NXNE Day Four, Part II: Smif-n-Wessun and Joey Bada$$

Brooklyn hip hop, then and now


SMIF-N-WESSUN @ the Drake Underground

Brooklyn vets Tek and Steele of Smif-n-Wessun set the Drake Underground on fire on Saturday night. They showcased two decades of hits, including multiple cuts off their 1995 classic Dah Shinin’. They even reimagined a string of steadfast crowd-pleasers including Biggie’s “Juicy” and Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye”. As always, the pair were incredibly engaging, ruthlessly energetic, and had the place hanging on their every word.


JOEY BADA$$ @ Wrongbar

It was the 18-year-old Brooklyn rapper’s Toronto debut, and I was beyond excited to witness the latest MC to be hailed as the saviour of east coast rap. Wrongbar was packed with hip-hop heads and casual party-goers alike, but it’s the former group that ultimately made this show one for the books. The place was kinetic, shaking with anticipation for a seminal NXNE 2013 moment.

And Joey definitely didn’t disappoint. He powered through his incredible breakthrough mixtape 1999, bodying tracks like “Waves”, “World Domination”, “Pennyroyal”, and “Righteous Minds”. He also performed “Word is Bond” off his upcoming Summer Knights mixtape and the DJ Premier-produced “Unorthodox”. He’s got the ease and effortlessness of a future hip-hop heavyweight.

The highlight of the set was also the most heartbreaking. As the end of his time neared, I wondered when Joey would break out “Survival Tactics,” the stunning 1999 cut featuring Joey’s best friend and co-conspirator Capital Steez, who recently took his own life. Rumours of the young MC’s fascination with occult theory and bad blood over Joey’s meteoric success accented the tragedy with a certain loss of innocence, as if Pro Era mourns their early days as a group of friends just trying to get noticed even as they welcome their newfound success. The paradox was apparent in Wrongbar last night.

A gorgeous sketch rendering of Joey and Capital Steez circled through the crowd as the audience pointed two fingers skywards in memory of the 19-year-old prodigy. When the intro of “Survival Tactics” finally began, it was a moment full of relevance and emotion. Capital Steez’ outstanding verse bellowed as Joey and a couple other Pro Era members hung their heads in reverence, shouting their friend’s punchlines in unison and solidarity. Steez’ final line, “Send a message and it’s over in a millisecond,” landed so heavy I thought I’d been punched in the stomach. “Rest in peace Capital Steez,” Joey concluded. Without a doubt, the performance was the highlight of my NXNE.

NXNE Day Four: Filmage, White Lung, Iceage, and Lower

NXNE Day Four: Filmage, White Lung, Iceage, and Lower

NICK GERGESHA experiences a night of punk through a documentary film and two showcases at the Horseshoe Tavern.


Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL

Well-known for their contributions to what would later become “pop-punk,” The Descendents have always stood out from the rest of their contemporaries. Shuffling between big tours and indefinite hiatuses, the story of the band and offshoot ALL (the band Descendents personnel continued in while vocalist Milo Aukerman pursued his PhD) is almost mythical. Documentary directors Deedle Lacour and Matt Riggle noted in their Q&A that drummer Bill Stevenson, the one consistent driving force (and sole original member) of the band, sat on hours of footage and a wealth of never before seen material.

Much like their subject, Lacour and Riggle’s doc contains enough specific information to do justice to the bands and satiate their dedicated fan base. Just as importantly, the film is also visually appealing and tightly constructed, utilizing interviews with fans, band members, and other notable musicians (including Nirvana’s Dave Grohl) to create a well-paced and accessible piece of filmmaking. There is a lot happening in this 90-minute doc, but whether or not you were a fan going in, you will have a newfound respect for the most recognizable glasses and tie in punk.


White Lung @ Horseshoe Tavern

The Vancouver noisemakers White Lung have a story to tell. No matter the setting, vocalist Mish Way projects a sense of urgency alongside a playful kind of raucousness that makes for a wildly entertaining live show. As she grabs at the heads of fans up front and sternly recalls that she is either “the dead horse rider” or “the disease you’ve already caught,” it’s easy to feel as though she’s singing right at you. Maybe she is!

