Toronto bands NXNE

The top 30 Toronto bands at NXNE 2014

The top Toronto bands at NXNE 2014 should be on your radar when you make your schedule for the fest even if you're trying to plan around the rarer sets of touring acts - the much-discussed NXNE radius clause (barring bands from playing another gig 45 days before the festival) has obviously hit local musicians hardest. While Toronto's largest music festival has struggled with Toronto's grassroots music community and often seems deaf to the attempts of smaller bands to engage with fest bureaucracy, there's no doubt they've hooked some of Toronto's best artists and bands this year.

The rise of the city's loud scene is clearly evident in this year's programming (Greys, METZ, and Odonis Odonis are all playing between June 19-21), as is the indie landscape in its many variations, from shoegazey Beliefs to grungey Weaves. Hip hop, R&B, and electronic get some representation (Ain't No Love, Nicole Ariana) as does a tiny sliver of Toronto's weird scene (Marker Starling, HUREN).

From token afternoon drone sets at the Festival Village at Edward Day Gallery to the roar of Yonge and Dundas Square, there's no doubt that Toronto will leave its mark on attendees. Whether you're gripping a pass or budgeting individual ticket buys (or scrounging for free events, no shame - we'll post our free NXNE round up soon), here are two and a half dozen Toronto bands you should make it your business to check out - sorted roughly by what your ears are into.


METZ (hardcore, punk)
Saturday June 21, 12am / Lee's Palace
These Sub-Pop punk rockers have been around the block but are still cranking out hardcore noise anthems. Being likened to the Constantines is typically a good thing in Toronto and these guys definitely have the same verve for rocking out. As Bry Webb puts it: "METZ play like one brutally heavy instrument with three heads, slashing heavy-gauge strings, bending guitar and bass necks in weird unison, along with what is probably the loudest drumming you've ever heard". JT

Greys (punk rock / noise rock)
Wednesday, June 18, 12am / Smiling Buddha
Friday, June 20, 8pm / The Horseshoe
Sunday, June 22, 3pm / Edward Day Gallery
If you follow the loud rock renaissance that's currently garnering much attention for Toronto these days, there's no mistaking why Greys are on every one's lips. Just when you think things can't possibly push the decibel meter any further, Greys get positively unhinged and break the needle right off. With 3 shows to choose from, you'll have plenty of opportunities to give your eardrums the beating they so rightfully deserve. ESP

HSY (noise punk, industrial)
June 19, 11pm / Adelaide Hall
June 21, 3:20pm / The Great Hall
Thank Buzz Records for bringing about the rise of dissonant noise bands in Toronto - the indie label houses pretty much all the most talked-about ones right now, including Greys, Odonis Odonis, Mexican Slang and now HSY, a scrappy four-piece that defines the art of sludge. They cite influences such as The Melvins and Section 25, plastering raw, buzzsaw guitar riffs and distorted vocals against cantankerous, off-kilter drumming. It's jarring and often devoid of melody, but oddly hypnotic in it's own way, and a great example of what lies on the outer edges of our city's thriving punk scene. SK

Odonis Odonis (noise rock, shoegaze)
June 19, 5:30pm / Yonge Dundas Square
June 19, 1am / The Garrison
The noisy racket made by this homegrown three-piece has has been turning a lot of heads with the release of Hard Boiled Soft Boiled, their second LP (or technically their first, since it was recorded before 2011's Hollandaze but mired in record-label red tape). It's a disorienting mix of retro influences, from shoegaze to industrial to dream pop to noise rock, yet a thread of dance-inducing pop hooks seems to tie the whole mess together in an odd way. It all translates to an arresting live set. SK


Ketamines (garage)
Friday, June 20, 12am / Smiling Buddha
Paul Lawton gained notoriety through a series of blog posts that were critical of the state of the Canadian music industry. I'm sure he would take some of his words back, not because he doesn't stand by them but because that's all journalistic hacks like myself keep talking about. Turns out all he needed was shorts blasts of garage rock to leave us in stunned silence. ESP

Pet Sun (psychedelic, garage)
June 20, 3am / Smiling Buddha
June 21, 11pm / Handlebar
June 22, 1:30am / Crawford
Lo-fi surf-rock north of the border never sounded this good. Their catchy rock n' roll riffs and distorted droning off vocals inspires images of Sonic Youth. JT

