Canadian Music Fest is upon us in Toronto, and once again the city will be filled with musicians from far and wide between March 21 and 25. Here's a quick preview, with reviews to follow at the end of it all.
Many of the acts head up this way straight from SXSW, so this is the perfect opportunity to catch the next big act in a small venue. Here are a few suggestions on who to catch, and where to find the coolest parties and hottest events that should be on your radar.
According to the website, Kids and Explosions is “a (Toronto) boy who makes songs by stealing other people's songs and making them worse.” This basically means it’s a boy with a computer who samples sounds, creates his own work, and sometimes adds his own vocals. This is melodic minimalist dance rap at its best. Felix Zenger is a beatboxer from Finland who tours with Tommy Lindgren, DJ Mensa, and DJ Shai. He proclaims his debut album contains tunes with most of its sounds originating from the human mouth. File this under catchy, cleverly produced lo-fi rhyme and rhythms at their best.
For mostly electronic/DJ/producer type performances, both Wrongbar and Drake Hotel are must venues to visit. The Drake Underground transitions from live performances to a full on dance party right around midnight, with the likes of Kevin McPhee, Pho, Ed Lover, and DJ Fase beginning on Thursday night. Down the street at Wrongbar, the Foreign Beggars are a UK based rap/grime/dubstep outfit that kicks things off at midnight on Wednesday, with the following nights featuring other not to be missed acts such as new wavers Voltaire Twins, electro-folksters Humans, jazz rappers BadBadNotGood, the synth dance sounds of Nightbox, and on the rise Montreal DJ/Producer Grahmzilla.
The Red Bull Music Academy presents three nights of eclectic programming curated and hosted by established musicians Shad, Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys), and Brendan Canning (Broken Social Scene). Each night varies quite different in terms of genre, so best to check the listings before heading out if you’re not the adventurous type. As well, each year there are many unofficial showcases put on by various venues, promoters, and other music lovers. Silent Shout and Babe Night happens on Friday at Milk Glass and features four local bands and DJ’s spinning a mishmash of dark electro and the purest of pure pop for those opposed to wristbands. Crosswires is a new weekly PWYC Sunday night showcase being held at the Garrison, and this week features a diverse line up put together by Doc Pickles, the man behind the successful indie Wavelength series. Catch headliners Trematron, along with Grace Licorice, Singapore, and Old Acid.
For those who can’t get enough of after dark revelry, a couple of sponsored day parties are taking place that are worth checking out. The Death in the Afternoon Day Party goes from 2pm to 6pm on Saturday at Sazerac Gastro Lounge and features a slew of pop performances by the likes of Jane’s Party, Current Swell, Nixon, The Paint Movement, and current favs Young Empires. The Aussie BBQ is presented by Sounds Australia and Stage Mothers, and takes over both floors of the infamous El Mocambo on Saturday from about noon until 5pm with 14 bands in total hitting the stages. This will likely be one party talked about after the fact, so make sure you are there.
How It Works: A festival wristband is good for entry to most shows, and sometimes offers line bypass. Otherwise, access to individual venues will have varying cover charges that must be paid at the door and allow access to that venue on that night only. Sets usually begin at the top of the hour and are generally 30-40 minutes in length. Clubs are spread throughout the city, but there are usually several within walking distance of each other making it quite easy to bar hop the night away.
Good To Know: Bands start hitting the stage around 8pm each evening and some venues have late night alcohol licenses until 4am, so plan accordingly, even more so if you plan to do the day parties as well. Keep your ear to the ground to stay in the know on more unofficial CMW parties happening around town, as well as secret shows, and invite-only sponsored parties. For those needing a break from live music, there’s also a great film festival and comedy component where you can seek serenity.
This is only a brief snippet of what’s going down, and honestly as long as you get out and see a few acts you’ll be guaranteed a great experience.
More Info and band profiles can be found on the official website.
I checked out the opening launch party at the CN Tower on Wednesday afternoon, and caught a short set by Haligonian Ben Caplan, who will be playing several shows over the course of this weekend. He told those in attendance how he was looking forward to "getting high" for his gig in Toronto, referencing the tallest free standing structure in the world. His trademark beard won't be hard to spot around town.
That evening I trekked out to Revival to catch Die Mannequin. This band has had its ups and downs, and are either about to break big or break up. They are the topic of Bruce McDonald's Hard Core Logo 2 coming out Friday April 13th. So for those that caught them tonight, it maybe the last to get that close up to them. Unfortunately the venue is more suited to DJ parties than live bands, and the sound didn't do justice to the band this night. On a side note, the staff didn't seem to want to be there for this type of event, and it showed through their abruptness and rudeness.
On Thursday I checked out the afternoon Audio Blood party where once again I ran into Mr Caplan, who was acting as host for a great line up of acts that this great little company represents. Those there to showcase were Hue, Sandman Viper and The Balconies from Toronto, as well as Sydney Wayser from New York.
That evening I was off to the Drake to catch four more acts beginning with locals Christien Summers who look and sound like they just flew in from the 1980's, playing dance pop tunes that kept everyone's interest. Next to take the stage were Royal Canoe from Winnipeg, a six-piece outfit that is pretty difficult to categorize musically, but the first thing that came to mind was Jethro Tull, so I'm sticking with that. These Electric Lives came on and preferred the stage lights dim, which they belted out their 30 minute set of old and new material, including a crowd favourite cover version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", there very first cover tune. Finally, the largest act of the evening, filling the stage with seven musicians, was Aerials Up. This Irish/Scottish outfit combine rock and roll with Celtic, along with an impressive vocalist accompaniment. They have four other shows scheduled up until Sunday evening.
More to come.....
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