Interview with Darryl Fine from The Bovine Sex Club (Toronto)

SO HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE BOVINE?
D: You know, 50% rock n roll cheers and 50% drop in center for local bands and bands that aren't local who make this their local space. that's kind of how the momentum has carried it, i mean when bands are on the road they need a place to go for a decently inexpensive drink where there's other band people, you know talk about their stuff... find girls, find bad things, find the booze.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT SCENES HAVE YOU GONE THROUGH HERE?
D: Oh well, in the beginning we were kind of like a trendy place because it sort of caught fire, i think the intention wasn't to be so trendy it was to be more like rock n roll cheers because we didn't have bands, we just had semi-famous dj's i mean chris shepherd was just coming into his own on cfny and doing a bunch of compilations for record companies beginning his sort of zenith music career and we had dj's from much music here. it was hip but it wasn't.. i don't think we envisioned being super trendy but we ended up that way and there was no live music and it was just like a rock pub, it was really busy and full of people doing animation and people doing sound jobs, all the guys who'd set up all the shows would bring the bands back, it was a lot of fun, and then all of a sudden it caught fire and was filled with people we didn't know, people who decided that nirvana and sound garden were the new next thing and they grew their hair and put on leather jackets and t-shirts and came down to the bovine in their jeans even though they probably had more money than us... it was kind of trendy to slum it that way.. just like you and i are wearing toques now, there were no toques back then everybody had long hair.
So after that kind of trendy period for 3 years we went into a kind of really hard rock period.. queen street was hard rockin' then, and everybody was listening to metallica and motorhead and stuff like that... and not only did the hair get longer but the mustaches got longer and the motorcycles showed up and it was very kind of california LA strip... I mean it was cool but it was kind of heavy.
We kind of grew out of that by having the live music stuff start... you know we were doing dotted live music special events here for people like COC played at my birthday years ago (pepper's a great guy!) and after that we started to have a band week where we let the local people showcase if they had friends coming to town so once a month we'd have a week of live music... and slowly but surely it was more and more about that and the heaviness kind of subsided when the glammy punky bands came in like the sinisters and things like that. and all the heavy people, even though they kind of liked it it was a little bit gay for them, even though it was completely heterosexual because the place was filled up with women...
it had a different type of edge and flavor and that group of people was 5 years younger than the one who had just finished being heavy and so slowly but surely it got filled up with those type of folks, cool cats you know london punk and stuff like that. it was fun!
Of course the next section was in the early 2000's it became a so-cal warped tour type band and we still have a lot of roots with that, all the bands that played the warped tour started hanging out here and playing here before and after and when they came through not with the warped tour so that was the style of music... people like fat mike, against me and stuff like that hanging out here.
And during that time period bubbling up was the toronto scene for that, the sum 41 guys and billy talent guys, eventually the alexisonfire guys started playing here - their first show was for 20 people - so it started moving towards that toronto hardcore screamo scene which is kind of warped tour but moving away from the southern california riff-laden comic punk.
So we've had 4 or 5 different 3 year periods and a couple of 1 year periods in between where there's nothing happening, and that's always the hardest part to having a bar open for 20 years is that every 3 or 4 years you have a soft year because you're re-loading... and most people go out of business in that year because they can't deal with it either emotionally (because it's empty) or they can't deal with it because they don't like what's coming next, they say they don't want long hair so they want to go back to tattoos and rockabilly hair and you can't really keep the same forever because music changes... But we're always doing the harder part of rock and we've done some experimental stuff in between, some electro before it became famous... we would do electro nights and people used to walk in and go 'hey this shit's really cool and heavy' and now people walk in and say 'turn that shit off' even though it's the same shit!

AND PEOPLE WILL GET PISSED IF YOU DON'T UPHOLD A CERTAIN IMAGE HERE AT THE BOVINE WON'T THEY?
D: Yeah, we have to be hard enough... but right now we're moving towards more stoner rock again so the hair is getting longer and i don't mind it personally, it's a little more blues and riff-infused and a little bit less screaming but you know we still have every kind of band in here. we still do metal nights, we still do punk nights, we still do warped tour punk nights we still do all that sort of stuff, i'm just saying there's a lot of the new bands who are a little bit more melodic and guitar and bass orientated, their not just playing 3-chord punk anymore. but some do!

HOW MANY NIGHTS A WEEK ARE YOU HAVING SHOWS NOW?
D: Always Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then Sunday Monday and Wednesday is more event driven, sometimes there's 80's disco in here on a Wednesday and sometimes they're playing guitar hero or sometimes they're doing kick ass karaoke, and Sunday is the same stuff. The city and the country unfortunately is too slow to be booking 7 nights a week right now, most of the concert venues are quiet 4 nights a week.

