About two months ago, I got this crazy idea that I would apply for Media Accreditationfor the North By Northeast Music Conference in Toronto. I thought, "Hey, I'vegot a web site. They're looking for Internet publications, I'm all over this ". It was a spontaneous thing, filling out that form. But with a click of mymouse, the information was speeding toward the powers that be. Sure that I would bediscovered for the fraud that I am, a non-revenue web site with, for the most part, a solecontributor, I didn't have much hope that my application would be accepted. I didn'tgive it another thought.
Well, lo and behold, about two weeks before, I receive an email confirming theacceptance of the application of On That Note for NXNE Media Accreditation. A Media Kit soon followed, and as quickly as you could say Rolling Stone, I was now a legitimate memberof the press!
Still, I felt that it would be no time before I was uncovered as a scam. With myhomemade business cards, fresh off my HP Deskjet, I arrived at the Holiday Inn on King inToronto, cowering behind the likes of real media types like Canadian Musician and NOW Magazine. I sauntered over to the pressregistration table, expecting to be laughed out of the joint, but was processed without aglitch. I was now holding the holy grail, a Press Laminate that would gain meentrance to every club on the circuit, and a whole lot more, I was about to find out.
Let me give a bit of background on NXNE. The sister of Austin-based South By Southwest, this Toronto industry festival is inits 4th year. A scaled down version of the Austin event, NXNE hosted over 400 bandsat 26 venues over three nights, with additional events on the Wednesday before and theSunday after. Unlike SXSW, this event truly caters to the unsigned band. Therewere no big draws or heavy hitters to insure massive crowds. There were some localfavorites, a few bands on the up and up, like Rustyand Starling, but themajority of bands were virtually unknown, if by no one else but me. Therepresentation was primarily Canadian, but NY, the midwest US, as well as internationalhavens all had thrown their musical hat into this mix.
Without a doubt, I got to see some of the best bands under the most idealcircumstances, literally no crowds. The 360 Club always had a seat and Ted'sWrecking Yard on Thursday at 1am offered my party virtually a command performance by Toronto's own JP Wasson (and this here's my) Band. I'm torn, becauseobviously for this festival to survive, it will have to draw a bigger audience, but Ireally loved the intimacy of the venues. Some shows were SRO, but for the most part,this was a hassle free weekend, clubs were easy access and these media passes were likegold.
Let me elaborate. A member of the press, especially at shows of lesser audienceparticipation, is not only entitled to some meaningful chats with band members (I lovethat shit), but it is virtually a ticket to enough free CDs to start my own DJ gig. At first, I thought it was a novelty, like Girlpope was just being nice byhanding me a free copy of their disk "Cheeses of Nazareth", but when the OUI.73manager walked up to me and handed me their "Princess" CD, without as much as abat from my eye or a coy smile, I knew I was on to something big. It became a gameof "let's see how many CDs I can get without having to ask for one." Iscored big with final tally 12 CDs and two cassettes. Thanks to all the bands fortheir generosity and conversation. You gave me my 15 minutes as a realindustry type.
As the days and nights ran together, I made my best attempt to try and capture some ofthe feeling of each band, really try to do a good job on this report. But, as I lookback over my notes, I see the potent Canadian beer had rendered my handwriting tohieroglyphics. In the true spirit of the festival, I tried to approach each band asif I were considering signing them.
Without a clue, we started off on the first night at Club Shanghai with Priya Thomasfrom Montreal. OK, so we got mixed up on the nights and thought it would be a bandcalled the Harlots, but we stuck around for Priya and enjoyed her set of lulling guitarsand wailing vocals that reminded me of both Cranberries and Mazzy Star. Next stopwas The 360 where we spent the majority of the rest of the evening. First up therewas Boy Wonder, a power pop band with female lead singer/lead guitarist. Some songsreminded me of girl groups from the 60s, but influences of Letters to Cleo and JulianaHatfield (all Boston-based) and possibly a bit of Veruca Salt were evident in thiscombination of childlike vocals and strong guitar. Later, I chatted briefly with oneof the guitarists and was surprised that he had been influenced by Brian Wilson (but hey,who isn't?).
