NXNE 2014 has come and gone and a pattern has developed - we saw you at Lee's, Yonge-Dundas, the Horseshoe, and in line for Future Islands. 800 bands played NXNE and as anyone could have guessed, a small fraction of those are dominating the talk from media and fans alike - but if you scour enough reviews, here's hoping you find something unexpected. This year we'll remember Perfect Pussy freak outs, Michael Gira yelling about buildings, and Killer Mike passing blunts. Our admiration for METZ is stronger, and we're drinking Bud Lite and speaking on suspicious Interactive panels (on which we have many opinions) in our dreams.
Here are our top highlights and lowlights - with some crossover, naturally - from NXNE 2014.
NXNE: GENERAL HIGHLIGHTS
Manning house parties
Tim McCready's house parties have grown up to be an official part of NXNE, and from the basement to the backyard, the BBQ vibes on the two Fridays of NXNE 2014 were fresh and fun. Check out our photo gallery from 159 Manning here.
Putting bands on a streetcar
Not all the corporate sponsorship was bad. A water-flavouring company paid respect to Toronto by turning one streetcar into a traveling venue where any wristband holder could hop on at one of three stops to get a free ride and a show all in one. Highlights were Reggie Watts' one man show, Wintersleep crammed into the back of the car, and the fact it actually sounded good. Front man Paul Murphy summed it up perfectly: "this is by far the weirdest show we've ever played." MF
Romance (we're suckers for love)
Shout out to the boyfriend who surprised his his girlfriend by bringing her a stuffed lion to Courtney Harnett's show a the Silver Dollar. Just cute. RA
NXNE SUCKS Interactive Panel
NXNE announced the lifting of the radius clause (which didn't allow any band playing NXNE to play in Toronto 45 days before the fest) moments before the beginning of a filler Interactive panel cheekily titled WHY NXNE SUCKS I was involved with. Post radius knock-out there was still plenty to talk about - but, as planned, no one from NXNE was on the panel to answer questions.
But this is a highlight! I don't regret SUCKS - it's given me a lot to think about in regard to what a corporate festival is: public? (receives government funding); private? (corporation of investors); an internship? (few bands get compensated financially); a university? (experience! learning!). Yes, someone on the floor compared playing NXNE to interning. Yes, Pop Montreal's rep compared paying to play NXNE to paying to apply to university. I also don't regret using Kevin Hainey (Inyrdisk)'s "human garbage*" quip that he texted me about Healing Power Records' NXNE experience, because I've realized: what art needs these organizations? Not any work I care about.
Post panel, NXNE co-founder Yvonne Matsell was telling a member of Golden Teacher, a Glasgow band who'd been crashing on my floor until my landlord kicked them out for sunbathing nude, that although NXNE undercut their fee and refused to give them a hotel room, they should "get out and promote themselves." Interesting advice to give a band playing Yonge-Dundas Square and Exclaim's showcase at Lee's. When I told Matsell so, she turned to me and said quite patronizingly that I had said loads of inaccurate things during the presentation.
"Like what?" I asked. "I can't remember," she answered. "Tell me one thing I said that wasn't true" I replied, to which Matsell answered that she could not remember because she is, quote, "old."
NXNE's ongoing PR nightmare solidified a couple of key things for me. While advice like building a complex similar to the TIFF Lightbox to host year-round all-ages shows and workshops to properly train volunteers, and booking less acts with a higher degree of respect and curation are a few ideas I hope they'll consider after the panel, the real solution is a thriving and self sustaining underground music community whose members understand that sponsored music events and festivals (and radio stations, and labels, and bands) are in tune with something totally other than its own goals.
Toronto has a strong underground that can boycott and ignore these entities - without wasting too much effort. In future I'd recommend questioning NXNE through actions separate from NXNE, not by wasting time engaging with their brand. A music festival is a concept, and, at this scale anyway, it's a flawed concept. Bands don't have time to set up and properly showcase their craft. Performers become interchangeable commodities - not artists.
So, start another fest? Toronto may not even understand why it needs artists, so it doesn't necessarily just need more festivals . We need more ideas and more non-commercially driven art events where good work is showcased and encouraged, and good community foundations are bolstered not by any corporate interest or by a civic governing body, but by talented and passionate people who see art and music as more than a consumer experience opportunity / brand interaction.
