So this years NXNE was a blast, as usual, but I feel like I didn’t absorb as much new music this time around as I usually do. The main reason so many people tend to say they prefer NXNE to CMW is that it happens in June – so the weather is good – so the parties and events are better. This is very true, but I think it actually takes some of the attention away from the music.
In an attempt to improve my rather terrible networking skills, I made it my mission to go to every party I was invited to this year. This meant I ended up being exhausted by the time I got to the bar for the shows, and was therefore much less determined than I usually am to get to the front and really take in the whole set. My camera also ran out of juice during the second day and I somehow LOST my charger (which I still can not locate anywhere in my apartment), so my photo situation is not what it should be.
That said, the parties are cool because tons of bands play them as well, so I was still introduced to some new music while entering into the networking deluge.
The first party was put on by the Toronto Music Industry Association and happened early into the week before the actual music festival began. It was TMIA’s first party and with help from Audioblood and great sponsors like Sneaky Dees, it was the best way to kick off the festival. There were no bands playing this one, but many Vancouver musicians were there as it was put on to celebrate the Tracks On Tracks arrival.
Wednesday brought on the Ages and Stages : The Story of The Meligrove Band premiere and afterparty. I didn’t get a chance to check out the film because of my day job, but the party was an interesting experience. A bunch of cool bands were set to play so I was looking forward to getting an early start on the music, and wasn’t expecting what I have come to learn is the norm during NXNE (and probably lots of other summer events) – a house party. (I wasn’t lying when I said I’m not a “networker”.) The bands were playing in a small basement which is an experience I haven’t had in a very long time. It’s something I can definitely get behind – if you’re ever throwing a show in someone’s house – invite me! I love the intimacy this created.
Because things were running behind schedule I was only able to check out The Fabulous Yawn before I had to leave to check out The Dirty Nil’s set (which I still only caught their last few songs, but they packed the random Kensington Market venue it was at and put on a killer show). Spencer’s (aka The Fabulous Yawn) set was great – he is a folky musician that struck me as a hilariously self aware and honest songwriter in the same way that Jeffrey Lewis is. In “Honest Love Song #17” he has a line about going down on a girl to change the subject, that had everyone laughing. We’ve all been on one end of that situation at some point in our lives.
Come Thursday I had four different parties on my calendar, and with work, there was no way I could make it to all of them – but I still did well. I first hit up Audio Blood’s Rooftop Riot which ended up being moved to a different location at the last minute, causing a bit of confusion for many attendees. But once everyone got there it was a great time – blisteringly hot under the sun, but some cool bands were playing. I had to leave before The Balconies and Les Breastfeeders set, which was a bummer, but I will be catching them both again soon (at Edgefest and Osheaga). I’ve never seen so many hipsters willing to sweat under such scorching heat before, but free beer has that effect.
After that we headed to the eOne Kegger Party, which was another house party, with bands playing upstairs. It was beyond packed by the time I got there, but everyone loved the free street meat vendor and flowing beer. Free CDs were available at this one too (I grabbed Die Mannequin and their NXNE sampler), which is always appreciated.
When that one quickly came to a close, it was time to hit up Sneaky Dee’s for the M for Montreal Poutine Party. Lucky for us, we got there early, as they ran out of poutine almost immediately. It was good – but it was Sneaky Dee’s – so of course it was. Best part about this was catching a band I had never heard of but truly fell for, called I.NO. This girl has such a lovely voice, I was transfixed watching them. Unfortunately there were only a few others watching their set, but they proved to be a band to look out for.
We left Sneaky Dee’s in time to catch my new favorite Toronto band, Stella Ella Ola, play Velvet Underground. They started off with a round of shots in honour of drummer Vince Rice’s birthday, and I’m not sure if it was the shots or the fact that they’ve had time to get more comfortable together onstage, but it was a super fun set, topping their first ever show at Cynecycle that I had previously caught and loved every second of. Singer Anne Douris’ dog passed away that day, which had to put a damper on their first NXNE show – but they turned it into a celebration for the pup, and the show really did feel like a big party with a group of friends. When someone in the crowd shouted for bassist Jake Boyd to take his shirt off (like he does when he drums for Hollerado) he hilariously obliged. Somehow, almost all their songs have single potential, and I still think everyone needs to get their hands on this incredible EP. “Little Black Rope” is officially my phone’s ringtone – that’s love.
We moved to the Rivoli after this to catch the Arts & Crafts showcase, but only ended up staying for Gold & Youth (which I now regret). G&Y was incredible live, and it was great to be up close for their full set after only catching the end of it during their CMW show. My friends fell completely in love with them – which is always my goal when I take people to see a band I feel strongly about – but doesn’t always happen. Their set was perfect, easily one of the most memorable performances I caught during NXNE. Their Joy Division-y sound is something the current music scene is in desperate need of. They do electro rock incredibly well, which is such a rarity.
I headed to the Horseshoe next, fearing I would miss out on Bran Van 3000’s set. We were all looking forward to the 1997 one hit wonder nostalgia, but this meant I missed out on seeing Zulu Winter, a new A&C band I am super curious about. My Bran Van experience ended up being rather awful, and I instantly wished I had stayed at the Rivoli. That’s what I get for abandoning my favorite label, I guess.
