This year’s North by Northeast in Toronto was nothing short of incredible!
FESTIVAL REVIEW: The organizers and music curators and volunteers did a phenomenal job putting together the 21st Annual NXNE Festival.
The total number of musical acts, venues and overall programming was trimmed by about half this year compared to past years, but I didn’t see any hint of negative outcome from the new structure. The festival seemed much more manageable (with attention to detail) and the quality of acts increased. I loved the centrally located NXNE Hub (Queen & Spadina) which was used as an information lounge, performance space and Media Headquarters. Also, another shining spot of the festival was the well thought-out mobile app which was very helpful with the reminder of shows, recommendations, the full schedule, etc. The only area where the festival stumbled was with the lack of communication of when (lesser known) acts cancelled to play.
With this being my fifth NXNE, I’ve had the opportunity develop a very good grasp on how to successfully approach and see-through a dynamic inner-city festival like NXNE. With some venues starting their music programming at noon and ending at 4am, you have to have a good plan of knowing when to eat, drink, see all the worthwhile incredible bands and successfully party, oh and rest your body (I guess). It’s the importance of those factors (among others) that helped me put together Indie Underground’s NXNE Day-by-day recommendations and Indie Underground’s TOP 25 Must-See Bands. I began to invest hours of research by reviewing / scouting bands back in February when the first wave of music acts were announced to make sure I was ready for future announcements or surprises.
Top 7 Musical Acts at NXNE 2015:
Of the 39 quality musical performances that I was able to take in in four days, 7 really stood out. Read a review of each musical act and listen to a sample below.
Adelaide Hall – Saturday, June 20 @ 12 AM
I’ve known about four-piece, all female LA band, Warpaint for some time now, but had never seen them live, or had the chance to get up-close to a live performance (thank you NXNE). I ended up making them a priority on North by Northeast’s hottest night and was I ever glad that I did. Following up Toronto’s beloved, DIANA, (and already bursting at the seems Adelaide Hall), Warpaint played with an incredible amount of detail and joy that audience, quickly picked up on. Sensual positive vibes seemed to toss a blanket of love over mesmerized, engaged crowd. Not long into the first set, I realized that I would soon be purchasing Warpaint’s two released LPs on vinyl and I would likely be driving to any show within two hours of my hometown.
Listen to more Warpaint via Indie Underground:
Warpaint – “Love is to Die”
Like Warpaint on Facebook.
2. Lower Dens
Horseshoe Tavern – Wednesday, June 17 @ 12 AM
The Baltimore, MD band was SO Impressive live! Lead singer, Jana Hunter’s powerful and beautiful voice easily produced unearthly shivers into the crowd time and time again. When “To Die In LA” (song below) was performed, I honestly felt like there was no better place in earth to be. My escalating expectations were exceeded song after song. It was a 40 minute set to remember, and one that I didn’t want to end! Lower Dens, Moon King and Jacco Gardner played back-to-back-to-back at The Legendary Horseshoe that night and trust me, it certainly was “Legendary”.
Listen to more Lower Dens via Indie Underground:
Lower Dens – “Propagation”
Like Lower Dens on Facebook.
3. Fresh Snow
Lee’s Palace – Friday, June 19 @ 10 PM
The amount respect I have for Fresh Snow and their non-traditional instrumental music is uncanny. Every song is an adventure-filled roller-coaster that grabs your attention and will have you begging for more. I can easily say that the art-tronic / psychedelic four-piece is easily one of Toronto best bands. SO happy I was finally able to see them live after unfortunately missing them at NXNE last year.
Like Fresh Snow on Facebook.
Lee’s Palace – Wednesday, June 17 @ 9 PM
When I heard Dinner was going to be playing North by, I couldn’t believe it. I was excited, curious and hopeful that NXNE would position the solo musician’s set in an ideal timeslot, venue and in a good showcase. Thankfully, the stars aligned and Dinner performed in-between a host of outrageously good NXNE Wednesday Night musical acts at one of my favourite Toronto venues, Lee’s Palace.
Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark but based in LA/Berlin, the electro / darkwave musician (Anders Rhedin) walked onto the Lee’s Palace stage, sat down, crossed his legs, kept his head up, and appeared to silently pray / focus on what he was about to share with everyone inside the historic Toronto venue. At the stroke of 9 PM the set began and Dinner was on his feet, singing, and encouraging the crowd to come closer. Dinner respectively asked the curious crowd to dance, and without much hesitation, the crowd responded positively to the likeable, (comical at times) friendly musician’s request. Dinner also danced, but in a stiff enthusiastic way that accented his longer limb lengths (example in video below). At one point, Dinner jumped off the stage and danced with the audience. He even sang while laying on his back on the dance floor (seen in photo above)! Enhancing the experience even further was that this was happening in a bar that people don’t really come out of their shell (from what I’ve experienced), and it was evidently clear that people were fully out of their shells, eating up whatever Dinner was serving up. It was a very special performance.
I’m very excited that many more people will have the opportunity to experience Dinner as he is now touring across the world with Mac Demarco. Keep your eyes, ears and heart open for this the magical meal.
More Dinner coverage via Indie Underground.
Like Dinner on Facebook.
5. Hundred Waters
Pheonix Concert Theatre – Thursday, June 18 @ 9 PM
NXNE Thursday was a day with plenty of hard decisions to make. One decision that I was very happy about was when I made trek to the Phoenix from across the city to see Hundred Waters. Immediately, when the band begun their exquisite set, I knew that I needed to give Hundred Waters my undivided attention (I gave myself about 5 seconds to devour the rest of my veggie burrito, that the venue was selling special for NXNE). At times the LA band played soft and delicate electronic music, other times it was clear that dancing was meant to be a priority. The lead singer, Nicole Miglis sang and played her keyboard with a youthful enthusiasm. She reminded me of Grimes a bit from from when I saw the B.C. native perform at NXNE in 2011 at the Great Hall. The difference was that Nicole was more polished and had a full backing band (since I’m comparing the two performers in those time periods).
6. Mise en Scene
Yonge-Dundas Square – Saturday, June 20 @ 5 PM
Having experienced Mise en Scene’s impressive set at Canadian Music Week in 2013 at Sonic Boom, I knew what I was getting into. That said, from after seeing the band this year at NXNE, it was clear that the indie rock / garage Winnipeg band had brought their game to another level since 2013, quite worthy of the Yonge and Dundas crowd. The former two-piece, now three-piece roared onto the Yonge and Dundas stage before hundreds of people. Lead singer, Stefanie Blondal Johnson worked the crowd and played with enthusiasm by whipping and swirling her hair to the beat and showcasing her lovely smile throughout her performance. New bass player, Corey D Hykawy was an absolute pleasure to watch on stage and Jodi Dunlop was as tight as ever on drums.
I can honestly say that Mise en Scenes set was much better than Best Coast who also played at also at Yonge and Dundas Square. If you have the chance to see Mise en Scene live, make sure you go see them.
Watch for new music being released by Mise en Scene soon!
Listen to more Mise en Scene via Indie Underground:
Mise en Scene – “Prince William”
7. American Wrestlers
Horseshoe Tavern – Friday, June 19 @ 2 AM
This band does not know how good they are live! From St Louis, Missouri Indie Rock band American Wrestlers were picked up by Indie Underground back in September 2014 when they had 11 likes on their Facebook Page. Now they have a very encouraging 1,651 likes, and it’s for very good reason – Their music is fun and they’re brilliant live. One thing that really stuck out to me was the inclusion of the female synth player in the band. The electronic element blasts this band off into another stratosphere. Sadly, this element isn’t heard (or is much less pronounced) on their debut self-titled album, but that doesn’t take away from just how they are good to experience live. This was another set that I just couldn’t get enough of. The drummer was also very nice to speak with after their performance.
Moon King, DIANA, Jacco Gardner, Heaters, Programm, Nancy Pants, Cold Cave, Fucked Up