First, let me give you the lay of the land.
Now in its 17th year and like it’s bigger, hotter, and more southern cousin SXSW, NXNE has become a premiere destination for new, emerging,
and well-established musical talents alike.
Spanning four days, and marking for many the official start of summer in the city (yes, we do get summer in Canada) over 650 bands converge on Toronto to Rock, Roll, Dance and Hip-Hop until the wee hours, in over 50 venues scattered across the city – me, with so many bands playing and with my sonic addiction growing more rabid every year.
I like to refer to NXNE as “Christmas on my Birthday”.
The first, though ‘unofficial’ night of NXNE music was all about easing in. There are four nights of intense show-hopping ahead, and so only a handful of venues were hosting showcases tonight – there’s no need to blow your whole load too early on the first date I guess.
After a mercifully un-complicated badge pick up, a jaunt around the festival hub at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a shower, some dinner and a nap… I finally get myself together and make the 20 minute walk over to The Garrison. The plan? Baltimore, MD drone-quartet, Lower Dens (below).
I arrive at a quarter to ten and immediately notice how sparse the crowd is… Either everyone is conserving their energies for the next 3 nights, or they’re watching the Stanley Cup Final (that’s a “hockey-thing” for all of you International readers), I suspect it’s probably the latter.
About 90 people are gathered, clad in varying degrees of plaid. Parachute pants abound, thick dark-rimmed glasses are perched on many a face and iPhones are held aloft throughout the crowd.
Lower Dens soon take the stage and warble their way through a quick sound-check while trying to solve the mystery of “the silent keyboard”.
Finally, all’s well with the Roland and they launch in to opening song “Blue and Silver”.
It’s a tense, fuzzed out dream-pop ballad, with Jana Hunter’s whispery alto vocals suspended in wave upon wave of shimmery guitar. The vocals and guitar blur together, bouncing through the room hand in hand, and building to a slow-motion climax.
A great start; and indicative of the rest of their slow-burn of a set; “Tea Lights” is another highlight– a deep dive in to the shoe-gaze annals that plants itself deeper in your chest with each lilting bar.
The whole set is blissful and weightless– it’s fuzzy, throbbing, almost ghost-like without being so ethereal you can’t feel it. Throughout bassist Geoff Graham serves as the outline to the vocal graffiti that Hunter paints on the band’s collective wall of sound – all set he’s always there, just around the edges, adding depth and feeling.
Heavy bass-lines are paired with jangly guitar, feedback and drone –it’s a nice way to ease my way in to the coming week’s rock-n’-roll shenanigans.