Playlist: The 20 best bands in Toronto, according to Jon Maki from Sonic Boom

Some may argue that Toronto is New York’s boring little sister, but Jon Maki thinks otherwise. With the playlist he’s curated for us, the staff member at Sonic Boom Records shows that his city possesses the musical quality of any other major city. Listen to his eclectic selection of tracks from Torontonian bands and dive into Toronto’s booming music scene.

Although it’s the fourth largest city in North America, people often underestimate Toronto. According to Jon – music buyer for the largest independent record store in Canada, Sonic Boom – the city is highly multicultural and the inability or lack of need to escape drives creativity and creates community. The summers are short and the winters can be quite long, so people do whatever they can to get through those long months and, for a lot them, what else are you going to do but create music? “There isn’t just one definable scene, although there is a lot of cross-pollination amongst its creators, which enables genres and scenes within various sub-genres and sub-scenes. There is something for everyone on any given night or day in dive bars, music halls, jazz clubs, living rooms and dingy basements,” he adds.

1. Fake Palms

Jon: Fake Palms just might be the loudest pop band in Toronto. “The guitars are abrasive, the drums and bass are big and distorted, but at the end of the day we’re trying to make music that you can hum along to.” 

2. New Fries

Jon: What started out as a jangly non-conformist No Wave experiment has slowly molded into a rhythmic firecracker and one of Toronto’s best live acts.

3. Dilly Dally

Jon: Yes, they wear their influences tightly on their sleeve and you could reduce them to a slacker Pixies, but that wouldn’t really do them justice. Then again, what’s wrong with everything you liked about that era of the 90’s?

4. Grounders

Jon: Dreamy, reverb-drenched pop alongside layers of wobbly arpeggiated synth lines and space-age guitar melodies.

5. Fresh Snow

Jon: They may play primarily instrumental music, but just don’t call them post-rock.

6. Absolutely Free

Jon: They share the same name as a Frank Zappa album, but they’re not exactly Mothers Of Invention, aside from maybe odd time signatures and calculated execution. Think more of an interchanging glacial space place and you might find what you’re looking for.   

7. Anamai

Jon: Members of HSY and Egyptrixx (2 other Toronto bands/artists worth mentioning) that create dark ethereal folk dreamscapes.

8. Jennifer Castle

Jon: Adult lullabies sweetly filtered through bygone folk traditions with an eye for modern commentary and enduring wisdom. A hometown and staff favourite.

9. Eucalyptus

Jon: A tropical jazz, calypso ensemble consisting of members of the Tranzac community, which is a hub for Toronto’s free-improvisation scene.

10. U.S. Girls

Jon: U.S. born and Toronto based, Meg Remy, channels Motown and 60’s girl groups through an improvised electronic, noise pop, basement hip hop marriage of sound.   

11. Zones

Jon: Space, echo, warble, washed out guitar, floating vocals, more warble and repeat. All the required amounts, of course.

12. Mimico

Jon: Dark industrial synths and drum machines served over pounding drums, soaring guitar and mountainous vocal reverb. Delicious.

13. Carl Didur

Jon: He insists he’s “making pop music”.

14. Man Made Hill

Jon: Toronto renaissance man who wears his hat in many forms. Impossible to pin down, yet impossible to pass up on anything that he touches. Part horror soundtrack, mutant disco, new wave, electro pop, dumpster funk and names of things that haven’t been invented yet.   

15. Harrison

Jon: DJ and producer reinventing the heavy bassline electro-funk of the late 70’s and 80’s featuring one of Toronto’s best kept hip hop secrets Clairmont The Second.

16. Above Top Secret

Jon: Real talk. Real hip hop. Big time production and lyrical flow speaking out about real issues in Canada and the world today. Combine the same galactic soul and hip hop spectrum as contemporaries Shabazz Palaces et THEEsatisfaction.

17. Keita Juma

Jon: Equal parts southern underground hip hop and dark sonic beatscapes, Keita Juma is quickly rising to the top of the Toronto hip hop scene and no, he sounds nothing like Drake.

18. Teenanger
Jon: Snarling punk influenced rock that wouldn’t be out of place in 70’s Detroit alongside The Stooges and MC5, or early era Gories.

19. VCR

Jon: No BS Punk. Disclaimer: “VCR is not for hippies or adults”.

20. Soupcans

Jon: Soupcans “run the spectrum from impenetrable downtempo filth-jams to high velocity speed-punk. With tunes corrosive enough to peel the paint off your walls, smash out your windows and fuck-up your plumbing”.

Discover Toronto with our city guide Indie Guides Toronto.