Once inside the Shoe, it felt like the gods were punishing me by surrounding me with THE WORST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, and I literally lost my shit during the performance when these club kids were acting like they owned their space and the space of everyone else around them. Never in my life have I been so enraged at a show. I seriously do mean the WORST.PEOPLE.IN.THE.WORLD. I think half the crowd was filled with people like my friends and I, there to ironically hear “Drinking In LA” and remember being 12 and watching MuchMusic non stop. But the other half seemed to truly love the new stuff the band has came out with since those days, which is dance music in the most literal sense. It was such a strange crowd to see at my beloved Horseshoe.
With the rage of a thousand bulls running through my veins after that awful experience, I decided to head home early that night to calm down and prepare for what would be a crazy Friday.
First party of the day was Manitoba Music’s Perogie Party at the Drake skybar, which is a bit of a tight spot for a party, but a killer location for an outdoor event. Though Winnipeg’s best was in attendance, this was purely a networking event, no bands playing.
After this we hit up Exclaim’s Boneyard BBQ, which was easily the best party I’d been to all week. When I arrived, Death From Above 1979’s Sebastien Grainger was already spinning tunes, and he has to be my favorite DJ of all time. Every time a new song came on I was in heaven. Based on the amazing songs he was spinning (Velvet Underground, Bowie, Iggy, Lennon, Beatles, etc), he is my musical soulmate.
I also learned I don’t absolutely hate Jagermeister like I had thought. The last time I drank Jager until this event was 5 years earlier, when too many shots of it made me sick and left the worst kind of aftertaste in mouth for what felt like days later. Turns out, when mixed with root beer or orange pop, it’s kind of amazing. Thanks for putting this combo on my radar, Jager people. It sounds revolting, but it’s actually tasty. This party was probably put over the top because, not only was there free Jager drinks and beer and swag, but it was of course 50s themed, with girls dressed all rockabilly, and 50s cars lining the parking lot entrance. Oh and of course, amazing free BBQ, and a fun crowd.
When that was done it was time for the Rdio party, which was in my opinion, the way every party should be. Excellent location (99 Sudbury), legit swag bags filled with useful (serious rarity in swag bags) stuff, completely free open bar (for once not just beer!!! I was in heaven) great lineup of bands playing, and free ice cream, popcorn, tiny tims, etc. That is how you throw a party. The only drawback was that it was so exclusive it felt like it was more than half empty – a smaller venue or bigger invite list may have helped with this. Or maybe it was the timing – this was the last party I hit up on Friday night, which is when some of the best official NXNE shows start happening. Sudbury is also kinda far out from the majority of NXNE venues, so some people probably didn’t make the trek out.
After this, I headed to my first official show of the night and caught the much buzzed about METZ at Wrongbar – so buzzed about I even recommended them on my ‘who to see’ post. Unfortunately, those who had told me I had to see them must not know about my absolute distaste for any band that uses screaming instead of singing. This was one of those bands I really wanted to like based on the recommendations I’d received, hoping my mind could be opened up to metal, but I’ve accepted that some genres are just not for me.
I can not listen to people scream without getting a crippling headache. Because of this, we had to leave after a few songs, but the place was packed and those who were there seemed to love it. There’s a reason they just got signed to SubPop. I know they are up there with the likes of Fucked Up in terms of talent, but I can’t say I’m into this particular sound. I listen through lyrics first and foremost, so I get a little frustrated when I can’t hear what the words actually are. Singing along is more than half the joy of a live show for me.
Then it was time for the part of NXNE I was most excited for – Young Lion’s showcase with Teenage Kicks and Dwayne Gretzky. To say these are the two bands I’ve seen most in the past year might be an understatement. I love them both, and for very different reasons. Dwayne is my good times, lets go dancing to amazing classic rock cover tunes band, and Teenage Kicks are my band that is bringing legitimate rock n roll back to Toronto in a big way.
This was Kicks best set yet, and considering I rarely enjoy a set at the Elmo as much as I do other venues, that says a lot about their power on stage. They seem to impossibly keep getting better, and because of that, their legend has grown around this city fast. Dwayne played a non stop two hour set, which had to be exhausting. They tried out a lot of new songs, some of which didn’t quite work for me, but they were as reliable as ever and probably the only band that could keep me on my feet dancing until 4am, despite being utterly exhausted.
Saturday was the day I had been looking forward to all week – M for Montreal’s Bruise Cruise (also known as Booze Cruise, not sure why they call it Bruise?). After getting to bed past 5am, it seemed unlikely that I would be awake in time to board the 1pm cruise, but this was a combination of all of my favorite things – bands, boats, booze and the best view of the city – so I dragged my ass out of bed at noon and somehow managed to board it on time.
We only ended up watching Hooded Fang play (as the bands were in the bottom of the boat, and I couldn’t pull myself away from the sunshine for long) but they were one of the highlights of NXNE for me. I had always heard a lot of praise about them but this was my first time checking them out, and it was impressive. We could still hear the other bands playing from the top deck, but none of them really pulled our attention away from the gorgeous day enough to want to see them up close.
Lamest thing about this cruise was the insane prices. Drinks cost $7 or more, and if you needed food to soak up all that booze you’d been imbibing all week, it was seriously $10 for a burger. Boo.
As my Saturday night was a wonderful surprise of non-stop amazing music, I am saving it for a post of its own, so stay tuned to hear about how impressed I was with Sirius XM’s showcase at the Horseshoe.