The July guide to music

A day-by-day run-down of this month’s must-see concerts (and other amusements).

1. July is the month of music festivals. Kick things off with The Sheepdogs, Matt Mays, and The Zolas at the Canada Day edition of Edgefest at Echo Beach.

2. Get a head start on the Toronto Urban Roots Festival by catching indie rockers Born Ruffians’ Club Bonus Series set at the Horseshoe.

3. Time travel straight back to the ’90s when the Goo Goo Dolls play “Iris” at the Molson Amphitheatre alongside Daughtry.

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Toronto Music Run playlist: The Darcys

The inaugural Toronto Music Run—presented by The Grid and AUX.tv at Ontario Place on Aug. 14—is just over a month away, so it’s time to get in shape! To help get your ass off the couch, we’ve asked some of our favourite local artists to provide motivation in the form of curated, cardio-pumping playlists. First up: Toronto indie-rockers—and recently announced Polaris Music Prize long-list contenders—The Darcys, who’ll get you moving with pavement-pounding jams from the likes of Robyn, TV on the Radio, Hot Chip, and many more. Take a listen:

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The 10 best things we saw at NXNE

This year marked North by Northeast’s 20th edition, though not everyone was in a celebrating mood. The festival’s most ambitious outing yet—with venues ranging from Toronto Island to TTC streetcars—was greeted by increasingly vocal concerns that NXNE’s two-decade ascent from humble, homegrown SXSW offshoot to international destination event in its own right had come at the expense of nurturing the local independent artists who fill up a great deal of the schedule for little compensation. In particular, NXNE’s adoption of a controversial 45-day radius clause for participating artists was seen by many as a cynical ploy to sabotage rival festival Canadian Music Week’s relaunch last month, with the ultimate effect of leaving local promoters and performers handcuffed for the six weeks between the two fests. Even NXNE’s own attempt at damage control—a Friday-afternoon panel discussion/town-hall soapbox cheekily dubbed “Why NXNE Sucks,” preceded by an announcement that the contentious radius clause would be scrapped in 2015—did little to quell discontent.

Festivals such as NXNE will always be defined by the inherently contradictory missions of showcasing under-the-radar independent artists and attracting the sort of A-list acts that drive wristband sales, media interest, and corporate sponsors alike. (The Budweiser and Samsung billboard blitz at the Yonge-Dundas Square shows once again proved the old economist adage that there’s no such thing as a “free” concert.) But from a purely indulgent-music-fan perspective, a successful festival is ultimately defined by the number of scheduling conflicts it presents—and in that regard, this year’s NXNE was a glorious iCal clusterfuck. Here are the best shows we saw last weekend:

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Polaris Music Prize long list revealed

The 41*
long-list contenders for the Polaris Music Prize—the annual award given to the top Canadian album of the year, as selected by over 180 journalists and broadcasters—were revealed today in Calgary, in conjunction with that city’s Sled Island Festival. The following list will be whittled down a short list of 10 on July 15, in the lead-up to this year’s gala ceremony on Sept. 22 at the Carlu in Toronto, after which one of these bands will become $30,000 richer:

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Ones to Watch: June 2014

Our monthly round-up of Toronto talents making big moves in the weeks ahead. Here’s a look at who’s currently creating buzz, and why.

Who: bizZarh

What: Astral projections in the form of psychedelic, soulful hip-hop and R&B, concocted by Charli Champ and Dollar Paris, a preternaturally talented duo who met in their early teens.

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Seven Things You Missed at Field Trip

1. A rapper winning over the rocker crowd

“Hip hop in the house” is not exactly the first thing you’d expect to hear blaring across the open fields of Fort York on the first afternoon of Field Trip. The annual music event, organized by the Arts & Crafts crew, normally tends to skew a bit indie, sonically speaking. But Canadian rapper Shad has always had a knack for winning the hearts of the bearded and plaid-clad—a demographic hardly in short supply at the weekend fest. Following first-day concerts by The Darcys, Austra, and Reuben & The Dark, the Polaris-nominated poet took to the stage—one of two, that is—to deliver a string of smart verses, and tackle topics like racism and consumerism against a backdrop of body-rumbling bass grooves. Probably the most apt lyric for the occasion came from Flying Colours’s “Stylin’”: “See I got fans that say, ‘Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you’ / Well I hate that, but I like you / At least I like that you like me, so I won’t spite you / It’s not your fault you’re a white dude who likes white music I like, too.”

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The June guide to music

A day-by-day run-down of this month’s must-see concerts (and other amusements).

1. Open your month by closing out the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival at Hotel Ocho with a DJ set from Light Fires’ Regina the Gentlelady, a.k.a. the drag-queen alter ego of Gentlemen Reg.

