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While the Montreal music scene was attracting Canada’s most bloodthirsty media frenzy this side of the seal hunt, big anglophone brother Toronto was steadily churning out quality bands with typically undemonstrative productivity. A large and chameleonic city, Toronto is rarely unified enough to gather momentum behind a particular sound or movement, but probably has as much underground musical activity as any North American city outside the towering colossoses of New York and LA. u
Such is the scale and diversity of the place, it can be difficult to summarize; if you want commercial pop-punk upstarts, buzzing house music producers or a proudly independent hip-hop scene you’ll find something worthwhile going on here. Drowned in Toronto #1 will largely focus on the genres that are perhaps most fundamentally woven into the city’s DNA; scuzzy rock and roll and progressive-minded indie rock and folk, scenes well represented by breakout successes like Fucked Up, DFA 1979 and Owen Pallet.
While the loss of website Stillepost has left the indie scene lacking a community focal point, the Wavelength concert series and the efforts of promoters such as Mark Pesci and the legendary Dan Burke have helped sustain Toronto’s ongoing musical vitality.
At this time of year the snow and ice have (hopefully) been vanquished for the year and Toronto bands, energized by the sudden vitamin D surplus, are ready to reveal the fruits of a winter spent beavering away at creative projects. Luckily the city has a bunch of upcoming festivals ready to show off the cream of its talent.
A Festival for Every Season
Appropriately enough, the inaugural Thaw Festival is imminent, running from May 5th-7th and showcasing a burgeoning scene that fuses goth, punk and 60s psych garage. Curated by Telephone Explosion Records - run by Teenager’s Jon Shouten- the festival will unite many of the dark, art-damaged bands Toronto is currently specializing in. Here are some of the most exciting prospects at Thaw Festival:
Josh McIntyre’s home recording project is in a transitional phase- not only have they parted ways with influential local label Paper Bag Records, they are beginning to develop the creative dynamic of a traditional four-piece band. Hopefully the friction will result in their best music yet. Building on the sound of debut album “Concepts”- garbled surf songs set against clicking drum samples- Little Girls are upping the electronic ante as well as incorporating more textured guitar sounds if recent track “Nights Out” is anything to go by.
One of the more melodically alluring bands on at Thaw Fest are also returning after a quiet spell since releasing their self-titled debut album last year on Hand Drawn Dracula Records. A collaboration between two childhood friends- one a seasoned garage rocker, the other a Berlin-dwelling techno producer- their music is beautifully evocative of the Northern European drizzle amidst which they reunited.
This shapeshifting postmodern collective seem to thrive on misdirection. I first became aware of them as a minimal, droning kraut rockers, and next time I checked they were engaging in gleefully noisy 60s pop worship. Ben Cook from Fucked Up put out a track of theirs on his Scotch Tapes cassette label. Who knows what could happen next with these guys.
Following the spring thaw, and ushering in the summer proper, is the biggie: North by North East, which runs from June 13th-19th. A self-conscious attempt to emulate its similarly-named Texan cousin, NXNE is continually expanding, as well as becoming more indie-centric and DiS-friendly with each passing year. The full lineup for 2011 has yet to be announced but, of the local bands already announced, here are some of the hot picks:
Also headlining Thaw Festival, a NXNE performance offers these relocated Ottawans the perfect opportunity to kick the ass of the wider music industry. Metz are the masters of the short sharp shock, bringing a punk-noise blast to scare away the faint of heart. While they still haven’t got round to releasing their debut album, the three-piece have cultivated a devout following in Toronto and word is spreading across Canada. Fans of accessible aural masochism: bow down to your new favourite band.
One of the most future-minded of Toronto’s current crop is Aldrick Woodhead’s Doldrums, a unique voice amongst a dizzying blend of samples. A refreshing change from the many referential retro bands in the city in the past few years, not many artists are making music as invigoratingly fresh as this.
Snowblink return to T.O. already big news in forward-thinking folk circles, following a tour with Jeff Tweedy. Band mastermind Daniele Gesundheit will bless you with a pitch-perfect voice and low key instrumentation, creating gently accessible but exotic music. Also well worth checking out is Gesundheit collaborator Isla Craig who claims- rather ambitiously perhaps- to reconcile early choral music with modern R’n’B, but succeeds in making captivating music anyway.
Recordings from the Megacity
As seems to be the case across North America, a shoegaze revival is in full swing in Toronto right now, and some of the best recent releases have been coming from ethereal places. Alongside Pitchfork-approved boy-wonder Foxes In Fiction, Heartbeat Hotel are one of the local movement’s leading lights. They recently put their album “Fetus Dreams” up for free download on Bandcamp. Possessing a strong sense of melody and enough varied instrumentation to set them apart from the crowd, Heartbeat Hotel remind us of a less disorientating A Sunny Day In Glasgow.
Operating in a similar realm are Volcano Playground, who recently made a new version of their drone-pop anthem “Waiting” available for free on Bandcamp (http://volcanoplayground.bandcamp.com/track/waiting). These guys also put on a great live show, exhibiting an uncommon ability to harness the chaos of noise into tight pop structures.
Eschewing the shoegaze sound for an early 80s neo-primitivism are Huckleberry Friends. They are relative veterans of the Toronto scene, but they’re still young and disarmingly innocent-looking given the evil vibes radiating from their music. They recently released “The Vision” 7”, a fantastic triple-whammy of minimal post punk. Their vision is true and getting more intense by the year.
Trust, are a deliciously dark synth duo comprising Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski who recently brought out the gorgeously melancholic “Candy Walls” 7” to much blog acclaim. Over a beautifully restrained piece of electronic pop, Alfons’ voice evokes the kind of yearning sadness that Interpol’s Paul Banks is having a hard time affecting these days. Postepski is also the drummer in Austra, whose debut album “Feel It Break” (released on May 17th), is shaping up to be a landmark release of 2011. The record should bring Katie Stelmanis and co to a wider audience, and should see the group become new ambassadors for Toronto music.
Another hotly anticipated release over the next few weeks is One Hundred Dollars second album “Songs of Man”, out May 10th. With a mature alt-country melancholic sound, they tie into the tradition of Toronto veterans like Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies, as opposed to the indie pop lineage of the last decade.
Of course there’s bound to be much more to come in 2011 from the various strains of music still bubbling under the surface of Toronto’s deceptively calm exterior.