NXNE Recap: Stranger in a Strange Land (Part 2)

June 28. 2011 | By Olivia Harrington

We are all searching for that moment. Perhaps not quite sure of its form, we’ve been conditioned by years of privilege, by film stills, novel passages, and flashy headlines to know that we should be looking for it. That one instance of magic or menace, the hours of reckless abandon or seconds of introspective solitude, the point of no return or the warmth of coming home, all which give life the more-than-proverbial bang for its buck. It’s no surprise then that people flock to music festivals, who stand as beacons of hedonism, mascots of mischief, or most simply, serve as an outlet from the monotony of everyday living.

And with each passing year, the hunt at each festival intensifies, as the folklore of its last incarnation escalates.

And, has become accustomed, once we have those instances, they must be shared (increasingly at a limit of 140 characters or less). We need to distribute it quickly and concisely, so we fall back upon tendered, although tired, truisms. We speak of amps turned to 11, adages of damaged livers, the rebellious bits of tinnitus that long outstay their welcome. There are the mistakes, the regrets, the ‘shouldn’t haves’, the bumps in the night. There is discussion of fashion, of secret guests, of parties snuck into and bars thrown out of. Realities of festivals no doubt lie within these stories. But it’s often that we recount only the temporary things exclaimed at the loudest decimal, rarely reporting on the whispers of the things already there. When thousands descend upon a city, clinging to its every pore, what happens to the music community already there?

This is the story of NXNE told through the perspective of its softer moments, of the things that were there before and will remain to stay long after the last hashtag.


This is Colin Medley.

For the sake of disclosure, Colin is not a complete stranger. But he mostly is, barring a chance airport encounter and the ubiquitous nature of social networking. This article was never intended to be written, but in looking at the Toronto grassroots, it would be criminal not to include him, given that it was his NXNE party that gave rise to this article’s concept. But more on that later.

There are some people who like music. Then there are people like Colin. They build custom furniture for their albums, they know discographies as fond memories and a guided tour of Toronto includes all the record stores. (Of course, Toronto seemingly has the most per square mile, so perhaps this isn’t a choice, but rather by circumstance. In Medley’s case, however, it’s doubtful.) But his relationship with music isn’t just through his headphones. At the very old age of 23, Medley has established himself as preeminent videographer and photographer in his own right, gaining him notable press and, likely unrelated, a very large group of cohorts. Perhaps one of his most recognizable works is that with Diamond Rings (John O’Regan) on videos like All Yr Songs and  Wait & See (directed along with Jared Raab). But the collaboration with O’Regan is rooted in a deep friendship, one that has formed the basis of Hype Lighter, a collective created by the two, along with Medley’s brother Adam, dedicated to “promoting exciting developments in art and music,” and living by the slogan “Making things great by making great things.” Based on their deeds thus far, it’s a motto with merit.

Of course, you wouldn’t know this from Medley’s tall (very tall), gangly frame that walks at a pace to rival any New Yorker. While Diamond Rings is known for his affronts to the identity binary, Medley also performs as somewhat of a double agent. But the less than ostentatious presentation matched much of the festival atmosphere itself. As opposed to the days in March spent drenched in the Texas heat, NXNE concert-goers seemed more interested in remaining themselves than announcing their festival participation. It was much rarer to see a festival attendee with their pass swinging from around their neck. Instead it was kept at the wayside and extracted only when needed. While this likely has much to do with the size of NXNE and that its audience was largely local, it was still a difference readily noticed. No one cared to be denoted by who they played with or what box they checked as their occupation status. Truth be told, for most of the festival goers, the small community of Toronto guaranteed that you likely already knew.

Medley has produced a number of videos for bands like One Hundred Dollars, Timber Timbre, Forest City Lovers and Diamond Rings, but it was his most recent endeavor, embarking on an international tour with friends Diamond Rings and  PS I Love You (a duo comprised of Paul Saulníer and Benjamin Nelson), that gave life to his latest project. Medley published his first book, “All I Want Is More Than I Ever Had,” a collection of intimate tour photos of the bands. Purposefully lacking the typical live concert shots, the series exposes the more confidential and vulnerable underbelly of life on the road, a visual capture of the moments of which we often forget to take heed.

A photo from the collection:

What began as a party to celebrate Medley’s accomplishment, but mostly just “get a bunch of friends together,” blossomed into a HypePop party (a collaboration between Hype Lighter+Pop Montreal), a sponsored shin-dig, complete with write-ups as a must attend NXNE Day Party (which quite puzzled and slightly worried Medley, given that the festivities were set to take place in their own loft).

Arriving a bit late, the party, complete with a balloon and beer-filled room, was already in full swing. In the entangled web that is life and art, a life-size Michael Jordan cut-out greets you at the door, a face familiar not only for its legendary 23 jersey, but also the cardboard cameo in Diamond Rings’ video for “Wait and See.” There was barbecue, complete with the best spelt chocolate chip cookies, as dreamt up by Katie, a caterer and sometimes tour manager for O’Regan. Mostly everyone had an “and” that came with the mention of their occupation with attendants including many faces that those traveling to NXNE had come to see: Allie Hughes and her fabulous backup singers, PS I Love You,  and the aforementioned Diamond Rings (who almost missed everything due to a flight mishap from LA) amongst many others. But honestly no one noticed or likely gave a damn because these were friends coming out to celebrate and didn’t think in terms of those tired festival truisms. Nothing seemed fake, with the most artificial thing on display being the Pop Chips, something given (not even purchased) to Hype Lighter. The party and what it celebrated all felt much like NXNE itself; an intimate gathering among friends. Perhaps it’s just the luck of knowing the right people to experience it with. Perhaps it was having to forfeit all cellular social networking when crossing the border. Whatever it was, it was a moment. The best kind.

