NXNE: North-by-Northeast

by Cameron Stuckey

Each year, Toronto plays host to NXNE – a jampacked music festival that takes over venues across town and pretty much the entire city itself. A bit like Austin Texas’ SXSW, only with a lot more CanCon (Canadian content for you foreigners). Anyhoo, Loose Lips had our roving reporters on the scene. Here’s what they discovered at this year’s NXNE.

Hexes and Ohs
Silver Dollar Room
Friday June 19 – 9 pm

When Hexes and Ohs hit the stage, it was “Revenge of the Nerds” (self-proclaimed ones at least) taking over the Silver Dollar Room for their showcase slot put on by NEXT and Pop Montreal. The Montreal-based “nerd rock” duo brought their fantastic assault of synths, indie guitar hooks and robotic organic drumbeats sounding a bit like OMD fused with modern indie guitar rock. Matching vocal styles and tones worked well as they played off each other and created excellent harmonies. A few tracks into their set, Hexes and Ohs felt the ‘curse of the electronics’ with a laptop breakdown which lasted a few minutes. This luckily didn’t kill their momentum. Switching between drums and guitar, Edmund Lam drummed like a robot but his guitar playing was no comparison. If he stayed on drums and they would have been perfect through their entire set – but having said that, they kept my attention and delivered some brilliant synth-pop gems. Sampling a guitar loop, Lam jumped back on drums bringing the set to a stellar finish.

Silver Dollar Room
Friday June 19 – 10 pm

Another NEXT / Pop Montreal showcase band hit the stage and immediately showed that they mean business and NXNE was their boardroom. Kicking things off with grinding synths, pounding drums, and furious distorted guitar, they grabbed the audience’s attention and kept it throughout their entire set. File them under experimental but they are still very accessible with enough catchy parts to their songs to satisfy the masses. Similarities would be closest to Sonic Youth and a less danceable The Rapture – but they morphed with each song sounding at points a bit like Muse, BRMC, and The Pixies. Experimental was on the menu….and I had a feast at Zeroes NXNE set!

The Kathedral
Friday June 19 – 11pm

This Toronto 3-piece comprised of synth, guitars, and drums looked interesting on paper but ended up being “Pendulum by numbers” and a one trick pony with a very dated sound. Sporting masks at the start of their set (don’t think Slipknot, think cheap plastic white ones from the cornerstore) and using excessive strobes, their mix was far too loud and each song sounded very similar which quickly became boring and repetitive. Their set got slightly (and I mean only slightly) better for the 4th song when they slowed it down and the guitarist actually played and stopped doing the “convulse your body around the stage like a Muppet” shtick. To give you a reference how ridiculous this guitarist looked, he was like a freaked out Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter flinging his body around the stage while playing amongst the strobe flashes. The singer oozed arrogance which did not help since they were not offering anything here that even mildly deserved a singer that loved himself that much. There was nothing here but middle of the road, self-proclaimed “rave-rock” with a boring retro sound – I have added PURRR to the “I’ll pass, thank you” list.

Friday June 19 – 12 pm

Circa was in full force cheese mode with annoying clubbers and no Klever in sight! DJ Barbie did spin some records completely off the published NXNE schedule. She started her set at 12:20 with Klever scheduled to start at 12 am. This was extremely annoying since the schedule god when getting from gig to gig during the festival. DJ Barbi played nothing interesting or innovative, but rather played tracks that the most mainstream clubber would enjoy. After waiting and tolerating Barbi’s set, Circa was doing my head in and I had to get out of the place with any remaining sanity. No Klever in sight and therefore no review for his turntablism…unfortunately.

Little Girls
Sneaky Dee’s
Saturday June 20 – 11 pm

No “little girls” on stage for this NXNE set which may have been a disappointment for some, but what was offered at the Little Girls show was very distorted 80’s post-punk circa Bauhaus or Joy Division with a hint of late 80’s in the vein of Jesus & Mary Chain. This Toronto 4-piece brought the late 70’s – early 80’s cool out for their North-By showcase. The only drawback was that most of their songs had similar tempos rather than total song restructuring, but this was not necessarily a negative thing. I enjoyed what Little Girls put into their live set and they seemed to enjoy themselves which pulled the audience into their beautiful, dark world.

Cold Cave
Sneaky Dee’s
Saturday June 20 – 12 am

Seeing their stage set-up alone, there was no possibility of failure with 3 synths, 1 guitar and a drum machine / effects. Cold Cave did not disappoint delivering their futurist post-punk guitars along with very retro 80’s underground sounding vocals and synths. The 3-piece hailing from Philadelphia brought dark and danceable together into a beautiful combination. I wanted more after their set was done – hopefully they will return for an encore in the near future. They were very derivative of New Order and Joy Division, which really worked well for Cold Cave.

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