This is the story of a little house in a medium sized city that did some big things for the Southern Ontario punk scene. The "do it yourself" ethos has always been a big part of punk music. In the beginning, it was a matter of necessity; no one took the genre seriously so there was no other option than making your own recordings then promoting and throwing your own shows. Although that’s clearly changed and punk has seen quite a bit of mainstream success, the DIY attitude has survived, keeping the punk scene one of the most vibrant and hardy out there.
However, outside of major Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal, Canadian locales seem to have trouble sustaining their own punk scenes. Promising bands have to leave to improve their fortunes while the purveyors of DIY/small commercial venues that support fringe music move on to do something that will actually make them money.
London, Ontario seems always birth music scenes that collapse on themselves just as they’re about to peak, often taking the venues involved with them. The spectacularly grimy Embassy Nightclub was the early stomping ground for many of the metal and punk bands that began building hype in the mid-2000s like Baptized in Blood, Shotgun Rules and Seconds to Go, is now long gone. Years before they began the global tear they’re currently on, you could catch Single Mothers at a pop up show in a downtown loft. That, too, is now a rare occurrence—likely due to the aforementioned fact of the hungriest, most scrappy bands moving on. And though Call The Office, a Canadian institution that’s hosted everyone from Green Day to Blink-182 still puts on sick shows, it can’t host every band coming through town—especially the smaller ones that may be heavy on potential but light on draw. Enter The Dude Ranch.
Though it existed for less than two years, The Dude Ranch added a unique spark to the Southwest Ontario underground music scene. Its inconspicuous beginning was planned to be more of a one-off deal than a venue’s debut. Dustin Andrew’s out-of-town buddies asked the London punk musician if he could help secure them a show in the city. When he was unable to find a venue, he took matters into his own hands. After getting the okay from his roommates, he cleaned out the basement his band had been using for rehearsal purposes and sent out the word that there would be a show there that weekend. Come show night, a bunch of kids showed up, nothing blew up, and the cops were nowhere to be seen. Everybody left saying that the house’s tenants should make a habit of throwing these shows. To which Dustin and his roommates said: “Well, why the fuck not?”
The combination of The Dude Ranch and the guys that moved into it was just one of those serendipitous things. The basement is just the right size and shape to throw a small show. Perfectly square area with clear sight lines for the audience, a couple nooks and crannies to listen without the crush of the crowd - hell, there’s even a perfect side stage area to facilitate quick changeovers/groupie worship). Located towards the edge of town, the house has a massive backyard that’s hosted plenty of bonfires and sufficiently separated the basement from their lone neighbor. In its two years of existence, not a single cop has shown up due to a noise complaint.
Word spread pretty quickly that The Dude Ranch was becoming a legitimate venue. This became the MO: an out of town band needs a place to play. They would headline while local bands would fill up the rest of the bill. The local bands would gladly play for nothing or next to it (though the good vibes would usually result in a pitcher full of tips) and 100% of the pay-what-you-can door donation went to the touring groups. They’d rage with the local kids into the wee hours of the morning, crash in the living room, and then head to their next stop later that same day.
By the spring of 2012, there’d been some serious bangers at the house, with kids coming in from hours away to attend. Some of the more notable headliners included Cali punks Nothington and Cobra Skulls as well as Toronto based stalwarts like Junior Battles and Flatliners lead singer Chris Cresswell. Maybe the biggest indicator that the Dude Ranch was getting it right, though, was a visit by DIY legends Bomb The Music Industry! out of New York. While all this was going on, they explored the charity side of being a non-profit operation, and have raised over $10,000 for prostate cancer research through their shows.
But with another lease ending, the majority of the guys decided it was time to move on. They threw a hell of a goodbye show featuring Sudbury’s Statues and popular Niagara region band The Snips and it seemed that was that, with the Dude Ranch name living on in shows Andrews promotes at Call The Office. When the last remaining resident announced he’d be leaving the house this summer, it was decided The Dude Ranch had to have one last hurrah.
Somehow, they managed to stack seven bands into the lineup and somehow managed to pull it off without a hitch. There was some real circle-of-life vibes going on as well. It was the first time many had seen Andrews, Al-B and housemate Kyle’s new band Snacks?. Newfies Brutal Youth were the first signing to Andrews’ label Get Party Records, which he was able to start through contacts he made at The ‘Ranch. The doom band Traumahawk, who blew minds by somehow being as melodic as they were heavy, harbours a lead guitarist that was in Baptized in Blood’s earliest incarnation. To cap it all off, the show was headlined by spastic hardcore punks Wasted Potential.
Good things seem to be happening in London’s music scene. While younger musicians create some promising music, guys who were ready to pack it up and waste away in a cubicle are putting bands together again. Good bands. As long time promoters like Brandon Eedy (Summercamp Productions) throw concerts in London that rival the big clubs in TO, the new guys on the block seem to be inspired to organize the sickest small shows possible. Initiatives like London Indie Underground are thriving and actually being supported. Now, don’t get me wrong. These successes are happening because of a ton of hard work on the part of the people behind them - The Dude Ranch is pre-dated by many of them and certainly didn’t cause their success. But anyone that’s attended a show there can tell you; seeing it grow in front of our eyes reminded us all that if you get off your ass and believe in what you’re doing, you can create anything you want. The house was a small part of a greater whole. To some people, though, it was everything.
Richard Howard has moved to Toronto and wants you to find him a new basement to kick it at - @JamieDayGlo