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Looking Forward to North by Northeast, Not a Lot of Sleep

Canada's North by Northeast is the ostensible cousin to Austin, Texas' SXSW, and I for one am stoked about attending it this year.

Starting next week in Toronto is the giant clusterbang of North by Northeast, the ostensible cousin to the much more famous and better-attended and generally more-prestigious-in-every-way Austin-based South by Southwest conference.

And I am stoked.

This year between June 11 and 17, we are looking forward to the usual raft of indie films, roundtable and panel discussion sessions, and tons and tons and tons of music in late-night sweaty bars. But, also, this year we can look forward to free open air concerts from the likes of the Flaming Lips, Raekwon and Ghostface, Bad Religion, and Of Montreal, a deeply impressive list of unexpected invites to head the marquee.

Then there are the nightly showcases: an all-access pass allows you check out sets by roughly 600 other bands from across North America and beyond. Most will suck. But many will be transcendent, revelatory; bands will emerge here, will be discovered, soon to “blow up”. It’s a ton of fun guessing your way through the festival, judging only by guy-next-to-me buzz and/or clever band name and/or tiny publicity descriptiod on the website which show to catch, and which to forsake. It’s amazingly hard to fail to see at least something that will light you up.

Here is a short list of sets I’m looking forward to. These are bands that I have either already seen or heard, or ones that are arriving with some kind of buzz (that I have bought into like the sloppy journalist that I am). If you can’t make it to the Big Smoke next week, I’ll be tweeting and blogging here a bit about what I have seen and heard (and, possibly, smelled), so please follow me at @henderstu for updates.

Andre Williams & the Sadies

He’s in his late 70s, but Andre Williams remains a complete badass. On their latest collaboration, arguably Toronto’s best band backs the legendary funky bluesman with even greater success than on their excellent 1999 outing Red Dirt. Live, this is going to be a hell of a thing, especially because it will be taking place in Toronto’s greatest venue, the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Whisky will be spilled.

Plants and Animals

This Montreal-based band has moved fairly effortlessly from indie-pop upstart to seasoned veterans in no time. Already touring on their fourth record (and third in the last three years), P&A have developed a sizable following and a great deal of critical attention. I haven’t loved what I’ve heard from the most recent record (2012’s The End of That) but I will stand in line for any band that works this hard and plays this well, this consistently.


A buzzy New York band named for the man at its centre, Brad Oberhofer, what I hope to see is a reason why every music critic I know is also planning to be at this show. As I work my way through the Steve Lillywhite-produced album that came out a couple months ago, I hear a lot of influences, but not a lot of Oberhofer as the emerging leader he is expected to embody. Not that this matters -- the music is good. But, who doesn’t want to see a new exciting direction come blowing out of that Brooklyn scene? Live shows can change minds, and fast. I will see what there is to see.

Killer Mike

Certainly my favourite hip-hop record so far this year, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music is bold, aggressively assertive, and lyrically thrilling. Smart, political rapping delivered by a Southern rapper with a syrupy flow, a sense of rhythm and timing that is the envy of the rap world, and has been for 30 years. It’s Chuck D meets Ice Cube meets Andre 3000 meets the future. Love it.

Yamantaka/Sonic Titan

A kaleidoscopic mass of beats, noise rock, pop melodies, and inventive soundscapes. It is the album of the year for many Toronto music fans of a certain stripe, and will be a major player come Polaris Music Prize voting season. Their live shows have been described as everything from trance-inducing to heart-palpatating; is this the Toronto band most likely to break out at this festival?

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