If some music fans want Instagramable Bud Lite exclusives, then by all means let festivals like NXNE and CMW exist forever. But a ton of wonderful people in Toronto appreciate music and artists in a very different way, and at blogTO we'll keep trying to tell you about them.
One piece of good news - due to good old hard business, NXNE will no longer be working with Sonic Bids. Not because Sonic Bids fucking sucks, but just because NXNE are mad at them or something. Good ends, good ends.
*Hainey and I are now starting band called Human Garbage, fyi. Definite highlight. Thanks NX! AJ
NXNE: GENERAL LOWLIGHTS
Having been on the other side of enough events, I know that sponsorship is a necessary evil if you ever want to expand, but after looking for the Horseshoe on several schedules and finding it listed under "B" for Budweiser, a little part of me died. The claim was that this year NXNE would import some of SxSW, but I'm not sure they brought the best parts. (see also: Highs - Mio Squirtcar) MF
SxSW is in Austin. SxSW is for Austin. Why do randos in suits want Toronto to be a city in Texas? Who are these people? What is going on? Toronto, you're a strong city with a huge and diverse music community that is, yes, a little too clique-y and divided, but could easily build festivals with like, you know, a unique identity that would attract good art and good business from around the world. What's all this kid cousin nonsense? Just saying. AJ
HIGHS AND LOWS BY THE DAY
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18 - HIGHLIGHTS
The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores / Horseshoe Tavern
They were a last-minute addition to the line-up and energetically tore through their half-hour set of dirty dance-punk and garage rock. Lots of crowd-participation ensued as they threw out coloured LED's, toy-tambourines and started a limbo-contest in the middle of the dance-floor. An unforgettable moment at the end of their set was Dave Bookman announcing that they will be playing the Made In America festival this summer courtesy of Live Nation and Budweiser. POK
Buzz Records Showcase: Dirty Frigs, TEEN TITS//WILD WIVES, Greys / Smiling Buddha
Dirty Frigs were a discovery - raw garage rock mixed with some psychedelia and tons of attitude. Singer Bri Salmena delivered a vocal growl that had the whole room paying swift attention. TEEN TITS//WILD WIVES can be jarring, abrasive, and utterly confusing - but they executed a spectacular set of technically flawless chaos, cementing themselves as one of the best and most unique bands in the city. Greys' headlining set was exactly what we've come to expect - a sweat-soaked, brutal assault of dissonant riffs, pulsating rhythm, and throat-shedding vocals. Fans reacted by moshing from the first to last note in gleeful semi-violence. POK
LOW / The Horseshoe, 12 am
Fan: We love you
Alan: I love you more. And I will fight you. I will fight you to prove how much I love you.
Seeing Alan Sparhawk handle himself in front of a crowd reminds me exactly what's missing from a lot of the blog-famous set: experience. He's spent years honing his craft, from his music to his stage-side manner. There is nothing about him that seems manufactured and you only get that from logging the miles. Hopefully you got to share this experience with him. ESP
Har Mar Superstar, Lee's Palace, 12am
The man also known as Sean Tillman put on a sexually charged show on NXNE'S first big night of music. The floor at Lee's was packed with diehards dancing while Tillman gradually took his clothes off to the same screaming and adoring fans. Not bad for someone who's been likened to Ron Jeremy. His old school, upbeat R&B was a nice change of pace from what the festival usually puts out. After being called out for an encore, he finished the show with a few soulful solos that harkened back to Motown. JT
Autre Ne Veut / Tattoo, 12 am
Less raspy than at last year's Wrongbar show, Brooklyn r&b weirdo Autre Ne Veut was back gutting himself onstage, while the crowd at front sang along to favourites from Anxiety and throngs of industry types and randoms by the bar loud-chatted obliviously, waiting for Sleigh Bells to come out. I'd like to think Arthur Ashin and his band won over a few of those randoms with that raw manoeuvre of tearing his vocal chords out through his mouth with his fist, and I had to admit that a festival set can still be a great set, crowd chatter or not. Tattoo was another winner: on the stairs I had a clear view of the show from the back. Rare. AJ
