When you think of concert promoters, the first thing that comes to mind is a scumbag who would rip anyone off for a buck.
Johnathon Gough is not this kind of guy.
Gough, 23, is a concert promoter who makes no profit from organizing shows, but does it simply because the most important thing in the world to him is music.
He recently started his own concert promotion company called Shrubbco Visions.
Despite the difficulties of organizing and promoting concerts in Toronto, Gough said he does it because no other promoter is doing it properly.
“I want to do things right, otherwise I won’t do it at all,” he said. “The best thing I can do is try to put on a show for a decent price, with everything ready and prepared.”
Gough said Shrubbco Visions started as a radio project. He had a show called “Northern Shrubbery” at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s radio station Fusion Radio.
“[The radio show] was to highlight some of the best music coming out of the doom and psychedelic scene from all over the world,” Gough said. “When I ended the show I still wanted to do something with music, so I thought I’d try my hand at promoting a style of music that I feel goes overlooked – that being death metal and grindcore.”
Gough said there are other promoters in Toronto who sometimes put on shows with the same kinds of bands he does shows with. But, he said he’s the only one working exclusively with death metal and grindcore bands.
“Other metal promoters do bring the odd grindcore band here and there, but it isn’t very often and it usually isn’t bands from other countries other then Canada,” he said.
At this point Gough is organizing shows on a small scale. His shows are held at small clubs in Toronto like The Big Bop, as opposed to larger venues like the Kool Haus and the Sound Academy. But this doesn’t seem to bother him.
“This music that I’m promoting will never reach mainstream acceptance, at least not in my day, I think,” Gough said. “Any show I do, big or small, is a blessing because I’m doing shows with bands and people I love being around and supporting a style of music that I love so much.”
Lindsay Thompson, 21, is a University of Toronto student and a dedicated patron of metal shows in Toronto. She said she tries to attend as many concerts as possible, including the small-scale shows.
“Going out and supporting this music means a lot to me,” Thompson said. “I have a lot of respect for the promoters who put good shows together because without them there would be a lot of disorganization.”
Thompson said she has been to a show hosted by Shrubbco Visions and she thinks Gough does a great job of booking good bands.
“[Gough] brings bands out that I really like and that haven’t played here too often,” she said.
“And as far as I could tell the bands were happy after the show, no one complained about not getting paid, and he even bought all of them pizza for dinner.”
Putting shows together and promoting them is expensive, Gough said. But he said he didn’t get into it to make money. His main goal is to pay the bands and venues, he said.
“As long as Shrubbco’s name is out there then that’s a push in the right direction and maybe money will come out of this one day, but it’s not something that really plagues my mind,” he said.
What does plague Gough’s mind is finding venues in Toronto to host his shows. He said many venues won’t book the style of metal he’s promoting. Most Toronto clubs also charge massive amounts of money to rent their space, Gough said.
“It’s all about just going around and finding new places and working things out with owners,” he said.
Gough’s next show will be held on Dec. 13 at the popular Toronto venue The Big Bop. Cindy Parreira, house booker and talent buyer of The Big Bop, said the price to rent out their space is “between the promoter and the venue.” Parreira refused to comment further, but Thompson said she has known people to enquire about prices to book the space for their band’s shows.
“Some people have told me that it costs $1,500 to book an all-ages show at The Big Bop,” Thompson said. “That just seems like a ridiculously high amount to me, especially since it’s not the best maintained place, but those people have also told me that they were able to negotiate a better price.”
Olivier Nabico is the vocalist of a death metal band called Mortify, which is based out of Oakville and Scarborough. He said Mortify has been performing at shows in Toronto since 2004.
“Promoters in Toronto, or any surrounding areas, are great to have,” Nabico said.
He said promoters have a lot of work to accomplish in order to have a good turnout of people at their shows.
“I do think that some, not all, but some promoters are in fact making a difference in this industry,” he said.
Nabico said having a promoter organize the show makes it easier on the bands. He said this is because the band doesn’t have to constantly worry if everything is going well and according to plan.
“It does make it easier basically to have a promoter put on shows and do all the grim work,” he said.
“We have encountered some promoters that work on great terms and conditions, and others that have no sense in direction or what a commitment is,” Nabico said, adding that some
Toronto promoters are extremely difficult to work with.
Nabico said there was an instance in the past in which the promoter of an event had informed Mortify two months in advance of the event date, venue, time of performance, and financial guarantee. He said many of these aspects of the show went awry because of the promoter, whom he wishes to remain nameless.
“Our set was to be played at 11 p.m. when in fact we didn’t get to play until 12:30 a.m.,” Nabico said. “My drummer also had to share his own equipment with two other bands due to miscommunication on the promoter’s end, not to mention that the financial income we were to be paid in full at the end of the night was never even brought to our attention.”
Gough said he hasn’t had any problems dealing with bands so far. He said he never will if he keeps organizing shows properly and pays the bands he guarantees money to.
“When you promise cash, you have to have it up front,” he said. “It’s all about professionalism.”
Mortify has performed at two of Shrubbco Visions’ shows and are scheduled to play at the company’s next show in December at The Big Bop. Nabico said he thinks Shrubbco Visions is a very well put together company from his experience of working and talking with Gough.
“The commitment and any verbal or written statement, the marketing and promoting, and the understanding of bands playing shows that fit musically, which comes from Johnathon Gough is authentic and credible,” Nabico said.
For now, Gough said he wants to stick to booking death metal and grindcore shows with bands that fit the style he is trying to promote.
“I’d love to put on more psychedelic, doom, and ambient kinds of shows, but it’s harder to do, I think,” Gough said. “Promoting those styles can only reach so many people because the genres aren’t exactly the most popular at this moment.”
Gough said the concert promotion business is all a matter of taking chances. He said as time goes by, he will be doing his best to create a new scene for people who want the more aggressive metal styles of music.
“I want to help bands get over to our country and help our local friends out by getting them to play with their heroes,” Gough said. “I’m not out to rip anyone off or give Toronto metal a worse name than it already has. I just want to have fun.”