Another year, another awkwardly late report on the music/media orgy, affectionately known as NXNE. Where normally I would admit to spending 4 days drinking heavily and enjoying the finer things of Toronto’s nightlife, this year was actually quite busy for me. I work for a Montreal based music media publicity company called Asher Media Relations, and this year we had two of our artists showcasing at NXNE, and one also participating as a panelist at the Hyatt hotel. That being said, I will confess that compared to years passed, I wasn’t able to spend nearly as much time cruising the venues in search of my “next favorite band nobody’s ever heard of”, but along the way, I was able to catch a bunch of cool stuff. So here is NXNE, my week in review. An account of the work we did as participants in the festival, and some of the random debaucherous adventures that took place behind the scenes.
Asher rolled into town the weekend before NXNE for some pre-festival work, and to have a listen to my new band as we start pre-production for a new EP! (I’ll plug myself later don’t worry…). Our first real night out on the town for NXNE, was on Wednesday night, when we decided to check out the NXNE kickoff party at the Berkley Church. Let me start by saying that the Berkley Church is an absolutely beautiful venue. Just as it sounds, it’s a sick old converted church, with multiple floors and rooms, with the capability of hosting multiple acts and events at the same time. Even the outdoor smoking patio was more of a garden then a patio, complete with a huge multi-level tree house that one could wander through while outside. Surprisingly, there were no bands playing that night, instead they had DJ set’s in the main room, and a blender of 50’s swing/dance tunes on rotation in the back, which had a hilarious effect on some of the more intoxicated patrons, as well as providing a nice refuge from the semi-dry atmosphere that was the party upstairs. The venue was nice, and the party well attended, as it served as a joint gathering for both those involved in the NXNE festival, as well as for the tattoo convention, which was also happening in Toronto over that weekend. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good time, but as a networking junkie, I was a little shocked and disappointed by how little action was happening on the floor. And again, there were no live bands or anything, but luckily enough, we ran into our friend Kayvon, from KayvonTV.com, who was camped out near a Playstaion demo tent, jamming away on some rock band for ps3. No substitute for a real live band, but we had a blast hammering through a few tunes before retreating for the night, for what would be the last of the good sleep either of us would have for the rest of the week.
We made it down to the Hyatt in good shape the next morning, and rather early. There wasn’t much happening there that day, but we had to pick up our media passes from the lovely Damien, and ended up hanging out with our buddies from Indie Guitars and slamming some cheap organic beers in the hotel, before heading out for a dinner meeting with some east coast friends from The Motorleague and Hogan Media in N.S. The main buzz of the night was about the show at the Kool Haus featuring Rebel Emergency, Down With Webster, U.S.S., Stereos, and Dragonette. We made it just in time to catch half of D.W.W.’s set, and honestly I’m not convinced. I know all the buzz lately will indicate that they are the shit, and the attention they received at CMW because of the Gene Simmons plug only fuels that, but I honestly didn’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, they were ok, but would I sign them as an AR rep? Not a chance. Dragonette was next, and they were actually quite good. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan, but they hammered through their set with precision, it was tight, entertaining, and really well done. The stars of the night we’re definitely Toronto’s own U.S.S., or Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker. They are a cool band. The concept is a little strange granted, fusing a D&B DJ, with a singer/guitar player, but they delivered the goods. Their set was intense, full of energy, and the scores of crazy merch-buying all-agers that turned up to see them was a testament, to the hard work they’ve put in over the year building up momentum. That combined with the love they’ve been receiving from local radio, I’d look for these guys to bust out real soon. After the show, we retreated to the comfort of the hideout, which is one of my favorite local venues, for the reason that it features live entertainment 7 nights a week, and a clientele of skuzzy rock types like me. We made it in time to catch a set from another band that had some hype surrounding them called Oh No Not Stereo. The sound at the venue was far from perfect, but they played a great set, had the drunken 2am crowd really hopping, and I would totally recommend them to anyone who’s into pop/rock type stuff in the vein of the Foo Fighters. We sponged up a few more Rye and Gingers at the bar, before retiring back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.
