Bovine Sex Club

  • Lanny Bolder posted
  • Interviews

Bovine Sex Club - Darryl Fine

  • February 2011
  • The Bovine Sex Club - Toronto, Ontario

So if you have ever partied in Toronto at some point in the last 20 years chances are you have partied at The Bovine Sex Club. The Bovine is probably my favorite bar of all time. It has stood the test of time and has watched the music scene change and waiver as The Bovine has just continued to change and evolve with it. It’s a great place to see live music and hang out with cool people. 

This Saturday The Bovine will celebrate 20 years with a bash that includes Hunter, The Flatliners, The Saint Alvia, and special guest DJ: Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman. I had a chance to chat withThe Bovine Sex Club’s owner/founder Darryl Fine to discuss the history as well as the future of the bar as he referred to as the punk rock Cheers.

LB: I’m here at the Bovine Sex club with owner Darryl Fine. Why don’t you introduce yourself to and tell us a bit about the recent milestone with your club.

DF: Hello my name is Darryl Fine from the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto and it’s our 20th anniversary this year.

LB: So what exactly are you doing to commemorate the 20th anniversary?

DF: Well (rubs his hands together) we are having a month of parties starting February 12th and ending on March 13th, which will include some stuff for Canadian Music Week as well. We are taking advantage of the fact it’s in the same time period as the festival. There will be 500 bands and thousands of music industry people here so we may as well be touting it’s the 20th anniversary of the Bovine Sex Club. We are starting February 12th with our kickoff party. It’s sponsored by the Warped Tour, Molson, and Jager, which are a great combination, and we are having The Flatliners, the Saint Alvia, and Hunter who is a Dine Alone band and Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman will be a guest DJ. He loves the Bovine so much he’s flying up here to party with me and DJ.

LB: How did you get acquainted with Kevin Lyman?

DF: The first Lollapalooza was probably 19 years ago. It was down at the CNE band shell with Jane’s Addiction.  Everything you knew about Lollapalooza was happening in its infancy back then. Kevin was running the production before he started the Warped Tour. He drifted in here totally on his own while he was setting up and the relationship started then and continued to grow with the Warped Tour. Each year for the last ten years at the conclusion of the Warped Tour, the Bovine arrives in a panel van with three tattooed bartenders with short skirts and small tops and a tent with lot’s of beer and liquor and we set up the Bovine in the parking lot. All the buses empty out and all the workers take two hours off and have a party on behalf of Toronto and the Bovine. So we have been doing this for a long time and Kevin is a good supporter of this kind of scene so I know everyone is down on the Warped Tour and think they are really cool; you should still go because honestly there isn’t another festival that’s at all similar.

Bovine Sex ClubLB: Well like the Warped Tour has stood the test of time so has the Bovine. I mean you look around the country and every city has lost their legendary live music venues. Even on this block we are seeing them go down. How do you do it?

DF: I’d say in the 20 years we have changed how we target the crowd. There is the crowd that has been here forever but every three and a half years or four years we slightly alter the music style. The heart of the Bovine is been changing. In 1991, when we opened, punk rock wasn’t as fashionable as it is now. It was really all about Kurt Cobain and Soundgarden that Seattle sound was cutting edge. There was also influence from the Cult and a little Guns n Roses and all that. It was really a different time. People had long hair, ponytails, and leather jackets. Those were the indie hipsters of today. People didn’t have tattoos, beards and thick glasses. The uniform has changed but we were that kind of bar when we opened. We weren’t really a live venue at first. We were more of a place that the bands came to after. Their local bar out of town. That was sort of our reputation. So all the bands keep coming to the Bovine and then sometime during the mid 90’s we decided we need to start showcasing once a month for a week. We did punk bands and metal bands with the idea to give the customers who were all in bands a place to play. The staff was all in bands too. It’s really music focused here. And slowly but surely that took over the club. Now we have bands five to seven nights a week. We are part of all the major musical festivals that come through town. The change in the crowd has come through the change in the taste for music. In the middle of the 90’s we were pretty metal and glammy then in the early 2000’s we were really into SoCal punk and Warped Tour style bands like Sum 41 and Billy Talent who were all playing in here when they were kids and Alexisonfire. The first time they played here, there was twenty people and half the band had to sit next door at my restaurant and drink Coke because they weren’t old enough to come in. Slowly after that we became a little more hardcore with the style of bands playing here. I think it’s the musician’s love for the place that will keep us going. We are pretty well known all over the country as being the Toronto CBGB’s.

LB: Is that a tough model to live up to?

DF: No because we are not Toronto CBGB’s.  I guess there is some pressure for us to keep up. In our neighborhood on Queen Street West every year there is a new rock bar. Four years ago it was The Hideout, two years ago it was Tattoo, and last year it was Cherry Colas. Every year there is going to be a new one. What we have found out that there is a certain group of people that love to go to new places. They leave temporarily and miss The Bovine and comeback for anniversary parties or their favorite bands are still hanging out here and all that sort of nonsense. You can’t worry about what other people are doing. When bars change their style in reaction to immediate trends and other bars that are opening, your doomed. 