Of course, when you can have a glimpse into someone else’s life without the flourishes of a third party, it is always an adventure worth taking. Thus, you can check out Colin in his own words at Hype Lighter [which provided the party photos] or at his own website, ColinMedley.com. On the former, be sure to check out more photos and a poem about the party as well as the unrelated article about the incredible, and of course friend drawn, mural in their house.

* * *

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that during all the hustle and bustle of a festival that life exists outside of it. While the crowds may have increased, the city of Toronto continued on as usual…

Why does this seem dangerously close to a big “Candy” marked red van?

* * *

The best shows of NXNE never happened inside a venue. They involved no stage lighting, no sound checks or VIP area. You needn’t have had a wristband or pass. You didn’t have to know anybody. You didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas. For four days, playing from sleepy afternoon haze to early night glow, Live In Bellwoods brought 24 Canadian artists to the lush Toronto park wilderness where they played stripped down, acoustic sets against the backdrop of leaves and curious wanderers. But the scenic moment was not lost with the close of each set; every artist was taped for the on-going Live in Bellwoods project produced by the community collective of Humble Empire.

From the creators, Mike Juneau and Kyle McCreight:

“Beginning on a fine fall day in August of 09, two friends decided to start documenting great musicians performing live in Trinity Bellwoods Park, this is the collection. Inspired by La Blogotheque, and the beauty that is Bellwoods.”

Even in its brevity, the description hits upon all the key words. Sitting on a field in the sunny afternoon heat, everyone seemed to be a friend, many inviting strangers to sit on their picnic blanket. There were indeed musicians. And it was all very beautiful. Live in Bellwoods was four days [although we only caught three] of the most stunning, inspiring, relaxing, and welcoming atmosphere for which a foreigner could ask.

The Balconies

Watch The Balconies’ Bellwoods’ performance.

Megan Bonnell

Megan Bonnell had to be the sweetest set encountered at the four-day festival. Aside from infectious laughter (one which she turned on herself after forgetting the drum beat) and a Fleetwood Mac sing-along, Bonnell brought along her own bubbles, which she handed out to eager audience members.

Graham Wright & the Good Times Band

Despite the name, there was no band backing Wright, at least aside from his Tokyo Police Club bandmates who sat cheering supportively from the audience.

Enjoy Your Pumas


Freedom or Death

Watch Freedom or Death’s Bellwood’s performance


Whale Tooth

As already noted, Whale Tooth was one of the best NXNE bands caught twice. And now, with the beautifully shot video, the endless hours of pressing repeat have already begun.

Watch Whale Tooth’s Bellwoods’ performance of “Wolves”

Olenka & The Autumn Lovers

Olenka & The Autumn Lovers weren’t entirely typical with their choice of song. Scrapping tales of forlorn broken hearts, Olenka and her orchestral troop instead looked at the sobering, and less sensationalized, realities of everyday life. Topics included the cut of educational arts funding, communism, and Odessa. “This is a song about poverty,” declared Olenka Krakus. “Something we can all relate to,” an audience member chimed in as all the onlookers laughed in joyous agreement and secretly sent thanks to the heavens that all of this was free.


Matt King (of DD/MM/YYYY)

Matt King utilized many objects including glasses, a tape deck, guitar, and occasionally his mouth (although not in the way you think).

Here, King did a cover song, although it wasn’t a typical rendering.

(In case the idea is still lost, King played a tape, which provided the ‘singing’ and then simultaneously placed the tape in his mouth, embodying a literal mouth piece.)

Getting free Stella Artois in the park served to fill the day’s daily exercise quotient.

Jess Hill

Vancouver singer/songwriter, Jess Hill, knows how to craft a story. For her NXNE tale amongst the trees, Hill told a story of the moth, wondering if she too was not unlike the winged creature, looking for the delights of the moon only instead to fly into the zap of a bright lightbulb.


Nicholas Doubleyou & the B-Squad

Modern Superstitions

Watch Modern Superstitions’ Bellwood’s performance.

Hands & Teeth

After playing to a packed house at Sneaky Dee’s the night before, where they opened with a daring and ultimately worthwhile choice of “Dig a Pony,” it was a treat to get to see this musical quintent (who frequent switching off and on various musical instruments and vocals) in the spacious outdoors.

Teenage Kicks

The organizers and men behind Live in Bellwoods, Mike Juneau and Kyle McCreight, are introduced and then take a moment to thank the audience. Moments, people, they happen. You just have to slow down to appreciate them.

Mike Juneau and Kyle McCreight

To the city of Toronto and all its inhabitants, both true and fair-weather, thank you for providing a series of monumental moments. Until next year…

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