By Kirsten Svitich
There’s a show tonight. The lights are dim and music is bumping through the speakers as people file onto the dance floor. The air is buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Behind the curtain the crew is hard at work preparing for the performance to hopefully go off without a hitch. Technicians and stage hands are in their positions, ready to go.
The countdown starts in their headsets: “Ready in five…four…three…two… showtime.” The opening chord blasts through the speakers. The crowd erupts in cheers as the spotlight flashes on the stage to illuminate the band. It’s the beginning of an unforgettable evening. But for the crew, this is just another night of work at the Mod Club.
On a street corner in the area of Toronto known as “Little Italy” stands a square, brick building like many others along the road. If it wasn’t for the small sign above the door boasting “Mod Club Theatre” there would be no way to tell this is one of Toronto’s most well-known and beloved music venues.
Or at least it was.
On Nov. 6, 2020 the owner announced the Mod Club would be closing its doors after 18 years.
The Mod Club was an important piece of Toronto’s social scene. Not only was it a place for young artists to break into the industry, it was also one of the only medium sized venues that could accommodate different types of acts and performances. It also served as a dance club which brought together like-minded people and created life-long connections.
This is especially true for one die-hard fan of the club, Lisa Trepanier. She frequented the club almost every weekend with her sister who lived just down the street. For her, the Mod Club is more than just fond memories of dancing and partying on a Saturday night, it is a part of her life story.
“I was going out to celebrate a friend’s birthday and it was supposed to be just a girl’s night,” Trepanier giggles as she recalls the events of the evening back in 2005. “Instead, I ended up meeting my husband,” she laughed. “And here we are 13 years later with two lovely children”.
The Mod Club began its life as a 60’s themed dance club in a different location known as the Lava Lounge on Wednesday nights. Mark Holmes, frontman of Toronto-based band Platinum Blonde, and Bobbi Guy thought up the idea on a plane ride from the UK to Toronto.
“I watched a lot of older films growing up and one that stuck with me was a spoof of Casino Royal and I took a lot of inspiration from that and wanted to bring it to a club atmosphere,” said Holmes at the beginning of a lengthy phone interview. “I didn’t just want to go and spin records, that wasn’t good enough. I wanted to make the inside of that place look like you’d just walked back in time,” he said.
“I loved the way people dressed in the 60’s. The bands Blur and Oasis were really big at the time and they had a lot of 60’s influence so I knew there was a fan base for it,” he said. And apparently there was. Mod Club packed the Lava Lounge from 1999-2001 where it moved to a new location named Revival and eventually landed at 722 College Street where it stayed from 2002-2020.
“Being a musician I knew how important it was to have lights and video and good production because it was exciting,” said Holmes. “I wanted it to be a friendly place where people didn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.”
This attention to detail never wavered throughout the years. Allyssa Rawes, a former technical director for the Mod Club, said before its closure the building had a great reputation.
“It was such a staple venue in the city,” said Rawes. “It was one of the only medium sized venues that could accommodate both touring acts as well as new artists.”
Rawes explained the Mod Club typically supported a crowd of about 600 people. For touring bands coming through it was almost guaranteed to sell out and for newer artists trying to gain a following it could easily look packed. The club also had a high production value, meaning the technical aspects of the show, such as the lights, monitors, and sound were extremely good quality. This made the shows look and sound professional.
The high quality of production paired with a decent capacity made the Mod Club a stepping-stone venue for artists trying to break into the industry.
Kiana Jami, known in the music scene by her stage name KIANA, is an R&B artist from Toronto. She says playing at the Mod Club was like nothing else she had ever experienced.
“When I walked out on stage the lights were so bright I could barely make out the faces of the people standing in the front row,” she recalls.
“It was the biggest point in my career so far and after that performance I just remember thinking ‘I could do this for the rest of my life’,” she said.
The Mod Club was known for giving Toronto stars their first major breakout performances. Artists such as Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Jessie Reyez performed at the Mod Club in the early days of their careers. One of the most famous artists in the music industry right now, The Weeknd, got his start on the Mod Club stage back in 2011.
However, the Mod Club wasn’t the only music venue in the city that contributed to Toronto’s famous music scene and sadly, it also wasn’t the only one to recently shut down.
A recent study conducted by the Canadian Live Music Association in collaboration with the City of Toronto revealed at least 11 core music venues in the city have permanently closed in the past year. 11 buildings all with their own stories, just as intricate as the Mod Club’s, will be gone. But that doesn’t mean the legacy can’t live on.
“The Mod Club wasn’t just a place, it was almost a philosophy,” said Holmes. “It was about being part of a collective and it was something that gave people a reason to go out and dress up and just connect.”