From the smouldering remains of Kinetik sprung Aftermath, Toronto’s leading dark electronic music festival. Between August 27 to the 30th Darker Side of Light Productions bring you no less than 24 amazing acts from around the world.
I can only hope Aftermath will likewise bring an influx of dyed & pierced weirdos into my city. I love you guys as much as I love Toronto, and I want you to have a blast during your stay.
So this one is for you, black-clad migratory droves:
Toronto is a wicked city
You’ll probably hear your fair share of drunken mourning over the lost virility of our alternative scene; I’ve heard that in every single city I’ve visited and really dislike that brand of self-deprecating bullshit.
Consider this a weird-kid tourist guide: Wikitravel Toronto the Goth Edition.
Here’s something I wish every city had: a collection of neat stuff to do and see around town, catered for the alternative demographic, in a universal geotagged platform you can access on your phone.
The neighbourhoods are labelled to help you get your bearings. Every restaurant and store mentioned in this article is also starred on the map.
Of course, it’s a highly subjective list of venues and hangouts.
To simplify things, I’ve broken this down into three areas of interest for the most persnickety of alternative explorers. You’ll see the downtown stretch of Yonge Street, Queen Street West and Kensington Market.
Yonge Street is the principal artery of the city, running all the way from the downtown Lakeshore to ..another lakeshore up in the middle-of-nowhere-Ontario.
The Subway line runs in a large U shape through the major intersections across Yonge and University Avenue. The streets crossing Yonge to the east and west have streetcar lines reaching to the outer limits of the downtown core.
Phoenix concert venue is slightly to the east of Yonge, cutting through The Village. If the rainbow crosswalks don’t clue you in, this is the LGBTQ enclave of Toronto and a cool neighbourhood to hang around in.
Yonge Street is the main route for every Parade, march, celebration and cultural fest that happens in Toronto; it’s babylonian on any given weekend. The walk from Bloor to the lakeshore takes about an hour.
If you’re of the geekier-persuasion, between Bloor Street and Dundas along Yonge, you can find a few neat antique book stores. 401 Games, Hairy Tarantula and Silver Snail have awesome collections of comics, action figures, games and RPG books. Audiophiles can rejoice at Saved by Technology, the MIDI mecca surreptitiously tucked away in a back alley.
Yonge and Dundas is Toronto’s first pedestrian scramble, a big clusterf*ck of noises, smells and sights.
Garbage can drummers, dancers, jugglers, mimes, our own home-grown rambling-preacher-dude: those are just regular weekday morning appearances.
On the weekend of Aftermath, Dundas Square will be hosting the Toronto International Buskerfest for Epilepsy.
The lower section of Yonge Street cuts through the Financial District. It may not be the most exciting sounding destination, but I love the imposing steel towers faced with millions of glass panels. After a decade living here, I still walk with my neck craned upwards like a tourist and get a benign vertigo strolling through this dense core.
You’ll spot the CN Tower from miles away and it really doesn’t get much more interesting from up close; it’s just really freakin’ tall. It now also lights up at night.
The whole adjacent area is like wayfarer flypaper, a convoluted mass of sight-seers, families and sports fans.
Ripley’s Aquarium is worth checking out if you make it early on a weekday; during the weekend, there’s a 10 mile queue of screaming whelps and tourists armed with DSLRs.
Across the street you’ll see the historic John Street Roundhouse marked by a huge steam locomotive from the 1920s.
Yonge Street bypasses the CN Tower mess and spills into the recently renovated Queens Quay. Toronto’s waterfront is a bustling tourist artery; there are all sorts of outdoor festivals and open markets along the boardwalk.
You’ll get a beautiful panoramic view of the downtown core from the ferry, a wonderful break from the heat and sound pollution of the city. Take the boat to Hanlan’s Point: it’s a friendly clothing-optional beach where zero f*cks are transacted daily.
Queen Street West
One of the bastions of youth culture in Toronto, Queen Street West is long disputed territory, a liminal space where counter-culture clashes with the mainstream.
Its demographic and façades have changed much over the years, but invariably, every generation of local spooky kid will tell a story of its influence.
It hosts the iconic former Much Music building, now CTV, a place whose spirit is aptly characterized by the trashed truck sticking out of the east wall, forty feet up in the air.
Tucked away slightly to the north of Much Music on McCaul Street you’ll find the Sharp Centre for Design of OCAD University, colloquially known as the “WTF Box”. You can browse alumni art displayed throughout the hallways.
Just up the street from OCAD is the Art Gallery of Ontario. They currently have an exhibit called Camera Atomica featuring over 200 photographs of nuclear explosions. If you’re into history, art, art history and/or world domination, you’ll wanna check this out.
