The Bitters. Photo by Jeremy R. Jansen, courtesy of The Bitters.
It seems like CMW barely packs up and leaves town before NXNE rolls back around, and frankly, we’re tired just thinking about it. But! We’re also excited! Music festivals and their lovingly daunting schedules invigorate the downtown nighttime and get us up and out without forcing us to take part in the dreaded downtown nightlife. We just cannot walk in heels.
This year, Torontoist is casting its net a little wider as we loiter not only in dark, dirty bars watching countless festival-backbone bands, live tweeting our life (and bands’ reputations) away (Jokes! Maybe! Just don’t suck please!), but we’ll be sneaking into fancy panels for the conference component, throwing popcorn at film premieres, and “liking” all of the interactive business as we troll the new “i” portion of NXNE, the first in its sixteen-year history.
If you want to pay cover at a few shows, cool, but if you would also like to go to unlimited shows, eavesdrop on industry-staffed panels about the music business (Conference), then wind down with some great insight into musicians’ lives and careers (Film), you can do it all for the low $50 cost of a wristband (c’mon, that’s less than you spend on a weekend of food and debauchery). If you want to check into Foursquare to see who else is checking out some social media chats (Interactive), well, you’ll have to do it from outside because it’s all sold out. Internet more popular than everything? Who knew?! You can get a wristband or pass at lots of your favourite places around the city; the full list is on the NXNE website, under “tickets.”
We thought you might like to come and hang with us while you’re at it, so as a precursor to our daily festival coverage (starting next week), we’ve prepared a pre-festival guide to be your…guide to everything awesome at NXNE 2010. Come find us!
These Bands are Big-Time and Seeing Them at NXNE is a No-Brainer
Man or Astro-Man?, courtesy of MOAM.
Mudhoney. Way before Nirvana was cool, these skuzzy grunge godfathers had already perfected the flannel, greasy hair, and distortion pedal schtick. Sure, they never turned quite the same profit Cobain and co. eventually did, but twenty years later they’re still getting by on the same things that worked for them back then: sandblasting audiences, howling at scummy rock-club ceilings, cranking their fuzzboxes to eleven, and not giving a flying fuck. Mudhoney plays Dundas Square on June 17 at 9 p.m. and the Horseshoe Tavern on June 18 at 1 a.m.
If you sutured Devo, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, and The Ventures together and zapped it, Dr. Frankenstein–style, with a bolt of lighting, you might get something slightly less weird than Alabamians Man or Astro-Man? (yes, the question mark is sic). Regarded as one of the most theatrical, energetic, and anachronistic punk bands of the 1990s and 2000s, MOAM? fuses surf rock, post-punk, musique concrete, samples culled from old creature features, and the weirdo sounds of Theremins and Tesla coils to forge one of the most unique sounds of the past twenty years. Given that the band hasn’t released an album since 2001’s tour-only A Spectrum of Finite Scale, and their reputation for unhinged, sci-fi–inspired live shows, you’d have to be some kind of space cadet to miss them at NXNE. Man or Astro-Man? takes the stage at the Horseshoe, June 18 at midnight
Posing possibly the greatest wiry-framed dilemma in all of NXNE show-going land, aged punk pioneers Iggy Pop and the Stooges play at Yonge-Dundas Square on the same night (June 19) that Broken Social Scene host reunited aging angular-indie gods Pavement on Olympic Island. The Iggy show is free, and while the Olympic Island show isn’t an official NXNE show, it has just been announced that the first 250 wristband/pass holders to run their college-rockin’ bods to the Mainland Ferry Box Office will get into the show for free. Ohhh, it’s on.
As one of the few acts from rap’s late-’80s/early-’90s Golden Age who are still touring, De La Soul can more or less be considered the Rolling Stones of hip-hop. Over the span of their twenty-three-year career, Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove, and Maseo helped introduce goofy skits, saxophone solos, socially conscious rhymes, and esoteric sampling to the game, paving the way for Outkast, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and a glut of other quasi-hippie rappers at the forefront of today’s burgeoning mixtape scene. All this from a bunch of giddy teens who liked dressing in their dad’s old pants and Africa pendants. De La Soul plays Dundas Square on June 20 at 9:30 pm.
Some sort of weird combo of latter-day emo, programmed-pop, and hushed folk, Hamilton’s Dark Mean (finally) brings their array of band members to Dee’s to breathe a whole new life into their lo-fi sneak-attack songs. June 18 at 8 p.m.
Juiceboxdotcom/UO Booking Agency Present. A whack of the best larger-Toronto-area pop-punk bands storm the Bovine all at once, kicking the festival into high gear with beards and gang vocals and fun, duh. Hang out from early until forever o’clock and make friends with the showcases’ bosses, Torontoist’s Ashley Carter (and former Torontoist-er Sam Sutherland). June 16 at 8 p.m.
