Yuli’s NXNE 2013 Round-up

Wednesday 

The Rivoli – Mozart’s Sister

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NXNE usually doesn’t get get rolling for me until the Wednesday but this year was a particularly slow start and I only saw one band the first day out. After attending the Art Debut at Soho (where we weren’t allowed to take photos — pics or it didn’t happen, amirtie?) and running into one of my favourite ‘tenders behind the bar, it was time to see some music. Over at the Rivoli there was the quintessential mix of bands I could care less about and one band I was dying to see.

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I was there to see Mozart’s Sister, the project from Montreal’s Caila Thompson-Hannant, which has grown from one-women to female duo. This only adds to dynamic girl-power sensibilities. Posed behind their gear panels, sounding like Mariah Carey with the passion and dance moves of Kate Bush sent the crowd neo-soul transmissions from a MuchMusic era long gone.

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I was right at the front for most of the set, which was glorious but once I’d had enough I made my way past the girl set up to do live painting (what?) and through the packed house to the back to enjoy the last two songs before heading home.

Thursday

Kobo Influencers Reception at the Hoxton & Comfort Zone – Braids, Sean Nicholas Savage, Blue Hawaii

Now we’re in full swing. I wouldn’t let a downpour keep from seeing pals at the Ticketfly event at the Bovine’s Rooftop Kiki Lounge. It just meant I didn’t stay long. Enough time to chat with a band from Wales, and a girl from Halifax Pop Explosion (mostly about food to be honest), and I was on my way to an indoor event. The Kobo Influences Reception (see what they did there?) was part-90’s rave flash back and 2.0 start-up wet-dream.

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Brendan Canning was spinning as I made myself a braided glow-stick crown. VIP open bar meant things could have (or should have) gone worse than they did as I (somehow) made my way to Comfort Zone on Spadina. I’d never heard of the place until recently, and it was all bad news. But this line-up was too good for me to miss.

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Montreal by-way-of Calgary experimental-electronic trio Braids were just finishing off their set as I came in from the rain and slithered my way to the front. It wasn’t the transcendental experience I’d been dreaming of since the release of Native Speaker back in 2011, but that was due in no part to the band, rather the venue and the sauna like atmosphere. I have an oddly intense, perhaps misguided, interest in anything good coming out of my hometown. Especially since these guys went to my high school as well. This was sadly one of those times where I was too focused on taking photos and the surroundings to remember anything of the music. Missing was the booming progressions, and angelic, otherworldly looping vocals. I feel like I’m still 0:1 on seeing this band. I hope to remedy this at Osheaga.

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Next was an interlude of Sean Nicholas Savage, who makes cheesy soft rock jazz fusion work. With the name of a soap opera star, this Edmonton to Montreal transplant rings out songs of emotional turmoil set to sax melodies and beats that sound like a Casio demo. All this gives his songs a certain karaoke quality, whether intentional or not, that wills a crowd to sing along. It’s this tacky-chincy that takes the heaviness out of SNS’s overlaying themes of lose, the fallacy of memory, and regaining your identity after a failed relationship and makes them something to sway to.

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Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston returned to the stage with her other group Blue Hawaii, a duo with Alex “Agor” Cowan. Since the departure of Katie Lee from Braids I’ve often wondered just why that band still exists and Blue Hawaii doesn’t pick up where it’s left off. Braids sophomore album Flourish //Perish is due out this August but the wait since Native Speaker has been so long I didn’t see the point. That was until I saw Blue Hawaii for myself (in the same line-up as Braids even!) to see the clear difference. It can probably be summed up in this questioned asked of the crowd by Raphaelle, “Do you guys want a DJ set?” Blue Hawaii is dance music, in the Drop the Bass, EDM sense of the term. Some, like me, had come from the Kobo party with our glow sticks still in hand and on head. Collectively we turned that set into a rave and it was glorious. The highlight of my NXNE 2013.

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Friday

Exclaim! / Jäger Backlot BBQ & Wrongbar – some minor noise, Moon King, St. Lucia

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Here’s where things might have gone wrong. As is tradition I attended the Exclaim! / Jäger Backlot BBQ. I spent the day baking in the sun, consumed much alcohol, sugar water and some food out of a canteen truck. I haven’t felt the same since.

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I took my gut rot with me and made it to Wrongbar for sets I had thought would keep me there all night. I made it through two and a half sets.

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First was some minor noise, who were solid and got my head bobbing but I kept wanting to hear some more urgency in the vocals and soon realized I was just looking for Crystal Castles. It must be hard to be a group that has the guy on the panel/girl on the vocals dynamic. I’ve listened to the at home since and found something that captured my attention, something that was lacking in the venue. The beats and trills are thoughtful and smart, with a certain amount of moodiness and darkness that I love.

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Next was Moon King, a band I feel like I’ve been watching evolve since the Spiral Beach Days. What I saw on the stage this night was a group with an undeniable connection and cohesion. Each member lost themselves in the songs as they progressed and each occupied a space on stage in which they collectively lost it in the moment. Up on the monitors, the kick drum, on the very edge of the stage all while staying perfectly together and out of each others way. Harp-like guitar plucks, heart stopping percussion and soothing vocals.

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The last band of the night I would be seeing was Brooklyn via Johannesburg St. Lucia. I was entirely put off by the crowd, totally confused as to why a bunch of 20 year olds were screeching in the front row, taking photos of Jean-Philip’s butt and wearing birthday tiaras. These were not the fans I was expecting St. Lucia to have. The songs I have had on rotation were far too chillwave for this kind of bullshit. It wasn’t until I went home and searched SoundCloud and the like that I found a slue of dance remixes, and that the band had been on tour with label-mate Ellie Goulding. That explains it, right? With what might have been the longest set up and sound check of the festival, St. Lucia was thankfully tight as hell; booming, sax included. If the crowd had been less of a shoving for the front and drowning in birthday shots sort I might have stayed until the end.

Saturday

Vice Hot Tar Parking Lot Party – Milk Lines, TV Freaks, Cellphone, Single Mothers.

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It was the party that almost didn’t happen. Organized last minute out of respect for tradition Vice put on another banger close to home: their own parking lot.

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Milk Lines brought the right amount of surf jam I was looking for. While it had me longing for the Toronto Islands location of last year’s Vice party, their wavvy tunes were enough to get me lost in those wavy locks and licks.

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Cellphone is what I would love to describe as a teen that just discovering Skinny Puppy but wanting to start a more band with more positive overtones. Overpowering drum machine (awesome) pared with sing-song melodies and bubbly synth tones.

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TV Freaks are some dudes from Hamilton who like to keep it loud, fast and snotty. There’s a certain amount of distortion and reverb in the vocals that gives their jammers just the right amount of old rock n’ roll. I could just as easily dance to these tunes as I could sit around having a good ol’ TV Party. There’s something just so classic and at the same time refreshing about these guys.

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Single Mothers came out like they had something to prove. The lead singer started the set off by jumping, mic stand and all, on to the hot tar into the crowd and created a wide berth between us and the stage. Getting right in people’s faces singing lyrics dripping with cynicism and disdain. A little too much despisal derision for me, I took my food poisoned gut home and never raised my head again until NXNE 2013 was over.

About Yuli Scheidt

Yuli was born at the exact moment in 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded and rained down on the ocean. As a child she believed this meant she was destined for greatness in the realm of space travel and radioastronomy. Nothing remotely as awesome as that has happened so far. Instead Yuli, at the age of 18, relocated from Calgary to Ottawa where she studied photography, life sciences and graphic design before moving to Toronto. [More by Yuli]