Sleigh Bells / Tattoo, 1 am (secret guest)
This not-so-secret set brought the hurricane-heavy sound of Sleigh Bells to a far smaller setting than their headlining slot at Yonge- Dundas Square the next night. Officially a duo but expanded to a crack 5-piece band, lucky fans were treated to a stadium-sized experience with barely 300 people in attendance. Alexis Krauss took full advantage, whipping the audience into a frenzy and crowd surfing at times during the set. POK
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18 - LOWLIGHTS
Sleigh Bells / Tattoo, 1 am (secret guest)
I seem to recall a point when music was actually dangerous. Not just loud. I remember when heavy had nothing to do with a neon Anarchy symbol placed haphazardly on a leather trucker hat. Not sure what happened to Sleigh Bells from the time when MIA was waving their flag to the time they took the stage at Tattoo. I blame it on standing too close to the smoke machines. Inhaling that stuff daily must take its toll. ESP
THURSDAY, JUNE 19 - HIGHLIGHTS
Future Islands and Pusha T on VICE Island / Toronto Islands
I was freaking out about the idea of getting evicted and took double the anxiety medication I normally would have. I also ate some strawberries in the forest. I had tunnel vision for Future Islands and I don't remember how I got home - it was the most VICE Magazine experience of my life. Please, let it be the last. Check out our slideshow (photographed by someone who was not totally spaced out) here. AJ
Pissed Jeans / Virgin Mobile Mod Club, 10pm
When Matt Korvette proclaims that there are "too many iPhones, not enough notepads taking in what they're seeing here," little does he know that I'm actually writing this review in Notepad on my iPhone. Things aren't always as they seem, are they? [Editor's note - I do this too. Sorry bands! -AJ] I mean, when I headed to the Mod Club I was simply going there to see some punk rock. I had no idea I was going to witness a future where nuclear fallout inexplicably fuses Nick Cave, Mark Arm, and the ghost of Iggy Pop into one radioactive super-mutant. I've seen the apocalypse, and it doesn't look bad at all. ESP
Lindi Ortega / Harlan Pepper / Lee Harvey Osmond / The Horseshoe, 10pm
Lee Harvey Osmond hogged most of the stage time at the Horseshoe on Thursday. A packed venue was already filled with people on their feet from NQ Arbuckle's 9pm country rock when LHO started. There was much cheer and love for Lindi Ortega the moment she was called up, Tom Wilson referring to her as the "sweetest thing" - having just met her. Performing two songs, she showed every reason why she's graduated from Toronto indie darling to Nashville star. Hamilton's Harlan Pepper showed off a lot of youthful talent, and was happy to be there for the ride. Also: Midway through NQ Arbuckle's 9pm set (with Miranda Mulholland on fiddle), the fifty-something couple sitting to my right eating tacos asked me, "is this where Jim Cuddy is playing?" RA
HSY / Adelaide Music Hall, 11pm
I can't really explain the goofy grin on my face. Certainly what I'm hearing pouring off the stage has little to do with "feel-good" vibes, but still I can't help but get that sunny-day feeling deep in my stomach. I imagine that a glass eater at a carnival sideshow probably gets elated testing his physical bounds. HSY is like a one-two punch in the gut with a fistful of feedback in one hand and some monstrous riffs in the other. And I'm still smiling like that didn't hurt one bit. ESP
Fuck Buttons / Adelaide Music Hall, 12am
"Fuck guitars. They are limiting. We need to express the limitless." I imagine that's what's going on inside Fuck Button's collective head. That these thoughts somehow come out sounding like an unexpected mix of intelligent house with a splash of Richard D. James for flavour (and then run through Steve Albini's cocktail blender) leaves my mouth watering. ESP
THURSDAY, JUNE 19 - LOWLIGHTS
The Pizza Underground / Lee's Palace, 11pm
Although Lee's was packed for the pizza party parody, there just wasn't a lot to like from an outsider's perspective. They didn't cover the songs well at all, while their interludes about pizza dragged on and on and on into an oblivion of randomness. Maybe I don't understand the irony of it all - if so, I'll take that as a point of pride. JT [Editor's note: I have no idea why one of our writers attended a Pizza Underground show.]
