Music

15 Toronto Bands and Musicians You Need to Know

WondaGurl, Tre Mission, Tennyson, PUP, Jazz Cartier and more are keeping Toronto's music scene hot.
By Yu-Cheng Lin
10 min readPublished on
River Tiber at Red Bull Sound Select: Toronto
River Tiber at Red Bull Sound Select: Toronto
There's no doubt about it: Toronto's music scene is thriving and it's not because Rush is still an active band. From electronic artists like deadmau5 and Zeds Dead to indie rockers like Broken Social Scene and Feist, Toronto is responsible for some of modern music's best sounds.
And, of course, there's Drake.
Having paved an enormous pathway for artists like the Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR to flex their own talents, Mr. Aubrey Graham's influence on post-2010s Toronto can't be overstated. Whether through collaboration, co-signs or his OVO Sound imprint, Drake's influence on the city is so huge that even those outside its borders are casually dropping "the 6" in conversation, as if that city nickname had always existed.
But beneath Toronto's high-rises and skyscrapers resides a rising crop of musicians offering their own views from the 6, whether through the lens of R&B, rap, rock or electronic.
As a tribute to this renaissance of fresh Toronto sounds, we gathered a list of 15 artists who deserve your ears — some small, some relatively big, all vital. A few, Jazz Cartier and Tennyson and Tory Lanez, will be playing Lollapalooza for the first time and likely picking up some new fans along the way.
Do a little poking around and you'll find plenty more from where these came, but this list should serve as a solid preview of this hotbed of talent.
Allie at Red Bull Sound Select Toronto
Allie at Red Bull Sound Select: Toronto

1. a l l i e

Toronto isn't lacking soul music, but finding a soul artist as visionary as a l l i e isn't easy. Like the best of today's R&B and soul, a l l i e's aesthetic is planetary, shooting her often multi-tracked voice into celestial realms. Future beats meet sensual lullabies with the slow-motion beauty of low-gravity movement, allowing us to dwell in its ecstatic joy and blissful intimacy. When she works with forward-thinking producers like 2nd Son, another Toronto native, she's pretty much unstoppable. Keep your ears open for a new album later this year.

2. Alvvays

The world can alvvays use more witty indie-pop and that's exactly what Alvvays deliver. The fuzzy quintet released their self-titled debut in 2014, through Polyvinyl, which boasted an infectious batch of pop that was as romantic as it was personable. Their approach is steeped in a sort of C86/K Records aesthetic, with shimmering guitars and carefree rhythms supporting Molly Rankin's sturdy vocals and simplistic melodies. When not playing festivals like Coachella 2016 or touring with the likes of Courtney Barnett, the group has been working hard on their sophomore release, which will hopefully be out this year.

3. Ayo Leilani (Above Top Secret, Witch Prophet)

As a member of Above Top Secret, founder of 88 Days of Fortune (an Afrofuturist Toronto collective) and solo artist as Witch Prophet, has a lot on her plate. But what unites these projects together is her passion for genre-defying experimentation, which puts her and her projects on equal footing with such renowned groups as Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction. Her latest release is a self-titled album from the trio Above Top Secret, which expertly mashes together rap, electro and dub into a bold, expansive take on modern music, fusing together seemingly disparate elements and incongruent sounds with well-earned aplomb. What's next? It feels like Leilani's only just getting started.

4. Daniel Caesar

Of all the R&B voices on this list, Daniel Caesar's is clearly the most expressive and versatile. Which is saying a lot, given the incredible amount of talented singers in Toronto. While his beautiful, major-keyed cover of James Blake's "The Wilhelm Scream" helped get his name out there, it was Caesar's voice that kept us in his world, one in which his vocals are always the center of attention through minimal instrumentation, a capellas and acoustic tracks. The closest touchstone is Frank Ocean, especially on tracks like "Paradise," but Caesar's a bit softer around the edges, a bit more polished and a bit more rock-based, with an equally killer falsetto.

5. dvsn

dvsn, pronounced "division," is one of the newer artists signed to Drake's OVO Sound imprint and with good reason. A duo of singer Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen85, dvsn released its debut, "Sept. 5th," back in late March. While it wasn't commercially successful, it was certainly critically acclaimed. And accessible too, which makes sense since Nineteen85 is also responsible for Drake crossover smashes like "Hold On, We're Going Home" and "Hotline Bling," while Daley's otherwise indistinct vocals delightfully flavor the music through obsessive lyricism. With their connections and experience, expect to hear much more from them in the future.

6. Egyptrixx

After starting his career with the incredible Night Slugs imprint, Egyptrixx (aka David Psutka) has now swerved into his own lane entirely, releasing music through his own Halocline Trance label and adopting multiple monikers to explore his shattered, metallic soundworlds. His latest release is called "Sign of the Cross Every Mile to the Border" and sees the producer adopting the Ceramic TL alias. Influenced by techno, house, noise and drone, Psutka plunges deeper into cold electronic meditation and comes back with new ways to shape his sounds, producing a muscular materiality that's often bypassed in the club.
Jazz Cartier in Austin
Jazz Cartier in Austin

