When it comes to talking about Toronto’s D.I.Y. music scene in the last five years, no conversation is complete without mentioning Odonis Odonis. After living in Vancouver, Dean Tzenos recruited bassist Denholm Whale and drummer Jarod Gibson, and the “industrial surf-gaze” trio quickly built a reputation for being one of the city’s best live acts. Whether they’re playing non-traditional rooms like CineCycle (a bike repair shop slash underground cinema slash event space) and Soybomb (a house with a makeshift stage on-top of a skate ramp) or opening for acts including A Place To Bury Strangers, Fucked Up, and Mogwai at more conventional venues, they’ve become known for putting on cacophonous sets with psychedelic visuals that leave attendees with ringing ears long after the final notes. They were able to successfully channel that energy into their 2011 debut album Hollandaze, which lead to opening for fellow Torontonians Metz on the band’s North American tour.
“We really got to play to a lot of people who hadn’t heard of us before,” says Tzenos over the phone from New York, where Odonis Odonis is kicking off a solo U.S. tour. “We didn’t really make a splash in the U.S. until the last couple of campaigns and this one really seems to be blowing the doors off for us.”
He’s referring to Hard Boiled Soft Boiled, the band’s new record, which almost didn’t see the light of day. “Originally it was supposed to come out after Hollandaze,” says the frontman. “These songs were recorded around that time, but we kind of shelved it, and then brought it out of the dirt to reflect what the band is now.”
Tracks range from the blistering noise stomp of “Order In The Court” — which received a video featuring twisted animations of Hieronymus Bosch paintings courtesy of Tzenos’ art school friend Lee Stringle (“He showed it to me and I was like “What the fuck, you made this?” because he’s never made a music video before”) — to the melodic shoegaze of “Highnote”. Then there’s “Are We Friends”, the pounding, industrial-influenced song that’s become a staple of the trio’s live set.
Hard Boiled Soft Boiled was released on Toronto’s Buzz Records, which is the label Tzenos co-owns with Ian Chai founded in 2011 at the now defunct Buzz Garage. “It’s completely snowballed into something none of us expected,” he says. “At the beginning it was kind of out of necessity. It’s been awesome to bring all our friends along with us and push other people’s bands that don’t really know how the system works because we had to learn the hard way.” Right now, there’s only a handful of bands on their roster, but 2014 releases from acts including The Beverlys, Greys, and Weaves have received attention from audiences and publications outside city (and country) limits.
Besides helping manage the fledging label, he also helped produce sludge-punk group HSY’s debut EP. Whale occasionally trades in his bass for drums with noise-pop trio Mexican Slang and Gibson plays in THIGHS. “We have an open mind if anybody wants to work with us,” says Tzenos. “Everybody’s going to benefit from it and not just us and that’s always been the mentality.”
This desire to collaborate with similarly-minded individuals and groups also recently lead to Odonis Odonis contributing their appropriately pulverizing version of Nirvana’s “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” to an In Utero tribute album, curated by Canadian label Hand Drawn Dracula and members of Toronto bands The Wooden Sky and Greys.
While he was initially skeptical of the project, Tzenos says, “I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It unified a lot of different communities, there’s up-and-coming bands from basically every label on there and everybody put in a really solid effort.” He feels the city’s segregated cliques are starting to break down and that’s a positive for everyone.
“There’s enough room for everybody to do well. I feel that everybody should be pumping each other up, when Toronto is on the map, every band kind of goes with it.”
Max Mertens is a Toronto #based writer. He's on Twitter.
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