The Beaches (alt-rock)
Wednesday, June 18, 12am / Rivoli
The Beaches have been around less than two years, and already they've featured at Friends on 6th Street for SXSW. Sisters Jordan Miller (lead vocals) and Kylie Miller (guitarist), along with Eliza Enman McDaniel (drums), Leandra Earl (keyboards) form the alt-rock Toronto band (ages 16-19). While they've had lots of comparisons to Haim and Lorde and others, they continue to not conform to any industry standard, with lyrics now branching out past boyfriends and high school issues. And they rock stages. RA


Dusted (indie rock, lo-fi)
June 20, 10pm / Smiling Buddha
Brian Borcherdt's Dusted specialize in a heavy yet stripped-down variety of indie rock. The prolific Borcherdt, born in Nova Scotia but based in Toronto, is known as a solo artist as well as a member of Holy Fuck and By Divine Right. The sole album to date, 2012's Total Dust, was recorded as a two-piece with drummer Leon Taheny and highlights Borcherdt's delicate voice and intricate guitar lines. The songs are both hazy and direct, with minimal but varied arrangements that serve as a direct contrast to the multi-layered maximalism of Holy Fuck. As one of the luminaries of the Toronto music scene, Borcherdt in any incarnation is a must-see. DB

Weaves (slime pop)
Thursday, June 19, 8pm / Massey Hall
Saturday, June 21, 2:10pm / The Great Hall
Weaves singer Jasmyn Burke has defined both the power of her sound and her musical ideas since her last band Rattail, but the grunge and grit of that defunct group remains. Burke's old soul voice adds an unusual credibility to Weave's fun and playful pop rock, and this band is on a steady ride. AJ

Alvvays (indie pop-rock)
June 20, 9pm / Mod Club Theatre
June 21, 6:30pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
Molly Rankin (yes, related to those Rankins) leads this peppy quintet of indie rockers who are set to release their debut self-titled album. Produced by Chad Vangaalen and mixed by Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck, Alvvays is poised to offer many a summer jam, imbued with airy Britpop and alt-country elements. The tunes are dreamy and sun-washed, but saved from being overly saccharine by Rankin's detached vocal style and an overlay of fuzzy production. SK

Fresh Snow (instrumental, post-rock)
Thursday, June 19, 12am / The Great Hall
Saturday, June 21, 10pm / Lee's Palace
The first time the four members of Fresh Snow got together was to make improvisational music. It worked out so well that by the second time they were already recording. Equal parts drones and noise, a hidden commitment to melody pushes through the din. Known primarily as an instrumental band, Fresh Snow do not come off as insular. Experimental at its core, they use dissonance and precision in a, excuse the adjective, "fresh" way. ESP

Golden Dogs (pop / rock)
June 21 at 11pm / Rivoli
Often described as a nitro-fuelled version of Wings, Golden Dogs are one of the most fun live acts you will ever see. Formed in 2001, they had a medium-sized hit with the stupid/brilliant "Yeah!" which was featured in a Budweiser ad. Dueling singers Dave Azzolini and Jessica Grassia's mix of boy-girl harmonies and classic-sounding riffs are immediately appealing. They've honed their live chops while touring with various Canadian music heroes, including Feist, Zeus and Sloan. Their past NXNE shows have been festival favourites and with a new album in the works, they'll be bringing some seriously good vibes. DB

KC Accidental (post-rock, instrumental)
Friday, June 20, 10pm / 159 Manning
For anyone who's been hanging around since the 90s, this is not a typo. KC Accidental are back to give NXNE festival goers a history lesson. The project that launched the juggernaut known as Broken Social Scene play a low key show that should not be missed by fans - there's no telling when Kevin Drew and Charles Spearin will unearth the project next. ESP

Beliefs (shoegaze)
June 20, 1pm / M for 159 Manning
June 20, 11pm / The Garrison
June 21, 8pm / Smiling Buddha
Local shoegazers Beliefs are Toronto's answer to My Bloody Valentine. Their fuzzy ambience and distorted guitars combined with the dreamlike vocals of both Josh Korody and Jesse Crow make for an immersive experience. JT

