SXSW 2016 | 2015
| 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012
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Now that you’ve read my introduction to Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016, away we go with the showcase reviews. Because that’s really what you’re here on TGTF for, am I right? Tuesday night was what I considered my easy night, as I only had a handful of bands on my schedule. As far apart as venues are as I mentioned in my intro, it’s a good idea to arrive at least a day before you jump into CMW so you can get the lay of the land, identify where on the street to wait and board a streetcar so you don’t get killed, and start recognising useful landmarks.
After pretty much inhaling an amazing vegetarian dragon bowl at Fresh on Spadina, I headed over to The Hideout on Queen Street, not far from the restaurant. The venue turned out to be one of the best places to catch rock on the harder side of the spectrum for the week. Where I could, I wanted to fit in Canadian acts within my otherwise UK and Irish act-heavy schedule, so my first band were local Torontonians Last Bullet. What I heard and saw on their YouTube prior to coming out to Canada indicated to me that these were guys that liked to rock out hard.
The fans who turned up to see them play songs like recent single ‘Sin’ were more than happy to headbang to their music. As one might expect, there’s a definite cock rock element to their music, so much that Last Bullet frontman Bryan Fontez’s insistence that one of their songs was about sex had me blushing so bad, I left for my next stop of the evening. Still, I’d say they made a lasting impression on me and they’re a perfectly reasonable alternative to AC/DC now that Axl Rose is fronting the Aussie band. Also, who knew the Canadians loved basketball so much?
We here at TGTF enjoy the live spectacle of Meltybrains? so much, I put them at the top of this post. Well, I think I like them more musically than Carrie does, but she was certainly entertained when she interviewed them last year at SXSW 2015. We’d both seen them that time in Austin, and I think I had the better show of our two, watching the group from Dublin start a conga line at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room Wednesday night at the Music from Ireland showcase.
Even though they were playing several times during the week, the only time I could fit them in was on Tuesday at Handlebar, a venue with an actual bicycle hanging on the wall by the stage. As predicted, they were totally mental, bringing out the conga line again, jumping up on the bar and generally creating havoc. All in the good name of fun! Meltybrains?, never change, please.
I popped outside and over to the Silver Dollar Room to catch an act that I’d been recommended to see. HMS Morris isn’t the name of a boat, they’re a Welsh band, and a psych rock / pop one at that. Their songs are catchy and just weird enough to feel unique but not so weird that new fans can’t catch on. I felt it was too bad that there weren’t as many people in town for CMW on Tuesday night, as I imagined a full-up venue for a band like this at SXSW. Have a taste of their performance at the BBC Introducing stage Glastonbury 2015 below.
I returned to Handlebar for their final act, Windsor’s Tigerwing, aka avant-garde musician Sarah Kelly. While her reliance on electronics puts her firmly and nicely in today’s popular music scene, her style is decidedly not mainstream. Spare, dark, mechanical beats bump in the background as Kelly’s strong voice – bouncing in a non-linear way, mind – soars over the music. My feeling is the purpose of the Tigerwing project is not to stun or shock, but to prove that there are other, far more interesting avenues artistically one can go down when it comes to electronic. More power to her. Imagine EMA, but in her far less poppy modes.
Stay tuned for more of my coverage of CMW 2016 coming soon to TGTF.
Parts 1 and 2 of Steven’s review of Leicester’s Handmade Festival 2016 posted earlier this week. Check out parts 1 and 2 here and here.
The Sunday of Handmade 2016 held particular importance for the city of Leicester. Entering anywhere within a 15-mile radius of the city, you would find yourself presented with an inordinate, but very much deserved, amount of Leicester City FC regalia, for they were soon to, but not on this day, make football history. This of course would have been detrimental in some aspect to the day’s proceedings at Handmade, since a festival of this size relies heavily on local cultural interest. However, there are also those outsiders, like myself, who make the pilgrimage and spread the word via numerous blogs, social networking posts and other ramblings. On a rare historical occasion such as this, when even non-diehard football fans are intrigued and excited by it, there will inevitably be a drop in attendance. The final day didn’t carry the same weight in atmosphere as the Saturday nor the Friday. The lineup itself wasn’t overtly weak but the bands that had that cultist draw such as Lonely The Brave, We Are Scientists or Deaf Havana were missing from this final day, bar Los Campesinos! (pictured at top), who saw the largest reception with their “landfill indie” hark back.
