Deliluh – Inspiring Toronto’s unconventional DIY spaces

"When you play a show in an unconventional space, the audience have their guard down"

It’s barely even 7am in Toronto and Deliluh’s Kyle Knapp is sitting outside discussing his band’s new EP whilst a wild rabbit stares inquisitively back at him. It’s a curious coincidence – ‘Rabbit’ titles the fourth track off ‘Oath of Intent’ and as Knapp is quick to tell me, “you just don’t often see that kind of thing in Toronto.”

Something else you don’t see a lot in Toronto are conventional performance spaces. In recent years, venues have fallen like dominos and left scenes and communities starved of any means to flourish. “There used to be loads of frequented venues, but a lot have either shut down or been pushed further out from the downtown core,” explains Knapp. “There’s quite a lot of discourse about the ‘venue crisis’. It’s become this weird buzz word. It’s forced musicians to seek out new spaces and explore different ways to put on shows and perform.”

Government regulation and high rent prices, it’s an issue all too familiar for most modern cities. Yet buried somewhere between the forgotten venues and gentrified apartment blocks Deliluh and a tight-knit group of art-rock bands are thriving from their living rooms. “For us, we enjoy exploring alternative sonic spaces because it’s a challenge from a performance standpoint. When we practice, it’s either in my living room or bedroom. We don’t have a rehearsal space so we’re fairly used to the confines of a tight room. When you play a show in an unconventional space, the audience have their guard down. I think people appreciate the experience and it makes for a memorable show.”

The torch for hosting live music events in Toronto is changing bearer: away from the establishment and into the hand of the people. Deliluh’s infamous late-night apartment shows provided a frivolous breeding ground for rock subculture as well as extend a supporting arm to a forgotten community. “It was kind of lawless, but it was great. People always had nice things to say after a show. We never had any issues in terms of security and we never really had to mitigate any trouble. When people are in your home, they tend to respect it as such.”

But as frequently as illegal spaces establish themselves, they’re often shut down quickly. Remorsefully Knapp recalls “the guy who owns the shop underneath my apartment told us we’d received a noise complaint. Turns out the city had filed an official warning and the owner of the building said if it happens again, we’d all be out. We haven’t had any huge, freak out shows there for a while now.” Knapp doesn’t seem to care all that much. His living room inspired a new generation of lawbreakers to host their own shows, many of which Deliluh continue to perform at.

“Running an illegal space seems risky and dangerous but once you strip away the issues surrounding legality it puts the power and control to the people. There isn’t a huge bouncer at the door and there might not even be a cover charge; people will just pay what they can. The guy doing sound might also be bartending or something and there’s no strict curfew to abide by. All these things amount to a more relaxed environment because there aren’t any rules cemented in.”

If there’s been one thing that has stamped Deliluh as local DIY legends, it was their gig in an abandoned subway station. A story crammed with such rock provocation would arouse any interviewer’s fasciation and Knapp certainly isn’t hesitant to oblige. “There’s only two decommissioned subway stations in North America,” he says. “I think the other’s in LA or something. It was used for about a year in the fifties, but some construction plans got scrapped so the whole thing got ditched. People use it for various events and movie sets now. Apparently Michael Caine had some bullshit party there.”

Recognising the potential of such a chasm-like performance space, Knapp didn’t delay getting to work. “I realised the person who ran the Music Advisory Council was also the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, so naturally I just started hammering this guy with emails.” Of course, convincing someone to allow a performance three storeys beneath ground was bound to be met with some bureaucratic resistance, but Knapp had a trick up his sleeve. “The whole ‘venue crisis’ thing was really starting to heat up and the media were bashing City Hall for exacerbating the situation. I recognised that these guys were probably hurting for some decent press so I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to flex and respond to some of the negative claims.” He was right. After managing to persuade the police, fire department and practically every government official in Toronto to cooperate, Deliluh performed in the reverberated gloom, establishing themselves further into local DIY mythology.    

Canadian post-punk sounds remarkably cold. I’ve listened to far too much Ought, Women and Preoccupations to know that. Deliluh are no exception. “The Winter here is pretty biting,” says Knapp. “It prevents people from going out or doing anything and I think that sound of isolation is a big thing for Canadian musicians. I’ve been writing a lot about the human condition and the ways in which we fall short. I think we’re constantly fighting against our worst enemy. Ourselves.

“I’ve been trying to remove myself from the first person and explore ideas through fiction,” he says. “There’s a song on our most recent release called ‘Salford’, which is about an abandoned town stuck in a cycle of manmade exploitation, but the place just keeps falling further into disrepair. It also offers the perspective of a woman whose husband is overseas fighting a war. She’s pregnant and thinking about whether she’ll make it without the support of her partner. These two coinciding and instinctual things really reflects a lot of what I’m writing about.”

Deliluh have cultivated their own unique hometown scene, but being a group in Canada makes branching out no easy business. “Everything is so far away. If you want to go on tour, you have to drive for hours and hours to get between towns. When you eventually get there, there might not even be a whole lot of people at your show because of how separated everyone is.” A little frustrated, Knapp goes on: “There’s a lot of sacrifice and I think a big misconception is that Canadian bands can just tour America whenever they like. The visa situation is incredibly expensive and the risk of sneaking down there is insane. It’s something very tricky for Canadian musicians to navigate. Everyone here feels isolated from a lot of different places.”

As a result, Knapp has decided to do the obligatory cool art-rock thing and move his band to Berlin, just temporarily to realise a potential new fanbase. “We want to just freeze our lives in Toronto for a little while so we can come out to Europe and play around for a bit to see what happens. We figured there are all these places to explore and there could be a new and very exciting market for us. We’re still figuring out the next time we’re going to be able to slot in playing the UK, but I expect it should be pretty soon.”