Sue Newberry & The Law (pop-rock)
Saturday, June 21, 12am / Dakota Tavern
Sue Newberry & The Law bring more to the stage than just smart pop-songs. The 6-members band is a departure from (then "Sioux") Newberry's folk-roots days. All of her deep poetic songwriting-storytelling is still there with a greater "expression" as she calls it, with the full band. And if there's such a genre as "funrock" (as named by brother David), then Sue Newberry & the Law are it. RA

Twist (dream pop)
June 20, 1:45pm / M for 159 Manning
June 19, 10pm / The Great Hall
The brainchild of BB Guns member Laura Hermiston and producer Brian Borcherdt provides haunting, yet easy listening dream pop. Hermiston's voice brings shade of Nancy Sinatra's coldness, but with a glimmer of hope attached. JT

Zeus (indie rock)
June 21, 9pm / Cameron House - Kid's Snack Stage
Receiving accolades from industry staples such as Sam Roberts and Jason Collett, Zeus have been on the indie rock scene since their 2009 debut album on the Arts and Crafts label, and have only evolved since then. They use a range of different sounds but they've been known to play anthemic alt-rock, or soft rock ballads with a tinge of blues. JT


Flex The Antihero (rap, hip-hop)
June 20, 10pm / Studio Bar
June 22, 2pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
Unleashing lightning-fast rhymes, Flex is one of Toronto's most skillful young rappers. Local rap fans may know him as half of The Antiheroes. His solo debut Salem was produced by Emerson Brooks and M Mac who give the record a darkly cinematic vibe. His lyrics focus on his personal struggles and the conflicts that arise when one commits everything to art. The combination of technical skill and emotional intensity make him one of the most compelling rappers at this year's NXNE. DB

Nicole Ariana (hip hop / r&b)
June 18th, 10pm / The Drake Underground
Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nicole Ariana represents the east coast to the fullest. She's recently transplanted to Toronto and is warming up to big city life, spreading her sultry style to the masses. This hip hop / r&b singer released her 4 Seasons EP not long ago and has a brand new beat-scene inspired mixtape dropping this summer. Be sure to check her showcase during NXNE's Wednesday night to get a sneak peak of what's to come. M

A L L I E (soul, r & b)
June 18, 10pm / Tattoo
June 20, 4pm / M for 159 Manning
One of the most promising young voices in Toronto soul, the very difficult to google a l l i e seamlessly fused classic and modern influences. She falls into the same appealingly hazy, dark trip-hop groove as neo-soul artists like The Weeknd and Kelela. Produced by 2nd Son, her Strange Creatures EP hits the sweet spot for the entirety of its brief run time. The heavy beats, deep bass and funky guitar mixes perfectly with a l l i e's intimate vocals. At NXNE, she'll be opening for fellow dark soul connoisseur Autre Ne Veut. DB

Philly Moves (hip hop)
June 21st, 1am / Studio Bar
This alternative hiphop duo is undeniably one of the most active groups in Toronto, with more shows under their belt than one can count. Their performance is diverse as rapper Tragic flows on top of the sounds by producer Jonny Rockwell who plays out beats on his MPC and also occasionally brings out an acoustic guitar. Their buzz hasn't gone unnoticed and their newest album Olga is set for release later this summer through Urbnet. M

Ain't No Love (hip hop, electronic)
June 21st, 10pm / Adelaide Hall
June 22nd, 5pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
Electro hiphop trio Ain't No Love have been putting in work for a couple years now. After releasing a few music videos that were well embraced by MuchMusic, this year they showcased at SXSW for a 3rd consecutive year and also made headlines in the financial news by becoming the first group to accept bitcoin donations for free album downloads through torrents. With their undeniable mainstream potential, they have gone the major label route and are working on a new EP slated for release later this year. M


Urvah Khan (rock, electronic)
June 21 at 11pm / The Drake Hotel Underground
Urvah Khan is sole practitioner of a genre she's dubbed "scrap music", assembled from the scraps that make up the history of rock music. Born in Pakistan and raised in the UAE, she ended up in Flemingdon Park, one of the rougher Toronto neighbourhoods, as detailed in her epic bio . Her experiences as a troubled youth infused her music with a real, palpable intensity. Working with producer/guitarist Ruben Huizenga (leader of 90s alt-rock weirdos Glueleg), Khan has developed a unique hybrid sound, fusing heavy rock with South Asian, hip-hop and electronic influences. This eclecticism and intensity should make for an unforgettable live experience. DB


