North By Northeast

The Slow, Painful Death of NXNE

Posted on by Brent in Everything, North By Northeast | Leave a comment


Let’s face it, NXNE is dead. Or at least the brake lines have been cut and Lake Ontario is straight ahead. This year seemed to be more of the same as it was quite lonely throughout the club shows, especially Wednesday night at both The Garrison and down the street at the Baby G. A rough survey of the crowds saw about 25-30 of us scattered about at either venue. With more than ten listed as ‘media’ on each guestlist and likely a few of the artists’ friends in tow, that leaves the bartenders and a sound guy.

Dead like dinner.

Before their last song the lead singer of New Love (who’s a doppelganger for Phil Kessel by the way) said with all sincerity to the faint few: “Thank you to NXNE. I feel like we didn’t deserve it.” The sad thing is these guys from Hamilton seemed like good old boys decent enough to have their songs played on 102.1 or be on the Indie stage at a summer festival. Herein lies the problem with NXNE for the last two years – bands like these that are scheduled to play shows at club venues deserve better support and promotion from NXNE. Otherwise the festival needs to just focus on the big-name headliner weekend shows and make it a proper summer festival. Most of the Club Land shows, that were curated by other local artists like Brendan Canning, Shad, and Moe Berg to name a few, were poorly attended and took a distant second place to what was going on down at the inconveniently located Port Lands which, oddly enough, was also poorly attended.

Michael Hollett needs to figure out what the end goal for NXNE is. Does the festival exist to promote independent music at various venues throughout the city for a week while continuing to have three days of headlining acts at an outdoor stage or do one of those need to be re-jigged or scrapped altogether? Either way, Panic Manual has been writing reviews for this festival for ten years (seriously, here’s Ricky’s brief review from 2008) and it’s something we mostly look forward to every June. This is the first year that I’m doing shows by myself and feel little motivation to go out another night.

Sadly, the mismanagement and poor financial support has sunk this festival over the last two years and maybe it needs to take a year off and seriously reconsider what the end goal is.

NXNE Review: TUNS, June 15, The Garrison

Posted on by Brent in Concerts, North By Northeast | Leave a comment


This year NXNE is a tiny shell of its former self and despite the lack of shows/bands, many were still pretty pumped to check out TUNS on a hot Toronto night at the packed Garrison. If you didn’t already know, this Canadian Indie “supergroup” is composed of Chris Murphy from Sloan, Mike O’Neill from The Inbreds, and Matt Murphy from The Super Friendz/The Flashing Lights. They popped up out of the blue last fall and created a bit of buzz with their first recorded song “Throw It All Away” and the more recently released “Mind Over Matter.”

As predicted, the trio split vocal duties which included several sung by Chris while hammering away on the drums. Their songs weren’t completely polished and came off almost as DIY punk – this is not meant to be a slight but rather a compliment to their songs, which combined unique offerings from three musical minds.

Between a mix of slower, more melodic songs were a few rockers that brought out Matt Murphy’s patented high kick. Their set lasted about 40 minutes and upon returning to the stage following their initial set, Matt let the energetic crowd know that this was “Our first encore.” They offered up two covers to end the night, The Beatles’ “There’s a Place” and Guided By Voices’ “Game of Pricks.”

Their debut album will be released at the end of August on Royal Mountain Records (Alvvays, Pup, Hollerado).

NXNE Review: Language Arts, Mod Club; Muuy Biien, Garrison; Homebody, June 19

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What NXNE Press Guide said about Language Arts:

Language Arts is the brainchild of Toronto-based guitarist, composer, and singer Kristen Cudmore. It’s the marriage of classical training and jazz school, consisting of complex layers that’s part Joanna Newsom, part tUnE-yArDs, and shifting between beckoning choruses with bright hooks and meandering lyrical sagas.

On this night Languare Arts were a polished and talented three-piece with pretty delicate vocals provided by lead Kristen Cudmore. Their version of cute wispy dream pop fit well in a venue like the Mod Club. Well constructed songs built from their beginnings and those in attendance enjoyed their almost hour-long set. Favourite quotes from Kristen: “Has anyone heard our album here? (silence from the crowd). What the fuck? I’m tired of it.” And also, “Whenever I’m at the grocery store and I have a lot of food I feel like a big pig.” Followed by: “snort snort” and a shy awkward laugh.