After years of touring and record releases, the band has arguably hit a stride in which all four members are able to lock in without clocking out. Playing a diverse range of songs drawn from most of their catalogue (they’ve been putting out records since 2007), it’s refreshing to see a band stick to their guns without compromising. From the natural harmonic attack in “Glue” to the modulated guitar mayhem in “Sleep Creep,” White Lung are energetic as ever and keep their live show interesting.


Iceage @ Horseshoe Tavern

The last time Copenhagen wunderkinds Iceage played Toronto (most of the band are barely in their 20s), their performance was uneven. Their marching rhythms, angular guitars and brooding vocals just didn’t translate well into the live setting. Thinking back to that set after the band’s stellar performance at the Horseshoe Tavern, something must have been awry. This night, the band on stage was on fire.

Largely sticking to songs from their 2013 record You’re Nothing, the band put on a tightly orchestrated show that allowed for their technical prowess to outshine their mischievous sensibilities. They still got chances to throw a bone to the almost rabid crowd pooling around the center of the dance floor, but often chose to concentrate on the complicated tempo changes in “Ecstasy” and “Morals,” and the serrated melodies in songs like “It Might Hit First.” This is the same band that once bloodied themselves on the floors of Danish basements, but with a shocking level of maturity for such a young crew. If they keep this up, who knows where they’ll play next year at this time.


Lower @ the Garrison

Frequently compared to label-mates in Iceage, the Danish quartet in Lower are still finding their niche in the post-punk spectrum of the Copenhagen underground. With two 7″ records released under Escho and a split single with Iceage to their name, the foursome play a darkened, mid-tempo style of guitar driven crooning.

On their recordings, Lower boosts their guitars’ high ends to allow a pool of light to form around their gothic, Chameleons sounding rhythm section, but they had difficulty achieving this last night at The Garrison. The bassist’s amp frequently cut out, and the band never seemed comfortable with their mixing levels. What they lacked in instrumental cohesion; however, they more than made up for in vocalist Adrian Toubro’s gifted voice and knack for storytelling. Lamenting the present with a poetic grasp at the future in “But There Has To Be More,” Toubro showed his audience a thoughtful mind with a promising future, wherever his musical inclinations take him.

NXNE Day Three: The National, Still Corners, Big Black Delta, and I Heart Jokes

The third day of NXNE saw NICK GERGESHA checking out one of the largest names in indie music while ELIZABETH HAQ saw more showcases with a side of stand-up comedy.

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square

One of the biggest draws of this year’s NXNE was a free show with Ohio’s The National at Yonge-Dundas Square. During their hour-plus long set, the band delivered with just as much flavour as they have to their paying audiences for over a decade. With a playlist featuring tracks spread across their entire discography, the massive audience was treated to cuts off the freshly released Trouble Will Find Me, back through lesser known works on Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, and a host of songs off their breakthrough Boxer.

Despite a stunning performance from lead singer, Matt Berninger, there were a number of issues at the square. The band’s typically shining guitar lines were often buried under the rhythm section, and the massive PA was prone to some nasty crackle and hiss. Organizers also neglected to shut down parts of Yonge near the square, resulting in some interesting policing of traffic in a near-endless sea of attendees. Despite a few hiccups, the concert was ultimately a resounding success.

— Nick Gergesha

Still Corners @ The Horseshoe Tavern

With their sweeping melodies and cloud-soft reverb, Still Corners are the definition of dream pop. They played to a somewhat-sparse crowd at the Horseshoe, the lead singer (a blonde beauty in a silver sequined jacket with a sweetly shy laugh) joked that everyone was at The National’s performance at Yonge/Dundas Square. The band played from their album Strange Pleasures, a well-intentioned and perfectly safe offering to the gauze pop genre that sounded just as palatable in person as it does on recording. That is to say, it was a little underwhelming but perfectly suited for holding hands on warm summer nights.