ASIDE FROM THE NO-SMOKING INSIDE SHIT THAT MORPHED THE BACK PATIO ROOM, HAVE YOU GUYS BEEN IMPACTED BY ANY OTHER CHANGES IN BYLAWS?
D: Well the liquor laws change all the time, i wouldn't say the inspection system has changed but certainly what they are looking for has changed. i would say when we first started and before that when i used to just work in clubs it was a little more quick strike, let's just knock these guys down a notch and then they'll be better, more of a punitive way of dealing with bars and clubs and restaurants in terms of liquor licensing but now it's really more educational oriented and they also, because of electronic filing, it's pretty easy now to keep accessible notes about what happens in places and how many times you visit and how many times there's been a problem so i think having all that information available has been better for us because even though we have a good time and we party hard here we tend to pay our taxes and follow most of the basic tax or inspection laws. we just sort of push it on all places but we're not staying open late and serving beers until 7 in the morning, and you know we're not selling drugs here so all the sort of things that are really the bad stuff... like we don't do all ages shows so there's never all ages kids here.. we're really maintaining that adult level and i think that gives the liquor board enough confidence in us.
The city itself has another set of laws that keep changing and that's like a TO BE DETERMINED thing .... 50 years ago there was only one type of liquor license called a restaurant license so if you were a bar, a restaurant, a night club, a disco, a concert hall, or a banquet hall you all had the same license from the city called a restaurant license and over the years that's given people a lot of leeway in terms of what they can put inside a restaurant... i mean, ergo the bovine, this was no small affair... it was a small couples and four top dinner theatre with pasta and red wine.. we opened up here and although we do serve food people don't order it now. in the beginning 20 years ago we were open in the afternoon and people did order food and it was a little bit more of the food i'm serving next door. eventually when we opened shanghai cowgirl i put the kitchen over there so there isn't a kitchen in the bovine anymore we serve the food from over there inside the building.
just in general you could be anything inside a restaurant, the kool haus was a restaurant you know, sound academy was a restaurant according to the city but now they've changed all those laws and it's a little bit more specific if you apply for licensing they're looking at your draws and what you're doing inside the venue, how loud the music is etc.
specifically in terms of the bovine we've been around 20 years so they keep changing the laws and we keep staying the same because we kind of had prior approval to do this. and i'm not saying we're following the new laws very well, in fact we're probably a bit of an eyesore in terms of that, but it's more difficult when you've been around for a long time, it's hard for them to walk into a hospital who has been treating patients the same way saying 'ok here are the new rules' when they've got a billion dollars invested in this type of cancer treatment you know.... that's a terrible way to compare it to the bovine but at the same time we have 20 years of time invested in how we support the people who work here and the community so we tend to adjust a little bit to the new bylaws but not a lot. we just try to do the same thing we've always done so if there's a problem we have to sit down with the city and keep telling them we're doing the same thing, you liked it before we're sorry you don't like it now.

SO WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO PUT 'SEX CLUB' IN THE NAME?
D: It was part of a funny t-shirt from a club called 23 Hop that preceded the bovine and the original founder of the bovine and the original music partner chris shepherd and myself, i was the general manager at the other place where there was a big cow on the t-shirt and a big cartoon thought bubble that said '23 hop is not the bovine sex club' and the cow speaking to everybody else... it really didn't have anything to do with anything it was just about that t-shirt and everybody thought it was really funny to say bovine sex club so that's where the name came from.
when we were thinking about the name here Wes kept saying 'don't worry about the name i got the name' and he wouldn't tell us until we were just about open and it was so funny when he said it, we just all laughed, and that's why it's called bovine sex club.... there's really no sex for sale!!!
it is kind of a funny play on people because we do go to bars to find 'meat markets' they call them and bovines are cows and cows are meat and they ruminate looking for sex in the same way. but there really isn't a big connection between the name and the space, we just thought it was funny.

DO PEOPLE COME IN HERE WITH THE WRONG IDEA BASED ON THE NAME?
D: All the time. more often on the phone now, in the old days people used to come in and really think something special was going to go on but most of those people have lived in toronto long enough now. really we get phone calls from newly immigrated men who obviously come from counties where you do buy sex for better or for worse in their societies so when they see sex club they phone up and they ask how much are the girls and when does the show start... we're so used to it now that we have a standard answer which is typically 'bovine is a rock n roll bar, we play heavy metal and punk rock and if you want to come down we're open at 9pm but there's no sex here'... although the bartenders here are very sexy!

WHERE DID YOU GET THE INSPIRATION FOR THE DECOR INSIDE? I KNOW LOCAL ARTISTS BROUGHT MOST OF THE STUFF IN HERE..
D: Dave Greiveson did most of it, Great Bob Scott and Dale from Dick Ducks and the Dorks a famous 70's/early 80's band... and the inspiration came from visiting a bunch of places, going back to Wes and Chris again they were starting to go down to New York... they were buds like two peas in a pod, and when I started going down with them we would hang out at a bar called Scrap Bar that was covered by a little bit of junk, i'm talking about 10% as dense as the bovine, but that was sort of an inspiration in terms of how much refuse and garbage we have hanging up on the wall here. and then we went to paris a few times, just sort of looking at places while 23 Hop was open and trying to find some sort of inspiration.
the other part of it came from regular main street bars though, like i said in the beginning we hadn't intended to be so trendy and it just turned out that way, we were looking for business models like Brandy's which was a bar in the 70's and 80's on the esplanade, a really normal bar in terms of style of music but a great place with great staff that was always busy and full of regulars. that was the kind of bar style we wanted, we kind of just put it in this garbage apocalyptic mess called the bovine sex club.