7. Jazz Cartier

Jazz Cartier's a household name in Toronto due to his frenetic live show and off-stage persona. But he's already making a name outside the city with just three mixtapes to his name. His latest, " Hotel Paranoia," was released earlier this year — a 16-song journey that shows the Red Bull Sound Select rapper further refining his flow. It's a unique one too, especially since his hypnotic, hook-laden delivery is framed around an apparently deep stutter. But a speech impediment can't stop this rising artist: He recently hit the studio with Mike WiLL Made-It and earned a well-deserved co-sign from Lil Wayne.
Lowell
Lowell

8. Lowell

Yes, Toronto has it all, even brilliant electropop. Its most promising artist is Lowell, who has already released an EP and a LGBTQ-inflected debut album on Toronto's own seminal label, Arts & Crafts, not to mention a poppy single with Icona Pop called "Ride." Later this summer, Lowell will be releasing "Part 1: PARIS YK," a new EP that represents a triumphant battle over writer's block that, if its single "High Enough" is any indication, is sure to continue her exquisite, forward-thinking take on pop. As she asks in her newest single, "Am I good enough? / Am I high enough? / Yet?" She's certainly good enough, but we can only see her going higher from here.

9. PUP

Toronto artists like to capitalize their names. That's a fact. Another fact is that PUP has been holding down the pop-punk scene since 2013's self-titled debut and they continue to do so with the recent release of their second album, "The Dream Is Over." I'd call them a throwback to mid-'90s pop-punk or early '00s emo-pop, but these sounds never really left us. There's a reason for that, too. Their music isn't about taking you to new sonic vistas. It's about presence, viscerality and celebration. PUP channel them all into huge anthemic choruses that'll have you bouncing around like a tween and we'd expect nothing less from a group composed of childhood buds.
River Tiber, Pusha T and Kaytranada
River Tiber, Pusha T and Kaytranada

10. River Tiber

With credentials that see him rubbing shoulders with artists like Pusha T and Kaytranada, and having a song sampled by Drake, River Tiber is clearly on the come-up. The multi-talented singer, instrumentalist and Red Bull Sound Select artist is not only a hot producer and sought-after session musician, but also an incredible songwriter and performer. His debut album, "Indigo," was self-released last month and it's a harmonically rich, beautifully complex album that's on par with Eyrkah Badu and Kendrick Lamar in scope, yet transcends the bodily and geographical shackles with spacey synths and psychedelic production. It's a gorgeous, patient release that sets him apart from the many shining R&B stars coming out of the city, an album best heard from deep within your soul. Or with headphones. Either way.

11. Sean Leon

Some artists are just naturals when it comes to music communities. Sean Leon, founder of the IXXI Initiative (which Daniel Caesar also calls home), is one of them. He has a knack for pooling together like-minded Toronto artists, from WondaGurl and Jazz Cartier to D.R.O. and BADBADNOTGOOD, dropping music that feels less ego-driven and more collaborative (not surprising that one of his albums is called "Narcissus, The Drowning of Ego"). It's all clearly the result of hard work, yet it sounds so effortless. With already three releases since 2013 and the hotly anticipated "Black Sheep Nirvana" on the way, Leon is a rapper to watch.
Tennyson, Red Bull Sound Select artist, at the Roxy
Tennyson

12. Tennyson

Tennyson is an electronic duo of siblings, but there's nothing about that statement that could prepare you for what they actually sound like. Influenced by Flying Lotus, Cashmere Cat and Aphex Twin but sounding more like new-age jazz workouts flitting wildly over muzak-inspired electronica, Tennyson is one of the more unique manifestations from Toronto. Which is weird, because their music is almost family-friendly on the surface, a seemingly safe brand of lounge-y tunes for the living room. But listen closely and you'll find their music to be subtly subversive, with oddball samples, mutant pop melodies and Katamari-like ecosystems vying for attention. Their music is all digital forests and saccharine sound-chunks, sugary stuff for late-night ball-rolling.

13. Tory Lanez

With a daunting slew of mixtapes, singles and an EP, it was only a matter of time before Tory Lanez would cease being a Toronto secret. And here we are, in 2016, with the singer set to release his major label debut, "I Told You," and taking shots at Drake like it ain't no thing. Yes, he's aiming for the Toronto crown, but he does have chops to back it up. His brand of R&B is a highly polished affair, with his voice riding a mix of overt radio pop and Jeremih-like sensuality that should make his appeal reach far and wide. He even made up a genre for his multi-genre style called "Swavey." Troy means business.
Tre Mission
Tre Mission

14. Tre Mission

Fact: The world is becoming increasingly hybridized and less localized. We can therefore expect more and more artists like Tre Mission, a rapper/producer of Trinidadian and Jamaican descent who lives in Toronto yet sounds straight outta London. Sure, the Red Bull Sound Select artist is still mostly a grime rapper, but he also mixes dancehall, reggae, dubstep and house into a thoroughly multi-sonic stew, providing an intriguing backdrop for his incredible dexterity and speedy delivery. He's already worked with grime artists like Wiley and Skepta, and you can hear some of his releases on Big Dada and Last Gang.

15. WondaGurl

Last we told you about WondaGurl was when we named her one of the 25 Best Producers Under 25. And what do you know: She's still under 25 and she's still one of the best rap producers out there. Obviously, age doesn't really factor in here. Ebony Oshunrinde has already broken into the mainstream before even turning 20, with production work for everyone from Jay Z and Travis Scott to Rihanna and Young Thug. Recent tracks include beats for rising star Lil Uzi Vert and Toronto rappers Sean Leon, Jahkoy Palmer, Redway and some guy named Drake.