Queens of the Stone Age and Metallica have partied here. Bill Murray showed up one day and started pouring drinks. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, U2, Tommy Lee, Eagles of Death Metal, Rage Against the Machine, Billy Talent, Ice-T, and Foo Fighters have all graced the Bovine Sex Club’s stage. When the venue is not hosting a world-famous act, it’s usually hosting a local band that will go on to achieve national renown - such as Toronto’s Diemonds or Hamilton’s Sumo Cyco. Acts like Cancer Bats, Monster Truck, and Alexisonfire played the BSC as teenagers, and in true Beatles fashion, they had to leave the bar when they weren’t on stage, as they were underage at the time. Need we say more? This Queen West-area venue has, since opening in 1991, cultivated its own mythos.
This 200-person capacity club - complete with 30-person rooftop patio - began as a DJ/EDM club, but after three years of requests from artists who wanted to utilize the Bovine’s stage to play live music, the club began hosting gigs, and from then on began making its transition to the iconic venue it would eventually become. Queen West is home to some of Toronto’s most popular venues (such as Rivoli and Velvet Underground) so the fact that the Bovine Sex Club manages to attract international mega-stars of stage and screen, and has remained as popular as ever in the Toronto music community, is testament to the fact that the venue genuinely stands out in its field.
This club is able to stand out for a number of reasons: first, there’s the aesthetic. Channeling a “nifty dada look” (bovinesexclub.com), the readymade decor refers to Duchampian art. Local artists collaborate on the club’s appearance and style: for example, the assemblage of what is essentially scrap metal was conceptualized by once-co-owner Wesley Thuro, and was put together by Great Bob Scott (drummer for The Look People) and Toronto visual artist Dave Grieveson. The latter two also are responsible for what current owner Darryl Fine refers to as “the first layer of junk inside The Bovine” (StoriesBehindTheSongs.ca). Fine encourages this collaboration, for part of his operational philosophy is, “It’s the shit on the walls they remember.”
The second reason the Bovine Sex Club still remains popular is due to its ability to be as much of a chameleon as David Bowie. Its genre is deliberately vague, for despite an overall punk or metal feel, the club hosts an eclectic array of musical styles. The venue’s webpage states that the bands they book play “a mix of cutting edge rock, retro 80's, punk, glam, metal, 70's funk, and British pop.” The ability to adapt and change is crucial for any venue looking to keep their tenure in any community. As Fine puts it, “You have to keep moving on from one crowd or you die … It’s a bit of a survival game” (2016).
The Bovine Sex Club also hosts a wide array of events: “During the film festival,” says Fine, “we become part of TIFF … some of the nights it’s the Swiss International Film Festival party in the middle of a punk bar and we’re playing house music and disco and we have a bottom-lit dance floor in the middle of the stage where the bands play.” Fine also describes “great film parties here with John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, Mickey Rourke, Nick Nolte, Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy… You know, they like The Bovine for the same reason – they can let down their hair” (2016).
The Toronto bands that began playing at the Bovine, who still view it as their “home venue,” appreciate the joint as much as the fans. Daniel Dekay, guitarist for Diemonds, says “We’re into big production and The Bovine is so much more than just a venue or just a stage with a PA. It is an aesthetic. It is a production … They get us and we get them … There’s a big subwoofer at the front of the stage, I climb over the railing and I play guitar into the crowd – it’s a thing you can only do at The Bovine” (2016).