Another NXNE has come and gone, and it has been a busy but enjoyable time here at the blog as we’ve scrambled around the city to cram in as much music as possible. As a means of wrap-up, here are some reflections on the festival from Michael and Elena.
Best performance: Over the five days I saw plenty of amazing acts, so it’s hard to pick one, but the first that comes to mind is Halifax trio Dance Movie. I don’t know what it was that made their performance hit me so hard; I guess I just love passion in music. A close second would be Her Harbour, who put on a stunningly ethereal set at the Cameron House on Saturday.
Best venue: Handlebar. It can get kind of narrow, but it doesn’t take too many people to fill it, so it always feels intimate whenever even a few people show up.
Most crammed performance: Seeing Beams at the Central. The seven-piece band were pretty tightly-packed on stage, but so too was the audience on the floor. It was so teeming with people that the staff had to begin getting rid of the back room’s tables to create more standing space.
Best banter: Donovan Woods is as hilarious as I thought he would be, and his talking between songs in Trinity Bellwoods Park was among the best things I heard over NXNE’s five days. Close second goes to Gentleman Reg for this gem of a line: “What’s going on, Toronto? How do people eat and make music at the same time? Look how skinny I’ve gotten!”
Best antics: Sunday’s night’s Ell V Gore performance had front man Ellliott Jones basically pouring beer all over the Garrison stage and then kicking the bottle over. And he did it without any indication or looking like he gave a shit.
And finally, some tips on how to operate efficiently during future NXNE festivals:
- Write out a schedule. This should go without saying but it bears repeating. There are way too many bands playing at the same time to be able to just wing it when it comes to who you’re going to see. Plan ahead so you have an idea of where you’re going and whether you might run the risk of not getting into the venue. Which leads to my next tip.
- Plan geographically. If you’re seeing an 9 p.m. set at Wrongbar, you should not expect to be able to make it to a 10 p.m. set at the Silver Dollar without missing a few songs. Lots of venues are in the same area, so be aware of what’s around you and you can make it from venue to venue with plenty of time to spare.
- Trust your feet. By this I mean try not rely on transit too heavily. If one venue is at Spadina and College and the next is at Bathurst and College, chances are you can probably make it between those two on foot. You’ll be surprised at how much the city seems to shrink when you walk between places.
- Stay fed and hydrated. There is a high temptation when seeing hours and hours of shows to just forgo eating and drinking. This is not a good idea—be sure you’ve got food in you before you begin the nightly trek.
- Bring earplugs. You never know when you might need them. Some bands that might not come across as loud in their recordings could be super loud live (see: Braids). You’ll enjoy not hearing ringing in your ears later on.
- Try to avoid the buzz from time to time. I’ve grown to hate the phrase “buzz band,” but there are always plenty of them playing each night. I’m not advocating avoiding them altogether—I’m just saying that you might be pleasantly surprised by smaller bands, with the added benefit of their shows not being quite as packed.
Due to spending half of the festival doing chemistry things at my summer job, I had a bit of a relaxed NXNE, fitting in 17 bands (compared to last year’s total of 33). The smaller number of timeslots I was available for made discovery a little bit harder this time around, given that it was difficult enough to squish in all of the bands that I love on record and wanted to witness on the stage. Though it was a great week regardless, full of jaunts across the city, lost-in-the-music dancing, and trying desperately to stop my media pass from falling off on the sidewalk.
Best performance: I wouldn’t have guessed this going in, given as I liked but not loved their recently released record, but hands down it was Majical Cloudz. They played to a packed Blk Box Theatre on Saturday night, with enough emotional fervour to make me forget the sauna I was sitting in. The bass reverberated, the vocals soared, and the audience was captivated.
Best venue: I don’t know about best, but for me the record for most-attended venue is a two-way tie between the Comfort Zone and the Blk Box Theatre. There wasn’t a night that I was out catching showcases where I didn’t spend at least one set’s worth of time in both places. Somehow I still kept forgetting to wear white to take full advantage of the Comfort Zone’s glo-bowl atmosphere.
Most crammed performance: See above paragraph about Majical Cloudz. Cold beer became everybody’s best friend, I think.
Best banter: Probably Sean Nicholas Savage breathlessly encouraging the audience to try and imagine how he must have been feeling in that moment. I may have just been charmed by his shirtlessness.
Best antics: Can I give this one to the cat I met on Friday night? Come on, lying down on the sidewalk and meowing are pretty awesome actions.
And some lessons learned along the way:
- The secret shows at 2am seem like they’ll be packed, but really, a lot of people have dropped by tiredness already. I scurried on down to the Garrison super early in order to catch Diana‘s 2am set on Friday night, arriving right in the middle of Odonis Odonis. It was certainly hard to squish in then! I congratulated myself for my early-arriving foresight. But then more than half of the crowd left before Diana even started soundchecking. At least I was able to find an awesome chair spot (feet at the end of a NXNE day = PAIN).
- I really should buy a real camera at some point. It feels kind of silly to be wearing a media pass and clicking away with my point-and-shoot. Must scribble furiously in notebook to maintain journalistic air.
- Don’t stand right in front of the speaker for Braids shows, no matter how much better the view is. Even with earplugs, it’ll hurt. And you’ll get continuously elbowed by the one guy dancing like his life depends on it.
- Tape your pass or wristband together if it’s getting flimsy. You need this thing all week, people! I found my pass sitting cheekily on the sidewalk at least five times. Worst nightmare.
- Music in Toronto is great. Enough said.