LB: That’s what I like about this place on any given night you can walk in and catch a really good band your didn’t even know existed. 

DF: No a lot of places only play one style of music. It’s either DJ’s or electro or metal sadly metal bars don’t last for more than a year. We play our share of metal because places need to be accepting of heavy stuff as well. I just wish more girls liked the heavy stuff.

LB: It can be a real sausage fest at some shows eh?

DF: For those nights anyway.

LB: So what is the main reason for so much live music at the Bovine?

DF: I think it’s what the people have wanted here. We do some dance nights but they are usually connected with something. The shows are very successful here but nobody proposes them on a regular basis. For me it’s strange to watch the whole bar dancing when Skate 4 Cancer comes in they always have two sets of live rock and they clear the stage and have a celebrity DJ come in and play. Really we could be a disco if we wanted to be but everybody is happy when it just happens. Usually by the end of NXNE or Canadian Music Week when we have done five days of six bands a night rather than doing the sixth day of live rock we tend to do DJ’s and we kind of turn into a punk rock disco. When I was a kid growing up and I’m sure I’m older than your demographic it wasn’t uncommon for dudes to go to punk rock places to dance. In Toronto there was Nuts & Bolts, The Silver Crown, or Club Domino and renounce macho thrashing in a pit. Back then we went to dance clubs to chase the girls and got into fights just as much as anybody else but it wasn’t always about going to live shows.  There were tons of clubs that just played DJ music and it was all old punk rock, reggae rock, and rockabilly.  It was OK for a dude to dance and I feel we sort have lost that. Nobody is dancing to Against Me at a pub somewhere but they will fist pump to it at The Bovine.

LB: Are there any bars live venues in Toronto that influenced The Bovine?

Bovine Sex ClubDF: Yes and no. The Bovine is 20 years-old and I think the combination of some places that are very mainstream in terms of staff treatment and customer treatment and being a meeting place, places in the late 70’s and early 80’s like Brandy’s and Scotland Yard which were on the Esplanade which were pretty white bread mainstream places but they became meeting places and great places for staff to work and customers to have a good time. Wes (an original founder) was inspired by that. There was a place in New York called Scrap Bar on MacDougal and Thompson that, in the late 80’s/ early 90’s, had junky stuff on the walls but nothing like the dense apocalyptic structure that we built here. More Supersuckers Fu Manchu kind of stuff but we certainly got some inspiration from design there. Once we got Dave Greavson and Great Bob Scott to build the front art piece, which is for your customers. I mean you can look at it online but it just looks like a big junkyard up there. Once we saw them do that we let them do the whole building. Even now 20 years later I call Dave. We don’t let anyone else do it. We just call up Dave and he comes down with a bunch of junk. That is how the design evolved and certainly Wesley was a big help with that too. He left 18 years ago but certainly he really fell in love with that part of the idea.

LB: Have you ever had a moment while standing behind the bar watching a band play, the sound of bottles clanking, money being exchanged, and thought to yourself I can’t believe I own this bar? An epiphany I guess.

DF: Sure. Lot’s of times. That’s the inspiration to keep doing it. I would say the after party after the 1993 U2 show in Toronto has to be up there as one of the coolest nights at The Bovine. They were the biggest band in the world at the time and the after party was at my bar. I was star struck that day for sure. They were really gracious and had fun. The Edge was playing pool with my buddies Tom and Bernie. Bono was sitting on my car outside. I had to say, “Hey man get off the hood my car buddy” to Bono! His handler was mad at me and the police came by later in the night and were asking what the hell was going on here and they took a little walk through then they got a little star struck too so they let us tidy up the night without incident. So obviously I was star struck that night. The night after on of the first Lollapaloozas at Molson Park we had every band on the main stage down here that night. Ministry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Ice T, George Clinton and P Funk, Bootsy Collins all here at once. That was a huge night. After the first Lollapalooza down at The CNE Kevin brought Jane’s Addiction back here. I was star struck. Only a few years ago Perry Farrell was back here with Porno for Pyro. Perry got up on stage and asked the band if he could borrow some equipment and they played four Porno for Pyro songs and four Jane’s songs.

LB: Wow that’s really cool!

DF: For all you people that like Jane’s Addiction I bet you didn’t know all that vocalization was just him and mic control.  

LB: Really?

DF: As opposed to processing he just took a mic and did all the sounds that you hear from that album you hear by moving the mic around and changing the angle of the voice. It was incredible to watch. Let’s see. C.O.C. played at my birthday a bunch of years ago. I get star struck by that stuff. Queens of the Stone Age and The Eagles of Death Metal are good friends of the bar. Since Josh was in Kyuss he’s been dropping off demo tapes. That’s right demo tapes.

LB: Yes Kyuss I remember seeing oh what’s his name the drummer for Kyuss in here drinking a couple times during NXNE.

