Noel Peters has been bringing the noise—literally—to Toronto for the past two decades. Peters’ company, Inertia Entertainment, has hosted some of the biggest metal bands in the world, from Sepultura and Cannibal Corpse to Mastodon and Ghost. It’s a labor of love for Peters, who started his career as a concert promoter simply to help out his friends’ bands. Twenty years later, he’s still got his horns held high with no signs of slowing down. He celebrates the 20-year milestone with a hand-picked metal blowout featuring some of his favorite bands on February 27 at The Opera House in Toronto.
We caught up with Peters to chat about pre-Internet promotion, his career highlights, and what’s in store for the next 20 years.
How’d you get into the business?
I started out trying to help my friends’ bands break into the Toronto music scene and get some gigs [and] building networks with other Toronto area bands. The way to get them in front of a larger audience was to try to find bigger touring bands and get them to open for them. It took a lot of phone calls, a lot of faxing, a lot of perseverance to get taken seriously. In the first year in 1996 I managed to get some smaller touring bands; not really anything significant. It wasn’t until the second year in 1997 where I managed to land some larger touring acts to help get more exposure for local bands I was working with at the time. From there, it took off like wildfire.
To give a little more of an explanation: There weren’t any minor level touring acts. All of the bigger, club-level metal bands were bypassing Toronto. They’d been bypassing Toronto for close to five years because there wasn’t a promoter picking up the shows and doing the gigs with them. The big ones like Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, etc. they all played here; they were all promoted by what is now essentially Live Nation concerts. But the smaller bands that I would go and see in the 1980s and early ’90s like Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse, these bands all just bypassed Toronto. As I broke this nut to open up this network of larger touring bands to come through Toronto, it just kind of spread that there was a guy in Toronto who was booking these shows again. It morphed into something much bigger than what I ever expected it to be. Twenty years later, I’m sitting here still doing this.
So why are you still at it 20 years later?
I love music. That’s about it. I’ve had opportunities with bands I grew up listening to, bands whose shows I went to—that’s very motivational. It’s motivational seeing new talent and developing new talent along the way. At the same time, every now and then something comes down the wire to me, like it did in 1999 when I’m booking Stormtroopers of Death and I’m like “Wow, I bought these guys’ record in 1987.” Or when I’m bringing Quiet Riot in at one point to Toronto—a band who was an arena-level band at one time and here I am working with these guys when they were touring with their original metal lineup.
The motivation I find is always different along the way, but there’s many great things, like meeting amazing musicians. I’m having Uli Jon Roth, guitar player of the Scorpions, coming back at the end of March. Here I am a couple years back booking the original guitar player for the Scorpions; I hit it off with this guy, had an amazing time, had amazing conversations, and said come back. On his Ultimate Guitar Experience tour this time around, he’s bringing a woman named Jennifer Batten and ironically last night I was watching a video of one of the greatest performances of a Super Bowl halftime, and it was 1993 and it was Michael Jackson and there I see Jennifer Batten playing guitar with him. She’s performed alongside legends and she’s a legend in her own merit.
I get to produce events with performances by people like them and that’s motivational. There’s always new personalities, new people, new experiences and there’s always new challenges and that’s what keeps it going—that coupled with a love of music. If I didn’t enjoy listening to the music I promoted, I would not be doing what I’m doing.
What were some of the challenges you faced early on, and what challenges do you face today? Any similarities from then and now, or has the game totally changed?
The game has totally changed. Back 20 years ago, a lot of stuff was done doing street promotion, like flyering, being at shows, and networking. I remember the bands that I worked with would go out and hand out flyers, stickers and CDs. We would make flyers for every show. It was a very street-level promotion. It wasn’t until the late ‘90s and early 2000s where the Internet started taking a stronger presence, but the street marketing—that’s where I built my network, on the hand-to-hand level, just getting out there, meeting people, hanging the posters myself, going to shows and handing out flyers myself, [and] talking about the events.
