NXNE in review: Best bands, BBQ love-ins, and worst party shutdowns
After a day’s recovery, we bring to you our post-mortem on NXNE, where aside from gang violence fears, venue debacles and news of tragedy there was stellar music to be heard. NXNE retains its rep as Canada’s best music fest, which is quickly becoming more and more like SXSW in scope and profile, but given what happened here over the past week it’s probably best Toronto irons out a few kinks before hosting something of that proportion. - Marsha Casselman, Richard Trapunski
The Crawford saves hip hop – to a degree
Wednesday night the Crawford hosted an important hip hop show as the Rivoli’s Smashmouth showcase was shut down due to apparent gang-violence fears (or lack of security given the number of people expected depending on who you ask). It gave scheduled Rivoli acts like Upperclass Men and our favourite Rich Kidd a chance to perform somewhere, at least. I spoke to Rich Kidd after his “fuck the police” yet “let’s be positive” performance with Blake Carrington, and he seemed shocked as to why the police would even be looking into the venue requesting more security. “I mean I hang out with some goons but…”. Regardless, what got me was how Crawford’s CRAZY club night on the top level was louder and more bumpin’ than the NXNE show downstairs. You had rising star Max Burgundy who came all the way from Brooklyn, rhyming to maybe 25 people downstairs while upstairs the crowd was going nuts to Kanye, oblivious to the live realness going on just below their feet. - MC
Unloveable party shutdowns
NXNE seems to be growing every year, always enveloping bars, galleries, backyards and boats. That widening of scope is great for the city, which comes alive for the weekend regardless of who’s playing, but it’s also meant growing pains for many of the new venues and parties, many of which either aren’t official and can’t hide from the law or aren’t equipped to handle the crowds.
The festival started with the shutdown of the Rivoli hip hop showcase, but it wasn’t the only gathering to draw the police’s ire. Late Thursday night, popular Dundas West hangout Unlovable was slapped with an indefinite liquor license suspension, which is essentially a sudden death sentence for a bar like that. A Daps/Buzz party was happening at the time and the bar was admittedly over capacity (the extent to which depends on who you ask), but after speaking to some of the musicians, it sounds like the police reaction was disproportionate to say the least (spots aren’t usually given an indefinite suspension for a first offence). Owner Jamal Watson initially posted a death notice on the bar’s Facebook page but has since had a change of heart, vowing to fight the decision in court. And he has the help of Toronto’s music community. Yesterday, Phedre released a new track as a benefit for Unlovable’s legal fund (below).
It was a tough weekend for that corner of Toronto’s music scene. About a month before NXNE, the landlords of our favourite DIY venue, The Garage, started construction to turn the “unused space” into apartments. Buzz Records, who had actually been working with the festival to plan a full card of official day events, had to cancel everything. A separate Saturday night house party on Manning Street was also planned, featuring bands like Hut, Sean Nicholas Savage and TOPS, but after the event found its way onto a number of listing sites, the neighbours warned that they would call the police if they heard a single note. But to the festival’s testament, there were still too many day and after parties to choose from, even with the shutdowns. - RT
Doom Squad: Siblings to play a forest near you
“Is this your first gig in Toronto?” I asked experimental electronic band Doom Squad after their 2 a.m. gig at Rancho Relaxo Friday. “It is … though we have played a couple forests,” the keyboardist replied, as if this is something most bands do. Both nature-loving hippies and cloaked shamans spring to mind with this three-peice’s dance music, which combines indie rock elements (flute, recorder (!), keys, guitar, angelic back vocals) with dark electronica and a post-punk sounding frontman. Trevor, Jaclyn, and Allie Blumas couldn’t be from anywhere but Montreal (they all donned red squares in solidarity with the student strike), though one of them is schooling in Toronto, so prepare for more gigs here . They already seem to have a small following – some of the pachuoli-smelling dreads variety, but also drew many curious onlookers. With a more consistent sound, they’ll be a unique force to contend with, a least on the forest scene. - MC
Daps Records the ones to beat.
We can see why the Daps Records showcase reached capacity by the time Odonis Odonis (one of our bands to watch) came on stage. With Odonis Odonis unveiling a new member (Maddy Wilde formerly of Spiral Beach) and rocking out distorto-reverb style, Phedre’s experimental pop freak show, and Beta Frontiers rounding off the evening with his fresh take on electro, Sneaky Dees was the place to be. Yet the large lineups for venues featuring mainly local bands leads me to believe Toronto needs to step up a notch with its medium sized spaces. - MC
Tim McCready’s family-friendly BBQ
It’s become a Resonancity tradition to stop by Tim McCready’s annual NXNE BBQ. The event has come a long way since the first edition, where I met site editor Marsha Casselman four years ago. Once a modest PBR and punk bands affair, the party’s increased scope and price tag (thirty dollars this year) has simultaneously raised and lowered the average age of attendees. Amongst the members of Choir! Choir! Choir!, poets, bands and “meat hipsters” feasting on the three whole spit-roasted pigs were a number of little children, dancing and enjoying themselves (including the two lookalike sons of Sloan’s Chris Murphy, who stood adorably mesmerized at his drumming in novelty country act Little Orton Hoggit and his 10 Cent Wings). A few youngins were even on stage – Unfinished Business is a trio of 11-year-old-girls. - RT
Pretty Pretty records shows a lot of promise
It was 3 a.m. the last day of NXNE and the Dollar was still full for new Toronto label Pretty Pretty’s first showcase . Cam Findlay (ex-Crystal Castles) went unmasked with a strobe light to unveil his new synth project Kontravoid – melodic yet dark electro with harsh distorted vocals. He moved around so fast he evaded my camera, and so keeps with the mysterious image he’s going for. French-language electro duo Automelodi from Montreal (but belonging in Europe) showed their veteran status as Xavier Paradis did some nice posturing on stage and really got the crowd moving. Tarantula X founder John M, also part of Pretty Pretty, DJ’d heavier jams to suit garage punk of earlier performers Mac Demarco and Bleached to gothic to the all-out techno after Kontravoid to finish off the night. - MC