Monday, July 9, 2007

A vagabond's tale of underground life in Toronto's Queer West Village

Out and About with Bee-Dee Eyes

January & February 2006

I walked downstairs into the Underground at the Drake Hotel last Wednesday (January 25), which is not really “the Drake” on some nights. Tonight was one of those nights. I immediately spotted the trucker caps and leg warmers and knew I was soon to be assaulted by Stink Mitt , the “Cougars from Surrey, B.C.”

These two “ladies” sing about all things smut. Back and forth they frolic across the stage, Jenni Craige and Betti Forde, with an entourage of Madonna wannabe’s (circa 1985). It’s a mix of hip hop, rap and freestyle that the in-crowd of scenesters ate up.

The show openers were Procon, and Miz Kitty. It was an early show and a short set, so as the night was still in its infancy, I headed along Queen over to the Gladstone Hotel.

The weekly Hump Day Bump is a billed as a Queer Dance Party, but it’s really more about being cool and Queen West that counts. I don’t really see anything overtly (sexually) different than any other trendy bar along Queen.

The Melody Bar (home to great weekend Karaoke) looks great since the upgrades. Cozier yet still gritty, the way it should be. I meet up with a few friends and hang out until closing. The music is quite simple on most evenings, and this was no exception. If you can handle one-hit 80’s lost wonders (lost for a reason) and rock anthems (Quiet Riot) then maybe you’d have some fun. Who knows, you might even pick up…a girl or a boy.

Friday January 27th, I ended up at the Metro Theatre (667 Bloor St W), Toronto’s last remaining place to catch porn flicks on the big screen. Not realizing there were two Theatres, I enter Theatre 2 only to be immediately told “you have to go to Theatre 1”. I know I’m here when I hit the can, read the horned up graffiti, and see the glory hole.

I’m not here for the porn though. It’s my first time inside The Metro and I’m actually here for the North American Premiere of Speed Madness and Flying Saucers, an art movie of sorts. I arrive with a couple cans of brew stashed in my pockets and run into my friend Nadia, who is friends with Patrick, the dude responsible for the night. There are performances beforehand, with many guests flown in from Berlin to give it that edge that Toronto seems to be missing lately. Patrick and Kitty Productions are based in Berlin and the film was shot there, hence the connection.

First thing I notice is that beer and wine are freely available, oh well. The evening was hosted by Krylon Superstar the famous Berlin and New York-based Burlesque star, standing 6’6” with another 12” of fro stacked high above her head. Classified as “post punk dada”, the pre-show entertainment included Trash Boy Brandon Rivard, The Brazen Hussies and Speed Madness Delinquents' Suzana Sucic (better known as High Scorpia), and Mella Ojeda (aka Blitzproject). All in all, just what I needed…a good shot of reality.

The after-party was to be at Lee's Palace for the final night of Vazaleen. I made my way over with my new found friends, only to arrive to see a line up of close to 100 people…at 11:00PM! My little group soon dispersed in different directions, some saying fuck it, others lining up, me in the middle looking lost and confused. I don’t do line ups. I stand, gawk at the 905’ers and Church Street boys in the line up and make my way to the subway. What a let down after such a wicked experience. Maybe I should have gone back to Theatre 1 at The Metro.

Vazaleen was a monthly Queer Rock night that began 7 years ago at the El Mocambo, put on by DJ/Promoter (soon to be bar owner), Will Munro. I had some good times there over the years, catching performances by Jayne County, Lesbians on Ecstasy, The Gossip and the Goddess of Punk, Nina Hagen. There were naked dancers, go-go boys, hot videos, and fun times, but the past two years saw an invasion of the ‘burbs and the coolness soon dissipated, likely the reason for curtain call. There will likely be one-offs around Pride and Halloween, which were always the best ones anyway.

Saturday afternoon January 28th. What to do? Check out Hoedown Saturday Afternoon at the Gladstone Melody Bar, 4pm to 7pm. It’s an odd assortment of old-timers and first-timers. This first of a monthly series happens the last Saturday afternoon of the month. Deejay Daddy-O was playing a collection of old Country & Western tracks on vinyl and new alt-country tunes on CD. It seemed like the mix worked well, and after a few “daytime” priced beverages, country music is just what the doctor ordered to give you the blues. I mingle about meeting some of the people in attendance. Most think it’s great to first off, have a place to go to hear old time country classics, and secondly to drink in the afternoon. I’m all for it. See you on February 25th.

Later that night I make my way over to the funky Wroxter for Suction Saturdaze. Not knowing what to expect but I read that DJ Triple-X was spinning Retro-Electro-Funk-Punk and Junk. It sounded cool. There weren’t many people there when I arrived shortly after 10, but by midnight it was picking up nicely. Great place with the biggest assortment of brews, wine and liquor I’ve seen in a bar in a while, and I practically live in bars. It’s a restaurant by day, and a DIY atmosphere at night with DJ’s, karaoke, and live performances being booked. It’s kind of off the beaten track for the trendoids but well worth the visit. Get your ass over there before it becomes another trendy place to be scene.

