The dust has barely settled on 2013′s edition of NXNE, and we’re exhausted, unwashed, and can’t wait until next year. We’re still basking in the afterglow (read: hangover) of the fest, but we’ve taken the time to reflect on some of the best, worst, and ungodly moments of the festival.
By Tyler Munro (TM), Chayne Japal (CJ), Mark Teo (MT), and Nicole Villeneuve (NV)
Canada had the home-field advantage. Being a Toronto festival, it’s understandable that homegrown talent would make up most of an NXNE lineup. But the 2013 edition saw CanCon acts step to the front as its feature: Hometown headliners like Billy Talent (Yonge-Dundas, Saturday) and Fucked Up (Horseshoe, Saturday) packed their respective venues, while new Toronto acts like DIANA (Horseshoe, Thursday), with their first album still on the way, did the same. Montreal’s Arbutus Records’ showcase, also on Thursday, had the Comfort Zone feeling quite uncomfortable, as Calgary’s Braids built up anticipation for their next record in the over-capacity basement. Halifax’s Ryan Hemsworth, playing on Saturday, also had his own basement magic as sweat clouds rose from the rowdy crowd during his late night set at BLK BOX. NXNE has always been a great to Canadian artists—but this year, they returned the favour. (CJ)
We partied with Cousins. Having Halifax’s Cousins out to play the AUX Magazine 1-year anniversary party/Scion Sessions/Hand Drawn Dracula Saturday day party at the Garrison was a treat–it feels like every time Aaron Mangle brings his hook-heavy Halifax smudge-pop project around, it’s a little different, and not just in the sense that he’s armed with new songs, but the dynamics and depth those songs are boasting. (NV)
The secret shows wowed (if you’re into punk rock). OK, so the “secret” performance weren’t only for those in the know—NXNE made them public via Twitter, sometimes right at the beginning of the day. Nonetheless, those unannounced performances added extra muscle to the festival: Merchandise’s set in Parts and Labour’s basement brought extra excitement to a thinning-out Wednesday night; on Friday, Oakland post-punk act The Soft Moon closed out one of the fest’s most brilliant bills, playing after Diana, Dan Deacon, and Nü Sensae; White Lung played their second set of Saturday night, taking the stage at 2 a.m. at (where else?) Parts and Labour; and, in perhaps the fest’s biggest splash, controversial Danish punks Iceage closed out the fest last night at the Garrison. (MT)
The fringe gigs didn’t disappoint. On Thursday, Pup and the Dirty Nil closed out Grossman’s Tavern for what was being billed as an NXNE after-party, and both bands wasted no time proving why they’re two of the best young guns on the scene. Playing after a reportedly still-standing set at an Arts & Crafts pop up earlier in the night, Pup channeled their leftover energy into a typically bouncy set that managed to capture their uniquely cacophonous take on pop-punk.
Kayla Howran played an uninterrupted two hour set at the Cameron House on Friday. With an extended last-call, Howran and her unfathomably talented band ran through their usual set of country bangers with songs falling anywhere on a sliding scale from boozy to bluesy.
You might’ve seen Tupper Ware Remix Party busking at the corner of College and Bathurst before, but the costumed-quintet excelled with larger foot traffic on Saturday when they turned out one of their typically endearing sets. They describe themselves as a mix of Iron Maiden and Daft Punk and we’re hard pressed to argue. They spend most of their time on that same corner, so follow them on Twitter to catch their next gig. You will not be disappointed. (TM)
The Dirty Nil get more love. Deservedly so. Even though we were spoiled with a ton of out-of-towner options, opting to see Hamilton’s the Dirty Nil at Silver Dollar didn’t disappoint on Thursday. Despite some inherent guilt over making an easy choice (they’re a band I know I like), there’s also something satisfying about seeing a band become more refined, more confident, and in front of a bigger festival crowd, no less. As long as there’s still room for guitars in this city, there will be room for the Dirty Nil. (NV)
The Comfort Zone is incredibly sketchy, but mostly incredible. With news that the seedy Hotel Waverly building is potentially bound for demolition—there’s a proposal to build student housing in its place—most showgoers asked a single question: “What’s going to happen to the Silver Dollar Room?” Few, however, asked what would happen to the Comfort Zone, which also shares the space. The basement haunt has earned, perhaps deservedly, a rep for being a great place to slip in… to a K-hole. But at Northby, it showed why it’s also home to the city’s electronic scene: Dark, dingy, and positively old-school Toronto, it was a stunningly good live venue—and Jay Arner, Tonstartssbandht, and the AUX-approved Sexy Merlin lit up the place on Saturday. SAVE THE COMFORT ZONE. (MT)
The rookies and veterans shined equally. The Effens commanded the Rancho Relaxo stage that seemed as effortless as it was woozy, running the gamut of influences that hit it big before most of the band was even born. Riding high off the release of their debut album Apology Accepted, the Effens played their psychedelic angle up over the grunge side, replacing the latter’s desperate indifference with youthful charm and enthusiasm. They’re poised for big things.