So, we popped out to the Reverb to catch the end of Mr. Henry's set, which I likedalot. I thought they had a nice combo with the five piece group that offered slideguitar and harmonium and strong clear vocals in lead singer, not to mention he was anadorable presence on stage with his plaid flannel shirt, looking more like one of my NorthCarolina cronies than the New Yorker that he is. They had a good pop feel withcountry influences much like Sister Hazel, givingthem a sound that is much in demand with today's pop music consumers.
Back to The 360 for Girlpope from Buffalo. These three guys unleashed a high energy punk sound with cute songslike "song about girls" and "(hey, let's hear it for) the singlegirl". The most impressive element of this act was their attempt atbanter. Both bass and lead guitarist had a cute sense of humor with the ongoingtheme of "entertainment value" for the evening, stopping in between songs to seeif the audience felt that they had received their $100 worth, mixing in references toCanadian currency. They introduced one song as "not having written ityet". They looked cool on stage in suit or tux and seemed to be having a goodtime with the 20 or so people in the crowd. Afterwards, they were very friendly andfun to talk to, and as I mentioned earlier, initiated my quest for free stuff. Ihave to apologize to the drummer for making him promise to see a BarenakedLadies show to see how they manage their charming banter. It was not meant to bea slight to them, as they did some of the most entertaining discussion of thefestival. I just always recommend Barenaked Ladies (see BNLCorner). Next up at The 360, OUI.73 was a good band, punk style, heavy guitars,also from Buffalo, NY.
Our last stop on Thursday, toppingoff a night of loud music and extensive indulgence in Molson, we dropped in on JP Wassonat Ted's Wrecking Yard. Mentioned earlier, we were literally the only people in thehouse, but were treated to some great hard driving songs in what I guess is currentlybeing described as Y'allternative, sort of a new wave rockabilly. They were funny(This Here's My Band, repeated several times), had lots of energy, and tons ofcharm. These Toronto boys did such a great job on the country thing that they wouldfit right in in Texas without missing a step. Memorable tunes were "She'sMoving On", "First Thing Tomorrow," and "Has Been, Never Was",I'm giving this group "Hot Pick" status for Thursday night.
Sometime during the night, we dropped in at Twiggy's to catch Moxie, which weaffectionately referred to as "The Vomit Girls" (NXNE program comment"these women juggle songs about vomit and insomnia with social commentary.") From Bayville, NY, this band offers several lead singers with diverse styles thatgives great breadth to their sound. Heavy pop stylings and guitars are thetrademark, and with songs like "Put It In", they should be drawing a bit ofattention soon.
Not a bad one in the bunch for Thursday. After nursing the hangover on Queen St.with some intense shopping, Friday night started out with dinner at Queen Mother (goodThai) and then on to Rivoli for 4-Star Movie. Their punk style was pretty amateurishand unmemorable, probably due to poor sound. Disappointed, we hopped over to theHorseshoe Tavern for some of Australian Paul Kelly's set. With an obvious largeraudience than other acts we had seen, we had become spoiled by our intimate performances,so we couldn't handle the cramped quarters and the "too much drums" in the mix. Two strikes so far, we head back to old standby The 360 for Renann from Torontowith a Sam Phillips sound.
Sonipath from Long Island was a hardrock (almost metal) band, not usually my thing, but this one was special. Theirpersonnel consisted of the typical scary types on guitars, but the unique style of theirlead singer, DJ Moran, was what made this band. With rap style vocals andmovements, this guy reminded me alot of the Jay character (friend of Silent Bob) fromKevin Smith movie fame (Chasing Amy, Clerks...). A tall lanky fellow with long hairand strong Long Island accent, he delivered one of my favorite songs of the weekend,"WWW." with all sorts of web references and the tag "Where Do You Want toGo Today?" DJ was cool enough to chat a bit and give me not one, but twoCDs. They had just won the Long Island band competition for best hard rock band andseem to be enjoying some local radio play. This group combined lots of elementsthat I hate (Faith No More/Living Color style, funky bass line, etc.) and turned it intosomething that I loved.
