NXNE: The Beginning (June 15th and 16th)

Wednesday, June 15th

I’m a sucker with a day job. This makes NXNE an exercise in longing. I spent all the time that I was at work counting the minutes until I could be back at the festival.

As soon as humanly possible, I went to the Hyatt to pick up my press pass. I was nervous, but I shouldn’t have been. All the volunteers were immensely patient, and knew exactly what they were doing even if I didn’t. Lickety-split, I had my badge, lanyard and goodie bag in hand, and was back out on the street. The Hyatt felt like NXNE’s beehive, and all the press swarming in and out were the happy, buzzing worker bees.

After a delicious sandwich at Shanghai Cowgirl, I dipped a big toe in the NXNE pool at The Bovine SeX Club, where Hi-Hat Records presented a kick-off party.

The show started just before 9pm, with Luxury Bob charming the room with their slightly demented cabaret folk-pop. At 10pm Wax Mannequin took the stage, and most definitely got my attention. They were heavier than I expected, with a distinctly progressive element to their folk sound.

I fantasized about staying til 2am to see Dentata perform, but I decided to be a responsible human being, save myself one day of hangover and bike home before I could get in any more trouble. It was a good thing I saved some energy – I was going to need it.

Thursday, June 16th

On the second official day of NXNE, my night got a slightly late start, as I was serving as Dani Couture’s lady date (and Canada Arts Connect’s spy) at the Trillium Book Awards reading and dinner. As soon as those proceedings drew to a close, I pedaled my bike to Yonge-Dundas square just in time to catch The Descendents. This still stands, after all is said and done, as the highlight of NXNE for me. Milo Aukerman is an incredible front man, both aggressive and endearing, throwing just as much energy into his songs as a 15-year-old who’s love of punk still bears its first blush. Their set was stacked, containing everything I had hoped to hear, including “Coffee Mug,” “I’m Not The One,” “Clean Sheets,” and “I Don’t Want To Grow Up.”  They also invited a couple of children on to the stage to help sing  “All-O-Gistics,” which was totally adorable. The Descendents have not lost an iota of their magic, and standing in a crowd of people all completely thrilled and enraptured, singing their hearts out, was an incredible experience.

Totally blissed out, I next found myself at the Hard Luck Bar to investigate teen tits wild wives. I‘ve heard them referred to as “art-punk,” which made me wary, but they really impressed me. They repeatedly created pockets of sonic chaos that would then knit together into a larger whole, often using a guitar or sax to break the sound apart and then the rhythm section to glue it back together. Gabi Charron-Merritt’s “gypsy chant” vocals were also excellent, smoky with a burnt-caramel edge.

Finally, I wound up at El Mocambo for what would be the last show of my night. I arrived just in time to see the end of A Lull’s set, which struck me as hissingly melodic over the thunder of two drummers. After that burst of percussion, I headed upstairs to see Tomboyfriend’s set, which was as delightful as it was surreal. The stage was crowded with band members, dressed in costumes that made it look like all the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys decided to play a show (my favourite was the lion with black angel wings). Singer Ryan Kamstra appeared to be a bleeding, zombie clown, roaming into the audience, dancing in the kind of graceless, ecstatic way that little kids do.  Part glam rock and part kindergarten laboratory, their set made a lovely mess. Exhausted, I biked home, feeling as though I was already dreaming.

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