DF: Brant Bjork yes. Whenever he comes to Toronto he will do a big show at Massey Hall or the Opera House and then he usually comes back here for a set at 2am. It’s his home away from home.

LB: I wonder if I can go all Entertainment Tonight on you and ask who are some of your famous clientele over the years. I guess you have already named off a ton of famous pa

LB: Hmmm. I usually can’t remember my Bovine Experiences ha-ha. Well I had a blast at the Youth Brigade show a couple of years ago. Those guys were trashed. I’ve talked to a couple of them since that show and they all can’t believe how fucked up they were that night.
trons already.

DF: I don’t know those people ha-ha. Well all the guys from Broken Social Scene grew up in this bar before they formed BSS. This was like their hipster place to go when they were 19.  All those popular Canadian punk bands spent a lot of time in here. Like Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, and Sum 41 have all played here and grew up drinking here. The guys from Queens of the Stone Age uh Nikki Sixx has Dj’d here a few times well I don’t like to celeberty name drop so let’s end it there. Lot’s of people come here because we don’t bother them, the crowds are generally temperate. When Velvet Revolver came to Toronto almost all of Gun N Roses were in here and it still wasn’t too crazy. It was crazy but Scott could walk through the crowd without being accosted too much. You can have fun here with security not being a big problem like other clubs. The guys from Against Me! love the place, Turbonegro love the place

LB: One of the coolest shows I’ve ever scene in my life was Against Me unplugged at the Bovine Sex Club. Amazing show.

DF: That was totally cool. One of my favorite band nights here. And it’s because they love the place so much. It wasn’t a paid gig or something they had to do.

LB: The name Bovine Sex Club. Where the hell did that come from?

Bovine Sex ClubDF: People ask that all the time. We were involved in a club before the Bovine that was a large multi floor 800-person danceteria with no liquor license in Toronto in the late 80’s and like all the clubs we made t-shirts. And one of the shirts made by, I think, Jennifer Johnson had a cartoon cow on the front with a thought bubble and it said “23 hop is not the bovine sex club” clearly referring to the cow. People thought it was so funny. We all did and they sold really well so I guess we had the name before it started. It just sounds funny

. People are like cows. They just ruminate around in bars looking for sex you know? That type of thing. It’s a word association. It came from a t-shirt.

LB: That’s so punk rock. You got your name from a DIY shirt!

DF: For sure!

LB: So I’m going to wrap it up with giving you a chance to mention some of the events you have coming up here in the next month of parties for the Bovine Sex Club.

DF: Well as I mentioned the kick off birthday party February 12th with guest DJ Kevin Lyman, The Flatliners, The Saint Alvia, and Hunter. Then through the month we have all kinds of different genres who have played or have a relationship with The Bovine. We have the Black Lungs playing with Mocking Bird Wish Me Luck, and The Organ Thieves and there is a secret set with a band I can’t mention yet. That’s sort of a Dine Alone Records special night. The Sinisters are reforming and Damn 13 is reforming to do sort of a punk rock night from ten years ago. I’m not sure if you know those bands?

LB: I don’t.

DF: People can Google them. The Sinisters in our scene are really one of those bands that everyone wishes had made it because they were really the scene around here for five years. Every band that came up and passed them and became famous really owes a lot to them for breaking ground in the terms of being viciously crazy on stage and totally uncompromising in terms of looks, music, and aggressiveness. Bar Burner are playing with Monster Truck and The Video Dead. Ian Blurton is playing with C’mon and we have Nick Sewall who used to be in The Illuminates who has a new out fit called Biblical and they are playing. We have legendary Rockabilly artist Robert Gordon. We are talking going back almost to Elvis man. When I grew up he was listened to by all the punk rockers and rockabilly kids. We have the Asexual playing two nights March 4th and 5th.. John Kastner is a big fan of the bar and we are big fans of The Doughboys and The Asexual here. We play them all the time. John did a reform show at Pop Montreal this year. I pitched him there and he agreed to two shows here at The Bovine. He is also playing with an old Toronto punk band called The Ugly and Stark Naked and the Flesh tones. Then we run right into CMW with Closet Monster reforming for a special show for us. I’m actually not sure what else is going on for CMW because I never know what I can say. We have Primitive Evolution playing which has Stu from Playdead and a few other things.

LB: Awesome I can’t wait. I love Canadian Music Week.

DF: And the bar is open until 4am!

LB: Most importantly!

DF: What is your favorite Bovine experience?

DF: It was fun because so many people took a turn getting up on stage and sang with Shawn. And Shawn was in the green room with me earlier so that may explain why he was so drunk. That’s another great story. 

LB: But favorite show. I can’t put my finger on it. Recently The Saint Alvia did a Rancid tribute set, which was just amazing. The whole bar was into it. It was way more than a cover set – it had some emotion for sure. But my favorite show still had to be that acoustic Against Me! Secret private show. What a night!

DF: Awesome man.

LB: Well thanks again for taking some time out to talk to me I really appreciate. Congrats on 20 years and many more.

DF: Thank you.