From a party called Yes New York “set” in the Lower East Side to a shop from the same zip code touching down in Parkdale to renewed rumours of a Gansevoort Hotel in the Distillery District, Toronto is once again in a Empire State of mind.
I’d rather avoid yet another debate on whether or not Toronto is like New York City, or a comparison on what we have that they don’t, and vice versa. We bitch about it enough already. But those Venn diagrams are inevitable, and, whether you like it or not, the Manhattan influence spread like wildfire through Toronto last week. On Wednesday, a Toronto Standard piece lauded the possibility that a Hotel Gansevoort would enter the Distillery District in a new 34-storey building on Mill Street. If you recall, the New York-based mini-empire hosted an exclusive, invite-only party pop-up at Goodnight on Richmond during TIFF and, in a matter of days, became the place where see-and-be-seen opps could and would come true. (I wonder now, was it a test-run to gauge interest for a Toronto location?) The Gansevoort party was undeniably one of the two most need-to-be-at places during TIFF, after the SoHo House pop-up on Duncan, yet another New York via London institution that had “moviegoers” and press players panting for more.
The same day the Standard piece came out, prompting mentions from Toronto Life and raising Twitter eyebrows across the 416, near-jeggings-clad New York transplant Lana Del Rey—an indie star who’s risen quickly and carelessly through the music masses—sold-out her first Canadian show at the Mod Club. Groups of fangirls, and confusing fanbros, gathered for what felt like a rite of passage: All hail the next best thing, despite the harsher, anti-music-manufacturing pundits’ decrees. Her barely-there, 45-minute set might as well have transported us back to the days when Del Rey herself was still struggling to gain recognition in the 917, a city that is reason enough to pay attention to her and that mirrors her cinematic qualities, entrenched in her existential lyrics and her rough-around-the-edges exterior. She’s a persona—a person that New York created. And we were so willing to eat it up.
Friday night’s Yes New York, an art installation-cum-dance party that landed at Oz Studios (134 Ossington), also depends on that very same willingness. It is probably the first low-budget, one-night-only of its kind to successfully cast an entire neighbourhood—an era, really—as its main attraction. Conceived by music know-it-alls Michael Joffe and Jonathan Dekel, Yes New York (YNY) set out to re-imagine, in Toronto’s west side, the turn-of-the-millennium music scene that emerged from NYC’s Lower East Side (LES). The raison d’être for a party like this is as much the music as it is the Manhattan allusion, and, if that’s the case, we could cast The Strokes as proverbial headliners. YNY borrows its title from an album compilation of the same name released in 2003 that featured The Strokes, Interpol, The Rapture and other “post-punk/garage rock” acts that re-defined a once-questionable future of the city’s underground music scene. “I’ve always loved the idea of parties having a purpose, however absurd,” writes Joffe in an e-mail, who, by day, works for television channel AUX. Dekel, an editor at Dose.ca (and a former writer for The Grid), adds: “For our generation, New York in the early [2000s] was the height of cool. It’s become almost mythical. So when we were looking for an escapist idea for an event, it seemed obvious.”
The installation-slash-art part of Joffe and Dekel’s concept jam is what they call “a full-sensory immersive experience”—to create a “Lower East Side feel” we’d all dance around. To achieve this, the two enlisted friend and photographer Joe Fuda to create a “setting” akin to the lofts and walk-ups you’d find along Bowery or Houston. I imagine the desired effect here is what one partygoer referred to as: “It’s like we’re in a movie or filming a music video or something.” There wasn’t anything elaborate done to the space at Oz Studios (just some garbage piles and stuff). “Joe’s only rule was that we weren’t allowed to include any obvious imagery of The Strokes inside the gallery,” elaborates Joffe. “The event is really just about playing music we love from that time and projecting things like looped clips from Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. It’s really simple.”
After seeing The Strokes live at Bonnaroo in June, I witnessed the cult-like vibe around them, producing an unspoken religious ceremony/experience between band and fan. On the Yes New York Facebook event page, Joffe and Dekel even opt for devout descriptors like “holy musical progeny,” a shared mindset among the disciples of rock’s millennial revival. Joffe adds: “It’s about playing music that touches on exactly that unspoken religious feeling people have towards music—and The Strokes in particular. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.” And the crowd, again, eats it up. I get what Joffe and Dekel are trying to do: Re-interpret a not-so-distant past, both musically and geographically, before kids born in 2000 reduce bands like The Strokes to an “OMG, this is so fun and classic” in 10 years like we’ve done to everyone from Salt-n-Pepa to LL Cool J. I’d just love it more if we weren’t pretending to do it in another city.
Then there’s Community 54, a Lower East Side-born shop that quietly opened a Parkdale outpost (pictured above) at 1275 Queen St. W. with a quiet party about a week or so ago. Headed by New York partners Daymon Green and Jason Jacobs in conjunction with Toronto-based Trung Hoang from Contra magazine, the store is all about nostalgia, too. “We sell memories and things that time forgot,” says co-owner Green. “It’s amazing the similarities between to two areas. Parkdale is definitely the LES of Toronto.” Community 54’s tagline—“From Lower East Side to Parkdale”—is also reflective of the New York resurgence that’s pandering to the likes of the Yes New York, Lana del Rey and even the Gansevoort-loving crowds. Green is also quick to point out that New York is “100 per cent important” to the operation, no matter where they open a store—but, despite what people say, Toronto isn’t in any sort of shadow. There’s “young money” here, room for identity.
As for Yes New York, it won’t be back. Joffe and Dekel are already planning another night for January, bigger and very different and probably not at Oz Studios. Nevertheless, the New York infiltration is far from over.