NXNE 2011 June 13-19 Toronto Canada by Sue Static
Photos by Peter Schorn
The 17th edition of the North by Northeast Music Festival and Conference took over the streets of Toronto the week of June 13-19, 2011. Much like the U.S. SXSW festival, NXNE showcased 650 bands from across the globe, 50 music industry panels and 40 independent films. Over the years the festival has grown to become the Canadian festival to see unsigned and indie acts and major concerts all in one fantastic week of music.
I have been attending the festival since its inception only missing two years out of 17. It has become my Summer vacation destination each year. I have watched NXNE change and grow to become one of the best music festivals period. What is great about the festival is the variety of music presented each year. Every genre from folk to punk, electronic, bluegrass, rock, metal and pop can all be found here. Also, the convenience of the venues being close to each other and the mass transportation in the city makes it easy to get from club to club. If you don't like what you hear at one you can just walk down the block to another and you just may find a band performing on a street corner as well.
Many other free events around the city include concerts in the park, a music cruise, music stages at the airport and the incredible free concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square, in the heart of the city. Last year I saw the return of rock icons Iggy & The Stooges and X; this year was no exception as '80s favorites DEVO and Men Without Hats performed to thousands of people packed into the square and surrounding streets.
NXNE hosts an annual film festival featuring 40 independent music related films, shorts and documentaries. Featured this year were the documentaries Kurt Cobain: About a Son, Upside Down-The Creation Records Story and Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements, just to name a few. I managed to catch the later this year at its Canadian premiere at the festival.
NXNE's music industry panels are presented during the day and although very Canadian orientated are still resourceful and informative to any musician or music business person.
Areas of the music industry focused on this year were new media, video, marketing and the ever-popular demo derby.
By nightfall the city of Toronto is filled with the sound of music from dusk until dawn. Festival attendees roam the streets from club to club or congregate and network outside of the venues. My weekend adventure started on Thursday night at Cherry Cola's Rock N' Rolla Cabaret & Lounge for the Taiwanese invasion of The White Eyes from Taipei, Taiwan. Now Magazine warned about these rockers the week prior to the show and what a show it was! I was thrust into the rock n' roll mayhem upon my entrance into the small club, as the place was packed and the stage was located at the entrance. The energetic, feral female-fronted garage-rock n' roll quartet totally delivered. It was a promising start to the weekend ahead.
Moving on to the Garrison, I was only able to catch a few songs from The Dig from New York City and liked what I heard. Following them was another Taiwanese import called My Skin Against Your Skin. The femme-fatale led band had a post-punk edge to their engaging performance. It was interesting to start the festival off with two different bands from the other side of the world that proved that music has no boundaries.
The first night ended with Dead Messenger. This hard-rocking trio from Montreal sounded a little like if Elvis Costello and the Attractions or The Jam were from Canada instead of the U.K.
Friday night's band action was off to a late start after attending the film Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements. While the film is an interesting fan documentary and a must-see for Replacements fans, it was disappointing that it didn't feature any of the band's music, which would've added to the film's overall impact. As when describing a band such as them you really need to hear the power of their music to fully appreciate it.
As with most festivals, NXNE distributes a guide book which describes the style of music each band plays. Every year I always try to seek out at least one outrageously named band to see. This year's name winner was Toronto's Connoisseurs of Porn. Already onstage by the time I hit the club, what I heard sounded very "Raw Power"-ish in a chaotic way, but by the next song quickly turned to noise for noise sake much like their description suggested.
Making my exit to another venue down the street, I was stopped in my tracks by a crowd outside another non-festival bar listening to the sounds of gypsy-punk-folk Gogol Bordello-esque outfit called the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. The pub was packed and dancing up a storm as the band performed on the bar itself! They attracted a crowd inside and out and passed a hat for donations to which I added to as they definitely added to the festive atmosphere.
After the brief detour to the music of the Balkan lands, I traveled back to the legendary club the El Mocambo. The club featured bands on both upstairs and downstairs stages. Downstairs "special guests" was a secret second festival appearance by Los Angeles indie rockers Dum Dum Girls and upstairs was the pop dance party of Melleefresh. I didn't last long watching the later, nor did the ten others watching the lame disco dance show that seemed dated rather than fresh. I read the next day that Melleefresh was an original collaborator with DJ Deadmau5 which I find baffling. Providing contrast, outside busking on the busy street corner was a bluegrass trio from Florida called Jubal's Kin.
Around the corner at Rancho Relaxo, I caught a few songs by The Black Void from Montreal before ending the night with a bang at the Silver Dollar where the Toronto band Give Us The Daggers rocked us into the night or morning at 4 am!
Saturday night was off to a good start at the free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square where '80s stalwarts DEVO brought their D-evolution to the masses. Men Without Hats or in this case "Man with Hat" as singer Ivan is the only remaining original member left took the stage before them and had the crowd doing the "Safety Dance."
Outside on the street during most of the DEVO set due to overcrowding was also a show in itself as I ran into hometown friends, witnessed a guy passing out and being hauled away and had the most amusing question asked to me: During DEVO's hit-packed set, someone asked me if they had played "Mexican Radio" yet…
After the spud rock it was back to the clubs where Peelander-Z already had the crowd in a frenzy of fun with their cartoon punk antics. It's always a party when these Japanese via New York punkers blast their way into any town. Audience participation is a must!
With no plan on who to see next, I wandered into the Silver Dollar to see who was on before moving on, but stayed. The band was Bad Cop from Nashville, Tennessee who arrested us with their sonic assault. It is times like these that you don't plan on that totally catch you off guard which are the best and most memorable. When you actually discover some great new band like this, this is what these music festivals are all about!
The end of another night of rocking until the sun came up came to a close and the end of the festival (for me anyway). Sunday featured more bands in the square and clubs, a picnic and a soccer game but for us it was time to catch up with sleep and friends before heading home.
Thanks NXNE for another year of great music!
Can't wait to see what is in store for 2012!
For information and submission guidelines for NXNE 2012 check out www.nxne.com