North By North East is one of my favorite Toronto Music Festivals. Taking place in June, you can generally count on great weather. You can also always count on any number of day parties that will ensure your sober moments are few and far between (god bless that Jagermeister party, let me tell ya). And of course, there is a veritable boat load (well, probably multiple car, van and plane loads, if we’re being realistic) of musicians in a multitude of venues ready to serenade their way into the hearts and minds of music lovers and industry members alike. This year I indulged in the usual free festivities at Yonge and Dundas Square, while also moseying my way around town taking in as much awesome tunage as I could.
This may or may not be common knowledge, but I have a deep love for good hip hop. I’m talking about that type of flow that comes out of the mouths of master MCs, mesmerizing you with their mindboggling musical delivery and thought provoking lyrics. That’s why I was set on checking out Tink at Adelaide hall early in the week. After checking out her mixtapes online, I knew she was a must see, and she did not disappoint. She had the charisma her rap stature demands, a contagious passion and excitement that absorbed right into the crowd, and most of all, amazing flow. It takes a special artist to rap about feminism and demanding equality from her male counterparts in nearly the same breath as spitting rhymes about the trials and tribulations of dating and young love, and Tink, frankly, fucking killed it.
In the realm of surprising and crowd pleasing rap talents, I caught Tiny Danza at the Music Ontario daytime showcase. Having just danced our feet off to Tink together, I was excited to see Galen Hogg throw down some rhymes of his own, and he and his band did not disappoint as per usual. “Beat fly” has to be one of the catchiest, dance inducing tunes I’ve heard in a while and I just can’t get enough of it. Along with Tiny Danza, the showcase featured a variety of Ontario born artists including STACY, who has easily slid into her role as the Lana Del Rey of Canada with her melancholy yet romantic lyrics and slow sensual vocals, and Kashka, aka Kat Burns, whose electronic folk stylings were brought to life with a full band, rounding out a great afternoon of music.
I was lucky enough to join the crew from Samsung, the festival’s sponsors, for a backstage seat at the New Pornographers set at YDS. New Pornos are one of those bands that you can’t help but love – their music is irresistible, and it makes me so happy to hear it. That happiness increases a thousand fold when the music is heard live. The Canadian supergroup opened the set with “Brill Bruisers” the title track of their latest record and one of my personal favourites. A.C. Newman and Kathryn Calder expertly traded vocal volleys in between beautiful harmonies on favourites like “Your hands together”. The band played a great variety of tunes that kept me and the thousands of folks in the square singing, dancing and grinning ear to ear until the set closing “Mass Romantics”.
The Bovine Sex Club is always one of my favorite venues for a fest like this, and I managed to catch not one, but two amazingly talented ladies who killed it on that stage. Cobra Ramone is one band I’ve been obsessed with for years, but never seen live until this NXNE. Fronted by the band’s namesake, this band was everything I hoped they would be: loud, hard and fucking awesome. Cobra’s voice is powerful with a sweet, seductive quality that both completes and contrasts the grungy, whiskey soaked blues rock sound that makes me love these guys ever so much. It was great to hear the favorites I’ve been obsessing over like “Wrath like a city” and “No good”. Do yourself a favor and download everything they’ve ever made – it’s so very worth it.
On another Bovine night, stunning siren SATE whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy with her signature mix of rock, funk, R&B and raw power. Her EP trio Red Black and Blue was on gorgeous display that night, the emotionally revealing and awe inspiring songs the perfect gateway for her new persona to come shining through. Songs like “The warrior” showcasing that no fucks given attitude she wears so beautifully. The songstress writhed, screamed, sweat and sang her heart out, song after song, sweat pouring down her face as she took everything she had and embraced her adoring fans with it, and they devoured it hungrily and happily. Closing the set with an incredible rendition of “what have I done”, we were all left sweaty and spent. SATE is a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what she does when she unleashing the power of her forthcoming album upon the world.
Other highlights for me included revisiting one of my earliest discoveries of my music writing career, the wonderful musical wizard Warren Hildebrand aka Foxes in Fiction, whose recent collaborations with Owen Pallett have further cemented his place in the ethereal world of Canadian electronic folk music. And finally, a band I’ve been waiting to see since 2 NXNE’s ago, The Revival made that wait totally worthwhile. The Winnipeg natives classic yet melodic rock style is completely irresistible, and even though I only managed to catch a couple of songs of their set at the Rivoli, I know I’m a fan for life.
*photos by Nadia Elkharadly