FRIDAY, JUNE 20 - HIGHLIGHTS
ALLIE / 159 Manning, 3pm
I met r&b artist Allie in the bathroom lineup at 159 Manning and she mentioned that she was playing in a few minutes. Having never heard of her and proximity being the ally of most of the bands at this one-of-a-kind house party, I headed straight to the living room to see her in action. It will stand as the most surprising set I caught during the fest. That's the great thing about the shows at the Manning house - they're unpretentious, friendly and impeccably curated. I really wish I could have hung out there all day because something tells me that it wouldn't have mattered one bit if I knew all the bands or not. It was going to deliver. ESP
Greys / Horseshoe Tavern, 9pm
I'm in a "getting to know you" phase with Greys, and so far I like who's sitting across the table from me. Personable with a brooding intensity that could be a deep, dark secret or just a bit of indigestion, it's the type of instability that's hard to read but undeniably intriguing. I look forward to many more stolen moments together. ESP
Spiritualized / Massey Hall
It was magic. We reviewed it here.
Benjamin Booker / Horsheshoe, 11pm
After making its American network television debut little over a month go, this New Orleans-based band put on a show chock-full of throaty vocals and southern twang. Booker's mix of grunge, punk and blues played well at the Horsehoe and even matched the intensity of local noise punk group Greys who played just prior. Look for big things after Booker's debut eponymous album drops in August. JT
Golden Teacher / Lee's Palace, 11pm
Golden Teacher, like I said, almost got me evicted in an incident that almost led to my having to explain #noiselife to a cop. But co-fronted by a member of Blue Sabbath Black Fiji and back-boned by Ultimate Thrush and Silk Cut, I still didn't feel weird handing my keys to a six person electronic/psych/dance ensemble from Scotland. By the time they'd finished their set I wished I could hand them the deed to a traveling cloud palace to carry wild and sourceless, utterly weird energy so wholly unfamiliar to a fest like NXNE to every corner of the earth. Their antics were cramped on the Lee's stage, but that didn't stop the enraptured crowd from screaming - Toronto was screaming. AJ
Swearin' / Horseshoe Tavern, 12am
From the brief notes I've read about Swearin' (and the brief notes I heard on Friday night) I get that they're a throwback to that guy-girl indie dynamic we saw from bands like Superchunk - it seems like people are trying hard not mention THE band that undoubtedly influenced them the most: The Pixies. Not sure what the missing ingredient is in the Swearin' formula but maybe that's the thing that keeps that particular comparison off critic's lips. I mean, we do treat the Pixies as gospel and nobody wants to be a blasphemer. ESP
Danny Brown / Mod Club, 12am
Just himself and his DJ - no entourage or hype-man, Danny Brown proved he's one of the best MC's in the biz. He effortlessly tore through a 40 minute set with what seemed like endless reserves of energy. The crowd responded with call-backs, near-constant stage-diving, and doing what they were told when instructed to 'light it up." POK
Perfect Pussy / Horseshoe Tavern, 1am
Perfect Pussy faced the difficult task of crawling out from under the hype and truth be told, its hard for me to say if they did it or not. What I witnessed was certainly enjoyable mayhem, but there were sound issues from the get go that certainly frustrated one guitar player - the shredded corpse of his guitar provided ample evidence of that. Singer Meredith Graves was virtually inaudible even though it was more than obvious that she left her guts out on the stage. This was my one chance to see them this time out but I'm hoping they found better sound at their other showcases. ESP
FRIDAY, JUNE 20 - LOWLIGHTS
Swans / Yonge and Dundas, 7:40pm
Swans sounded great as I walked up from University. A few furrowed eyebrows, but no children crying, unfortunately. Michael Gira yelled something about tearing buildings down and I kinda smirked. Once I got into the pale throngs of gentle malcontents who could talk your ear off about Death in June if you (erroneously) let them, however, the whole thing fell apart. NXNE booked Swans in 2014, not 1995 (if only!). The band is about as old as the festival, and maybe in another 20 years, they'll be putting some band whose craft and vision I respect now on a (heavily branded) hovercraft at Y&D. Wowee. AJ
Lee's Palace, about 11:40pm
One member of Golden Teacher attempted to use a microphone after their set to ask the crowd for a place to crash. Lee's sound technician pulled the cable from the mic while it was in the musician's hand. Harsh noise. AJ
Oneohtrix Point Never / Great Hall, 12am
Video issues :(.
