NXNE Recap, Part 1: Stranger in a Strange Land
For a little over a decade, the city of Toronto has thrown their hat into the music festival ring, presenting North by Northeast, an answer to the over-saturated festival landscape of their fatter friends to the South. This year, fom June 13th-19th, the city took on over 600 artists who performed at 50 venues, and while the Canadian landscape was treacherous, we managed to survive.
Thus, in honor of our often considerably more temperate northern neighbor, Owl Mag presents the coolest things (and a few other choice categories) at NXNE.
Coolest Show to Get Mauled For: Fucked Up.
There are many questions in life that are left unanswered. Should you stand in the very front row of a Fucked Up concert carrying only a camera and equipped only with the cloth on your back as your protection, isn’t one of them.
Fucked Up is an experience that demands to be seen live. But in talking about Fucked Up it is easy to fall into recycled adages. The paradoxical examination of their essence as a duality between punk attitude and rock sensibilities is not only fruitless, but takes on an assuming ideal about the merits of both genres. To focus solely on lead singer, and visual focal point, Damien Abraham, while understandable, doesn’t get behind the complexities of a band who all contribute to weaving operatic concept album that sustains itself not on watery gimmicks, but heart-wrenching sophistication beyond the blaring bullhorn antics. So how do you describe Fucked Up? You don’t; you see them for yourself.
Oh, and in reference to the original question posed, the answer is of course.
Coolest Way to Forget the Score: The Postelles.
While it was the first night of NXNE, for Canadian hockey team the Canucks it was one of their last. As many fans held their heads in their hands, the audience at the Garrison celebrated shamelessly to the pop sounds of New York’s The Postelles. Produced by Albert Hammond Jr., the Strokes comparisons are understandable, but instead of pulling from a ’70s discography, the Postelles delve further beyond, bringing their own form of motown into the mix. Their cover of “Hound Dog” allowed for the audience to break out in revelry and create a mess on the dance floor to forget the one on the ice. The good vibrations even brought Neon Windbreaker member Johnathan Dekel to the stage, who not only sang but helped to pour beer into bassist John Speyer’s mouth. What a team player.
Coolest German Rock Opera: Allie Hughes.
Walking through the doors into an Allie Hughes show was like falling through the rabbit hole, but one whose dirt walls were lined with posters of Neistche and Carol Channing. It wouldn’t truly be fair to simply classify Allie Hughes in terms of theatrics, but it would be heresy to leave them out. Hughes performed in her own little German dreamworld, often using their language, but not losing her audience in translation. It was a fun show and backed by a crazy cast of characters, including backup singers who helped to draw on Hughes’ bloody tears, a drummer in drag and a violinist and keyboardist, who by the night’s end ended up on the stage floor, it made the performance a truly memorable one.
Suuns, performing at The Garrison as the night’s Special Guest.
Coolest Bedroom Activity: Pat Jordache.
Taking a cue from friend and former bandmate Merril Garbus of Tune-Yards, Montreal’s Patrick Gregoire (under the name Pat Jordache) picked up all the ramshackle equipment he could find and free software he could download and retreated to his bedroom, set to creating a collection of truly lo-fi, low budget, kaleidoscopic, ambient sounds he’s so well known for. Except this time, his album Future Sounds, adds a level of pop-sensability that gives it a slightly more radio-friendly feel. Of course, Jordache hasn’t really left his roots, using the same unassuming baritone to woo the crowd to the stage.
Thing That Surprisingly Did Not Start A Riot (Which is Cool): Lower Dens guitarist’s Celtics T-Shirt. The only explanation is that their melodic, dreamy soundscapes quelled and entranced the audience.
Shows That Remind You That You Are Old and It Is Early: Child Bite and Cartoon.
Taking an early morning trip to Sneaky Dee’s seemed almost sacrilegious. It’s the kind of place that you can almost believe only exists in its wild intensity at night. In the day, the graffiti on the walls, once profound in the darkness, now look pedestrian. The bar covered in Christmas lights no longer seems to hold as many presents in its pantheon of multi-color glass jars. Thus, with the sun high and some of the ambience gone, the screaming and wailing of both post-punk bands Child Bite and Cartoon seemed only to remind that it was, indeed, very very early.
Shows The Wake You the Hell Up and Make You Feel Like a Kid in a Candy Store: Peelander Z.
Of course, with all that being said about daylight and the loss of venue magic, if there is one band who could get a crowd going in any setting it’s Peelander Z. Part comic book heroes, part acid trip and the musical fusion of the Ramones and a Japanese game show host, their self-proclaimed proclamation of other world origins is not farfetched.
Library Voices at the Mod Club.
Coolest Band to See Twice: Whale Tooth.
While we’re saving the schpeel for part 2 of our coverage, Canada’s Whale Tooth provided quite the rebel rousing experience, most notably guided by Elise Legrow’s stunning, transformative vocals. Songs like “Wolves” make you want to dance and shimmy around in Legrow’s shadow. And for morning (see noon) show time, that’s not bad at all.
Coolest time to Hit the Beach: Lee’s Palace Friday night showcase with Writer, Dirty Beaches, Dum Dum Girls and Cults.