Friday was a big day. We had the first of the industry conferences to attend at the hotel, as well as one of our artists, Empire Isis, rolling into town for her showcase that night. I caught a panel about media writers, before joining Asher at a sponsorship panel featuring ad agency people, and reps from Red Bull and Jager Music Canada. Isis arrived later on, and her showcase was a success. Isis rocked the shit, with her militant lyrical delivery and stage presence, along with a great backing band, one almost forgot you were watching a dancehall/reggae act, with an almost Rage Against The Machine kind of feel in the room. Everyone in attendance really got into it, and we had a blast. We were joined after by her crew and some mutual friends for some drinks on the patio, before heading for a quick pit stop at the hotel to freshen up. With our first showcase over and successful, we got a little hammered, and did a little club hopping on the Queen St. strip, before finally landing with a small group of friends at Velvet Underground, where they had a much needed area with couches for us to finish our night in style. I did catch a couple things after the Isis show, but nothing that greatly impressed me, so with a panel and showcase again the following day, we headed back to our hotel to sleep off some booze.
The next day started much like the others, with a bad hangover, and a half-assed breakfast on the way to the Hyatt. The main draw of the day was a panel featuring GZA from Wu-Tang, and a U.M.A.C. demo listening session featuring our very own Empire Isis. This was all pretty unorganized, with GZA arriving well over an hour late, and his session going well beyond an hour over schedule. This pushed back our panel start time, and would have been an inconvenience, had not our friend and president of U.M.A.C, Will Strickland, rolled over with none other then GZA himself in tow, and took seats next to Isis on the panel. The fact that GZA made an un-scheduled appearance at our panel was awesome, considering we had spill over from his own session, and it really made the event a lot of fun. After the panel, we hammered through some interviews with Isis before grabbing a bite at a Thai restaurant with her and her crew. After dinner, we made our way to the El Mocambo to catch a set from a much talked about UK group called Band of Skulls. Their hype machine seemed to have worked, upon arrival, the venue was packed, and the band delivered a great set. By far not the tightest band I’ve ever seen, but they captured the crowd, and I would highly recommend them to anyone who’s a fan of dark and moody, yet danceable Brit-rock.
Our final band of the night was Fattooth, and they had the graveyard 2am start that night at the hideout. After Band of Skulls, we headed over to get an early start on their showcase. It was my first time seeing them, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect, so I’ll skip the boring shit, and go straight to the money-shot. Fattooth was awesome! On top of being amazingly nice people, they delivered a set of high energy, in-your-face hard punk rock that really made my day. They have theatrics that enhance and really compliment the brutality of their set, and the alcohol fueled crowd wasted no time in cheering for an encore, which the band had no trouble delivering. All in all, it was awesome, and actually one of the most entertaining bands I saw all weekend. At this point, it’s nearly 4am, we’re pretty much all sauced, and after catching up to my good buddy Darryl Hurs from Indie Week Canada over a drink before he set off for Ireland, we ran for the hotel to crash.
I got up Sunday morning, and after a hotel change, I had a chance to finally relax for a couple hours and enjoy our new suite. There wasn’t much going on that day, with the exception of an outdoor set by GZA that didn’t really interest me, and the MMVA’s which I apparently wasn’t cool enough to get invited to. After Isis and her Musique Plus crew left for the awards, we were joined by my good friend, and one half of Toronto DJ duo Real Talk, Mark Beshai. We hammered a few pre-drinks at the hotel, before I joined him at Circa Nightclub for the MMVA after party, where his group Real Talk had the task of warming up the crowd for the party. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic music, but they were awesome. They wasted no time getting a fresh crowd, at a fast filling venue to pack the dance floor. While they did their thing, I wandered around the VIP, destroyed a few drinks, and chatted with whoever strolled by. The venue was awesome, but the party quickly became lame, as the array of celebs started arriving for their highly promoted DJ spots. The problem was, there were no DJ sets. My friends Real Talk, were told to make way, as K-OS and the stills quickly killed the vibe they had worked hard to create, by plugging in their IPods’ to the house system, and playing lame as hell track selections. Even K-OS, who I figured would have some skills behind the decks, did nothing worth mentioning, and aside from Real Talk, the only highlight of the night was a chance to meet Toronto songstress, Juno winning artist, and cute as hell, LIGHTS as well as CBC Q’s Jian Ghomeshi.
That all being said, we wasted no time at all retreating to the comfort of booze and rock and roll. Where else but the Hideout? We had arranged a small farewell gathering there, with some of our closest music and media friends, to cap off a great week with a good buzz. We closed down the bar, then made good use of our nice new hotel suite by inviting everyone back for an after-party. Long story short, we got hammered one last time. The last of our guests left around 8am, and I checked out of the room at 9:30am, and finally made it home to my own bed for some much needed rest shortly after.
I realize this isn’t the most beautiful piece of literature ever written, but I hope you’ve enjoyed my tale of four days of music, media, and drunken debauchery at NXNE 2009! Cheers!