Now, sure, you can put a band event up on the Internet and hope people find it or you can put a little bit of money and people will come to it, but part of where I’ve grown and succeeded with this is the fact that I’m very interactive with my audience online and I’ve had a strong social presence for as long as we’ve been using social media, be it MySpace or Facebook. Prior to that, I’ve been in ownership of my dot-com for two decades. Like everyone else I started out with one of the Angelfire-type websites and eventually when I got my dot-com I kept it. It’s been a standard and a staple for the city of Toronto. People know they can come to that site. I’ve kept my online presence strong for 20 years through social media and being as interactive with people is what gets you past challenges of getting people out because there’s a face to the name of the company, as opposed to just a blank name out there.
Looking back, what have been some of the most memorable moments in your career?
There are tons and tons of memories. Just surviving and continuing to grow 20 years in this industry working within the specialty/niche music I work with.
A memorable milestone as a promoter was being able to rent out the prestigious Sony Center in Toronto where I booked an artist Opeth who I’d been working with at the time in 1999-2000 and taken up from the small club level to playing one of the most prestigious theaters in Toronto. That was a completely memorable moment for me right there. In 2005, I flew a seven-piece band in from Norway, Green Carnation, to perform an exclusive North American gig, where they performed their legendary record Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness in its entirety. At the time, it had only been performed in its entirety live maybe two other times … In 2006, Sacrifice, the band headlining my 20th anniversary party, I managed to get them for a reunion show. It had taken a long time to convince them to do this reunion show, which then morphed into them recording a new record. They only play once or twice a year, and they’re headlining my 20th anniversary party.
What should we expect from the 20-year anniversary concert?
I hand-selected four bands to perform. These are all people who have a tie to me in one manner or another. There’s Sacrifice. I have this band from Chicago called Macabre that I’ve been working with since the late 1990s. I booked them up in Toronto; I think in 1998 was the first time. I just hit it off so well with these guys. They don’t play live all that much. I’ve had them do one other special gig for me. I flew them out on New Year’s Eve in 2004 to play a show for me. When I was putting together the lineup for my 20th anniversary party they were one of the first names that came to me to play alongside Sacrifice.
Then I have Goatwhore from New Orleans who are coming up. Goatwhore is a black and death metal band that I have ties that go back to about the year 2000 when they were known as a band called Soylent Green. Soylent Green is still an active band right now but not as active as Goatwhore is. Not only do I love their music but they’re amazing people that I’ve become great friends with over the years.
And then I have one local Toronto band that I work closely with and they’re called Panzerfaust and they are a black metal band. They’re a little bit of nepotism here as the singer of the band also works for my company but taking that out of the equation, they are a strong building presence in the black metal scene and good friends. The whole premise of my 20th anniversary party when I hand-selected these bands is that not only are they bands I love but they’re bands that I’m comfortable with, that I’m friends with.
You’re 20 years in. What’s in store for the next 20?
I can’t say. I take everything on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis. This year I’ve already managed to hit a couple of new milestones. I’m going to Massey Hall in Toronto for my very first time, which is another prestigious Toronto venue right up there with the Sony Center. The Sony Center is a 60-year-old musical landmark; Massey Hall is a 120-year-old Toronto landmark for live music.
Staying an independent promoter, being able to work in a venue like this, these are milestones that you will hit relegated to the fact that as much as I would love to say “Hey, I’m booking Iron Maiden” or “I’m booking Metallica,” I know that will never happen. It’s not a never-say-never but when these bands are playing arenas and stadiums, the people who have been producing them for decades are the ones that will continue to produce them for decades. They have no reason to to look elsewhere. I learned that when I was trying to book a band that I’d been pursuing a bunch of years back. When I got through to their booking agent, their booking agent told me, “Look, we have something that works already for this artist and there’s no reason to book anywhere else. If this were to change, we’d be more than happy to give you a call but as it stands right now, thank you for your call and best of luck to you.” I know that being an independent promoter in a limited niche of music that there’s only certain levels that I’m going to be able to attain, but there are surprises that come along. Massey Hall is a pleasant surprise for me—it’s a new level of production, a new level of event, a new challenge.
What other things do I look forward to over the next couple decades? I look forward to some of the artists that I’ve worked with continuing to grow and continuing to carry me along with them in their journey as they become larger artists and that maybe somewhere down the road I will have the opportunity to book a stadium or an arena with a band that I have been growing.