Toronto’s CODA nightclub owner discusses the venue’s imprint across the city ahead of their fifth anniversary party [Interview]
Toronto and its surrounding cities have been privy to top-notch music venues and clubs, affectionately taking on the unofficial role of representing Canada’s music hub. The past ten years have mapped the rise of the dance music bubble across North America, sweeping its way across the nation as music festivals pop-up left and right, and shaping the trajectory of its musical pathway. However some cases have shown that not all can survive this exponential growth rate, bringing forth the infamous phrase known as the “festival graveyard.” Both new and existing events have seen the hardships of creating a viable brand, constantly faced by the threat of booking competitors, budgeting efforts and in some cases, resistance from local municipalities. Megalodon festival and events promoter Live Nation remains prevalent in the majority of Canadian electronic music festivals, making it difficult for other growing promoters and operators to penetrate the market.
Though the festival craze may have peaked, it’s not to forget the pivotal role that concert halls and nightclubs have brought to this era. It’s often recognized that many newcomers flock to music festivals, eager to dip their toes into the fantastical pool of dance music. However, the long-standing fans remain curious enough to delve into the intimate and sanctum heart of the electronic music industry, often characterized by darkening rooms and lesser crowds.
Affluent in nature, Toronto is fortunate to remain home to an abundance of unique and vibrant music venues. Yet some venues excel more than others in instilling their presence amongst a community, and establishing the firm roots needed to become a local hotspot. Deserving of attention in this realm exists CODA Nightclub, a favourite stomping ground located in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. The club has housed a mixture of international and local artists in its years since opening, finding common ground in styles of house, techno and its love-child genre that the city so avidly fiends, amongst a smattering of bookings in neighboring sub-genres.
The past year alone has debuted glorified artists in Toronto’s eyes, accruing weekends of sold-out shows with the likes of Fisher, Nicole Moudaber, and Adriatique. The club’s immense success may appear to be one of sudden nature, however a coalescence of dedication to the venue infrastructure and the prioritization of the attendee experience has set the stepping stones for the establishment’s exponential progress. In the latest of their weekly festivities, CODA is set to celebrate their fifth anniversary with back-to-back nights with electronic music icons Maceo Plex and Carl Craig, acting not only a milestone moment for the nightclub, but an achievement to the variety of artistry to course through Toronto.
In preparation of CODA’s fifth anniversary blowout, Dancing Astronaut caught up with club owner Joel Smye to learn more about the venue’s impact in Toronto’s music scene, and the challenges they have faced to cultivate their reputation.
In what ways does CODA differentiate from surrounding venues in Toronto?
CODA manages to be both a mid-larger size venue and maintain intimacy at once. It’s tough to achieve this. Making 9000 square feet feel comfortable takes some imagination. But with the low ceilings and a few cozy nooks and crannies, we’re able to steer the venue away from the concert hall vibe and maintain our identity as a nightclub.
What sort of soundscape and atmosphere did you initially envision for the club. Has it shifted over the years?
The CODA sound is always evolving. There’s a lot out there to choose from musically and the shows here need to work together in order for them to be successful individually. Too much of any one genre can be repetitive. At 10+ events a month we’re able to have our vision and branch out as well. I never want to be married to any one sound. There’s a lot of great music out there that will never make it to my personal playlist, but it can flip CODA upside down on a given night.
It seems like the venue has mediated a perfect balance between retaining its regular attendees and yet still being inviting enough to lure in newcomers. How have you managed to appease both crowds and maintain the vibe?
Yeah well crowds can be fickle and there’s no formula to achieve that. We just try to be diverse enough that things don’t get stale, but also without drifting too far outside of our lane. It’s about supporting the past, present and future of the scene. Everything is good in the right balance.
One of the significant features that people attribute to CODA is the outstanding sound system. Last year, there was word of CODA 2.0 underway. Can you provide some more detail on this project and what it entailed?
The original sound layout never really got the system to reach its full potential. So, we decided to make the move and complete the renovations necessary to make the room a 4 corner stack layout. It’s improved the room even more than expected.
What have you and your team found to be the biggest challenges in evolving and strengthening the establishment?
It’s just always a work in progress. We’re constantly working on improvements not just for maintenance but to keep the room evolving for our regulars. The good news is that Steph and I get bored easily so we’re usually working on changes for our own needs which keep the room changing before customers realize what’s happened or why it was necessary. We need to satisfy ourselves as much as or even more than the customers.
In addition to managing the nightclub, you’re also a key player in Toronto’s Electric Island series, which has become a trademark event of the summer season. Are there any specific goals or changes in mind for the 2019 edition?
Of course :) But you’ll have to wait…
Photo credit: Alec Donnell Luna of Ded Agency