New talent, old faves highlight NXNE

Taking over Toronto for the 17th consecutive year, the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival has expanded beyond a launching pad for new Canadian bands.

Boasting over 600 bands from all over the world, NXNE has more recently incorporated a film festival and for the second year, an interactive component. The concerts took place all over the city in every kind of venue imaginable. Bands played everywhere from bars and clubs to parks and city squares – this year there were even shows at Union Station.

Friday night at the Mod Club saw early, but nonetheless enjoyable, sets from three distinct bands. Openers Library Voices hail from Saskatchewan and fired up the crowd with a 40-minute set of bouncy, clap-along pop songs.

NXNE veterans the Most Serene Republic were up next with their attempt to do their hometown of Milton proud. “We represent the suburbs,” said piano player Ryan Lenssen, speaking to The Cord before the show. Describing the atmosphere of NXNE, he stated, “It’s kind of like going to Price Club on a Saturday and getting all the free samples, that’s kind of what a festival’s like. Except you have to pay for the samples.”

Guitarist Sean Woolven chimed in, assuring the audience that they could expect “rainbows and happiness” from the set. Though no rainbows were reported, the set of Canadian indie rock, including material from as long ago as 2003, definitely left the crowd happy.

Far removed from the mild indie sounds that kicked off the evening, the U.K.’s Art Brut took to the stage and delivered their brand of punky art-rock.
Frontman Eddie Argos delivered his hilariously clever lyrics in his unique half-talking, half-singing style. Openers from 2005’s Bang Bang Rock & Roll “Formed a Band” and “My Little Brother” captivated the crowd before the band launched into “Axl Rose” from this year’s Brilliant! Tragic!

A highlight of the show was undoubtedly during “Modern Art,” when Argos hopped off stage and into the crowd to share an improvised anecdote about Van Gogh.

Speaking to The Cord about how the band has changed since its inception, Argos said, “I’m probably less angry or something.” He continued, “Not much has changed. We’re ever so slightly more mature.” None of this has compromised the live show, though, as the band put on a performance that the entire audience would agree was cut too short by the venue’s time restrictions.

Saturday evening witnessed an absolutely packed to capacity crowd for the line-up at Lee’s Palace. Wild Nothing performed a solid introductory set before Brooklyn-based buzz artist Twin Shadow took his turn on stage.

Bottle of rum in hand, George Lewis Jr. and his band through a killer set that included a climactic rendition of “Slow” and a performance of “When We’re Dancing” that got the excited audience members, well, dancing. He won over the crowd with his charm, jokingly confusing the festival for South by Southwest and later proclaiming that Toronto knew how to give off the feel of a New York summer more than New York did.

Grabbing a late, but definitely not the last set time, Ontario-based band Memoryhouse charmed the crowd with their indie pop sound. Guitarist, founding member and on-hiatus Laurier student Evan Abeele discussed his festival experiences before the show.

A NXNE rookie, he remarked, “We did South by Southwest, though. It was terrifying.” Abeele mentioned the American counterpart to NXNE’s tendency to break up-and-coming bands into new markets and stated, “It would be cool if NXNE could do that for Canadian audiences and Canadian bands. Hopefully it does.”

Speaking modestly about the band’s recent signing to legendary label Sub Pop Records and their upcoming tours in Europe, Japan and Australia, Abeele mused on the band’s future, “There’s no real gauge to measure how far I see us taking it because every single new thing we do is just a complete shock to me.”
Other notable names that graced the stages of NXNE this year included free performances by Stars, Fucked Up, Devo and Men Without Hats, as well as performances by the Dodos, AIDS Wolf and Shad.

The film element of the festival covered an expansive array of music-related subjects, featuring multiple documentaries about hip-hop and punk, as well as premiering a new Stars video and debuting short in-studio footage of City and Colour.

Finally, North by Northeast Interactive (NXNEi) celebrated its second year, hosting experts on the music industry, social media, graphic design and storytelling. The week-long panels and presentations provided Toronto with innovative ideas for the future of the arts in Canada.

Whether it was music, film or interactive ideas, many were given a platform for exposure once again at this year’s NXNE. Art Brut’s Eddie Argos summed up the message of the week perfectly when talking about the inspiration behind his songwriting: “I just want to share my passion with other people.”