MCB at NXNE 2013! by Sue Static; photos by Peter Schorn/RockOutShots.com
The 19th North By Northeast (NXNE) Festival is known as the "Music, Film, Comedy, Art and Interactive Festival" and this year was the biggest festival yet! The ever-expanding festival has now included Art to its' many offerings, making it a complete audio/visual event!
The Canadian version of sister festival South By Southwest, NXNE was held June 10-16 in over 60 clubs and venues in downtown Toronto. The week of live music featured over 1000 bands, a dozen of independent films, 65 interactive seminars, the second year of comedy showcases, and for the first time ever-art showcases held at various locations around town. And that wasn't all, other features included an indie label record and zine show and a boat cruise. Free concerts in the Yonge - Dundas Square featured music by such eclectic acts as Social Distortion, The National, Billy Talent and Ludacris. Yonge Street, the busiest street in the city, was closed off to accommodate the crowds.
We arrived on Thursday in the nick of time to see the band Social Distortion rock the enthusiastic crowd that braved the rainy weather to watch these early '80s punks play their hits in the Yonge – Dundas Square.
It was then off to bar hop and catch as many bands as possible each night. We checked out the area of Spadina Street, where four clubs were located within walking distance. The first band we saw was local natives the Pow Wows, who played rockabillyish twang at the Silver Dollar, popped next door into the Comfort Zone for a brief minute to witness Blue Hawaii, who performed dark techno in front of a screen flashing video images to the packed club.
Around the corner at Rancho Relaxo, we caught the end of the set by James and Blackburn, another Toronto rock trio that the locals seemed to enjoy, but were a little too prog rock for our tastes. Caught the beginning of the set by The Cheap Speakers whose set unfortunately suffered from a bad sound mix, but the pop quartet soldiered thru it.
Friday night's standouts were the Japanese power trio RoundFace. Led by the awesome guitarist/vocalist Miyuki Hinuma, formerly of the all-female trio Megababe, RoundFace rocked the small crowd at club May. It was too bad more people didn't attend this showcase as RoundFace brought the rock and even delighted the audience with their cover of the Beastie Boys' "You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)" that had them singing along.
Next up at May was the local band Drugs In Japan who sounded vaguely Fugazish (which is not a bad thing!) with their jazzy guitar-driven tunes.
Traveled over to the Hideout to check out the band Ramona, a power-pop, '80s throwback that had the crowd dancing. Spotted in the audience was Edward Scissorhands(?!) who seemed to be enjoying the music, too.
Upon exiting the club, noticed a few promotional CDs left on the table and snatched one up. The Deadly Hopefuls was the band that played earlier that night, and too bad we missed them as we enjoyed the music we heard. We were surprised at the lack of sampler discs at the shows, conference as even though CDs are passé, it is still a good promotional tool to have.
On the way back to the car, we bumped into another street performance by the band the Lemon Bucket Orkestra (who we stumbled over in the same club two years ago) who emptied the bar onto the street, blocking traffic, while they played their gypsy jazz jams to the many pedestrians who gathered to watch the spectacle.
The night was far from over as the 3am slot at the BLK BOX club was Toronto's premiere Spice Girls tribute act, Wannabe. They delighted the late, late night buzzed crowd with their costumes and choreography and spot-on performances of the pop songs that the Girls made famous in the '90s. I thought it would've been even better if the band were made up of drag queens…
On Saturday we headed down to the Kensington Market area which is now full of clubs and trendy restaurants - a far cry from the desolate, funky little area off of Chinatown that I first visited many years ago. We found the tiny Detour bar where RoundFace from Japan was starting their second set of the festival. With only a few people inside at the start of their set, the small room quickly became crowded as the trio blew away the people that ventured in to see them.
Walked around the corner to the Handlebar which was not conducive to watch a live band at all, it had me wondering if this restaurant/club even hosted bands there. The tiny stage was set way in the back of the restaurant with no decent sight lines at all. The Florida band, Beach Day was taking their time setting up - which left no time to go anywhere else - so we stayed to hear them anyway. This mixed trio played Sixties pop with a Neko Case-sounding vocalist who was being annoyingly coy, so we left to seek out other musical fare.
Headed over to The Painted Lady and were greeted with a packed house, but not for the band. There was plenty of room up front for another Florida band called The Pinz. Their band description was correct in that they played pop punk meets sixties British Invasion bands like The Kinks and The Who. They even played a rousing rendition of "The Kids Are Alright" which made people look up from their smartphones for a moment. It even had one young clueless customer say, "That sounds like a Green Day song!" which made me want to turn around and clock her. They ended their set with another cover of The Beatles "Revolution" that while done well, it's not the best idea to do two covers in your set at any showcase for your band unless you ARE a cover band.
Back to club May, and the second band cancellation of the night, we were assaulted by the one-man band that they called to fill-in. The Rollins meets Iggy wannabe screamed and had a conniption fit over musical backing tapes that had him rolling on tables and pretty much driving the few people either outside or inside to witness his performance. Gotta admit, he gave it his all, whoever he was!
Closed out the night at the Silver Dollar to see The Lost Babies and what a great band to close the night with! This local Toronto act featured a fierce female lead singer and her staunch rock and roll cohorts that rocked the house and even scared a few men in the audience while doing it!
Sunday was spent checking out the new Art showcases that were presented around town. Performance artists and exhibits were going on throughout the festival at Ryerson University Quad, local parks, and at the AGO - Art Gallery of Ontario. Started out viewing rocker Patti Smith's photography exhibit "Camera Solo," a collection of black & white photos she took throughout the years on her Polaroid camera. The photos of gravestones, statues, and various objects and people were hauntingly beautiful and captured her intenseness, much like her music. The exhibit is at the AGO until December 8, 2013. If you are a fan of Smith's or photography you should definitely check it out!
Next up was the multi-media works of Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller called "Lost In The Memory Palace" that took up the entire fourth floor gallery. Each piece of the 'palace' was presented in a different room and the pieces ranged from a soundroom full of speakers, a short film, a slide show, a "storm" room, an opera room, a lost room, and even a "Killing Machine." The works were an audio-visual feast that made me think this is what it must be like inside director David Lynch's head. It had some viewers of 'traditional' art shaking their heads in wonderment and others in awe of every detail and what the artists put forth. In conclusion, the new addition of art to the festival is one I and others will look forward to and catch more of in the years to come.
2014 marks the 20th anniversary of NXNE and will take Toronto one step further in becoming one of the greatest music cities in the world, a campaign they launched at NXNE this year. NXNE 2014 artist and film submissions open in September 2013. Visit NXNE year-round at NXNE.com.