From Tom Cruise party-crashing cameos to complaints from Crystal Castles, publisher Ian Danzig and editor James Keast reflect on 20 memorable moments at the helm of Canada’s only indie-music magazine.
Note: this article has been updated since it was first published
In March of 1992, Toronto-based music magazine Exclaim! printed its first issue ever. It was a black-and-white zine identified by a string of swear-word symbols and the words “absolutely free” in the top right-hand corner. Founding publisher Ian Danzig had a day job to which he begrudgingly wore a suit, the writers were more “music junkie” than “music journalist” and the entire production was completed on one shared computer in the spare room of Art Director Geoff Marshall’s apartment at Dufferin and Springhurst. “It was essentially a bunch of people who liked music, some of whom could write, just going, ‘Okay, let’s try this,’” says editor James Keast from Exclaim!‘s current HQ at Bloor and Shaw. (Full disclosure: I am a former intern and occasional contributor.) Two decades and several hundred issues later, Exclaim! is Canada’s eminent (and only) national, indie-focussed music magazine still in print. They’ve got the chronicles to prove it. Here are 20 of them:
1. Exclaim! was conceived by Danzig and longtime Lee’s Palace sound dude Ron Anicich. The two had back-to-back radio shows on local station CKLN and wrote a column called “Jukebox Jury” in which they’d argue over their opposing music tastes. Says Danzig, “To this day whenever I see Ron at Lee’s, he says to me, ‘Figures you’d be here, this band sucks.”
2. Despite there being only a few sentences about him inside the magazine, Exclaim!‘s first ever cover star was former Rheostatics/Hidden Cameras/BidiniBand/Minotaurs member Don Kerr, who now plays drums for Ron Sexsmith. Says Danzig: “The point of being on the cover was to give exposure to people who needed exposure.”
3. It took two years for Exclaim! to put its own name on the cover, which they finally did to avoid reader confusion over what the magazine was called. “People would say, ‘Oh, you mean Fuck magazine,’ or ‘Oh, you mean Cuss magazine,’” says Danzig. “Then I realized there could be no common discourse about Exclaim! if it had no common verbal identifier.”
4. Toronto writer/director Bruce LaBruce was a columnist at Exclaim! for 11 years. Under the aliases Blab, Judy LaBruce and Bruce Wayne Gacy, he “wrote in an extremely personal style, revealing a lot of private things about myself and others, which I was always getting in trouble for,” LaBruce recounts today. Adds Danzig: “Bruce LaBruce was someone doing social media at the beginning of 1992. And he definitely helped our pick-up rate on Church Street.”
5. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman showed up to Exclaim!‘s second anniversary party—at the short-lived Party Centre at 167 Church St., near Shuter—in April 1994, when they were (still married and) in town during the filming of To Die For. They waited in line, paid cover and drank two-dollar beers. LaBruce is the one who asked them to come (along with director Gus Van Sant) and recalls “all these too-cool-for-school people lining up waiting to talk to them.”
6. For their fourth-anniversary party In April 1996, Exclaim! hosted the first ever public event in the secretive third level at The Masonic Temple (now the CTV building). There were still thrones and crypts in the floor at the time, and a lone, confused Mason stumbled in looking for his brethren.
7. Keast became an editor in 1995 immediately following a stint at Toronto Life (where he interned with Grid publisher Laas Turnbull). He had already begun writing for Exclaim! in 1994, but Danzig told him to do the internship and come back when it was over. “We needed somebody with experience because nobody here knew anything about making a magazine.”
8. FACTOR Vice-President of Operations (and godmother of the Halifax music scene, according to the Canadian music-history tome Have Not Been The Same) Allison Outhit and her band Rebecca West were on the first Exclaim! cover printed with Keast on staff as editor. They got married a decade-ish later.
9. Exclaim! put out 66 issues before a non-Canadian made the cover (Mouse of Mars in November 1997). The first-ever American on the cover was R.L. Burnside in February 1999.