— Elizabeth Haq

Big Black Delta @ the Garrison

Jonathan Bates (aka Big Black Delta) took the stage at the Garrison around 11pm. And what a stage it was: thick with smoke and pulsating with neon lights, at once disorienting and captivating. Bates’ endless jumping around was the visual equivalent of trying to piece together your surroundings while driving through a thick fog. Big Black Delta’s formidable catalogue swelled over the crowd, every bit as enthralling as his incredible LP, with Bates attempting to seduce every cross-armed typically-Toronto bystander to bust some kind of move. He teased the strangely stiff crowd, “You can dance, it’s okay!” Yeah, right. Not in this town, Bates.

— EH


NXNE’s programming often includes something more than just a week of music. Elizabeth Haq decided to end her third night of NXNE-ing by trading in music for some stand-up comedy at ‘I Heart Jokes’ hosted at Creatures Creating.

Chris Robinson @ Creatures Creating

Creatures Creating played host to a string of up-and-coming Toronto-based comedians around midnight. First up was Chris Robinson, a young comic in a snapback who joked about his Jamaican grandmother and his controlling ex. With a dry, irreverent Donald Glover-y delivery, this man is a master of the white people joke. Though his inexperience sometimes translated into overcompensation by way of excessive bouts of “BITCH PLEASE!” and “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”, he was super entertaining and definitely fun to watch.

— EH

Jordan Sowunmi @ Creatures Creating

Jordan Sowunmi was the comic I came to see. As a contributor for VICE, Noisey, and Toronto Standard, Jordan’s comedy comes from a very self-aware place, but he balances meticulously crafted routines with a roll-with-the-punches personality. He talked about his “thug” older brother — “He’s what the white people call a “real black guy.” — what he expects from his rappers — “I want to be afraid of you. I want it to be in the public interest for you to be locked away somewhere.” — and his experience socializing in small town Ontario versus Toronto — “In London, you hit every black man up with the ‘what up playa’ nod, as if to say ‘stay black out here brah.” He’s got insight, originality, and stage presence. See for yourself as soon as possible.

— EH



NXNE Day Two: DIANA, Braids, and No Joy

The three things ELIZABETH HAQ learned during her second day of NXNE

NXNE Day Two: DIANA, Braids, and No Joy

1. Blog-pop is here to stay

The legendary Horseshoe Tavern was packed for Canadian trio DIANA, the latest addition to the Washed Out-wannabes club and the epitome of flavour-of-the-month. Their set was lacklustre and plagued by technical problems that highlighted their inexperience. The band had a few good moments; however; both “Born Again” and “Perpetual Surrender” allowed lead singer Carmen Elle’s fragile vocals to gain some momentum, and Joseph Shabason’s sax elevated the set from profoundly boring to sufficiently entertaining.

2. The Comfort Zone is anything but

Newly electronic Braids were set to play the Silver Dollar’s basement next. The band’s pulsating basslines and ethereal vocals attracted sweaty crowds to undulate in a mass of joyful delirium, but this one was palpably distracted by how much sweat it was producing and didn’t like it all too much. Packed, overheated crowds are par for the course at NXNE but pray tell, who damned such a popular band to this armpit of venue hell? Why was I centimetres away from a large, shirtless man, nearly face-deep in his vast, shockingly hairy back?

Oh, but the band was great! “Amends” sounds wonderful in person.

3. Sometimes, it’s good to Wait to Pleasure

No Joy’s midnight set at Black Box was the highlight of the evening, proving for the night that good things come to those who wait. Vocalists Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd murmured over deeply sensual and subtly distorted guitars, and humdrum shoe gaze was perpetually punctured with stabs of exquisite, raw energy, showcasing the band’s expansive range. The melodic slow-motion of “Hare Tarot Lies” (off their excellent Wait to Pleasure LP) was a personal favourite.



