Off the plane, through customs, and into the North I go. It was a short flight, but something about crossing an international border always multiplies the sensation of difference, and in recent years, as an explosion of global culture has erupted from Toronto’s epicenter, the differences are even more noticeable and exciting.
For the past several days and throughout the hours of the flight, I drowned myself in the musical stylings of Canada’s finest. Drake, the Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR – sure, but I find myself more interested and more impressed with the violent, dark, grungy subset of the next generation – the artists those pioneers opened the door for. K. Forest and his versatile, Caribbean undertones, Jazz Cartier and his smooth, high-energy delivery, and Night Lovell – lord of the low-fi underworld. Needless to say, the music has put me in a mood. It’s left me with a different take on my own persona. Beaming with energy and looking for trouble.
I keep my headphones glued to my ears throughout the immigration process and into a cab, taking in the sites of Toronto’s grey outskirts with a soundtrack inspired by the same view. My head confidently, but just barely bobbing the whole way. I take the ride to Etobicoke where I hop on the 501 streetcar. To the outside world, I hope it looks like I know where I’m headed, but on the inside, I’m following a memorized list of directions from a local friend and trying to seem like a local myself. Surely, it’s not working.
A short while later, I see a familiar face, and the look on it says he has something special in store. The day is ending, it’s getting dark, and I could use a drink. Thankfully, he shares the same intention. We head to his place, drop off my bag, and leave straight away.
At a neighborhood liquor store, my friend clutches a four-count of Mickey’s between his fingers. Always a sign of something grandiose in the works.
“What’s the special occasion?” I ask
We walk out the door and take an unexpected turn away from the direction we came. He passes me my 80 ounces, tells me we have a 20-minute walk ahead of us, and takes a head start in the emptying of his first bottle.
This is how all vacations should start.
Pull after pull, block after block, I began to lose track of the sips, the distance, or the time passed, but soon enough, a green glow and a loud eruption of cheers and chants hangs over the next block. Our friendship is deeply rooted in a mutual obsession with music. I should’ve known he was bringing me to a concert.
We halt on the corner, struggle down the last of the Mickey’s, and carry on towards a legendary local venue named The Drake. But as we get closer, the crowd seems to have outgrown the Drake’s bounds. The mass of people is loud, ornery, and lacking a semblance of self-control.
I look at the banner head sign above the venue entrance.
Tonight – Night Lovell
That explains it.
This is exactly the kind of night my weeks of preparation for this trip should be christened with. Wild, violent, purely Canadian. Thank God for those Mickey’s – I couldn’t imagine braving this scene sober. We push our way into the crowd, being some of the lucky few with advance tickets, and wait for the doors to open. The crowd is acting as a single organism, as rowdy crowds always do. Expanding, shrinking, breathing as one messy conglomerate, amped up on the music, the culture, and the liquor of the world’s most explosive underground scene.
Then, unsurprisingly, shit hits the fan. A fight breaks out to our left, to our right. Full-fledged madness all around. We have no choice but to partake in the shoving if we want to stay afoot and failing to do so may as well be a death sentence. But the battle is short lived. Red and blue lights flash all around, as do the pops of gas canisters, and the mass scatters. Small setback.
We stick around near the venue, hoping tonight’s extracurriculars will simply push the opening back an hour or less. But 20 minutes go by and we’re met with devastating news.
Rumors start to circulate the small pockets of fans waiting out the madness.
Everyone’s in legal trouble.
Lovell was arrested for inciting a riot.
All are clearly utter nonsense. Petty gossip. But they have their effect and the remaining pockets of fans thin to a minimal percentage. Including us. We don’t want to believe it and something about the excitement of the show and the drama that followed have us sticking around. Then, a payout.
All of a sudden, we hear the sound of a bullhorn. Drawn to it, expecting further direction from police, we instead see, perched atop an all-black escalade, Night Lovell.
“Find a fuckin’ ride and follow us,” he calmly orders. “And don’t drink and drive.”
There’s no way we’re missing out on this. We have no idea, no expectation of what’s to come, but it’s surely the type of thing that legendary stories are prefaced with. We wave down a small crew hustling to their car in wake of the news and are welcomingly greeted and accepted – only in Canada.
Our car joins a small line behind the black Escalade. As we start moving, the nerves of the situation settle, aided by the consistent passing of joints and friendly conversation from our fellow fans.
“Where do you think we’re going?”
“The Gladstone?” We drive past it.
“Vaughan?” We drive through it.
Then, we leave Toronto altogether and anything considering itself part of the city. We stop guessing and go with the flow. North. Up North. After an hour or more, we finally turn down what most would never consider a promising road. All around us are tall fir trees. The line of cars bounces slowly down an unpaved road and the nerves return.
“Where the fuck are we?” I ask as if the Canadians in the car should recognize these woods.
We pull into a wide clearing and find ourselves parking in a line directly next to Lovell’s SUV. He jumps out of the back seat and pounds on our windows with expected quiet excitement.
His crew, like they’ve done this before, ignites a series of industrial, metal barrels, backs an old, black Mercedes between the light, pops the trunk to display a barrage of absurd speakers meant only for a spontaneous concert, and awaits the crowd to get settled. We’re all chanting, we’re all loud, and none of us can believe this is happening. Bottles, joints, and excited high fives and glances are passed in all directions.
The bullhorn sounds again, and Night Lovell jumps to the roof of the car, long microphone cord draped around him and plugged into the mess of wires in the trunk of the Benz.
“Nothing can stop Lovell”
We all agree. Suddenly, an explosion of bass, louder than any venue could likely produce, shakes the fir trees all around us, but Lovell stays steady atop the Benz, a dark stare of concentration in his eyes.
And with his low mesmerizing voice, he begins.
“Driving through the night on my ones, I’m drifting
Thinking ‘bout you, I can’t even handle this, I’m liftin’”
Well played, Lovell. Well played.