Easily the set of the day, and unfortunately it was one of the earlier ones so the crowd wasn’t as large as it should’ve been, was Johnny Lloyd. The ex-Tribes frontman who’s in the midst of excitement ahead of releasing his debut solo EP ‘Dreamland’, has returned with extraordinarily deep songs that utilise haunting, soft melodies and raucous crescendos to create a beautiful juxtaposition.
Other highlight sets from the day included Oscar, whose strong baritone vocals richly cover his often poppy, but at times focused and dramatic indie. Seeing Oscar on the main stage before heading once again down to the lower levels to witness USA Nails throughly annihilate any further thoughts of natural hearing, is an experience that just fortifies the uniqueness behind Handmade.
Of the minor downsides, and there really are only small, unavoidable ones, the largest of these was food outlets. Three tents on the patio area by the entrance, for a 3-day, mostly all-day festival, doesn’t leave much choice for hungry festival-goers. However due to the festival’s fairly central location, there was the option of making the 10-minute walk to a main road with further choices available. As this is a music site and not food, I shan’t go into detail on the food itself, but rest assured it was all fantastic.
With 2016 being the largest year to date for the Handmade Festival, 2017 is set to be even greater. I highly suggest you take a weekend out of your lives and make the trip to Leicester. You’ll find something new to fall in love with, be it a Jurassic Park-themed punk band or a simple photograph on one of the many displays around the venue. Either way, it’s fresh and exciting, and there’s no chance of being stuck on a muddy hill as you watch your tent slide away.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 13th May 2016 at 11:00 am
This year at Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016, there was a special Spotlight on the UK, as well as a Focus on Ireland. So how could we here at TGTF say no? As it was the first time for TGTF to cover the event, I thought I’d start my coverage of CMW 2016 by setting the stage for you, if you will. I want to explain to you what Toronto is like and how Canadian Music Week is different from other events you may have heard about or attended yourself. That way, you’ll have a better idea about whether you’d like to attend next year.
Distance / transport
1. The venues participating in CMW are far apart. I mean, seriously, this is no joking matter. If you decide to hoof it entirely because you’re tight or you have too much confidence that you’re built like a triathlete, you’re going to get sore feet. Even with those sensible shoes we’re always telling you to wear to festivals. I should know. I wore trainers for the most of the week, and even I got tired!
venue map taken from the CMW Web site
2. Toronto has a great network of public transit, allowing you to traverse the city via subway, streetcar or bus. So why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of it and let your tootsies get some rest? Pick up some tokens from the local store, convenience store, or subway station to save some change per ride. And don’t forget to grab a transfer from within the subway station or from your friendly streetcar or bus driver so you can make a free transfer to another mode of transit within an hour of the first fare being paid. (Yes, you read that right!) If you’re really a masochist – or a tree hugger, I guess – you can also rent a bike in this cycling-friendly city.
While we’re on the subject of transport, let’s say you’re a real daredevil and have decided to drive to Toronto. Or rent a car upon arrival. My host for the week reminded me how often Toronto is used as a film set. She described a hellish incident when she got stuck in her car for hours because the city decided to shut the road she was on down for a film crew and it was a major artery into and out of town. So don’t be foolish. If you really must drive to Toronto, park your four wheels somewhere for the week and utilise mass transit. Bonus: you won’t need a designated driver! Note: TGTF urges all music event goers to drink responsibly. Everywhere! Let’s stay safe.
3. Uber may or may not work for you, so have a backup plan. Toronto does not currently participate with Lyft, one of SXSW 2016‘s sponsors, so I had dutifully downloaded the Uber app, expecting to use it in the wee hours of the morning. Stationed by the bar at the Smiling Buddha at close to 3 AM, I tried for a half-hour to hail a taxi from the app, only for it to go into a continuous loop, claiming it didn’t recognise my *Canadian* phone number. I thought I was going to beat my head into a wall. This was after Broken Hands had successfully hailed two Uber taxis and had departed long before. My host reported similar issues in the past with the app, and she’s a Toronto native.
Finally, my new friend and bartender at the club Gabe, along with Brian and Tadhg from Meltybrains?, helped me the conventional way, flagging down a passing taxi driver to get me home. I did some calculations after the fact, and I think I would have only saved at most CAN $3 using Uber. Though Toronto is by and large a safe city, I tell this story because I think I might have started crying if as a single woman, I didn’t know anyone there and had been stuck there as long as I had been.
