Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NXNE 2014: Preview (Part I)

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival appears to be feeling its oats — and willing to throw its weight around a little. When longstanding rival Canadian Music Week moved itself springward by several weeks, NXNE reacted by instituting — and enforcing — a strict radius clause to prevent bands from playing both. To be honest, I'm generally pretty okay with sticking it to CMW (which is a strange spectacle with its radio awards and out-of-time industry vibe) but that radius clause would become a point of contention for many in the inter-festival period, keeping many lower-profile bands needlessly off local stages for an extended time.

On top of that, NXNE quietly doubled the prices of its wristband, pushing it up to a hefty $150 for customers with the temerity to wait and actually see what bands are playing the festival. As far as I can tell, that did not come with a corresponding doubling of the fees paid to the bulk of the artists. Like me, you might prefer a little more egalitarianism in your festival experience — but as has now been quite famously explained, the festival isn't a democracy. So I guess you can like it or you can lump it and let your dollars vote on whether that's too much of a hit to the wallet for an extended weekend's entertainment.

Kvetching aside, there are some promising things as well. First and foremost, as ever, it's hard to gather this many bands together and not accumulate some gems — and compared to CMW it looks like there's a lot less dross to be avoided. Also, there's a welcome spotlight on all-ages shows, with both daytime and nighttime events welcoming the younger set. And, whether it's through increased coolness or demographic change, there's a refreshing breath of fresh air surrounding the festival's headline acts. Just because of the sort of vibe I dig, I tend not to go to/recommend the free spectaculars at Yonge-Dundas Square, but it's hard not to be impressed to see a generational shift, with far fewer reunions/dinosaur acts on stage, with names such as St. Vincent and Spoon topping the bills (and a couple awesomely head-scratching left-field choices like Swans and Omar Souleyman in the mix as well).

As always, there's way more to take in during NXNE than I could possibly wrap my head around. There's a lot of good bands spread over a full slate of showcases from Wednesday to Sunday, so you're not hurting for options. Wondering what to see? As always, skip the unloved official "schedulizer" and head over to the gridtacular Showgopher, with streamable music from pretty much everyone playing the fest. Also keep an eye out for all the free official and unofficial events. Tomorrow, I'll present a heaping helping of bands that it'd be worth seeing if you're skipping around from place to place [now posted here!], but for today I'll start with a whole bunch of shows that it would be worth going to if you wanted to settle at one spot all night long.

N.B. All samples below are live recordings from my previously-posted field excursions, and should give you some idea of what to expect from these artists.

Wednesday, June 18

Burn Down The Capital @ The Great Hall
Horse Lords (9 PM) / Guerilla Toss (10 PM) / Many Arms With Colin Fisher (11 PM) / Kirin J Callinan (midnite)

Burn Down the Capital's Tad Michalak (also known for his work with the Feast In The East series) is this town's go-to guy for bringing out-exploring musicians to the city. So even if half this bill are strangers to me, I'm more than willing to go in with an open mind and discover something new. As for the other half, I can vouch for the power of Horse Lords' kraut jams, and while I've never seen Philly improv spazzers Many Arms in action, the fact that they're touring a new album recorded with local sax hero Colin Fisher makes it a must-see.

A few selected words on what to expect: freak jazz prog punk... slithering, caustic tones... industrial textures... slowed down time & space... noise funk... herky jerky rhythms

Buzz Records @ Smiling Buddha
WHIMM (8PM) / Dirty Frigs (9 PM) / Teen Tits Wild Wives (10 PM) / Mexican Slang (11 PM) / Greys (midnite)

These local slop-pop specialists (who'll also be popping up below) have put together a night that has all the qualities of a can of warm pepsi what's been vigourously shaken by a twitchy teenager. Greys are getting plenty attention right now with the release of their debut long player, but this is a solid night throughout.

A few selected words on what to expect: check this junk out

Listen! Teen Tits Wild Wives - Anything Ice
Mexican Slang - Mouthbreather
Greys - Rennie + Carjack

Thursday, June 19

Wavelength @ The Great Hall
ZONES (9 PM) / Twist (10 PM) / White Poppy (11 PM) / Fresh Snow (midnite) / Tim Hecker (1 AM)

In true Wavelength fashion, this is a real sonic mix-up. There's hints of drone/pop in three of the groups to start and end the night, but the middle takes things in some other directions. Fresh off a very tasty tape, I'm looking forward to checking out ZONES' live show, there's some poppier excursions to switch things up and then Fresh Snow and Tim Hecker will be primed to crank up the bliss/volume as they close out the night.