Admittedly, this wasn’t a first choice in showcases. It wasn’t necessarily that it was last choice either, but the notion of seeing American bands so imbued in current internet ubiquity seemed to miss the point of a Yankee’s trip to NXNE. Nevertheless, the Friday night line-up at Lee’s Palace proved solid, but also could have garnered the title of Best Place to Watch a Swarm; the buzz was that overwhelming.
Given that these San Diego brothers were picked up to go on tour with Cults and Guards, it is unlikely that whatever anonymity they once possessed will remain for long. While all three have a tendency towards un-Google-able names and keeping things all in the family, Writer leans more towards the classic rock and rolls sound that was a shame to be missed by those not wanting to break the cool-rule and get there fore the night’s first act.
Watching Dirty Beaches play his one man show, complete with loops, pedals and shrill yelps, seems reminiscent of some sort of David Lynchian tale, or at least what could fittingly be played during the closing credits. There is something distant and almost slightly disturbed about the reclusiveness of Alex Hungtai’s sound. Apocalyptic and slightly discomforting, Hungtai still remains strangely engaging.
Although these photos show little evidence, the Dum Dum Girls do actually sing and they sing well. The band seems to sometimes offer a hidden challenge to those wanting to describe them. While it’s easy to fall back on ’60s girl-pop as the term du jour, that would undermine the serious rock and deliberate devilish undertones they’ve conjured up.
The last band was this small group that no one has ever heard of called Cults. No word then on why people were waiting outside in an hour-long line, but it’s safe to say it probably is related to some strange foreign Canadian custom involving using Lee’s Palace as a shrine to the maple syrup gods.
Coolest Show We Wish We Remembered: No Joy.
It was late. The type of late where the ceiling looks like stars and floor boards feel like a swamp. A conspiracy amongst Canadian watchmakers was likely afoot, as there was no way that the 1am reading on the clock was correct. Yet, while the ceiling was busy being celestial, No Joy was putting on an intense show of heavy distortion and loud levels of reverbs. Swaying in the darkness, the cacophonous melodies retrieve a sinister sound, imbued with a complexity that overshadows many of their contemporaries burdened with the label of ’90s shoegaze revivalist. Surrounded by empty beer bottles and stumbling late night shadows, it was easy to relay the dizzying wall of sound in songs like “Hawaii” to the sensation falling down, fucking up, and starting over. Or maybe that was just the rules of festival life bleeding through to consciousness. Maybe it was just late. Regardless, No Joy was simply just one of the best and while of course all photographs are subjective, their music is one that should be seen to be believed.
Tanika Charles of Tanika Charles and the Wonderfuls, Wrongbar.
Building that will give you nightmares: The Cameron House.
Coolest Rare Sighting: Anagram.
If you’re into feeling like a stalked animal of prey, you should likely head over to an Anagram show. The Canadian punk outfit, known for its numerous lineup changes and explosive behind the scenes dynamic, performed in a way that should garner a Discovery Channel special. Lead singer Matt Mason paced throughout the wooden floorboards of Wrongbar, provoking audience members to return to their evolutionary beginnings of fight or flight. While a few souls, including a few members of Canadian band Tokyo Police Club, braved the consequences and attempted to thrash about with Mason’s threatening figure, most just stood back and watched Mason drone out the soundtrack for a modern doomsday from afar.
Coolest Transformation: Jennifer Castle.
Under a red light, a storm was brewing. Slightly obscured by long brown hair and thick black glasses sits Jennifer Castle. Soft spoken, but never quiet, Castle’s folk music is a gem within the Toronto music scene. But Castle has done what is often simply not allowed for female performers. Instead of accepting the brand of quaint folky or aligning herself to whatever such charitable label she is given, Castle expresses her depth of musical talent in one of the coolest ways around. Rocking the hell out on-stage (and on record) with bands like the Constantines and on this night, the one and only, Fucked Up.
Closed streets at Dundas Square.
Coolest Redhead Swap: It was late Saturday afternoon and for many, the week’s activities were nearing their tenuous peak; the exhaustion of the past few days was headed for a collision with the insanity of the festival’s final night. Equipped with Red Bulls, pure adrenaline, and maple syrup-induced highs, thousands gathered at Dundas Square to catch the NXNE’s headlining acts, a duo of shamelessly good ’80s debauchery (Men without Hats and Devo). While, few may have noticed at the earlier 6pm time-slot, there was a mysterious lack of a particular redhead on the outside stage; that of the tangled mane of DOM‘s leadsinger, Dom. For those who ran from their various dayparties to catch the Massachusetts lo-fi rock quartet used their last remaining kilojoules in vain. The band cancelled 30-minutes prior to showtime, which left a deep hole in the hearts of those wishing to see a show like this repeated. Nevertheless, adages are often true, and indeed the show went on, this time with a more bluesy, less braincell-demolishing duo known as The Coppertones.
Giving in: The crowd at Dundas Square finds solace for sore muscles in sitting on the sidewalks across the street from the stage.
Coolest Dance Moves: Men Without Hats (but this time, with a hat!).
If you’re going to have a hit with the word dance in the title, you’ve better come prepared. It seems that even a few decades couldn’t hold back Ivan Doroschuk from pushing out a few shimmies, shakes and some interesting tongue action. The leather pants, cowboy hat, and continued waving to his fans only added to the excitement.
Of course, this is just the first showing. Stay tuned for more NXNE recaps!