Meet the Toronto Musician Who Made a Song for Every TTC Subway Stop
"Despite all its faults, I love the TTC. Maybe I love it because I haven't had to take it during rush hour for more than 15 years," says Kilometre Club (a.k.a. Daniel Field)
Published Sep 24, 2021All of the pandemic pet projects that people have undertaken in the past year and half, here's one of the most impressive: Toronto musician Kilometre Club made a track for every single subway stop on the TTC. These were broken up across eight albums, released between September 2020 and September 2021, before being compiled into the epic 76-track collection Kilometre Club's TTC.
With track lengths intended to sync up with the distances between stops, Kilometre Club's TTC is made up of swirling synth ambience, beats that click-clack like train tracks, and eerie sounds that evoke the retrofuturist strangeness of a network of tunnels beneath a huge metropolis. It's the work of Daniel Field, a Toronto musician and self-described TTC lover with a long history in folk and indie rock who decided to take up synths as a pandemic project.
He told Exclaim! about riding the TTC with his kids and went into some very specific detail about how some of the different stops inspired the music that accompanies them. He also explains why Dupont is his favourite station and why North York's Bessarion is "everyone's favourite useless stop."
Why make music for TTC stops?
I remember having a semblance of this idea more than 10 years ago, thinking about how it would be interesting to use the names of subway stations for songs. Early in the pandemic, after so many years of mostly playing guitar and folk music, I decided to learn more about analog and digital synthesizers, getting used to playing, programming and recording with them. This led to coming back to my idea for putting together songs for each TTC stop. I found a great poster by a digital artist called Rocket by Time that had timed the distance between stations, as well as some YouTube ride-alongs. I then started to figure out thematically what would work for each station. Last September I released TTC Line 1 - Part 1, which moved southbound from Finch to Bloor-Yonge, which I took for years growing up in the suburbs north of Toronto.
In my head, I wasn't sure if I was going to make tracks for every station on the TTC, but the positive feedback and encouragement I received from the first album inspired me to keep going. It took just over a year, and I managed to make other music in between, but I am thrilled to have completed the series this September.
What inspired the sound of each TTC stop?
I haven't been on the subway since the pandemic started. We are fortunate to have a car and I work as a special education teacher north of Toronto, so I have been driving or working from home. Despite all its faults, I love the TTC. Maybe I love it because I haven't had to take it during rush hour for more than 15 years, but I really think it's a good if flawed transit system. I have three kids [aged] eight and under, and seeing their excitement going station to station only adds to my love of using transit. Especially as I started working on the first album, I thought about my experiences taking the subway southbound. The first few tracks are a bit slower, muddier, and feel like they drag — this was intentional. I remember the feeling of it taking forever before you got to Eglinton.
My mandate for myself when creating each of the tracks was that they would be very simple, mostly about creating an ambient/electronic soundscape rather than a melody or a groove that builds. I thought about how the tracks could be used as background noise for anyone who wanted to zone out while on the subway. I worked hard to make music that could be easily ignored. The tracks run in a continuous mix into one another, with ambient sounds (most are made using synthesizers, but I definitely used the sound of my fridge squeaking for one of them) and a warped rendition of the three-tone chime sounding before each new track starts.
A lot of the time I would think about the subway station and what it felt like to be inside the station. I played around with tempo a little bit, using faster tracks when it felt like the distance between each stop went quicker. That's partly why some of the longer tracks are slower — they feel that way when you're so close to where you wanted to go. If you listen to some of the tracks individually, I think there are some obvious themes that link to the stations. Union sounds bright and like it's building up to something that never really comes, which can sort of be said about the construction. When I think of Dufferin, I think of the Dufferin Mall as well as the Galleria, and so I went for a retro '80s sound. Dundas West also has a retro vibe fitting of the Crossways, but it sounds a bit more sluggish. Castle Frank features a filter that makes the listener feel underwater timed exactly to the moments across the Don Valley, those moments when you hold your breath looking out on the DVP before going back indoors. And then there's Bessarion Station, everyone's favourite useless stop. It has only one note that barely moves for the entirety of the track, a small harmony joining it late in the track.
Some of the thematic links were less obvious. At times, I would watch a video of the transition between two stations and decide on some basic ideas —major or minor key, fast or slow, percussive or more sparse, what kind of feel, etc. — and then work on seeing if it would fit for the station as well as in relation to the tracks before and after.
What are your favourite (and least favourite) stops, lines or routes on the TTC?
Dupont Station, both inside and out, has my favourite look. I live off of the east end of Line 2, and many of the east end stations are tremendously boring and look just like each other. I wish there was something more distinct about some of the stations along the Danforth — if I'm spaced out, I definitely don't notice my station unless I hear the names.
I think my favourite route is the part of Line 1 that dips below Bloor-Yonge, all the way around to St. George. There are so many stops in such a small amount of space, and I have fond memories exiting and entering most of them.
Who is Kilometre Club and what else are you working on?
Kilometre Club is me, Daniel Field. I've been playing music since I was 13, in bands and solo, mostly folk and indie stuff. About 10 years ago I tried my hand at making electronic music with a very cheap synth and lots of reverb, using the name Kilometre Club (which was a fairly common extracurricular at many schools, and I seem to remember that every time you ran a kilometre, you would get a popsicle stick, which you'd collect. To be honest, I suck at running so I don't know if I ever joined). I re-adopted the name last year to release music, starting with the TTC project, but have since started releasing much more music, mostly ambient/drone and electronica. With the support of some amazing playlist curators and other musicians, I've been able to build up an audience of listeners on Spotify, where my tracks are found on playlists for relaxation and studying, yoga, as well as for deeper listening.
Last month I released an album called Lost Signal, an ambient/post-rock/electronica album with a narrative about an astronaut getting lost in space, which used synths, guitars, drum programming, and synthesized voice to form a mostly instrumental story. I plan on releasing more ambient and electronic music in the near future, as I find the creation of this music both inspiring and therapeutic. I'm excited to make music, regardless of whether people are interested in listening, though it definitely is a boost to see regular listeners to my songs.