Boasting an online radio station, live music, and the occasional karaoke jam, Oakwood Village’s newest bar aims to be a one-stop-shopping destination for indie rock.
Alan Sochan is standing behind the slick silver bar at The Independent (317A Oakwood), his just-opened venue/restaurant on Oakwood Avenue, north of St. Clair. With bright red walls adorned with cartoonish music-related art, and quaint little tables and chairs, The Independent, intended as a one-stop shop for Canadian music, was initially slated to open last fall. Red tape, sudden staff changes, and various other unforeseen hurdles resulted in several false starts, but a few weeks ago, the paper-covered windows were finally exposed and The Independent opened its doors with theme nights (karaoke, ladies night, release parties). With an official launch planned for Canada Day, Sochan is one stop closer to realizing his vision.
The Independent is just the latest of Sochan’s many music business ventures—he’s the founder of online indie radio station Indie Love Radio as well as the CEO of Canada-wide karaoke company Skylight Events. As an extension of both Indie Love and his karaoke biz, he hopes The Independent will be the crowning glory. Months ago, however, things weren’t looking so promising. “Opening a bar in Toronto has its challenges,” confirms Sochan, who stuck to his guns and let the frustration serve as inspiration. “We developed a concept, and built regulars with tons of private parties. It made us look at the bar on a per night perspective, which was very helpful,” says Sochan.
The Oklahoma-born, Saskatoon-raised Sochan had been building his karaoke empire for a few years in Toronto when he had the idea to introduce an online radio station that played solely Canadian content, complete with live interviews and performances. “I found it ridiculous that local music, regardless of talent, couldn’t compete on regular radio,” he explains. So, in early 2007, Sochan put together a team and hunted down a wide range of Canadian artists. Streaming began in a makeshift studio at the back of the Skylight Events offices. Word spread via social media and even old fashioned word of mouth. Soon, submissions were piling up from artists who were clamouring to be part of Indie Love Radio.
With 10,000 active memberships and no signs of slowing down, Indie Love has tapped into a niche in the Canadian music marketplace. Even compared to other online radio stations (such as CBC Music, which includes Radio 2, a host of genre-specific streams, and the online-only Radio 3), Sochan thinks Indie Love comes from a “completely different headspace.”
The Independent will feature live-to-air performances and interviews in the main room’s studio, as well as the usual Indie Love broadcasting in the separate basement studio. With artists such as Whale Tooth, Bella Clava, and Kidstreet on the Indie Love roster, Sochan says, “We are most excited to begin featuring the best indie music this country has to offer and have only started booking.” And while the neighbourhood might seem like an unlikely place to try and establish an indie-rock hotspot, remember that there was once a time when few dared to venture west of Bathurst to see music on West Queen West.