Electronics / safety
4. Related to that and as we have suggested in past survival kit features for SXSW including Carrie’s post-SXSW 2016 article here, be sure to bring your phone charger or better yet, a spare, charged up battery pack in case you need to consult a map on your smartphone when you’re half-asleep. Bizarrely and amazingly, some of the buses and streetcars run 24 hours in Toronto, so figuring out a way back on what mass transit was still running would have been my plan C.
5. Yes, cannabis is legal in Toronto. There’s shops on Queen Street and in the Kensington Market area that brazenly advertise their wares, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that they do so now that current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for the legalisation of its use. That said, if you’re visiting from another country and wish to partake, I’d err on the side of caution so you don’t find yourself doing something that will get you into trouble, so you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Which is true of all things and all places, yeah?
Venues / shows / do I really need a badge or wristband?
6. Unless you’re going to the biggest shows in town during CMW – and these will be obvious because you will need separate tickets to attend in addition to your badge or wristband, and you’ll see they will sell out quickly too – chances are when you turn up at a venue, there won’t be a queue greeting you. Even though I’d been clued in on this at the start of the week, I was pleasantly surprised by this, as Toronto is *the* music city of Canada and all bands who are anybody tour there when they come to North America. So if you hate queueing at city festivals, this one’s for you.
7. You can buy tickets for some venues ahead of time. However, for many other places, there are perfectly reasonable cover fees at the door that won’t break the bank. CMW offers a good bargain per night if you have specific bands or bills you already know you want to see. In that respect, CMW is less like SXSW and more like CMJ, which takes place in New York City in October. To give you some financial context, our friend Mar on Music put on a showcase on Wednesday at The 300 Club that I will be reviewing as part of my CMW coverage, and the cover at the door was CAN$5 if you didn’t have a badge or wristband. That’s less than a drink in most pubs, isn’t it? Many others I saw, including the Handlebar where I saw Meltybrains? Tuesday night, were only charging CAN$10. So in essence, it’s a music festival that’s highly affordable, if you plan ahead.
While I didn’t have time to check out cover charges at all the venues, the cost to get into the UK Trade and Investment showcase Saturday night at Velvet Underground is a good contrast. The bill included The Orielles (England), The People the Poet (Wales), The Undivided (Wales) and headliners Fat White Family (England; artsy photo of them at the showcase at top) had a cover charge of CAN$20. That seemed entirely reasonable to me if you decided to have a night out in any major city in the UK or Ireland and wanted to see a band like Fat White Family headline at a good club.
8. Toronto is cold. Even in May. I have no idea how anyone survived CMW when it took place in March, the week after SXSW. I don’t know if this was a fluke, and perhaps all of you in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe are shaking your heads and laughing at me for being a wimp. But most times, I was absolutely freezing outside. The natives laughed at me and my coat and hat, but at least I was warm!
9. Toronto is actually not as cheap as you might have thought. Each Canadian dollar is about US$0.80 at the time of this writing. It led me to believe that eating out, drinking and shopping would have been cheaper than if I had holidayed somewhere else in America. Because there are the GST and HST tax schemes in the province of Ontario where Toronto lies, unless you’re buying produce from a stand (counted as basic groceries and exempt from GST), the final price will be higher quoted on a menu, bar chalkboard or clothing shop sign. Also factor in a 13% alcohol tax when dining in, and your eyes will water when the bill for your Caesar arrives.
10. Toronto is vegetarian and vegan friendly. I feel really bad for bands with veggie members when they come for SXSW and barbecue is constantly in your face. I was surprised by the amazing wealth of options for those who follow any sort of vegetarian or vegan diets or those who are just curious about what’s out there beyond huge hunks of meat. There is some truly inventive cuisine in the city, for omnivores and vegetarians alike, some of which can be seen on my Instagram. Also, being in a country where there is a strong French influence, there’s cheese seemingly everywhere. Sorry, vegans.
If you missed Steven’s review of Leicester’s Handmade Festival 2016 that covered the bands he caught on Friday, you can catch up right back this way.