The Bitters. Fuzzy ’60s-radio-pop-laced punk ditties by girl/guy duo Aerin Fogel and Ben Cook (who also plays guitar in Fucked Up among many of his own other projects). Go see why they’re this close to being perma-suffixed with “next big.” (Also, go see them because they copy and pasted the Goo Goo Dolls’ bio for their NXNE bio. Born to be friends.) June 17 at Silver Dollar Room at midnight
Walter Schreifels, courtesy of Walter Schreifels
Walter Schreifels. The dude from Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools, etc., grows up and writes a folk record about his hardcore heyday. And it’s good. June 17 at the Bovine Sex Club, 2 a.m.
What Toronto’s music scene does for feel-good cottage rock and bloated indie collectives, Montreal’s does for frantic, garage punk bands. While the halcyon days of groups like The Sexareenos, The Spaceshits, and CPC Gangbangs may be behind us, many of the members of these groups have reformed in new, kookier configurations, capitalizing on the renewed interest in the neo-garage scene since VICE and all the VICE kiddies latched onto King Khan and Jay Reatard. Of these groups, Demon’s Claws leads the pack (forget Red Mass and their horseshit cross-dressing, wannabe Nobunny antics that couldn’t have less to do with the affable scruff of real garage rock). Just in time to celebrate the release of their new LP on In The Red (a.k.a. best record label ever) Demon’s Claws will be bringing their manic psych-rock sounds to NXNE. Demon’s Claws brings the rock to the Great Hall with label-mates Thee Oh Sees on July 17 at 10 p.m.
An indie rock band worth their weight in hype? Fact. Florida brings it big with Surfer Blood, whose melodies ring as big as J. Mascis’s best but with sweeter singing and safer volumes. June 19 at Yonge-Dundas Square, 6 p.m., and Wrongbar the same night at midnight
The Diodes. Photo courtesy of The Diodes.
Toronto’s Broken Social Scene may be getting their own movie this summer (the Bruce McDonald–helmed This Movie Is Broken), but if you want to see a great movie that has emerged from a Canadian indie-rock collective, check out A Gun to the Head, written and directed by New Pornographer Blaine Thurier. When reformed tough guy Trevor (Tygh Runyan) sneaks out of a Japanese-themed dinner party to grab a beer with his cokehead cousin (Paul Anthony), he winds up smack in the middle of a night of casual drug use, gunplay, and bad blood as he tries to settle his cousin’s debt with a psychotic, though refreshingly mellow, Vancouver drug kingpin (Hrothgar Mathews). Funny, fast-paced, and whip-smart, A Gun to the Head was one of the best Canadian features to debut at TIFF 2009, and proof that Thurier’s as formidable a filmmaker as he is a…uh…synthesizer-playing guy. June 16 at the NFB, 5:30 p.m.
Circa 1977: The Diodes. Video documentarian Aldo Eric premiers his half-hour film about the Diodes, one of Toronto’s keystone punk bands back in the late 1970s when the genre actually struck fear into the hearts of easy-listeners. The short follows the band’s reunion as they prep to play a gig at NXNE 2007, their first in thirty years. Inspired stuff. June 17 at the NFB, 3:30 p.m.
Thomas Pynchon: A Journey Into the Mind Of. Directed by Fosco Dubini. Since he made his bones toying around with the conventions of language and literature, Thomas Pynchon probably wouldn’t have a problem with Fosco Dubini ending the title of this doc with a preposition. Then again, considering that Pynchon never ever speaks to the press and has in the past forty years become the most notorious literary loner since Salinger, it’s hard to know what he’d have a problem with. Speaking of which, it’s hard to imagine how a documentary on Pynchon would take shape, considering that very few people even know what the guy looks like. In any event, he’s basically the quintessential post-modernist American author, whose reclusiveness has fuelled rumours since the 1960s. And this movie features music by avant-weirdoes The Residents, so what’s not to see? (Except, of course, for Pynchon himself.) June 18 at NFB, 2:15 p.m.
Strummerville. Directed by Don Letts. Julien Temple’s 2007 Joe Strummer doc The Future Is Unwritten provided an exhaustive oral history of legendary Clash/Mescaleros-frontman and punk god Joe Strummer. But Don Letts’s new film picks up the pieces, looking at how a charity called Strummerville has been set up as a means of carrying on Strummer’s often fuzzy activist vision. Including interview with the charity’s founders (including the likes of Billy Bragg), Strummerville explores how children are inheriting the musical and political legacy of Strummer, getting their music and message out there in a way that would surely put a wonky smile on Joe Strummer’s face. June 19 at the Toronto Underground Cinema, 6:30 p.m.