Ark Analog (electronic, disco)
June 20, 1am / Wrongbar
June 21, 11pm / Tattoo
A duo made up of Woodhands' Dan Werb and multi-disciplinary solo artist Maylee Todd, Ark Analog specialize in blippy yet emotive electronic music. They draw inspiration equally from the darker side of disco and the spare, precise arrangements of Kraftwerk. Their debut single "Make Me a Mirror" was mixed and co-produced by Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, who adds his warm, soulful take on electro to the track. While electro is a crowded genre, especially in Toronto, their songwriting skills and powerful execution make them stand out from the crowd. DB

Beta Frontiers (8-bit, electronic)
Wednesday, June 18, 1am / Smiling Buddha
With all of the loud music pouring out of the clubs this NXNE its nice to get a bit of a palette cleanser. Beta Frontiers makes electronic music that takes its cues from popular 80s synth bands but definitely has a more melancholy, darker approach inherited from the 90s. Collaborations with some very talented singers, including Carmen Elle of Diana and Becky Ninkovic of You Say Party!, show incredible range from lo-fi resources. ESP


HUREN (scumtronics)
June 21, 4pm / The Great Hall - Conversation Room
Technically from Hamilton, David Foster's weird and dirty noise / electronic performance project HUREN is likely the most Videodrome-y, Kensington Market gutter goth repping act at this year's NXNE - how he got on the fest is beyond me. (David, are you on Sonic Bids? Are you going to destroy it from the inside? Kidding, Sonic Bids artists don't get showcases.) You still can't find Huren on the schedulizer, because he is a techno ghost. Foster was a member of Teste, who in 1982 released one of the biggest techno songs of all time. Catch this friendly 4pm set at the Saturday Buzz Records show. AJ

Doomsquad (electronic, folk)
June 19, 7pm / Edward Day Gallery
June 20, 1am / The Garrison
Formed by three siblings, Doomsquad's name was originally supposed to be ironic, since the band began their career playing upbeat traditional folk songs. But over time, their music's slowly transformed to fit the name, taking on darker and more organic elements inspired by recording in Northern Ontario's sparsely populated cottage country. The electronic groundwork is layered with tribal rhythms and primitive instrumentation, ritualistic chants and haunting wails, for a result that feels a little like ominous new age. Owen Pallett became a fan after seeing the band's live show, which is often adorned with projections and installations to round out their artistic vision. SK

Egyptrixx (electronic)
Thursday, June 19, 2am / Adelaide Hall
"Egyptrixx is from here?" - Toronto dance fans who can't believe a producer of this caliber and mystique could emerge from Indieronto. Yet it's true, and you can get sloppy smart dancing with him late Thursday night at Adelaide Hall (don't fall down the stairs on your way to puff some air on the rooftop). "Egyptrixx played NXNE?" - your stunned coworkers after you haul your hungover, limping corpse into work two hours late. AJ

Wait, no?


Marker Starling (melancholic party jams, lounge)
Friday, June 20, 10pm / The Drake Hotel Underground
You may know him as Marker Starling or Chris Cummings or previously, "Mantler" (Michael Mantler threatened him with legal action over the name). A growing legend since the early 2000's, Cummings has been called one of the best lyricists in Canada, playing 70's/80's pop-r&b-disco on the Wurlitzer electric piano and a 1970's Rhythm Ace drum machine. RA

Carl Didur (drone, psych)
June 22, 1pm / Edward Day Gallery
Sunday afternoon. You actually went to a bunch of crazy NXNE shows. You want to hear something ambient - something a little Drone Day, a little sparkle-psych, a lot zoned out analog: you want a soul nap with a full and wonderful space dream. Engage fetal position at NXNE Festival Village for Carl Didur's wandering set. Recharge quick - it's almost time for the Pride parties. AJ

MioThanks to MiO for sponsoring our coverage of NXNE 2014

Contributions by Shazia Khan, Evan Sue-Ping, Markit, Dorian Barton, Jacob Thompson, Ryan Ayukawa, Aubrey Jax

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