PopMatters Gauges the Heat at NXNE 2005: NeXT 2005: There's Something Happening Here
There's Something Happening Here by Liam Colle - On the verge of exploding, Dan Burke's NeXT showcase fuels Toronto's smouldering music scene.
PopMatters Gauges the Heat at NXNE 2005
NeXT 2005: There's Something Happening Here
On the verge of exploding, Dan Burke's NeXT showcase fuels Toronto's smouldering music scene.
by Liam Colle
Attending a music festival like NXNE is an inevitably alienating experience. As organizers try to rein in all the logistics, the music falls by the wayside. Anaemic shows are filled to capacity with apathetic gapes, industry vampires, and defeated expectations. The truth is that rock 'n' roll is an ugly beast that withers under the lights of a corporate agenda. NXNE tries to tame the animal and package it up for easy consumption, which usually ends up alienating both the bands and the fans. Meanwhile, the people who the organizers really cater to are draining their cellphones and shaking hands with babies, searching for last month's next big thing.
| NeXT @ The Comfort Zone, Toronto|
Thursday June 9, 2005 / Friday June 10, 2005:
SS Cardiacs, Femme Generation, From Fiction, Two Koreas, The Creeping Nobodies, The Gris Gris /
The Disraelis, Action Makes, No Dynamics, CPC Gangbangs, Tangiers, Wolf Parade
For the second consecutive year, out of this contrived atmosphere, there emerged a white-hot light. Two proper rock shows; sweaty, grimy, and gorgeous. Hell was never this hot or loud. Thursday and Friday night at the notoriously dodgy Comfort Zone, aka NeXT, were a stark contrast to the official NXNE programme. Cobbled together by maverick show promoter Dan Burke, the nights were exercises in defiance.
Burke is a former contributing editor to Maclean's, Canada's major newsweekly, as well as a former associate producer for CBC television's Fifth Estate. He has been promoting shows in Toronto since the mid-'90s. Burke confronts the recklessness that has characterized his life with a wistful candour. He transitioned from journalism to the rock world by way of a stint as a "24 hour junkie thief" � his words.
Reflecting on his assorted highs and crippling lows (particularly the loss of his position at El Mocambo, the storied Toronto club), Burke regrets some of the choices he made. But instead of suffocating himself with self-pity, he finds purpose in pushing things forward. And that need to keep moving seems to be the informing principle of NeXT, "I don't want to repeat myself. It's an insult to the premise of the shows and an insult to the music. That's what NeXT is. NeXT is next." Burke will never have the option to erase the past, so he keeps fighting for the future. As Josh Reichmann from Tangiers puts it, "he's a very raw individual". And despite alienating many with his abrasive antics, the list of bands he has brought to Toronto is unimpeachable. From the Dirtbombs and the Greenhornes to the 18.104.22.168's and Zoobombs, this town is fortunate to have Burke in our corner.
Last year's inaugural NeXT boasted a stellar line-up of Toronto bands: Death From Above 1979, Tangiers, controller.controller, The Uncut, and Magneta Lane. As killer as last year was, this year was double murder suicide. The first of two nights featured the mesmerizing freakouts of The Creeping Nobodies and The Gris Gris. On Friday, the assault intensified with No Dynamics, Tangiers and Wolf Parade. If this list of artists seems alien to you now, then place it in your memory box and look at it next year. It'll make you feel all fuzzy and jealous inside.
In the midst of a stifling heat wave in Toronto, people turned up for NeXT so excited that not only was the audience actually listening to the bands, they were dancing too. It was a welcome and drastic change from the stilted NXNE presentation down the street at El Mocambo. After Two Koreas laid down their shouty ditties, the unassuming Creeping Nobodies immediately enraptured the crowd with their eerie art punk. The band played the shit out of songs from their forthcoming album (recorded with former Sonic Youth producer Wharton Tiers), harmonizing their weighty songwriting with a frenetic passion. Overwhelmed after their set, I left the Comfort Zone to get a little fresh air, and as the nonchalant prostitute traffic was too bizarre to handle, I descended back into the black-lit squalor. Next, the Gris Gris closed out the proceedings with a staggering set of psychedelic dirge. Their music rumbles through your chest cavity and forces you into a state of shock. Featuring a disgustingly mean rhythm section and Greg Ashley's surreal guitar shenanigans, their live show is not to be missed. It was an intense night and I escaped with minimal psychological damage and just a slight case of tinnitus. At least that's how I convinced myself I would be ready for the next night.