Rosavelt from Cleveland was next,but we've already had a band like them, called The Replacements. Their setwas good, but their demeanor a bit dark. Notable tune was "Carp andBones", about Fly Fishing. We started off the midnight hour with "amillion evil pennies" from Toronto, but quickly tired of their lead singer who went abit overboard with the straw hat and striped shirt to look like a real hick. Wehurried over to Lee's Palace catching the end of Groovy Religion and most of Rusty's set, both Toronto bands andobviously local favorites. Both of these bands were loud, you can see the Tragically Hip influence, but didn't get me too excited. Probably my lack of testosterone.
So with a day left of good Canadian hospitality, we started out Saturday with gusto. Our first stop at Club Shanghai was Blisterine from Vancouver. Reminding me abit of another Vancouver band, the Odds they at times sounded like the Beatles and othersthe Replacements, even covering Valentine. Cute singers with cute lyrics deliveredsongs like "Gratitude" , "Disappointment Drives My Car", and "TVGuide". Weak vocals are holding this band back.
Rushing over to Graffitti, we were bound to catch Collin Seals, a babe that I had metin the elevator at the hotel earlier in the day, having an intellectually stimulatingconversation about who was the real star of South Park (I said Cartman and he said Chef,ok we're both right). This tall, dark, handsome, and smoothly charming young manoriginally from San Antonio, now living in LA to make the break, offers great country folksongs about TX ("You Go to Hell, I'm Goin' to Texas) and Drinkin ("AnotherBroken-Hearted-Whiskey-Drinkin- Song") and the title track of his CD, the sensitive"Fortune's Own Boy". He reminded me a lot of Robert Earl Keen, a TXmainstay in the folk country market, and when I told Collin that after the show, his replywas "Oh, that's pleasant". Not sure if that was a thank you or a f---you. I hope the former, it was definitely a compliment. He had a nice way withthe crowd and made me laugh when he introduced one song as "it would be a countrysong except it's got the word 'denouement' (for the literally challenged, pronouncedday-new-ma) in it." He also sang a song about "Underage SouthernWomen" and said he had to sing it now before he got too old and it would just be realsick.
So finally, the night is windingdown and I am psyched for the band that I had been anticipating all weekend, Starling. Recommendedto me by Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies, far be it from me toquestion Ed's taste, I knew this would be a hot one. I was not disappointed. This group of three guys from Ottawa offer a rocking pop sound that is very modern, yetoffers strains of twangy guitars and really unique vocals by lead singer and songwriter,Ian Lefeuvre. They have such a unique sound that it would be hard tocategorize. Definitely in the Canadian realm of The Odds, but also with some Britpop influences, and maybe some Jellyfish, they offer great songs "Don't Deflate"(which I am listening to right now), "Celibate", "Die Hard Crush"(I've had my share), "Delusional", "Homely", and "Earnest"(ok, so I like them all). At the Reverb this night, they had a large audience(including none other that Mr. Robertson himself) that was really into the set. Having met Yvonne Matsell, booking agent for Reverb, after the set, this band is goingplaces. New York music lovers can catch them at Tramps in the City during the monthof June. Starling, come to Texas!!! Starling is my pick for the entire festival and Iwill make a concerted effort to follow them (as well as my other "of note"picks) over the next year to see if I have any ear for picking the hits. Keepchecking the "What's New" section for these updates.
So another festival comes to a close. While I was nervous about my participationat the outset, during the conference, I realized that I was in exactly the right place. Independent bands are what this is all about, so independent publications are alsowelcome, encouraged, and hopefully helped out. Maybe I didn't make all the rightconnections, work any big deals, or even gain a single hit (to the site) as a result, butI had an excellent time, got to do all my favorite things: listen to great music, talk tocute guitarists, and score free stuff. Kudos to the NXNE staff for making this awell organized, well run, entertaining event. Thanks for making me feel like a mediabig shot for a few days. You just can't beat that Canadian hospitality. Do I have towait a year for the next one?
On that note, I'm outta here...
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