The top 25 bands to catch at NXNE 2015
NXNE lands in Toronto on Wednesday, June 17, bringing with it hundreds of concerts spread across the city for five days. The 2015 version of the festival is a bit smaller than last year (and there's no radius clause or Action Bronson show), but it remains one of the marquee music events of the year, even as the festival scene becomes increasingly crowded in Toronto.
There are four ways to buy tickets for NXNE, with the most popular two options being advance tickets for individual shows and the platinum badge, which is more complicated to acquire than it should be (you have to buy advance tickets to three shows before being offered a badge at $60) but gives you access to all shows subject to capacity.
Here are our top shows to catch at NXNE 2015.
Twist, The Garrison, Wednesday June 17, 9 pm
There's something inspired in the way Laura Hermiston sets songs in motion. A singer-songwriter who seems as far removed from the singer-songwriter stigma as you can be, her sparse compositions are dutifully complimented by Brian Borcherdt's (Holy Fuck) haunting instrumentation.
Blonde Redhead, The Opera House, Wednesday June 17, 10 pm
After 21 years and nine incredibly diverse sounding records, Blonde Redhead are still finding ways to catch their fans off guard. In 2014, they took perhaps their most surprising turn, leaving long-time label 4ad to self-finance the stunning Barragan. Always mesmerizing, vocalist Kazu Makino weaves her way through space, landing dreamily in your long-term memory.
Moon King, The Horseshoe Tavern, Wednesday June 17, 11 pm
I can't say that Moon King's sun-drenched indie pop caught my attention right away, but after seeing them open for Alvvays' homecoming concert last December, the buzz clicked. Childhood friends and ex-Spiral Beach members Daniel Woodhead and Maddy Wilde are thoroughly engaging performers, radiating tons of energy while playing well crafted, infectious hooks. SK
Lower Dens, The Horseshoe Tavern, Wednesday June 17, 12 am
Different year, different mood for Baltimore's Lower Dens. The recently released Escape From Evil has a decidedly more uplifting sound than previous records on account of the band's need to be "less miserable." Not all sunshine though, you can expect an emotional roller coaster.
A Place to Bury Strangers, Opera House, Thursday June 18, 9 pm
As close as you can get to "can't miss," the always-unpredictable Brooklyn trio lay waste to every stage they step on to. With new songs off 2015's Transfixiation to add to their considerable arsenal, expect the unexpected.
Fake Palms, The Horseshoe Tavern, Thursday June 18, 10 pm
Buzz Records are once again well-represented during the fest and it's easy to see why people are still talking about them. Recent signee Fake Palms demonstrate perfectly why the label remains on the forefront of new musical discoveries. And if you're not a fan of venue-hopping, this is the perfect place to lay your hat on Thursday night.
Iceage, Opera House, Thursday June 18, 10 pm
It's a long way from Denmark to Toronto, so we're lucky that Iceage have been here as many times as they have. Their first few appearances were uneven, beautifully chaotic experiences that made us remember that rock n' roll has never been an exact science, but the unpredictability is what keeps things exciting.
Baths, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Thursday June 18, 10 pm
There was a point where all things glitchy inhabited my headphones. Baths is a subtle reminder of that time with a sound that's equal parts Lali Puna and Prefuse 73. Their 2013 disc Obsidian is a glorious return to headphone-induced solitude. Be prepared to sway uncontrollably with your eyes wide shut.
Lucius, Adelaide Hall, Thursday June 18, 1 am
Not exactly what people hold as a stereotypical Brooklyn export, Lucius back up their considerable style with an insane amount of talent. The duelling vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have been known to lift the roofs off opera houses, so hopefully the new Adelaide Hall is well equipped to contain their sound.
Vallens, M for 159 Manning, Friday June 19, 3 pm
The party at 159 Manning is likely the most special experience one can have during the festival. Bringing a sense of community as an antidote to the often heavily-sponsored big venue shows, this year's lineup features the spaghetti western ethereal drone of Toronto's Vallens.
Zoo Owl, Adelaide Hall, Friday June 19, 9 pm
Coming at you like that flying machine from The Watchmen, Zoo Owl's illuminated eyes pierce clear through your body to the back of the room. Behind the controls, he hits you with some kind of mind-control device that heads straight to your feet, convincing you that you have always loved techno.
