Which local artists are set to hit it big this year? Denise Benson breaks down Toronto’s sound of 2013.
Since it was launched in January 2012, with a profile of electronic duo Jokers of the Scene, this bi-weekly One to Watch series has consistently looked forward to highlight Toronto musicians on the brink of widespread attention. Some have since broken out, while others are well on their way.
2012 was another banner year for local talent, with many artists featured in this series—like Cold Specks, Trust, Doldrums, and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan—appearing on prominent year-end lists. Plenty of indicators suggest that others already dubbed Ones to Watch—including hip-hop jazz cats BADBADNOTGOOD, powerhouse soul singer and actress Tanika Charles, and solo synth-pop wonder Digits—will attract big attention and audiences in 2013.
Below is a new group of diverse artists, hailing from or based in Toronto, who I suggest you keep your eyes and ears tuned to this year. They’re absolutely Ones to Watch. Here’s why:
Based on the lightning-fast response to her strong vocals and visuals, 20-year-old Toronto singer-songwriter, producer and video artist Lowell has quite the career ahead of her. The alluring and intense alt-pop artist may have dropped out of U of T’s music program after just one year, but she’s put her time to exceptionally good use.
A recent CBC Music profile tells us just how Lowell’s song demos made their way to Grammy-winning Swedish producer Martin Terefe, who quickly enlisted her as a guest vocalist for a project his Apparatjik collective was then recording. The collab went so swimmingly that Apparatjik, which also boasts members including Guy Berryman of Coldplay and Magne F of A-ha, worked with Lowell to record her debut EP, If You Can, Solve This Jumble, which was released in late October. These three incredible songs immediately make it clear that Lowell is a rising star with the skills to back it up.
She’s drawn praise from the likes of This Is Fake DIY (“Lowell knows how to excite”), The Guardian (who compare her to the likes of Lykke Li and Lily Allen in a ‘New band of the day’ piece, and Glamour (more comparisons to Lykke Li, plus Grimes and La Roux), and has already performed for hundreds of thousands at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival. With her debut album reportedly on its way, Lowell could be massive in 2013. Her self-produced and directed videos only add to the appeal.
Kevin McPhee is currently one of the most gifted producers in Toronto’s electronic-music underground. Incredibly focussed, McPhee has turned out sophisticated and compelling sounds at an impressive rate. He officially announced himself in 2011 with the gorgeous, heartfelt, and dubstep-tinged Get In With You EP for [NakedLunch], and went on to further blur the divisions between bass music, house, and techno with forward-thinking releases for labels including Idle Hands, Hypercolour-affiliate Hype_LTD, Tectonic Recordings, and Brainmath.
Still in his early 20s, McPhee has garnered impressive support from electronic-music media and fans. 2012 found him included in DJ Mag’s list of artists to watch, featured in an extensive XLR8R profile, and included in a Resident Advisor round-up dubbed Toronto’s New Guard. McPhee also unleashed high-profile mixes in the form of a June RA podcast, which largely consisted of his own music, and a storming live DJ set for Boiler Room in August.
This year, McPhee will be featured alongside fellow Torontonians Nautiluss, Gingy, and Bruce Trail on the Dovercourt EP, due out on Martyn’s 3024 label next month. McPhee is also currently at work on another 12-inch for [NakedLunch], expected by summer, and has “a few more things on the horizon.”
On the local gig front, McPhee can be found DJing a secretive new vinyl-only techno night, called How Does it Make You Feel, with friends Michael Krochak and David Patterson. He’ll also DJ Threshold at Bambi’s on Jan. 12, along with pals Nautiluss, Andrew Ross, and Ronnie Falcon, and guests at the album release party for Basic Soul Unit’s Motional Response on Feb. 2.
I’ve long been a fan of Milosh, aclassically-trained cellist, jazz aficionado, and producer of beautiful, emotive electronic songs. Raised in Toronto and now residing in Los Angeles following a stint in Berlin, Mike Milosh earned a reputation for releasing introspective and deeply intimate albums. His 2004 debut, You Make Me Feel, and 2006 follow-up, Meme, were released on L.A.’s Plug Research label to much critical acclaim. Both were highly textured explorations of melancholy and melody, with Milosh blending beats, instruments, and his androgynous, pitch-perfect falsetto into dreamy listening experiences. 2008’s iii album for Studio !K7 was equally rich, earning comparisons that ranged from Bon Iver to Boards of Canada to Cocteau Twins to Radiohead. We next heard from Milosh through collaborative EPs, specifically 2009’s New Territory, made with friend Paul Pfisterer, and 2010’s The Valley, a collab with fellow Toronto expat Adam Marshall. Most of these releases can be enjoyed via Milosh’s Bandcamp.