Right after McCaul on Queen, you will find Black Market a great place for all sorts of vintage finds, cool printed tees, vinyl and rare CD finds. Malabar is also in the immediate vicinity, the premier downtown store for costume, theatrical props and stage makeup.
Westward, on the north side of the street are a few small jewelry vendors with all sorts of beautiful silver rings and pendants. Some of my favourite hardware over the years came from these guys. On the south side, at basement level is Borderline Plus, one of the last surviving alternative shops in the intersection.
The Queen and Spadina intersection is your go to place for audio gear. Within a couple blocks radius you will find Steve’s Music Store and MOOG Audio. Folks in both the shops are very friendly and helpful if you’re in an immediate need for the festival or just want to drool over synths.
For shits and giggles, you should also check out Active Surplus – weird doesn’t even begin to describe this place. It’s a shop torn right out of the Fallout video game series: plastic doll limbs, next to transistors, next to rotary phones.
Once you’re at Queen and Spadina, duck into the alley that runs parallel to Queen, immediately south.
This is Toronto’s well-known graffiti alley – every summer the good folk of Style in Progress add new murals to the collection. It is one of the most photographed backstreets in the city. Once you see it, you’ll start recognizing it in Canadian music videos, movies and about a billion photoshoot backdrops.
By now you’re probably hungry; luckily every other doorstep on Queen is a food joint.
Burger’s Priest lives in the former home of Siren, a long-standing goth apparel store. I resented them for the takeover at first, but the confessional theme they have going on inside is hilarious, they make a goddamn good cheeseburger and their fries are perfectly seasoned and crispy.
Sushi Xtra just next to Steve’s Music Store is also a regular hang: delicious, à la carte menu with happy-hour-half-off for lunch on the weekend.
Spadina Avenue north of Queen contains Toronto’s Chinatown, one of the largest enclaves of its kind in North America. During the weekend it is a bustling trade centre, exotic fruit and wares spilling out onto the sidewalks.
I love this slice of city because of its surreal medley of old and new. Prominent dragons mark streetcar stops and landmark buildings, at odds with modern murals and graffiti.
Dragon City mall is a peculiar assortment of toys, fashions and electronics, filled with the intoxicating aroma of fresh egg waffles. If you dig manga and model kits, AnimeXtreme across the street is going to blow your mind!
Chinatown is full of amazing restaurants, many open late to accommodate the throngs of last call revellers. You can score some wicked dim sum, all sorts of baked goods and traditional teas around the Spadina strip.
If you’re looking for a main course, Swatow is without a doubt the best food you’ll find in the whole neighbourhood. Their wonton soup broke my mind when I first tried it. Every dish I’ve had there is insanely delicious and their walls bear decades of news archives extolling the restaurant’s virtues.
This is the main reason you should shake off the hangover and crawl out of bed between the nights of Aftermath.
Right next to Chinatown, this little Victorian neighbourhood is a partially outdoor market full of vibrant culture. You’re bound to see every kind of hippie-raver-goth-punk-spectrum archetype mingling on these streets.
Kensington Market is a friendly and colourful place, full of awesome things to do during the whole week.
It’s also where you’ll find Bazaar of the Bizarre‘s special Aftermath edition.
You guys are in for a treat: every incarnation of the Bazaar features wonderful local artists, designers and performers. Hosted by Plastik Wrap at Round Venue, it’s a collection of cute and morbid creations, alternative fashion and accessories, art prints and plush toys.
Further north on Augusta Avenue, Blue Banana also has dozens of small booths filled with unique gifts. Here you’ll find everything from sarcastic birthday cards, to Gigeresque metal models and crochet Grumpy Cat toys.
On Sunday August 30th Kensington Market is closed to car traffic for one of six yearly occasions: Pedestrian Sundays.
Giant, fuzzy 20-sided dice, improv comedy, jugglers and fire spinners, human Tetris, stilt-walk-a-thons, street food galore – those are just a few of the things I’ve seen in the Market during Pedestrian Sundays over the years.
Every one of these events is boisterous and memorable. If you can hang around for the aftermath of Aftermath, you won’t want to miss this!
I thought of doing an honourable mentions section, but it would be longer than the whole article. There’s so much to see and do in Toronto. All I can tell you is walk this city: you won’t be disappointed.
The peeps of BlogTO and NOW Magazine have their finger on the pulse; they can tell you all about local happenings if you want to research more. For current events, there’s a friendly Toronto Goth Facebook Group full of happenings around town.
You should also check out Vik Pahwa’s blog for a photo tour of architectural landmarks in the city; Vik is a veteran Toronto photographer and he graciously allowed me to use some of his stunning images in this article.
I love this city and I’m really excited to welcome all sorts of visiting spooky kids into my home.
Get in touch and I’ll be happy to share much more!