Liturgy, The Opera House, Friday June 19, 9 pm
Corpse paint and satanic references used to be why black metal was so subversive - now, avoiding those elements pisses way more people off. Brooklyn's Liturgy clearly love exploiting that; clean cut and too eloquent for their own good, they've irritated many in the metal community on first impression, but a few seconds of their blast beat-laden, guitar-shredding symphony is usually enough to shut the naysayers up. SK
Om, The Opera House, Friday June 19, 10 pm
There's nothing inherently relaxing about this San Francisco band, no matter how inside yourself you try to get. What they produce is certainly trance-inducing, but you're just as likely to lose your head completely as you are to find which chakra guides you.
Atlas Sound, Lee's Palace, Friday June 19, 12 am
For Bradford Cox, songwriting comes uncensored and straight from the heart. Whether it's with his well-known indie rock outfit (Deerhunter) or the project he holds close to his chest (Atlas Sound), the results are nearly the same: perfectly crafted, off-kilter pop songs.
No Joy, The Silver Dollar, Friday June 19, 12 am
Dan Burke's weekend residency shows have become a festival must. With pick-of-the-litter bands commissioned for a three-night stand, there's never a reason to kick yourself over a missed opportunity. Montreal's No Joy pick up the mantle this year, blasting their way through modern shoegaze anthems.
Angel Olsen, The Mod Club Theatre, Saturday June 20, 9 pm
The sad songs sung by this soul-searching Missouri songwriter are bound to make you feel deeply. Her newest, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, expands on the forlorn sound that helped establish her as "one to watch" by most tastemaking music outlets.
Beliefs, The Silver Dollar Room, Saturday June 20, 10 pm
Toronto has always been kind to shoegaze. There's something in the sound that obviously speaks to our city's inhabitants, like we're direct descendents of the same spaceship that brought Kevin Shield's ancestors to this rock. Josh Korody and Jesse Crowe lead this generation's sonic explorers into the never-ending abyss.
Girl Band, The Drake Underground, Saturday June 20, 11 pm
The only way this could get any more abrasive would be if they dragged a motorcycle up on stage and chanted over the revving engine. This Irish band's music is so static-y and vague it sounds like a transistor radio caught between stations. And yes, I do think that's amazing. Don't let this one pass you by.
Obliterations, Lee's Palace, Saturday June 20, 11 pm
Stephen McBean can't stop forming bands. Aside from Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops and Grim Tower, he's now frontman for Obliterations, an old-school influenced hardcore act that proudly harkens back to the early days of Black Flag and stoner jams. Filthy and earsplitting, this music is the kind that dyed-in-the-wools punks should appreciate. SK
The Auras, Smiling Buddha, Saturday June 20, 11 pm
If jangly space rock is your thing, look no further than Toronto's The Auras. Taking cues from The Brian Jonestown Massacre, they skyrocket further into the atmosphere with phaser pedals and Jazzmasters pushing red.
Jennifer Castle, Garrison, Saturday June 20, 11 pm
After years as a sought-after guest vocalist for much of Canada's indie elite, singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle got solo recognition with 2014's Pink City, her fourth LP and most critically applauded to date. Her ethereal voice wrapped around reverbing folk chords will be one of the highlights during The Garrison's lengthy Saturday showcase. - SK
Mission of Burma, Lee's Palace, Saturday June 20, 12 am
Considering that Tinnitus broke this band up in the 80s, you may want to give some thought to the appropriate protection before you even think of setting foot in Lee's Palace. Forefathers to bands like Drive Like Jehu, Fugazi, and Guided By Voices, their melodies pierce your eardrums like a sharpened blade.
Deafheaven, Adelaide Hall, Saturday June 20, 1 am
Used to be that Jesu was the most curious "metal" band on the block. Then along comes Deafheaven with their odd combination of shoegaze and hardcore. What might initially come across as awkward and unclassifiable becomes something undeniable. A blanket never felt so heavy.
Not Of, Smiling Buddha, Sunday June 21, 9 pm
Stripped back means absolutely nothing to this duo of noisemakers, who make the very concept of a bass player seem obsolete. With the death of the two-piece largely exaggerated, Not Of breathe new life in to the format. On second-thought they knock the wind out of that classification with a one-two punch of loud and louder.
Dirty Frigs, Smiling Buddha, Sunday June 21, 12 am
The dirty, lo-fi vibes of Dirty Frigs have slowly gained steam with each new EP they've released over the past couple of years. Singer Bria Salmela's voice floats over the band's garage-rock dirge for an eerily spellbinding experience. Two NXNE performances (Saturday at Silver Dollar, Sunday at Smiling Buddha) mean that you have no excuse to miss them. SK
What did we miss? Let us know your most-anticipated NXNE shows in the comments.
Writing by Evan Sue-Ping and Shazia Khan.
Photo of Moon King by Matt Forsythe.
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