10. Eight years before she appeared in an iPod commercial, Leslie Feist curled up on Exclaim!‘s cover, in bed with a late-’90s configuration of By Divine Right, which included fellow future Broken Social Scenester Brendan Canning.
11. Neko Case personally phoned each of Exclaim!‘s editors begging them to remove her from the March 2000 cover because she detested the cover’s photograph. “She is extremely sensitive about photography,” says Keast. “But she’s also one of the most photogenic people I have ever seen.”
12. The crotch shot on Peaches’ 2000 album Teaches of Peaches was snapped at an Exclaim! party she played alongside Feist (who appeared as Bitch Lap Lap). “I went shopping that day for an outfit,” Peaches remembers. “I got my little hot pink shorts from Le Chateau. [Three Gut Records co-founder] Tyler Clark Burke took a picture of my crotch and that became the album cover.”
13. One of Broken Social Scene’s earliest shows was at Exclaim!’s ninth anniversary party at the Big Bop in April 2001. Also on the bill: The Promise Ring, Dillinger Escape Plan, The Constantines, Nora, Sugarman Three and Manitoba (who later became Caribou). “That was a performance that introduced a lot of people to BSS for the first time,” says Danzig.
14. A reader from Victoria, BC brought Exclaim!‘s Holiday 2001 issue to the attention of their Member of Parliament because they were offended by a Bad Religion advertisement. The issue and the ad were later debated in The House of Commons.
15. The Exclaim! 10th anniversary party at Lee’s Palace in 2002 was “the most packed I’ve ever seen Lee’s,” says Keast. It was also a turning point. “It was pretty much anarchy on stage,” recalls Maggie MacDonald of The Hidden Cameras, who played that night. “There was no pretension or coolness, just pure abandon. We were bringing the feeling of Will Munro‘s Vazaleen nights to a rock club scene that certainly wasn’t used to such a queer-positive love fest. Gradually, people let themselves go and started dancing along, arms up in the air. You could feel the wave of joy spreading from the converts at the front, all the way to the back of the room. When we threw our arms up during ‘Fear of Zine Failure’, a sea of arms waved along with us.”
16. Toronto hip-hop mainstay k-os covered his face with “some obscure philosophy book” during the cover shoot for the February 2002 issue, so Exclaim!‘s editors requested a press photo to use instead. They got one, but k-os’ face is still hidden by his hand, a hat and a blurry Photoshop job.
17. Surprisingly, Metric has taken Exclaim!‘s cover only once, in July 2003. “I remember thinking it was a really commercial choice for us back then. A band that had huge mainstream potential was unusual for our too-cool-for-school aesthetic at the time,” says Keast. “Then I went to their record release party. They played to 17 people.”
18. The cover photo of a mid-howl Win Butler from the September 2004 issue was shot at Sloan’s Olympic Island show that summer. Arcade Fire played a half hour set at 1:30 p.m. and were “one of two unknown bands on the bill,” remembers Keast. The other was Death From Above 1979.
19. Ethan Kath of Crystal Castles unsuccessfully petitioned Exclaim! to obliterate all information about his real name and former “super cheesy glam-punk band” Kill Cheerleadër from their archives. “His musical past became extremely embarrassing to him,” Keast speculates. Concurs Danzig: “But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
UPDATE, MARCH 13, 1 P.M.: Andrew Lee of Lies Records (Crystal Castles’ label) claims this telling of the story is untrue. “Ethan Kath never once asked Exclaim! to delete or hide info from their archives regarding his old band. He has never been embarrassed about Kill Cheerleadër. He simply asked them to remove his real last name from the internet, as it defeats the purpose of having a stage name for privacy reasons.”
20. Carl Newman has appeared on Exclaim!‘s cover four times (once with Zumpano and Superconductor, and twice with The New Pornographers), making him the most prolific of all Exclaim!‘s cover stars. “It was the only piece of big press that we ever received,” says Newman of the 1995 Zumpano cover. “I always appreciated how Ian Danzig was such as massive supporter.”