My Young Lions Music Club membership card is the first piece of hand-written mail I’ve received in years. The enclosed note, loopy handwriting on a torn rectangle of lined paper, is a throwback to high school. It reads, “Hey Ronit! Thanks for joining the club! You are now a part of something great, which makes you even more great!” Nearly 1,000 Torontonians have received a similar note in the mail over the past few years, and I suspect a good number of them, like myself, couldn’t help but smile when they read it.
Founded in the summer of 2011, Young Lions Music Club is a music marketing company and fan club. Creative Director and founder Bobby Kimberley had been working for a music public relations agency, and realized a new business model would allow him more freedom to create memorable events for music fans. “Our clients were bands and labels. When the revenue of your clients starts to drop, their budgets drop with it… We want to bring one-of-a-kind experiences to the city. And the best way to do that without limitations is through sponsorship.” He decided to strike out on his own and began freelancing.
One early event was a collaboration with friends who run the Live in Bellwoods video series, filming bands that play in Trinity Bellwoods park. Kimberley suggested inviting audiences to enjoy the show, and the event grew to become the annual Great Heart Festival. During the NXNE music festival every June, bands play free acoustic sets, without any amplification, to an all-ages crowd in the park. “That’s a signature event, just because it has this great community feel.” Young Lions Music Club was officially launched at the second iteration of this event. The club’s name came from the lyrics of a song by Canadian band the Constantines, “O young lions, this is your kingdom.” Kimberley says of the name, “I think it describes a new creative class… The idea is that we can come together now and really kind of own the future of this city.”
YLMC events work so well because Kimberley knows exactly who his members are—for the most part, 25-34 year-olds in creative industries—and focuses, above all else, on catering to them. In return, his membership is loyal, turning out en masse to events like a The Shining-themed party during TIFF, which featured a bartender dressed as Lloyd, a band costumed to look like the Grady twins, a massive custom mural, and an actor, in character as Jack Torrance, interacting with partygoers. YLMC events are able to draw a crowd, in a city filled with other party options, because they offer members once-in-a-lifetime experiences; last September, for example, legendary bass player Andy Rourke of The Smiths DJed a boat cruise on Lake Ontario. “We want to create memories—it sounds tacky as hell—but we want to create memories that last. So maybe when we’re all forty-plus and living in Oakville, then we’ll look back on our time in the city.”
This spring, YLMC will host UK band The Foals, who will guest DJ at Songs: A Dance Party on May 11th at the Black Box in the Great Hall. In mid-June, the Great Heart festival will return to Trinity-Bellwoods, and later that month, the club will team with Mill Street Brewery for an Ontario Craft Beer Week party in an old power plant in the Junction. At these events, like all his others, Kimberley will have a loftier goal than just showing people a good time. “You’re out somewhere, there’s other people there that you could fully interact with. But the immediate assumption in Toronto is that those people don’t want you to interact with them… The community aspect is kind of lacking. It’s a need. It’s a need for people to be like, ‘Hey! Everyone who’s here is here for the same reason, and probably would love to know you. So, what about it?’”
WORDS: RONIT RUBINSTEIN
PHOTOS: MARK TYM