NXNE Day One: After the Smoke, Deniro Farrar, Milk Music & Merchandise

NXNE Day One: After the Smoke, Deniro Farrar, Milk Music & Merchandise

Elizabeth Haq and Nick Gergesha kick off a week of showcases at two popular Queen West venues. Check back for daily coverage of the hippest bands and hottest shows at this year’s festival.


After the Smoke @ Wrongbar

After the Smoke took the Wrongbar stage at midnight on a Wednesday night; not exactly the ideal time for a rap-rager. I didn’t think it’d be a problem. I was looking forward to zoning out to the Tallahassee natives’ downtempo tracks like “One in a Million” and “$$$$,” music tailor-made for doja and summer nights. The pair of MCs yelled their way through a few songs, completely suffocating the atmospheric beats and effortless delivery dominant in their catalogue. They were obviously desperate to engage the meagre crowd, a formidable challenge given the underground hip hop paradox of boasting your superiority to a room full of people who barely know who you are. I totally sympathize with that, but I missed the clarity and precision of their SoundCloud page and feel like they didn’t do enough to transition their stellar material from recorded genius to compelling live show. —EH


Deniro Farrar @ Wrongbar

Deniro Farrar took the stage after the smoke cleared. You’ll be happy to hear that the North Carolina rapper is no J. Cole. He declined the DJ’s introduction, instead planting himself in the middle of the stage and pouring out a powerful, rhythmic tirade, denouncing all the “p*ssy ass n*ggas” in rap today. He ripped his shirt off, revealing a heavily tattooed upper body, and began riding a string of scuzzy, bass-heavy beats with the command and aggression of a much more experienced MC. Farrar blends flat-out Freddie Gibbs violence with a studied, UGK-y ostentation, and he managed to keep the crowd going the entire time. Look out for this one. —EH

Catch him again @ Wrongbar on Saturday, June 15 at 12 am and @ Yonge-Dundas Square on Sunday, June 16 at 4 pm.


Milk Music @ The Shop under Parts & Labour


Olympia, Washington’s Milk Music have cultivated a loyal following based on their riff heavy, classic rock indebted sound. They take the heaviest parts of Black Sabbath, the unearthly fuzz  of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” and a heaping dose of their fellow statesmen Mudhoney, and distill it to its most potent form. What results is usually a groggy (yet remarkably consistent) ode to the best parts of both ’70s classic rock and ’90s grunge.

When MM toured Toronto at the end of 2012 with Iceage, they were fun and loose. Last night at Parts & Labour, it took them a little longer to hit their stride. The band started promisingly enough with the familiar introduction to the upbeat “Out Of My World,” but the song then spiraled into a near-endless jam of the same three-chord passage. However, things soon picked up and the crowd got moving, demonstrating a promising, if not remarkably executed, “jammier” live show for the band.  —NG


Merchandise (secret guest) @ The Shop under Parts & Labour

“You can dance or you can stand still like a dork,” Merchandise vocalist Carson Cox told the audience in between sips of a stiff drink. “It’s still my birthday and we’re gonna have fun.” The Tampa Bay, Florida post-punk outfit was The Shop under Parts & Labour’s “Secret Guest” on NXNE’s first night, a secret not very well kept judging by the size of the crowd.

The increasingly (and deservedly) popular group nixed their usual drum machine in favour of a live banger. This, alongside guitarist David Vassalotti’s pulsing and creative leads, brought a noticeably different vibe and energy to their jagged (but never robotic) instrumental accompaniments. Standouts included “In Nightmare Room,” of which the drum tracking on the Children of Desire LP recalls the industrial rhythms of New Order, and the now-classic “I Locked The Door.” By the end of the night the room was a sweaty mess, a sea of bodies recovering from the push and shove of the crowd. —NG

NXNE: What to see and why

A guide to the festival's must-see acts

NXNE: What to see and why

Overwhelmed by NXNE’s massive program? Check out our list to see which of the 1000+ acts at the festival you should try to catch this year, and check back for regular coverage of the best shows as they happen.



