With the Death of Toronto's Big Bop, Rock Pile Keeps All-Ages Tradition Alive and Kicking

With the Death of Toronto's Big Bop, Rock Pile Keeps All-Ages Tradition Alive and Kicking
When the Big Bop Concert Hall announced it was closing its doors forever at the end of January, an outpouring of grief came from Toronto's music community, even prompting some fans to hold candlelight vigils. The iconic, three-storey, purple-coloured building on the corner of Queen and Bathurst streets - home to Toronto venues the Kathedral, Reverb and Holy Joe's - was a staple to the local music scene.

Some of Canada's best-known acts, such as Alexisonfire and Billy Talent started out at the Bop before being propelled into stardom. As one of the few concert halls that put on regular all-ages shows, the Bop was the place for young musicians to develop their craft and for teens to attend concerts. Although the building has been declared a historic site, it was recently announced that furniture store CB2 will be its new tenants.

Since the Bop's closure, Dominic Tassielli, who owned the hall from 1996 to 2005 and stayed on as manager after selling the place, has packed up shop, along with six other former Bop staffers, and moved out west to Toronto suburb Etobicoke to open a fully licensed all-ages venue dubbed the Rockpile (5555 Dundas St. W), which is celebrating its grand opening this Saturday (April 10). Headlining the show is a slew of new, young local Toronto rock and metal bands, including Closed for Tonight, Futures Past  and Glass AMPP.  

Named after the legendary Rock Pile that was housed in the Masonic Temple at Yonge and Davenport (which is now inhabited by MTV Canada) where legends like Led Zeppelin played in the 1960s, Tassielli is hoping that his new venture will become the same type of community-gathering place the Bop was.

"I definitely did not want to bring the name the Big Bop from Queen and Bathurst over here because I really believe the name the Big Bop stays at Queen and Bathurst," says Tassielli in an Exclaim! interview.

With a new name in tow, the Rockpile is a very different venue than the Bop, which was known for its lack of interior décor and grime-like aesthetic with stain-ridden couches. Structurally, the Rockpile looks remarkably similar to a Pizza Hut. Its interior has a sleek black and white prison-theme design, with a patio, large stage and floor area that has a capacity of 350 people. From the looks of it, you'd never guess that the building was originally an Italian nightclub back in the day.

"For us to get the bands from downtown to the west end, we really have to make it good for them," Tassielli says.

Tassielli goes on to explain that he's not worried about being so far out of the downtown core because many of the teens going to Bop shows were already from the Etobicoke area. What's new for the venue, however, is its parent's room - a sound-proofed area equipped with TVs for parents to hangout in while their kids rock out. "We're making this more family friendly," Tassielli says.

Although the Rockpile is in the middle of suburbia - with an abandoned Wal-Mart on one side and a Sobeys grocery store on the other - it's going to be an oasis for metalheads says co-owner Jake Disman, who was also a sound technician at the Bop for 13 years.

"There's going to be lots and lots of metal here, tons of hardcore here," he says, noting that the Rockpile will be almost exclusively catering to bands of those genres.

Some of the act they've already booked include glam metal band L.A. Guns, Hamilton, ON metal darlings Threat Signal and Montreal death metal band the Agonist.

Disman and Tassielli have high hopes for the Rockpile, but even so, they say that in the next five to seven years the entire area will be demolished and made into condos, delivering yet another blow to Toronto's all-ages music scene.

But Mark Pezzalatto, ex-drummer of the now defunct ska punk band the Heatskores, thinks underage bands shouldn't solely rely on venues to play shows - they need to get creative.

"We would play anywhere. Most of the places we played were not bars," Pezzalatto says. "We even played a martial arts studio, in portables and Rec Halls. So many places that you wouldn't even think of putting a band in there we would play it never mattered."

The Heatskores reunited to play the Bop's closing party to tear up the hall's dance floor one last time. "The place erupted - it was just an awesome feeling being up there and playing to that crowd and knowing this would be the last time there was something like this," Pezzalatto recalls.

This is the same atmosphere Disman is hoping to create at the Rockpile, to give underage kids a chance to really experience live music. "If someone doesn't do it then people are missing out on the opportunity of having some place where these kids can nurture new talent," he says. "It has to happen somewhere."

To book a show at the Rock Pile, call 416-504-6699.