A few selected words on what to expect: heavenly drone... synaptic constellations... oceans of fear, cages of awe, guttural commands imparted from unseen sages... glowing orbs dipping and swaying in a pastoral, twilit expanse... comedown blues for the nostalgic heart

Listen! Twist - unknown
Fresh Snow - Helix Pass
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath at Music Gallery

Massey Hall
Weaves (8 PM) / Tobacco (9 PM) / tUnE-yArDs (10 PM)

It seems like a long way for Merrill Garbus to have moved from playing the 'Shoe (as sampled below) to headlining Massey Hall. That makes her a good role model for local squooshy-beat pop experimentalist Jasmyn Burke, whose Weaves project might be at the start of just such a trajectory. [this is one of a series of somewhat contentious festival gigs at Massey Hall, with the bulk of the seats reserved for wristband/badge holders. Info on how many walk-up spots are available is sketchy to non-existent at the moment.]

Listen! Weaves - Buttercup
Tune-Yards - Gangsta

Friday, June 20

Tin Angel @ The Drake Underground
Devon Sproule (7 PM) / Bernice (8 PM) / John Southworth (9 PM) / Marker Starling (10 PM) / Trembling Bells (11 PM)

With its affinity for thoughtful, slightly off-kilter pop, it's no surprise that Coventry, England's Tin Angel Records has become the UK home for several local musicians of note. That means when the label has a chance to bring some members of its roster over here it's like a reunion of long-distance cousins.

Listen! Devon Sproule - Colours
Bernice - Body Motivation
Marker Starling - Childman

Hand Drawn Dracula / Artificial Records @ The Garrison
North America (8 PM) / Tiers (9 PM) / Weeknight (10 PM) / Beliefs (11 PM) / Crystal Stilts (midnite) / DOOMSQUAD (1 AM) / Wish (2 AM)

Local label Hand Drawn Dracula has a very good track record of incubating new talent, and is bringing out its art/experimental sub-imprint Artificial along for the ride on this night. A certain mood of detached decadence will be accentuated with NYC guests Crystal Stilts in the headlining slot. A sang froid dance party a go-go.

Bonus! HDD has a new summer sampler that you can stream/download!

Listen! Beliefs - Leave With You
Crystal Stilts - Future Folklore
Doom Squad - Born from the Marriage of the Moon and a Crocodile + Eternal Return
Wish - unknown

Just Shows @ Smiling Buddha
Boyhood [members of White Wires] (8 PM) / Tess Parks (9 PM) / Dusted (10 PM) / Juan Wauters [ex-The Beets] (11 PM) / Ketamines (midnite) / Death Hymn #9 (1 AM) / Nice Head (2 AM) / Pet Sun (3 AM)

All credit to local booker Mark Pesci, who is building up something nice over at Smiling Buddha. I could have listed any the of three shows he's put together on Thursday/Friday/Saturday — there's a lot of goodness here, and no doubt a lot of discoveries to be made. As a bonus, Thursday and Friday's shows are all-ages affairs — as is an unofficial, top-secret wrap-up gig on Sunday night.

Listen! Dusted - Property Lines
Ketamines - Line By Line + Double Elevens

Saturday, June 21

Buzz Records Day Party @ The Great Hall
Bambara (noon) / New Positions (12:30 PM) / Mexican Slang (1:30 PM) / Ancient Ocean (1:40 PM) / Weaves (2:10 PM) / Stüka (2:50 PM) / HSY (3:20 PM) / Huren (4 PM) / Perfect Pussy (4:30 PM) / Anamai (5:20 PM)

I'm leaving you on your own for Saturday night [not entirely true! plenty of bands will pointed out tomorrow!] but the best place to settle in for non-stop good times arrives in the afternoon at this two stage, all ages spectacular.

Listen! New Positions - unknown
Hussy - Ladies Nite
ANAMAI - 50% Pizza

Sunday, June 21

NeXT @ The Silver Dollar Room
The Auras (8 PM) / Loose Pistons (9 PM) / Courtney Barnett (10 PM) / Tess Parks (11 PM)

Dan Burke's triple-header spectacular has shifted by a day, so now you can end your festival by checking out three-night headliner Courtney Barnett. I don't know much about the Australian, but Burke has a very strong record of filling this slot with someone who comes to the festival as an unknown and leaves as the talk of the town. And though I didn't list them here, you can be assured that his other nights on Friday and Saturday are always a safe port in the storm if you don't know where to take yourself.

Listen! The Auras - Desert Dream (Nothing Is Real)
Tess Parks - Life Is But A Dream

Tomorrow: Plenty more recommendations, skewed to the show-hoppers. [now posted here!]

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