NXNE 2013: Parts and Labor + Rituals + Milk Music + Merchandise

With the wounds from epic collapse of the city’s beloved Maple Leafs hockey club finally healed, the city became embroil in the now infamous “Crackgate” scandal. A video of already comical Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack has been rumoured to exist, making Toronto the butt of many a joke.

And with summer still refusing to show it’s face in the city, the 19th version of the festival got underway, quickly reminding those who may’ve forgotten why the city truly does deserve a spot with the culturally outstanding cities of the world. Fifty-plus venues opened their doors for an array of music that crosses genres, with healthy additions of comedy and film to boot.

Wednesday started lean, with festival delegates, media and performers collecting their passes and requisite amounts of free energy drinks. Parts and Labor was a big draw on night one, with the dank basement collecting three bands that sounded considerably larger than their surroundings.

Local faves Rituals warmed the crowd up with an efficient set of stretching shoegaze that was as enlightening as it was penetrating. They skipped the dramatics, instead staying firmly planted and putting forth a crushing wave of sound that continually drew fans into the tighter corners of the room. In a city that features no dearth of talent, Rituals made a case to be taken much more seriously.

Olympia, Washington’s Milk Music got even heavier afterwards. Sounding like a more rootsy and angry Hot Water Music, the four-piece found the crevices on the cramped stage and brought their fists in the air punk rock to life quickly and often. You could hear murky traces of ’90s rock in the distortion-laden set, though their set was no less rewarding.

The “Surprise guest” of the evening turned out to be Tampa-based experimental hardcore upstarts Merchandise, though their support on Milk Music’s tour shouldn’t have made this surprise tough to crack. Nevertheless, the band quickly whipped the crowd into a frenzy: a makeshift mosh-pit broke out, even inspiring a few kids to crowd surf during the bass-driven “Lock the Door”. There was a palpable buzz not only surrounding this show, but the band’s stark emotion, which seemed to come with ease.

It was a healthy start to NXNE, exactly the boost of energy Toronto needed. More to come throughout the next few days.