Driving the Beat

A music industry entrepreneur looks to strengthen the city’s growing creative economy

Photo: Junction Beats owner Joel Jacobs

FOR JOEL JACOBS, June 22, 2019 is a big date on the calendar. It’s a day that everything, it seems, has been driving him towards. That day, a Saturday, has been set aside for the Junction Beats Festival—an ­offshoot of his upstart Junction Beats, a small independent music school in a neighbourhood east of downtown.

The idea is, at face value, a fairly simple one: a local music festival, featuring local talent, local food and a chance for some of his students to perform live. All of it is meant to fundraise so that Jacobs can provide free music lessons to kids whose families can’t afford it.

But Jacobs sees this festival, itself an extension of a larger mission to help build the profile of London’s music community, as something bigger. “All the different chunks of my life,” he says, “are coming together in this festival.”

Jacobs started Junction Beats in 2015 while he was working and playing in Toronto. He is the inversion of the ‘those who can’t do, teach’ cliché. He started the school, he says, because he realized that, even as a working musician, he missed teaching.

“I’ve always really loved teaching,” he says. “I feel like I’m doing the least harm.”

“The more people that are here, the more great musicians and artists, the better city we’re going to have” —Joel Jacobs

After bouncing around the continent for a few years—including a stint in Seattle working with ­violinist Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band fame— Jacobs, a London native, returned to town and purchased Britown Music, a music school located at 384 William Street, from Brian Nelles. Jacobs retained the location and rebranded the business to the Junction Beats name.

“I ended up combining elements of his school with Junction Beats, and brought Junction Beats to London,” says Jacobs. He moved here in January 2017, and by September Junction Beats was operational again. Now, he says he has around 60 students, ranging in age from three to 66.

Jacobs admits the obvious: “I’m not your average music teacher,” he says. He takes long digressions into the possibilities of virtual reality, stories from his career and the local history of Midtown London (the area centred along Dundas Street between the downtown core and Old East Village).

Joel Jacobs with student Presley Bollert

And in some ways, Junction Beats isn’t your average music school. It has all the basics—drum lessons, guitar lessons, brass lessons and so on—and Jacobs says for any instrument someone wants to learn, he can probably network and find a teacher. But he also sees the school as being part of a creative renaissance for the city. Fostering a new generation of young musicians will help sustain what Jacobs sees as a growing momentum to develop London into a music hotspot.

“That ceiling, the ceiling that had made me leave, I feel like it’s being raised,” says Jacobs, referring to new growth, development and opportunities within London’s music industry.

Jacobs focuses his lessons on “exploring” with kids, and less on rote repetition. “We explore all different types of music, understand rules and then understand why we break them,” he says.

The Junction Beats Festival, he says, is the epitome of all that. If he can give kids a chance to feel like a rock star for a day—an experience that grabbed Jacobs himself as a kid—then it will be a net positive for the entire city.

“The more people that are here, the more great musicians and artists,” he says, “the ­better city we’re going to have.”  Kieran Delamont

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