SATURDAY, JUNE 21 - HIGHLIGHTS
The Double Cuts, Whitney Rose, NQ Arbuckle, Ferraro, Sam Cash & The Romantic Dogs, Zeus / Cameron House outdoor stage, 2-9pm
Western swing act, The Double Cuts, started the outdoor stage show at the Cameron House on a warm Saturday afternoon. With double fiddle they had the audience dancing in the street. Whitney Rose's opening line was in reference to her dress: she always wanted a Marilyn moment and, if it happened on the windy stage, "I apologize. Or, you're welcome." NQ Arbuckle had all the same country rock as at the 'Shoe, with a little more charm and more stage banter. He chatted his way through a dead monitor (no vocals). Sam Cash & the Romantic Dogs slowed things down enough so people could dance to Springsteen's "Hungry Heart," and Toronto classic rock band Zeus closed out the show to a crowd of well over 300 people. RA
Rhye / Massey Hall
An hour of pure sonic bliss. Like much of the crowd, I didn't know what I was getting into with Rhye. Singer Milosh's voice was sublime, enhanced by the perfect acoustics of Massey Hall. The amazing band, including a drummer, keyboardist, cellist and violinist, oscillated between jazzy slow jams and Radiohead-ish noise. The crowd was clearly enamoured with Milosh, with a surprisingly rowdy cheering section in the balcony. DB
Run The Jewels / Adelaide Music Hall, 1am
Entering to a cranked "We Are The Champions," El-P called it like it was: "This shit is like Best of the Best 11... except instead of two fit guys fighting to the death, you get two out-of-shape, drunk, stoned guys who'll just get confused and walk away." They hit the gas after and never looked back. MF
Run The Jewels / Adelaide Music Hall, 1am
El-P and Killer Mike's dynamic duo destroyed Adelaide Hall with rap perfection. They stalked around the stage, delivering lightning-fast tag team raps, smoking joints passed to them from the crowd and generally getting everyone as ramped up as possible. Focusing on tracks from their self-titled album, the rap was both complex and instantly accessible. Easily the wildest crowd at NXNE, the first few rows were definitely feeling sore the next day. DB
Fresh Snow / Lee's Palace, 10 pm
Its summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Some might say even longer than one of Fresh Snow's jams. The similarity lies in the rays of sunshine beaming down for that extra minute. The heat that radiates through the boundaries that nature imposed on us through that particularly brutal winter. Fresh Snow has the calm/storm dynamic perfectly honed and can tell a crowd in need of release when they see it. ESP
Eagulls / Lee's Palace, 11pm
George Mitchell of Leeds has done his homework. Or maybe its just something in his DNA but he's certainly channeling the spirits of many a charismatic British front man. With a voice that sounds like a juiced up Robert Smith, his swagger is more Ian Brown. As a group they are infinitely more brash-sounding than either of those bands, but it's Mitchell's cold indifference that adds the "fuck you" top note. ESP
METZ / Lee's Palace, 12am
I can't believe I was actually considering skipping this show. I've seen Metz a handful of times over the past year and thought I'd give something else a try. Glad I resisted that instinct and went with the tried and true because damn if they aren't getting better each and every time I see them. And I'm not talking marginally better either. This is a whole new game, and Metz are running away with it. ESP
Pistol George Warren / The Dakota Tavern, 2am
A soul-country party band from Sudbury sounds as contradictory as fitting all nine of them on-stage at The Dakota. But it worked. And they work with infectious energy, exuding joy, smiles, sunshine and hi-fives with every song. A must-see every time they're in town. RA
Perfect Pussy / Soybomb HQ, 3:30am
Telephone Explosion and Pleasence's Summer Melt owned the night of the longest day of the year. Unsponsored rooftop vibes and a vocal-lessly mixed Perfect Pussy made for a Unique User Experience, sans wristband. Great use of 10 bucks. The local lineup was stellar and Cleveland's Pleasure Leftists tore it up as well. AJ
