of the Moment

A gads that's so hard!

Haolin Munk

This jazz group playing hip-hop standards was my favourite but they became less active and paired down to an experimental duo called Eschaton (who are now also my favourite).

Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends

Scott (from the band)'s solo project Thoughts On Air and JAG's band WTCHS are all amazing, too.

Wax Mannequin

A golden classic of weird and excellent songwriting.

That's more than three, sorry.

Also Sour Pussy. And Reverse Hooker. And Get Off The Cop. Way more than three.

Most Memorable Hamilton Show

X-mas Makes Me Sick @ Doors / This Ain't Hollywood

Born Wrong [THIS AIN'T HOLLYWOOD]

That is also a hard one. In recent memory anyways it's the "X-mas Makes Me Sick" mini-fest at the Doors Pub and This Ain’t Hollywood. It was 2 nights and 14 bands, mostly punk/hardcore. It was a really great showcase. The bands were mostly from town and the crowd was thick and impassioned! I think it was sold out both nights.

Also, any show that PERDU puts on is always perfect.

And Supercrawl (free outdoor music festival) was pretty memorable.


Chart Attack: How do you view the direction of the scene in Hamilton right now? Are certain sounds or genres ascendent?

The perspective of the underdog has kept us tough yet humble. Artists and musicians are moving here... on purpose!

Annie Shaw: I'm terrible at genres but there is in my eye a definite emphasis on experimental weirdo and also loud punk type music. It's all intensity and creepy glimmer. There's also a bit of acoustic or jazz type stuff but always with a sort of badass aesthetic.

What is unique about the music scene in Hamilton?

Hamilton is great because it's so thirsty. Good bands are highly esteemed and the community is tight-knit and so supportive of each other. It's small enough that most people are acquainted with each other and many people are in multiple projects. But it's big enough that there is a lot going on. I feel so lucky to be so surrounded by so many that give such a shit.  :)

How does Hamilton’s location influence the scene? Are there particular benefits or challenges to being a relatively smaller place adjacent to a city the size of Toronto?

Southern Ontario is so crowded. There are lots of good bands from adjacent towns and cross-fertilization show sharing is awesome and easy. The dynamic between us and Toronto is interesting. Especially in the last few years, Hamilton is the best place to be if you don't want to work as hard to live as you need to to in Toronto. Toronto as the bigger city has always had more in terms of numbers of culture things but I'm so happy to see that Hamilton is just swelling before my eyes. Not very many years ago, there was only approximately ONE music venue operating. Now that number has exploded into many! Artists and musicians are moving here... on purpose! Hamilton has been called the armpit of Ontario which is pretty fun and the perspective of the underdog has kept us tough yet humble.

 

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