What NXNE Press Guide said about Muuy Biien:

Muuy Biien is the real thing. No college degrees, no connections, no future: kids in their 20’s raised in the Georgia countryside, born to work in fast food. The band members met while all working at a fried chicken chain. But art springs forth from the unlikeliest of places. The power of DIY is palpable and real, but so is the sense of craft that hangs over it.

Members were walking around the Garrison for the two bands before them going back and forth to get bottles of Bud from the back. Their music is part Refused, part Jon Spencer Blue Explosion, part Iggy and the Stooges. Their lead singer gets the award for best dancer of NXNE this year which last year was awarded to Pissed Jeans. They were loud, aggressive and the crowd responded by becoming a part of the show.


What NXNE Press Guide said about Homebody:

Homebody play angular post-punk and jangling pop music. There will be guitars and there will be drums and you will respond with appropriate head movements.

Homebody are another three-piece band playing experimental noise pop and hailing from Denver, Colorado. All members were talented musicians switching between instruments, switching between vocalists, and even switching speeds midway through songs on several occasions. If I wasn’t mistaken there was a rare sighting of a six-string bass through the first couple songs. Their last song Break In was a favourite.

NXNE Reviews: Crosss, Bishop Nehru, Tenderness, June 18

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What NXNE Press Guide said about Crosss:

Crosss make psychedelic metal and futurist grunge. They put out their lauded debut, ‘Obsidian Spectre’, in 2013 and have undergone a lineup change in the two years since. Of their output, AUX wrote: “Crosss may recite classic stone-rock rituals, but their songs are also defined by repetitious, druidic chanting – it feels like a near-religious experience, which is no accident.” Exclaim! also got on the bandwagon, offering: “Crosss is a stoic band but the music speaks volumes – a LOT of volume, to be precise.”

Despite the Garrison having sound trouble for what seemed to be the entire festival weekend, Crosss delivered a pretty tight set without any technical issues. Clocking in at about twenty-five minutes, they played a slow but aggressive type of dark post-punk metal chock full of minor chords and muffled lyrics. It was by far the loudest show of the festival for me which reminded me to not forget my ear plugs for Friday.


What NXNE Press Guide said about Bishop Nehru:

He may be just 18 years of age, but Bishop Nehru’s talent clearly speaks for itself and has already drawn praise from hip hop’s thought leaders. Case in point: Kendrick Lamar gave the young New York MC props. Nehru’s ability to write cold flows for viral consumption has made him a fast-riser in a busy scene. Along the way, he’s remixed Iggy Azalea and worked with English electronic trendsetters Disclosure. Joining the flanks of Joey Bada$$ in the 90’s boom-bap revitalization, Nehru’s sights are already on broader things, too – citing an appreciation for all kinds of music and the ambition to one day drop his own jazz release.

The beauty of taking your bike out to NXNE is that you can glide from show to show in a few dangerous minutes and not miss a beat. Almost every band starts at the top of the hour and it helps that the volunteers are pretty good at keeping bands to their proper set times. I could get from the Handlebar in Kensington to the Drake in no time to hang with the cool kids and check out an 18-year-old kid getting praise from many big names like the Wu Tang Clan and Nas.

Even though the room was pretty packed, Bishop Nehru was having a difficult time hyping the low energy crowd. While at the back I can only guess that I was standing beside his family members who were being polite but clearly ready to go to bed. My favourite song was Darkness with the following lyrics: “This life is like a mystery, look how the world’s sent to me. Today I’m in the industry, next I’m ended -history“.


What NXNE Press Guide said about Tenderness:

Tenderness is a lady who lives and makes music in Toronto. She loves mystery but dislikes biographies about her music project because she is usually the one writing them. Isn’t it kind of weird to speak about yourself in the third person? In her perfect world there would be no social media, music videos, or biographies written about anybody until they were dead. In a perfect world music would speak for itself. Heavvvvvyyyy, but for real.

My next show was north to College at the Smiling Buddha for a small and intimate show by solo electronic vocalist Tenderness. By far the most interesting and eclectic performer of the festival with an abundance of talent. She layered her smooth soulful voice with varying thumping beats all while various projections played in the background. Unfortunate that it was at such a small venue as she could have easily played a larger venue and still made it intimate. Hopefully this will be the case next year.

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