As much as I’ve listened to Milosh’s music on repeat, the fact that he is the voice and a co-producer behind mysterious 2012 buzz band Rhye still came as a surprise (albeit one that made perfect sense when Pitchfork revealed the duo’s identity in a November interview). It turns out that Milosh and his Rhye bandmate Robin Hannibal (of Danish project Quadron) share a penchant for soulful, sensual songwriting. The release of Rhye’s stunning debut “Open,” and accompanying NSFW video early last year summoned an outpouring of critical acclaim, along with a flood of speculation as to who was behind the project. Sade was a frequent reference point, most notably in a gushing Guardian “New band of the day” piece.
Rhye’s highly-anticipated debut album, Woman, is slated for a March release on Polydor in the U.K. and Loma Vista in the U.S. Milosh tells me they’re currently shooting a new video, and that he’s also at work on a new solo album, tentatively titled Jet Lag.
Just six songs and less than a year into their existence, Toronto/Montreal duo Prince Innocence has impressed with their strong presence and sexy, minimalist synth sound. Originally intended to be a new solo outlet for Little Girls’ lead man Josh McIntyre, Prince Innocence soon expanded to include the evocative vocals of Talvi Faustmann.
The duo recorded and released their three-song debut, Night People, in late January 2012 and immediately found an audience. Although I’m personally partial to the EP’s title track, which recalls Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Skin,” pretty synth-pop song “Shells” received the most attention, especially from The Fader, which has since posted a number of other Prince Innocence songs, including “Girls.” A fantastic rework of “Girls,” featuring North Carolina MC Deniro Farrar, premiered on the Prefix blog in April.
The appeal of Prince Innocence lies not just in their accessible take on cold wave—the duo’s songs are easy to digest while far from disposable—but also in the band members’ shared sensibilities and style. They’ve been featured in online fashion and culture mags including Oyster and Perfecto, profiled extensively by Parisian music and culture blog Hartzine, and Faustmann was featured on the cover of I Heart magazine’s special Toronto issue (which also featured the likes of Austra, Trust, Diamond Rings, and Yacht Club).
With the release of their shimmering “To My Right” single on Pretty Pretty Records, and its accompanying video, Prince Innocence further proved they have great potential. Catch this band on the rise at the Wavelength and Silent Shout collab presentation on Jan. 17* at Play (1032 Queen St. W.). Also on the bill are Beta Frontiers, Blank Capsule, and Boy Bitch.
Producer, vocalist, and visual artist Vanese Smith is one of the most original and exciting artists working in electronic music today. Born in Maryland and based in New York for a decade, the woman best known as Pursuit Grooves has called Toronto home for the past year. Since the move, she’s quickly made her presence known, performing steadily around town and contributing live abstract visuals to numerous parties under the name of Wifihifiscifi.
Deeply creative, Pursuit Grooves first turned heads with releases on her own label What Rules, followed by knockouts for Pinch’s bass music label Tectonic, 2010′s Fox Trot Mannerisms, and 2011′s Frantically Hopeful. She’s also been featured on compilations for Rush Hour, Tokyo Dawn, Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood, and others.
The generally uptempo music of Pursuit Grooves travels through soul, house, bass music, and space rap. No matter the genre, it’s always heartfelt. As 91 Fellows, Smith also released a stellar album of cinematic dub on California label Deepblak Recordings this past August, earning her praise from FACT (“One of FACT’s favourite contemporary producers”) and a nod from SPIN, which named her as one of five “best new artists for September 2012.” The digital version of 91 Fellows’ album is set to complement its original vinyl release later this month. Smith has already followed it up with Pursuit Grooves’ mini-album Leaping Desire, released in November.
As for her future, Smith tells me she’s at work “on a remix for a big pop electronic act that I can’t mention yet,” as well as new music for an upcoming Tectonic compilation and other projects. She’s also developing a new audio-visual collab with fellow Toronto artist SlowPitch, set to accompany the release of his forthcoming album Emoralis.
Pursuit Grooves will perform live at and provide visuals for the aforementioned Basic Soul Unit Motional Response album release event on Feb. 2.
Five more 2013 breakout acts.
Art Imperial: Don’t sleep on the highly melodic psych-surf-pop of this indie artist’s sophomore release, Cult of Love.
• Babe Rainbow: This former Vancouverite, now based in Toronto, makes consistently surprising abstract electronics for Warp. I can’t wait to hear what he develops next.
Basic Soul Unit: After a decade of releasing singles and remixes, the artist born Stuart Li is set to go global with his impressive debut album of house-tinged tech, Motional Response.
• Smash Brovaz: Junia-T and Crooklin just dropped the super solid mixtape Think It’s a Game. It’s some of the strongest hip-hop you’ll hear all year.
• Sync Mode: This funky tech-house foursome of producers Jeremy Glenn, Nitin, Todd Skimmins, and Butter the Butcher is set to explode, if the response to their “Energy” original and new remix of Jori Hulkkonen is any indication.
CORRECTION, JANUARY 4, 2012: The original version of this article included the incorrect date for Prince Innocence’s Wavelength appearance. The information has been corrected.
Who are your Ones to Watch in 2013? Let us know in the comments section below?