French Girls transition from turbulent guitar squalls to percussive dance floor-ready crowd-pleasers with the ease of a much more experienced band. Backed by a ceaselessly-energetic outfit that knows how to construct a taut guitar riff, the lead singer oscillates from a vaguely pained Bradford Cox warble to a half-in-the-can belligerent growl a la Julian Casablancas. (When he pleads, “Lock me up! Just like mawn-sta!” you can’t convince me I’m not listening to a lost Room On Fire track, right in between “Reptilia” and “Automatic Stop”). Because of (and not despite) their obvious influences, French Girls are an act to catch this year. If their live shows are half as fun as their recording sessions sound, it’ll be a real good time.

Where they’re from: Willits, California
File with: The Strokes, The  White Stripes
Tags: #catchy, #dance, #powerhouse
When: Friday, June 14, 10 pm at Cherry Cola’s Rock n’ Rolla Cabaret & Lounge



Here’s another band that decided to take up the hazy synth pop trade. Like nearly all dreamy, fragile, proudly chillwave bands, Toronto-based DIANA’s catalogue consists of nearly faultless summer music and not much more. Then again, it probably doesn’t need to be. DIANA is making waves in the city and beyond, and might be one of our most valuable additions to the drowsy n’ delicate pop canon soon enough. Hopefully panicky sonic-collagist Doldrums shows up to perform his remix of DIANA’s “Born Again,” because it’s really great.

Where they’re from: Toronto
File with: Beach Fossils, Washed Out, DIIV
Tags: #hazy, #broken, #chill, #synth, #diffuse
When:  Thursday, June 13, 10 pm at Horseshoe Tavern



When NXNE tells you they’re showcasing all the latest buzz bands, they really mean Big Black Delta (government name Jonathan Bates). Bates has friends in pretty high electronic places, boasting a collaboration with M83 and a spot on the Tron: Legacy remix album. And though some parts of Big Black Delta’s catalogue sound a bit like limp reimaginings of Twin Shadow’s lackluster sophomore album, on the highly acclaimed track “Side of the Road” he sounds like a robotic wraith trapped inside a glass bottle. By that I mean go see him at NXNE.

Where they’re from: Highland Park, Illinois
File with: Daft Punk, M83, Depeche Mode
Tags: #electronic, #synth, #techpop, #vocoder
When: Friday, June 14, 11 pm at the Garrison
Saturday, June 15, 6 pm at Yonge-Dundas Square



Psychedelic surf rock from Los Angeles by way of The Kinks, accented by a Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast-detachment but anchored by a Beach Boys buoyancy. Lyrics like, “I can’t believe what you said, you better mean it unlike the last time when you were out of your head” abound; the lead singer might as well be half-ironically lamenting, “I wish he was my boyfriend” over and over. But when his voice strains a bit, he defaults to a melodic Tom Petty earnestness. Plus, the band’s certainly got the rhythmic handclap beat and anthemic beachside pop chorus thing down.

Where they’re from: Los Angeles, California
File with: The Kinks, Beach Boys, The Jayhawks, Best Coast
Tags: #endearing, #sunny, #sweet, #winsome, #beach, #summer
When:  Saturday, June 15, 9 pm at Tranzac–Southern Cross
Saturday June 15,1 am at Cameron House



Doss the Artist’s landing page is the cover of his album 9 Lives: a very Adult Swim-y image of a floating cat face with an eye in the middle of its forehead. The Detroit rapper’s catalogue is similarly alienating and intriguing. His album art may prompt Odd Future cynicals to dismiss the guy as Tyler, The Creator’s less industrious, late-to-the-game little brother, but his music tells a different story. Whether he’s bolstered by sinister, Barbie-Girl-gone-bad hooks, diving head first into bangers reminiscent of an Alchemist production or riding a scratchy Skrillex-y beat, Doss seems comfortable leapfrogging between one “type” of rap to another.

Where he’s from: Detroit, Michigan
File with: Mykki Blanco, Brenmar, Hodgy Beats
Tags: #shockrap, #hyper, #aggresive
When: Friday, June 14, 11 pm at the Crawford