NXNE can bring out the characters – musicians, creators, know-it-alls, wide-eyed onlookers and a collective of speed walking industry folk.
Whatever category you may fall into, those taking in the week-long bender always come out with the same worn-out, sluggish exterior coupled with some wild stories – even if they are sometimes exaggerated.
Here are some of the standouts of NXNE 2011. You’d be silly not to read on.
Some of the most gleamed about names included American acts like Ty Segall, Cults, Dum Dum Girls and Devo, U.K. staples such as Art Brut and newcomers Kovak (personal favourite) and Canadian gems like Braids, Land of Talk, and Diamond Rings. One could argue that many of the talent were the “on-the-cusp of a breakout” styled acts from across Canada (think Dirty Beaches, Bravestation) while others could see a reliance on pop groups like Sweet Thing and heart-sucking troubadours like Chad VanGaalen. If you attended NXNE this year surely you can note there was variety.
650 bands from all over the world should make any lazy Lucy pick up the pace. It’s all about searching for that comfortable high, which can sometimes lead you to the 9pm dungeon shows or doubling up and sprinting to catch as many acts as your feet can handle. It also can lead you to the “I’ll have another” phase where music and drinks become seemingly interchangeable. Ask any reviewer (ahem, any good reviewer who is writing because they are good at it, not because they want a free pass and some indie cred’) and they’ll tell you that the days and nights just feel like one long mind-warp of a weekend where popping back a couple shots at 11am isn’t unheard of. Hey it’s evening somewhere in the world, right?
One of the major observations this year were the interactive sessions, which saw a steady flow of traffic. It was refreshing to see so many people engaging in interactive seminars, raising their hands followed by prose and inquisition and of course those who somehow knew everyone in the room.
Who isn’t somewhat jealous of that guy?
Topics ranging from hip hop culture and beat making to Internet proliferation and cyberspace love to songwriting crafting and industry feedback sessions seemed to be very well received.
Some sound takeaways: Reddit is just as important as Facebook; if you want to create something always think three to six months ahead; and make friends with marketing firms, always.
Then there were beautiful moments (while filing information hunched over on top of a stool with my face to the screen) when legends like Brian Wilson sped by.
Taking to the streets some definite must-hits included Brooklyn Vegan’s booze cruise, the Live in Trinity Bellwoods outdoor party (which had programming every day that clearly Steven Hyden from The Onion didn’t go to). Other noteworthy stops included live sets in famed record shops like Sonic Boom and rooftop industry rambles with Redbull.
Then there were the shows.
Personally, I like going to those early ‘no one thinks are cool shows’ along with the ‘everyone-must see-these shows’. Undoubtedly, I do have a passion for electronic music, shoegaze, garage, and increasingly psychedelic trip-rock. I don’t snub at one-man shows nor expect to be amazed by hyped acts; I wholeheartedly attend as many shows as my inner beat maker of a body can take, leaving immediately after I feel satisfied.
Thursday night, Ty Segall satisfied me.
Having never been a punk chic I couldn’t help but observe. Although I was completely ready to hit up against dude beside me, perhaps get my feet stomped on and sweat like I was in Florida air – I didn’t expect to see the brotherhood connection that surfaced throughout the entire show. These guys released. These girls danced. It was bloody brilliant. Ty Segall is one of those acts that can come across coy and mellow, but will blast your body with blistering noise and you can’t help but smile. It was simply one of the most endearing and adrenaline-pleasing shows I’ve seen in quite some time. It almost matched last year’s Les Savy Fav performance, but provoked more of a youthful anthem tint. Ty didn’t rip Wrongbar’s mirror off the wall, or allow me to sing into the mic, or walk around practically naked – nothing beats Les Savy Fav. Oh 2010.
Looking back Thursday may have been my favourite night. Before I made it to the Garrison to see Ty, I made a couple of stops – one being at the El Mocambo. A great feature about the El Mo is that there are two floors, why they put one-man shows or electronic acts on the first floor that has a huge capacity I still don’t get, but Brothertiger didn’t seem to mind the large space.
Watching as this 20-something-year-old from Ohio rolled his eyes into his head while belting out dreamy vocals was a good pull in. It was my kind of music. I love watching people get into their head – sometimes you notice a lot more when there is just one person to follow.
His shifts between computerized reverbs and bass to layered electro synths meshed well with his soothing voice.
Since it was 9pm the crowd wasn’t massive, but those that were there all seemed in sync with their foot taps, their head shakes and their rocking – the men behind me were a little too into it, but that happens after six glasses of whatever they were drinking. Remember, happy hour is every hour during NXNE.
Next up were the Denver meets Brooklyn boys of Woodsman.
I was gunning to see Woodsman. The ambient and experimental lads gutted their guitars and pierced the crowd with howling vocals. There was so much heart and tension in their music with moody lax stamps and jarring experimentation threaded throughout. Their standout song was definitely ‘Insects.’ Watching their long hair dangle and bodies convulse encouraged a sensory trance-like glue both on and off stage. The crowd moved closer. With hints (hints I say) of Animal Collective, Woodsman put on a show that felt as good as sipping a stiff drink that goes down easy. Their music fused a harmonic explosion with dual-washed alternative strums and gloomy psychedelic peak points – it just worked.
I almost didn’t venture upstairs because the shaggy boys hooked me, but I am glad I did. Not only was there good eye candy upstairs, but the stunning front woman and man of Kovak were more than fun to watch. I had to switch gears.
The Brighton, UK babes were no less pleasing than Woodsman, but in a completely different regard. Where Woodsman roped you with experimentation, Kovak did the same with dance-hall power pop that was playfully refined. Annelies Van De Velde oozed a Robyn meets Gwen Stefani vibe and that melted the air with sex appeal. Currently working on their 2nd album with producer Andy Gray (Paul Oakenfold, Gary Numan), their salacious electro sound is highly contagious – I expect to see a lot more of Kovak, that’s for darn sure.
Important to note is the opening act for Ty Segall, Uncle Bad Touch.
Not only did the lovely Kathryn smile-suck your heart out, but the Montreal trio had style, hard grunge style. Aside from Mikey up front making you love good ol’ rock again, Shawn on the drums was hard not to stare at. Their on stage dynamic was charged, but not overplayed and straight up genuine – a completely solid Montreal band, hands down. Raging vocals, consuming riff work and bang-on musicianship, Uncle Bad Touch teased the audience right.
I couldn’t have started and ended a night better – in the midst of 4 hours I saw acts from Ohio, California and Brighton – sure beats my typical ‘Big Bang Theory’ Thursday.
Best Venue: The Garrison
Best Act: Ty Segall
Coming up… Part 2 of the NXNE coverage featuring acts such as Dum Dum Girls, Braids and surprise standout – Mode Moderne. Photos courtesy of Kathryn Kyte. To hear more from Kathryn Kyte check out the radio show, Loaded! on Indie Love Radio or kathrynkyte.tumblr.com.