By Catherine Abes
Tristan Rotilio wandered west on College Street with no destination in mind.
He wasn’t lost, he was trying to find something very specific: a space large enough for at least 400 people but no more than 1,000, equipped with a stage, within a 10-minute walk of Ryerson University.
Musicians at Ryerson’s Battle of the Bands, an annual concert-style competition for Ryerson-based music groups, was held at the Hard Rock Café in Yonge-Dundas Square for the last three years. The venue was perfect—it was well-known and easily accessible for Ryerson students. But in May 2017, the Hard Rock shut its doors for good.
This was bad news for Rotilio, who had just decided to take the lead on organizing this year’s event. He struggled to find a venue that could match the Hard Rock, but thankfully, he didn’t have to look too far. Rotilio managed to book the court at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
“It was an uphill battle, but I was so happy when I was able to get the venue,” said Rotilio. “I’ve been super excited just walking by it every day.”
Rotilio took on the role of organizer after three years with Musicians at Ryerson, which calls itself the school’s “unofficial music faculty.” His first step as an organizer was to establish a clear vision for the group’s biggest annual event.
“I really wanted to understand for myself and for my team: what was the essence of Battle of the Bands in the last six years? Why did it keep growing, why did so many people come, why did it get so much funding?” said Rotilio.
“We’re really trying to foster that community and push those musicians, and try to help Ryerson bands to grow musically”
In the end, he came up with two main goals. The first is to help Ryerson musicians gain exposure and experience. The winning band will earn a spot in the lineup at Riverfest Elora, a music festival in Elora, Ont., and a paid gig with the Ryerson Students’ Union.
“There’s no music program at Ryerson but there’s a lot of really awesome musicians,” said Rotilio. “We’re really trying to foster that community and push those musicians, and try to help Ryerson bands to grow musically.”
The second reason is really just to build community through music.
“Music is a really good force to bring together different people from different faculties, different musical tastes, different areas of the university.”
For Martin Vishnepolsky, part of the sponsorship team for Battle of the Bands, last year’s competition was the highlight of his first year at Ryerson.
“It felt like everyone knew each other,” said Vishnepolsky. “Everyone was cheering the bands on. You could see that everyone came to the event not because they were fans of any specific band, but because they wanted to come out and support the community.”
When the MAC was known as Maple Leaf Gardens, it hosted big names in music like Elvis Presley, The Who and The Beatles. Now, six bands from Ryerson will follow in their footsteps: The Jims, Funny Funk, Jackpine, Burn Apollo, Love Wagon and Mauve Grove.
Rotilio says that each band bring something different to the table.
“My biggest philosophy is that if you’re having fun playing the music, then people have fun listening to the music”
“What’s cool is that [the bands] are very diverse,” said Rotilio. “Some of them will just get you dancing, some of them will have really good crowd interaction; they all have a different kind of feel to them.”
The genres range from avant-funk to pop punk indie and the make-up of the bands is just as diverse: while The Jims is an all-female band under 21, Funny Funk is made up of 10 people and seven instruments.
Despite their different backgrounds, the bands have one thing in common. It’s not about the competition—it’s about the music.
“We just really love playing and meeting other bands and musicians,” said Carly Harris, the drummer for The Jims. “Also, it’d be really good for exposure; maybe people who haven’t heard of us will like our sound. And the feedback from the judges would be really helpful to improve what we do.”
Returning competitors Love Wagon say that every show has just been a fun opportunity to connect with friends and other musicians.
“The focus on music and development at the event is really inspiring,” said John Abou Chacra of Love Wagon. “For something called the Battle of the Bands, the atmosphere and attitude surrounding it are extremely friendly and the least bit competitive. It feels very communal and it’s awesome to be involved with something like that.”
For Funny Funk, Battle of the Bands is just another show.
“Honestly, this band is my baby. These are songs I’ve written, and just every show I get to play is just so much fun,” said Jackson Steinwall, lead guitarist and vocalist. “My biggest philosophy is that if you’re having fun playing the music, then people have fun listening to the music.”
“Hopefully people are dancing.”
Battle of the Bands will be held on Mar. 23.