As January came to a close, I thought I needed one last reality check. Tuesday the 31st I’m back at the Gladstone again (this place is fun) but this time in the Art Bar for the launch party of Java Knights. Another new monthly put together by the Gay West Community Network and ACT Toronto, happening the last Tuesday of the month 7pm to 9pm. This evening was hosted by none other than Enza Supermodel and there was a demonstration of sorts by Come As You Are. There were plenty of free munchies for the crowd to chow down on, along with coffee (Java-get it) and non-alcoholic refreshments. Don’t panic as the Melody Bar was right on the other side of the wall, so cocktails were not far away.

So I grab a brew and a chair, and chat with a few of the blokes that came out tonight (pun intended). Java Knights is an interactive evening of fun where a topic is given, people break into groups, and go at each other with intelligent conversation. Well, basically. There are some guidelines but it’s about meeting other people and actually conversing in person. Wow, what a concept…no cell phone, text or msn here. Tonight was definitely interactive, but not in a conversational way. The night was dubbed Sex Toys and Supermodels after all. Jill from Come As You Are presented a wide variety of sex devices and guide books to let others know how to pleasure yourself, your partner or everyone, in a much better fashion. The actual conversation format starts with the next meeting, February 28th, same time - same place.

Topics are intended to be chosen on subjects from politics to sex and everything in between, so I’m told. February 1st, and I’m out and about yet again. I grab and friend of mine and head over to the TRADE release party, which wasn’t really a party, at This Ain’t The Rosedale Library Gallery, 483 Church Street. Jon Pressick has been publishing his zine for about 5 years now, all without any funding except deep within his own pockets. With each quarterly issue, he tends to have some sort of gathering with the writers, contributors and other interested folks. First time in this space and I find it a bit claustrophobic, but find myself a spot on the floor, grab a brew and listen to a reading or two. This was followed by a Burlesque performance by Skin Tight Outta Sight. Not as rowdy as other release nights, but all the gals in attendance certainly enjoyed it.

I swing by the Gladdy (we’re on a short-name basis now) again for the Hump Day Bump, meet a couple of (drunk) friends, listen to some bad music, get drunk and head home. Not sure I will be heading back too soon for this night unless they do something about the musical format. I can’t take anymore bad 70’s and 80’s shit tunes.

Thursday the 2nd. It’s Groundhog Day and apparently winter is over but did it ever begin? I’m back at The Drake to see another band, this time it’s We Are Wolves, a high energy trio of Montreal boys that know what they’re doing. Toronto’s Put The Rifle Down opened the night with their own brand of punk-electronica with plenty of sampling going on. A good sound, but lacking in stage presence.

We Are Wolves hit the stage full force with each member sporting an oversized cardboard skeleton head secured to their bodies by way of a wraparound. It wasn’t long before drummer Tony had to ditch his otherwise he would have likely drowned in his own pool of sweat. WOW is one of several art punk bands out there creating interesting noises, DIY style. Duchess Says is another Montreal band making noise (pun intended) on the scene. Beat box, synthesizer and screaming…ah what fun. They are doing a mini tour (Ottawa/Montreal) now, and a full on haul across the states later on, ending up at the “got to be at” South By Southwest Festival down in Austin, March 10th to 19th.

So the show ends, I’m making my way to the exit and run into my friend Alton who tells me Don Letts is “in the house” and going to be spinning a set. For those who don’t know, Mr. Letts was the most influential DJ/Filmmaker extraordinaire that first brought together the two musical cultures of punk and reggae. He hit up the London punk clubs in the late 70’s throwing down a mix of reggae and dub that quickly caught the ears of the punk kids and punk bands, such as The Clash.

I’m proud to say I own his first ever flick, The Punk Rock Movie, raw footage captured during his travels through the UK club scene. He’s still out there producing and just released, Punk: Attitude, showing at Harbourfront this weekend. Review to follow.

He didn’t disappoint the crowd that lingered and those in the know who showed up specifically for this unannounced DJ set. He played all the old classic reggae, dub, and dancehall tunes that he initially spun almost 30 years back. And I danced.

The next night (February 3rd) I’m on Queen Street again, but this time it’s 5 doors west of The Drake, at a trendy little hot spot now known as Lot 16, 1164 Queen. It’s that dude DJ Triple-X at the turntables again playing a bit of everything from pop to punk. The LOT, as it is affectionately known, has a rotating line up of DJ’s on the weekends that attracts a mixed crowd of regulars and the “let’s stop in for one and check this place out” crowd.

The ambience is dark and eclectic, the staff are amazing, and the bar prices are quite reasonable. It’s definitely a late night crowd, so get there by 1:59AM if you want last call.

Saturday night I’m back at Wroxter for Tinkertoy, an electronic duo from TO who are doing a live PA tonight. Just another night at The Wrox, good size crowd, and cheap booze being sponsored in part by Steam Whistle. Not the regular Wroxeter crowd, but then again I don’t really think there is such a thing here…which is not a bad thing at all. Stop by and check out the place one night.

You never know what will be going down.

No comments: