Thursday, July 12, 2012

NXNE (June 13-14, 2012)

Purity Ring @ Wrongbar: photo by Michael Ligon
  Purity Ring @ Wrongbar: photo by Michael Ligon

I went a little less hardcore during NXNE this year and yet I'm still late on posting about it. Overall there were some good new artists I'd discovered year this although no one had really grabbed me outright like some artists had in previous years. With that said let's get to it.

Wednesday June 13, 2012
I started off the first day of the festival, Wednesday, first picking up my media pass at the Hyatt Regency and then being drawn to a Q & A happening in the same room, with the crew of the YouTube episodic sensation Epic Meal Time. I'd never seen their videos but it was apparent more than a few fans in the audience. The mandate of the show is sort of a mad-scientist's approach to creating these high-calorie, high-fat, fast-food dishes, and then eating them on camera. The show's founder and spokesman Harley Morenstein was a natural comedian as he fielded questions from the audience. And as I've sampled a video of theirs or two, I can see that they appeal to an audience who are curious and who also find what they do humourous. Behind any chuckles I may have had during the Q & A, in the back of my mind I was thinking, how can they eat all that effin' bacon. I can't fathom seeing them continuing their schtick for more that a few years before they start running into health problems.

Feeling a little guilty that I'd not made it to any of the launch events for the first three issues of local grassroots music publication Static Zine, I made a conscious effort to head over to new vinyl / vintage goods store Of A Kind (on College St. near Dufferin) for a NXNE in-store musical showcase which was also doubling as the launch party for the fourth issue of Static Zine. It was a pretty good turnout as individuals sauntered around socializing, checking out the new issue of Static Zine, browsing the merchandise in the store, and of course checking out the bands playing sets throughout the early evening. I'd only arrived in time for the last band, Vancouver's Indian Wars.

Indian Wars @ Of A Kind (8 pm) ----- As the band quietly set up and then segued into their set, the previously mingling crowd quickly switched gears to taken position and listen to the band. With the lead singer's Bob Dylan-esque vocals, the band excelled with their reverb-filled, at times twang-ified garage rock tunes. Not necessarily innovative, but in its own way it sounded fresher than I'd anticipated. The band's debut full-length Walk Around The Park was released in 2011 through Austria-based Bachelor Records. Although my original intention was to perhaps check out Toronto shoegazers Beliefs at the Drake, I opted instead to skip it (since they were playing the next night) and call it a night.

    Photos: NXNE, Toronto (June 13, 2012)

Thursday June 14, 2012
With original plans to go to Toronto Islands for the free-with-RSVP Jansport Bonfire Sessions featuring Smith Westerns and Dusted following through - the lineup was too long and that I found out it would have gone on later than I expected - I bailed and headed to Yonge Dundas Square to take in some punk rock, food truck goodies (Busters Cove) and some freebies (Candy, ice cream, entry drinks). And then it was off for the night to see some bands.

Beliefs @ El Mocambo (9 pm) ----- Local 4-piece (3 guys, 1 gal) shoegaze outfit Beliefs drew a decent sized early crowd. Purposely muddied vocals, and a slightly sludgier take on the shoegaze genre, perhaps a simplistic description is Dinosaur Jr. meets My Bloody Valentine. The male / female vocals makes them a bit more essential than they'd otherwise be had say it only been male vocals. A good, although not entirely distinct set, but a good start to the night nonetheless.

Hooded Fang @ Horseshoe Tavern (10 pm) ----- Since the last time I'd seen the band live back in August 2009, Toronto's Hooded Fang have gone through a bit of an evolution from it's twee-pop, horn-embellished beginnings to a edgier musical personal. The 2009 version of the band, while having their charms, were like a group of high school musician kids working out their growing pains on stage. A few years later and the band (which seems to have downsized and changed membership a bit) seem more confident and at the same time dropping their twee side for set of edgier influences with echoes of Talking heads, new wave and punk within their sonics. These days even vocalist Daniel Lee has dropped his croon for a singing style that's grittier. It was a nicely packed audience encompassing mostly the young'uns making me feel old, but that aside, it was an enjoyable set.

Grass Widow @ Garrison (11 pm) ----- San Franciscan female post-punk guitar / bass / drums trio Grass Widow whose previous album Past Time was released in 2010 through Kill Rock Stars (and whose most recent album is this year's Internal Logic) are the very essence of what reminds me of the Kill Rock Stars label - a D.I.Y. approach to punk-ified, pop music. It was a pretty healthy crowd on hand, although I wasn't sure whether they were all there for Grass Widow or perhaps were there early to secure a spot for the the buzzier later bands of the night, The Black Belles and The Men, but with each spunky song that the group rattled off, the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. Less girl-group pop than their peers Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and the like, Grass Widow (whose name to me seems apropo) favoured a grittier, not-as-straightforward melodic approach. The band's minimalist approach had its charms and I imagined I'd be far more into it back in the 90's during my American indie rock phase, but otherwsie they were just ok.

Dusted @ El Mocambo (midnight) ----- At this time slot my original plan was to see L.A's Bleached at the Silver Dollar but upon reaching that venue I found another band playing (later finding out that Bleached's set had been moved to 2 am). It was purely spontaneity that I wandered down the street to the El Mocambo and upon finding out that Dusted (a duo that included Holy Fuck's Brian Borchedt) was playing, I decided to check it out. With Brian on drums and vocals and Leon Taheny on drums/,keys the duo's set did quickly establish the group's meat-and-potatoes, gritty, pop sound. One of the sleeper sets of the festival for me, I sauntered into that set not knowing the group but came out a convert. I'll be interested in hearing their just-released debut album Total Dust out now through Hand Drawn Dracula in Canada and Polyvinyl in the US.

Purity Ring @ Wrongbar (1 am) ----- One of the buzzier sets of the night, I'd travelled in the direction of the venue, half-expecting to not get in. Even from the streetcar as it passed the venue, I could see a long lineup. Still, I decided to get off the streetcar and on closer inspection found out that there was a separate lineup for passes, and before I knew it I had bypassed the lineup and was in, but just barely - it was packed to the rafters. The Montreal duo, consisting of Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick (instrumentals) seemed to have garnered a lot of attention, recently being signed by 4AD, with the band's debut full-length Shrines set to be released July 24, 2012. So while I could hardly see the band from my vantage point which was towards the back, I was fully engrossed into the duo's scintillating, electro-pop sound guided by the atmospheric vocals of James. Colourful lighting danced against the band's small stage backdrop, illuminating the duo enough at times for me to catch just a glimpse of them. Overall it was a well-received set and I hope to catch the duo live another time.

    Photos: NXNE, Toronto (June 14, 2012)