On the other hand, D-Sisive’s charm was immediately on display as he remarked early in his set about the rare hip-hop show that starts on time. From there, he continued to run the show like so few can, starting off with an a capella Boys II Men cover and a rendition of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme before running through his extensive back catalogue. D-Sisive’s threatened retirement over the past year, and with good reason—his hard work hasn’t translated to the successes he deserves and the frustration’s got to be hitting a fever pitch after a recent Polaris Long List snub. But if there’s any argument for keeping D-Sisive in the game, this show was it. Support him before you lose the chance to. (TM)
Mikal Cronin wins the fest. Though he’s been sitting on an LP for a month, NXNE was a veritable coming out party for Mikal Cronin, who, up until recently, was best known as a Ty Segall collaborator. Over three rock-solid set (one which occurred on a cruise around the Toronto harbour), Cronin became one of the fest’s most-talked about — partially, because of his band’s incendiary live shows, but also because his musical, which touched on ’90s alt-grunge, surf, and much more, felt remarkably dexterous. (Being a Segall collaborator carries certain connotations — mostly, that you’re going to play one genre: garage.) He had everyone from fest neophytes to Toronto scene vets in on the action—Saturday’s Silver Dollar show, for example, had members of neo-soul heroes Sphinxs shouting along from the sidelines. I must’ve played his LP, MCII a zillion times over the weekend. (MT)
This city. This huge, busy city. The bigger and better NXNE gets with each passing year, the weirder Toronto gets about it. The MMVAs, Luminato, Taste of Little Italy, plus a pair of sold-out Taylor Swift shows were all scheduled on the weekend, which made moving between venues that much more difficult. It’s always been a complaint that shows are too spaced out across the city, but the traffic on Saturday evening only made it worse. The city and the festival need to put their heads together to work out a way for this festival experience to be the best it can be in Toronto. (CJ)
White Lung. Or, more specifically, the sound during White Lung. Singer (and AUX contrib) Mish Way spat water, dove into the crowd and snarled with increasing potency with startling energy, but an atrocious mix in the venue mostly had their set sounding like White Lung karaoke. Stone-faced as the rest of the band was, White Lung are as much defined by their jangly leads and pulsing rhythm section as they are their magnetic singer, but everything was pushed so far below the vocals that you had to be stench-deep in the pit to get totally lost in the music. This one’s not on the band, but it’s still pretty disappointing. (TM)
The positive problem. Seeing one band you want can mean missing three more. This year’s juggling act was the usual scenario—do you see the sure thing or risk waiting in line for the next big buzz band? When I left the Horseshoe Tavern after White Lung on Saturday the line outside was nuts, big as I’ve ever seen it as it stretched from the venue’s main doors to the east-edges of Queen and Spadina. If you weren’t in the building by ten, you wouldn’t catch the band at 1, and while the bill was pretty huge, half the fun of NXNE is cruising venue to venue. I skipped some great sets to see White Lung; had I not gotten there early, I’d have seen nothing instead. (TM)
We almost drowned in drink. This is yet another positive problem: As mentioned by NXNE staffers, day parties are in full swing at Northby. The only problem with that? As NOW’s John Semley noted in this wonderful blog post, it’s an invitation to poison yourself. I went to AUX’s day party on Saturday—at the Garrison, where we were handing out drink tickets—then zoomed by to another free-booze party at Bloor and Dufferin, and crawled to the Comfort Zone ready to wave the white flag. Thankfully, Tonstartssbandht are loud enough to wake anybody up. (MT)
The independent record and zine fair was awesome. Too bad no one was there. First off: Who the hell gets up at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning during Northby? Ugh. Of course, next to no one was at Northby’s record fair that early, and no one came later, either — it was located in a spectacularly awkward position in Ryerson’s quad. Too bad, really, because We Are Busy Bodies were serving up lemonade and rare Doldrums flexis, Paper Bag was peddling jelly beans and cheap YT // ST vinyl, and Broken Pencil curated an excellent lineup of Canadian-made zines and print artists. I made off with a number of cassettes from Ottawa’s Bruised Tongue; it’s a shame that few people knew the damn event even existed. (MT)
Stolen gear. Someone stole Brazos bassist Spencer Zahn’s 1978 Fender Precision after the band’s set at the Great Hall on Saturday. Hopefully it turns up, and if you see anyone selling one with serial number S866543, let the band know. (TM)
What was going on with that Arts and Crafts pop-up? We love Arts and Crafts as much as anyone—perhaps even more than most—but geez, what was up with their pop-up on Queen St.? The free (and ongoing) performances were excellent, but the giant photo portraits of Gentleman Reg and Apostle of Hustle felt both awkward and excessive—as did $75 t-shirt collaborations with Canadian artists. Also: Why were they peddling Sheila Heti books there? So. Many. Questions. (MT)