No Dynamics set the tone for the Friday show by demanding the soundman to turn them up as loud as possible. And holy shit it was loud. Jeremy Finkelstein pounds the drums so hard that you'd think someone was holding him at gunpoint (although he did pause between songs to cuss out NXNE). Meanwhile, scorching lead singer Vanessa Fischer led the soul punk assault with style. Nobody who saw the show is likely to forget their name. After a muddy set by Montreal's CPC Gangbangs, Tangiers opened their set with "Love Rackets" from the outstanding Never Bring You Pleasure. This fittingly rousing anthem typified a night that was short on bullshit and shot with passion. Navigating the beer soaked stage, the band blazed through a compact set that included stirring new material. It was short and nasty. The new songs were a preview of the band's upcoming record (French Kiss Records � September 20), which guitarist and vocalist Josh Reichmann describes as "bizarre and dark and joyful". Judging by this performance and their feisty maturation on disc, Tangiers will surely grab the public's attention. Kind of like the next band to go on � Wolf Parade. It was hard to believe they were short a member on this night, as the band was fucking brilliant. Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug traded vocal duties while Arlen Thompson viciously attacked his snare. Reeking with conviction, the band punches out battered songs that are cathartic without being over-earnest. Like watching the flames rise from burning family photo albums, their music is painful and thrilling. Wolf Parade's performance was a definitive finale to two ruthless nights of rock 'n' roll.
Like last year, there was a palpable ferocity to NeXT 2005. Inspired by the successes of Broken Social Scene, The Constantines, The Deadly Snakes, Feist, K-Os, Metric, and the alumni of NeXT 2004, the bands were ecstatic about what's happening in Toronto. Describing himself as "invigorated by the work of friends and peers", the Creeping Nobodies' Derek Westerholm believes that "Toronto's music scene is far more interesting and alive than ever. It's pretty phenomenal, really." Along with the burgeoning Montreal scene, Toronto is proving to be this decade's bastion of rock music. And you can be sure that none of these bands attribute that to NXNE or CMW (Canadian Music Week). It's the upshot of ground level tactics and artistic integrity, which are emboldened by events like NeXT. As evidence of the strength of the community, Dan Burke wasn't afraid to add some foreign flavour to this year's proceedings. The Gris Gris flew in from Oakland and Wolf Parade made the trip from Montreal. Toronto has no reason to feel threatened. Reichmann thinks that "this year's show seemed even better. It was an extension of the feeling of Toronto. The energy of the bands here is amazing."
So if Toronto is so damn pleased with itself, then why program an event like NeXT against the city's biggest music festival? Westerholm and Reichmann argue that playing industry shows is uncomfortable and distancing. "I generally tend to tune out when [NXNE] comes to town," the Creeping Nobodies front man solemnly states, "something of that size and nature is impossible to serve the bands well." Tangiers' co-vocalist and guitarist has a similar attitude towards NXNE. "Those are the kind of shows you want to avoid playing altogether".
Last year, after the original booker for NeXT dropped out, Reichmann approached Burke to take over. "He moves it. You don't feel like you're at the whim of some ugly establishment. Dan gives a shit." Burke found a venue for the show at the Comfort Zone only two weeks before it was supposed to go down. "I guess the other promoter didn't care. But it was emblematic of the great state of the Toronto music scene. I cared." With the buzzing DFA1979 and their manager on his side, Burke had the confidence that he could pull this off. And when pressure was applied from NXNE brass to "make it disappear", he decided to make it happen every year. So � assuming Burke is still around next year � expect another heat wave.