2. Kishi Bashi—the solo project of K Ishibashi, a touring member of Regina Spektor’s band and of Montreal—brings his calming baroque pop to the Mod Club.

3. Sadly, you won’t be seeing John Lennon perform anytime soon (well, we’re sure his hologram will pop up somewhere down the line). You can, however, see his son Sean play the Hoxton with The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (pictured at top), his avant-garde folk project with Charlotte Kemp Muhl.

4. Head to the Danforth Music Hall for South African rap-ravers Die Antwoord—if not for the music, then for a certified this-is-terrifying-but-I-can’t-look-away kind of night.

5. Get artsy with Can-Rockers Sloan at this month’s instalment of First Thursdays at the AGO. 

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Sonic Boom is on the move—again

Diana perform at Sonic Boom for Record Store Day 2014. (Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star)

 

Sonic Boom is not just the biggest record store in downtown Toronto, it’s also the most restless. After famously being pushed out of its original Bloor Street location in the summer of 2011—only to move right across the street into the Honest Ed’s building while concurrently opening a second outlet in Kensington Market—the shop announced today that it will soon be moving both of its stores into a single, 12,000-sq. ft. location at 215 Spadina Ave. (a.k.a. The Robertson Building, a.k.a. the building with the Dark Horse Espresso Bar in it.) 

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The 10 best shows we saw at CMW 2014

Though it was preceded by at least once instance of puzzling 11th-hour rescheduling, and featured some oddly under-attended gigs (less than 100 people out to see No Age rip it up on a Friday night at the Hard Luck Bar—WTF?), Canadian Music Week’s first May edition nonetheless served as a welcome introduction to short-sleeve concert season for polar-vortex-traumatized Torontonians. Here are the acts that left the deepest impressions on our roving music reporters:

 

Amanda Palmer (May 8, 3 p.m., Marriott Hotel): Most CMW panels are about succeeding in the music industry. Amanda Palmer’s celebrity Q&A with Bob Lefsetz was about abandoning the music biz altogether. After outlining how she publicly campaigned to get off her label, sold 50,000 copies of an EP of Radiohead covers played on ukulele directly to fans and, infamously, raised more than $1million on Kickstarter, she did something else panelists never do: she stood up and played some music. “Ukelele Anthem”—a raucous, seven-minute, rapid-fire ode to being small and fierce—wove together references to Sid Vicious, Lizzie Borden, John Lennon, LCD Soundsystem, and Neutral Milk Hotel in suitably absurdist fashion. “Stop pretending art is hard!” she shouted. Four strings and the truth.—Liisa Ladouceur

 

Matt Pond PA (May 8, 9 p.m., Mod Club): It’s probably safe to say that Rob Ford jokes accounted for half of CMW’s stage banter this year—but Matt Pond wasn’t having any of it. “It’s been a while since we’ve played Toronto,” the Philadelphia frontman said early in his set. “What’s happened since? Well, you have that mayor… I don’t want to mess things up with a stupid mayoral joke.” Luckily, he stuck to that plan. He wasn’t quite so loyal to his set list, though. In town on an anniversary tour for his indie-/chamber-pop band’s superb 2004 album, Emblems, Pond intended to play the record in its entirety but, halfway through, got sidetracked by a series of requests from the venue’s small but loyal crowd. With a healthy dose of audience engagement and a lush, honest collection of tunes, no one seemed to mind the show didn’t come exactly as advertised.—Luc Rinaldi

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5 things you missed at M.I.A.’s Tattoo show

Review:  M.I.A., May 3, Tattoo

1. The entrenchment of a new folk hero

Before the show, whilst waiting in line for the ATM, I saw a cheery bro in a faded curved-bill Leafs cap, shirt stretched Rob Ford-tight over his torso, giddily singing the words to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls.” Sure, it was a popular song with a really cool video, but that’s when it hit me: While those of a certain age grew up on the idea of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Marvin Gaye as folk heroes, every generation needs to get behind an artist they perceive as radical.

 

2. The most intimate M.I.A. show in years

Originally advertised as a free Yonge-Dundas Square blowout to launch Canadian Music Week, this show was suddenly relocated to the tiny Tattoo Queen West, turning the festival opener into the complete opposite: an “exclusive,” first-come, first-served experience. The last time M.I.A. played a show this small in Toronto was pre-“Paper Planes” fame, at the Drake in 2005. Still, she scaled down her massive, festively-lit set pieces and let her dancers—also wearing fresh white pairs of Reebok Classics—take over the stage. She also made complete use of the venue, moving through the cameraphone-wielding crowd to climb onto the side bar during “Galang,” and hanging off the fixtures above the back bar during “Bad Girls.”

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