WHAT'S THE CRAZIEST PIECE OF ART THAT SOMEONE HAS BROUGHT YOU?
D: Well there's a baby, inside a box, that moves, it's pretty creepy... it's on a timer and it does a little dance, it looks like its in prison in chains with christmas lights around it's neck, i mean that's pretty creepy.
We used to have this full sized dolphin in here that was swimming across the roof in the back room, and i mean it was like 14 feet long, 5 feet high, a perfect dolphin... he/she was back here and we had a full aquatic theme with mermaids and lobsters and sharks. we've had different junk decorations. i mean that was a full sized dolphin that was one of 18 that didn't get broken in a scrapping of some other club's decor. we have no problem stealing from others as they put it in the garbage.. it's more than welcome to go up in the bovine. we have one piece from the stage of lollapalooza 19 years ago, the crew came in carrying that in their arms after they were here 3 nights in a row and we hung it up.

WHAT IS THE WORST CASE OF VANDALISM YOU'VE EXPERIENCED?
D: As far as the junk goes nothing, people leave the junk alone. they break other things, stools... toilets... lots of things.

WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST SHIT YOU'VE SEEN IN HERE OVER THE YEARS?
D: When Fucked Up played here it was all full of straight edge kids, i mean i know their crowd is more diverse now because they're doing very well, but that was a weird night because everybody who came in was not drinking and they were outside drinking like pepsi/cola even though everybody was +19. I mean, we find straight edge kids are the worst! they just wreck everything. they have all this energy and they need to have a drink or a joint or something - well not in the bar with the joint - but they need something to calm them down because as a group they are kind of like pack animals and they stand outside the club until their band is on and they ignore the bands before they don't even support them and then they all rush the door and like body surfing and slam dancing and we're just a tiny bar... i would say that was a crazy show, of course all the fucked up shows are crazy but it's just hard in such a small space to deal with that sort of nonsense. we would love to have them back, it has nothing to do with that but more their crowd drinks now, they're more into the mainstream... that whole cult non drinking, i'm going to break your toilet seat crowd is over so that was pretty ' FUCKED UP '. the Monotonix was completely insane too I don't know if you've heard of that Israeli, if not google them, like gg allen meets punk rock all these ex 35 year old Israeli soldier/musicians who do this unbelievable punk set, they don't even look like punks but it's more punk than london punks, and they basically wreck everything by the end of the show and all their equipment is outside on the street and they keep playing. it was the most unbelievable thing i've ever seen, it's like they scout the place before and see where all the garbage cans are and where all the glass is and they run through the crowd breaking peoples glasses and everything is on the floor and broken by the end of their show including their equipment so i don't know how they pay for that! it was a pretty crazy show in terms of fucked up shit. you know having big bands in a small place is always pretty crazy. billy talent in here was stupid crazy... i mean one year they played the ACC one night and the bovine the next so you can imagine how packed it feels in here.
Sum 41 was a crazy show, Against Me, COC, there are a lot of crazy shows. and the after parties like velvet revolver with slash running around the bovine it gets pretty crazy, not him but the people go crazy just seeing him.

HAS ANYBODY EVER DIED HERE?
D: Noooooo!!!! Ridiculous!!!! *laughs* People have gotten pretty crazy, and musicians have hyperventilated on stage and passed out but that's about it! We're definitely not known as a place where people brawl. As crazy as it gets in here... I know people are intimidated by the outside but it's not a fighting bar or anything like that at all. you'd see more fighting at a college type place like the Brunswick house, no offence to the Brunswick i used to go there in college, but that type of testosterone infused kind of bar, that's where people tend to fight. people don't tend to fight at a rock show at a bar. people are here for the music and the staff.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN STORE FOR 2011 AT THE BOVINE? ANY BIG CHANGES?
D: I have some secrets about the bovine that i will not tell people! but you know, we're having the 20th anniversary... we're having Carole Pope here who was a huge early 80's punk icon for toronto she used to be in the band Rough Trade and we're having C'mon and Biblical and Barnburner and Monster Truck and all these crazy bands so it'll be great. Robert Gordon is playing and he's a 60 year old rockabilly legend who used to play with chubby checker, he'll be pretty cool to have here, and the Asexuals have reformed to come back in early march, and we have cmw and in the middle of it all the sinisters have reformed to come back and play... so we have a lot of stuff happening this month and each month after this for the rest of this year we'll try and have a little anniversary show where we have a bigger band in a small venue... but it's expensive so i can't do it all the time... one month straight then one night every month for the rest of the year! but i can't tell you about all my secrets!!!!

THANKS A LOT TO DARRYL AND MELANIE K!!!!