Stones in Exile. Directed by Stephen Kijack. With the recently repackaged re-release of the Stones’ seminally greasy album and this doc that premiered earlier this year at Cannes, it seems like this is the summer of Exile on Main Street. And why not? The album’s thirty-eight years old this year! The bourbon-stained denim anniversary! Sure, there is a glut of Stones docs out there. But considering this is the band at the height of their decadence recording the grimiest album, seeing Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and the boys butt heads and share needles makes for a compelling excuse for yet another behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever. June 19 at the Toronto Underground Cinema, 9 p.m.
When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors. Directed by Tom DiCillo. Ha. Just kidding. Unless you’re twelve and have a bong with a gecko embossed on it, The Doors are a joke band. Stay home and watch DiCillo’s amazing 1991 debut Johnny Suede, instead. It’s a pseudo-Lynchian rockabilly romance starring a very young Brad Pitt, a very babely Catherine Keener, and a very, very awesome Nick Cave as strung-out rock deity. It’s also not a movie about The Doors. Any day you wish, your house, anytime.
Mudhoney. Photo by Steven Dewall, courtesy of Mudhoney
Mudhoney Interview with Alan Cross (Keynote). If you’re going to any conferences, this is one to catch. Take a trip down memory lane with Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and Steve Turner as they revisit Seattle’s grunge-rock sound of the early 1990s, out of which popped Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Music guru Alan Cross, host of 102.1’s weekly rockumentary radio program The Ongoing History of New Music, will be on hand to grill Arm and Turner about the scene and the place it holds in music history. Should be a good one. June 18, 3:30–4:30 p.m. Hyatt Regency Room B
All The Other Panels At NXNE Are Wrong. Here’s Why. (Conference) According to the program, industry vets, among them Damian Abraham from Fucked Up, will explain how the music biz takes itself way too seriously and how all the so-called “experts” doling out their advice “couldn’t find their way out of a closet with a flashlight.” Now this could either turn into a total gong show, or it might just shed some much-needed, rarely spoken insight on how the industry buys into its own hype. You’ll roll the dice on this one, but in any case, it shouldn’t bore. June 19, 2:30–3:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency Room D
Ze Frank, courtesy of Ze Frank.
While NXNE has always been about music and film, this year will see the festival launch a new component that will focus on the web and social media. Presumably modelled after SXSWi, the inaugural NXNEi—the “i” stands for “interactive”—runs from June 14–16 and, rather than just being aimed solely at nerds or PR people, it’s intended for anyone interested in how the web is changing both culture and business. (While tickets are sold out, keeping an eye on NXNEi’s Twitter and Craigslist may still get you some.)
As with any web conference, some sessions will focus on how to use social media for marketing. An option for those interested in the topic will be the panel “Architects of Community.” Moderated by the CBC’s Guinevere Orvis, it will feature Alan Cross, Erica Ehm, and popular web reporter Amber MacArthur, who will all discuss how to filter through the glut of chatter online to form a thriving community, while sticking to the unspoken rules of social media. (If you want to avoid falling into the traps of social media, there are probably some good lessons to be learned at a session titled “Social Media Circle Jerking 101.”)
For those more piqued by how the web is creating new forms of art, the panel titled “The Intersection of Interaction, Play, Humor and Design” with Zachary Lieberman and Theodore Watson may be more appropriate. The two speakers will talk about how technology is being used in innovative, creative ways, such as tracking the eye-movement of someone with ALS to create graffiti, or building interactive landscapes for children to play in; a notebook and a box of tissues might be a good idea for this one. Also of note is “The Lost Art of Storytelling,” which will return to the basics of narrative in the hopes of inspiring new, interactive forms of telling stories in the modern age.
Of course, given that NXNE itself has grappled with how the web is changing the music and film industries, it’s likely that a panel on “The Death of the Critic” will draw a crowd. Featuring Star critic Ben Rayner and NOW‘s Joshua Errett among others, the session will tackle the sticky problem of whether professional critics and experts are still necessary now that the web has democratized all forms of criticism, from art to restaurants. Do we still need arbiters of taste, or is the concept now obsolete?
Finally, noted web personality Ze Frank will cap off the two-day conference by talking about his struggle to find and cultivate actual emotional connection online in “At the Heart of It: Struggling to Connect in a Virtual World.” Given that the web can sometimes work to preempt or distance that kind of interaction, it should be interesting to hear what Frank has to say.
Introductory blurb by Nicole Villenueve.