SATURDAY, JUNE 21 - LOWLIGHTS
"Going home it felt like the Beast in that Seinfeld episode." The Rivoli, 9pm
10 minutes before South Dakota's Rachel Ries sound-checked there was a horrid smell in the Rivoli. I won't even guess what it was or where it was from. How many people were subject to it? 12 at most; though there were only 12 people in the room at that time thankfully. The 40 or so people there for Rachel's set were spared a little by the A/C turned on. Still, it was a night when you wished the ceiling of the Riv opened up. RA
METZ / Lee's Palace, 12am
Seriously, METZ were great, but the photographer in the pit throwing elbows and hitting people with his mini tripod thing was way uncool. Hope that guy gets a clue before someone really messes up his face/vision, which I would assume he relies on to take "wicked shots from the pit." AJ
The Sharp Things / The Dakota Tavern, 1am
Whether you want to call it a bit of NXNE mis-programming or lost in advertisement, New York City's "symphonic rock ensemble led by songwriter and pianist Perry Serpa" was not exactly that. Serpa played solo and on acoustic guitar (he started with a "four-minute warning"). An entirely symphonic experience, and his 1am set was drowned out by the conversation of a full room of people waiting for Pistol George Warren. RA
SUNDAY, JUNE 22 - HIGHLIGHTS
Record Fair / Edward Day Gallery
The bands in the courtyard almost made up for the sad fact that MOCCA is closed on Sundays - and it was pretty fun to see Paul Lawton (WHY NXNE SUCKS panel, Ketamines, Mammoth Cave Records), Weird Canada, and Joe Strutt (Mechanical Forest Sound, of media pass denial Twitter fiasco fame) tabling at NX. Endearing and eerie. Pleasence, Buzz, Hand Drawn Dracula, Paper Bag, Telephone Explosion, Dine Alone and way more were also on hand, making the fair a who's who of Torontonians who are or could be really ace local DJs. Pansy Twist Distro had zines on the table, which just drove home the fact that the zine fair (also on Sunday) should have been combined with the record fair. AJ
Rat King / Yonge-Dundas Square, 7pm
As a fan of their music, I was disappointed with the show Rat King put on: they didn't command the stage like industry veterans Run the Jewels and Juicy J did afterward. The volume at Yonge-Dundas also seemed low, with both subsequent performers asking for the monitors to be cranked up. There was still a lot to like here though - they're still very young, passionate and possess a gritty and grimy style that suits their name. JT
Run the Jewels / Yonge-Dundas Square, 8pm
If anyone came out to see Run the Jewels you now know that not only can Killer Mike rap, the dude has some killer dance moves. EL-P, the brainchild behind the former Def Jux Records is the second half and producer of the super duo Run the Jewels. While both showcased their wicked cadence and rhyme scheme, I was even more impressed and also surprised with their raucous stage presence. For any fans out there, they also did happen to mention Run the Jewels 2 is on its way shortly, so get excited. JT
Courtney Barnett / The Silver Dollar, 10pm
It was the third night of sold out shows for Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Followers were told on her Facebook page to arrive early as people had waited to get in the two previous nights. Courtney didn't take the stage until 10:15, taking one last drink before everyone cheered her on. There was a lot of telecaster, and a lot of sweat in the room - the way the 'Dollar should be. Small rooms with fans who want to be there could be a winning festival formula. RA
SUNDAY, JUNE 22 - LOWLIGHTS
Broken Pencil x NXNE Mini Zine Fair! / 22 Gould
Would have loved to have checked this out, but I generally put in a six hour work day and a minimum hour of park hangs on Sundays, so the record fair / Edward Day concert won out. NXNE: bridge the record show / zine show gap next year. Does anyone know if you need Sonic Bids to sell zines? AJ
Contributions by Evan Sue-Ping, Matt Forsythe, Jacob Thompson, Ryan Ayukawa, Aubrey Jax. Photos by Matt Forsythe and Irina No
by Staff via blogTO