Now that the event had settled into full swing, the Saturday of Handmade Fest came along like Christmas morning. Beginning earlier at 3 PM, the second day of the festival kicked off with a band so ridiculous in concept yet perfect in execution, missing them was simply not an option. Jurassic Pop solely write songs based around the Jurassic Park franchise, going as far as to have their bass player wear a velociraptor head. The songs were rifftastically solid, especially the rendition of ‘All That She Wants’ by Ace of Base, adapted so that the velociraptors from the scene where Robert Muldoon, the Jurassic Park gamekeeper, dies with the infamous last words “clever girl…”, are the focal point of the lyrics. (Though the band state they wrote it first—jokingly, of course—we don’t want any affidavits created from this article, please).
Taking to the stage in the allowed 15-minute time afterward, Happy Accidents were a surprising breath of fresh, chipper, air. Bouncing around like sweet-filled children, they brought the second day, which had thick grey clouds looming over it, into a metaphorical rainbow-laden field filled with fast, poppy punk music and smiles.
Sadly, I missed Cleft, who according to numerous people I spoke to, were one of the bands of the weekend. I did however manage to catch OhBoy!, who were phenomenal in every sense. Their powerful show matching the strength of their songs, the future is definitely going to be bright for this stellar band. The main talk of the entire weekend though were the later slots on this fine evening, kicking off with Cambridge’s own Lonely the Brave, who gave one of their most powerful performances I’ve seen to date, with their new songs creating a fierce, undertow to the already epic songs from their debut. After their set finished, the majority of the crowd, in the typical sheep fashion of this small festival, flowed down to The Scholar Bar where we awaited Scottish pop punk band The Xcerts. You got the sense that a lot of the crowd had been waiting to see the raw emotion and power of The Xcerts for a very long time, and the atmosphere in the room reflected this perfectly.
Headliners of the night were fellow East Anglians Deaf Havana (pictured at top), who, also road testing new material, created an explosive atmosphere which was fuelled by the crowd’s response to their heartfelt and angst ridden material. Overall, Saturday proved to be the strongest of the 3 days of the festival, with Sunday proving slightly weaker through no fault of the festival’s own. It cannot be stated enough that festivals such as Handmade are important in not only developing the cultural scene of whatever city they happen to be in, but they also give bands who otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity to play in an environment like this, or to get the exposure that would give them even one more fan that will fuel their passions. Moving past that slight digression, we will enter the final day of Handmade 2016 in part 3 of my review, which will appear on TGTF tomorrow.
If you missed the first installment of Rebecca’s roundup of Live at Leeds 2016, you can catch up on it right back here.
Following Mystery Jets at the Academy, I arrived early for Clean Cut Kid’s set at Leeds University Union and caught their soundcheck, which consisted of a stripped back version of ‘Vitamin C’, showcasing Evelyn and Mike Halls’ impeccable vocals. The crowd had already built up before the end of the soundcheck, and I’d bumped into a couple of people on my way in who were looking for the stage and excited to catch the band in action. The set was bookended with the band’s two most popular tracks, opening with ‘Runaway’ and closing with ‘Vitamin C’. From start to finish, it was an indie-pop filled half hour of fun, bright guitar hooks and vibrant vocals, and there was an abundance of dancing, clapping and singing along from the crowd.
I caught Catholic Action at Nation of Shopkeepers, the kooky bunting-trimmed venue in the city’s centre. Catholic Action are one of those bands who sound good on record, and even better live. Their upbeat, pop/indie blend was well suited to Nation of Shopkeepers, which was probably my favourite venue of all that I was able to visit on the day. A friend of mine recently described the band as a “Scottish Weezer”, and after hearing them perform, I can’t say that I disagree. Their set was a standout for me on the day, from the jingling guitars to the clap-inspiring drumbeats and crisp vocals.
Back over at the Brudenell Social Club I arrived partway through Vitamin‘s set. The dreamy indie pop quartet are Leeds locals and were in full-flow by the time I arrived, having drawn in a medium-sized but enthusiastic crowd. Lead singer Jared Laville was decked out in a double denim stonewashed ensemble and was charismatically wooing the crowd. During the final song of the set, the band’s latest single ‘Waterfall’, Laville descended into the crowd, with people reaching out to touch him like he was the messiah of dream pop.
After Vitamin was Anteros on the Games Room stage across the hall at Brudenell. As with The Velveteens earlier in the day, it took a while for the crowd to build and required prompting from lead singer Laura Hayden to bring the crowd forward. Hayden was vibrant and commanded attention, standing before the crowd with just a microphone in her hand, occasionally bashing a drum. The whole band looked like they were having a great time. Stand out tracks were ‘Breakfast’, the band’s latest single, and their previous singles ‘Fade to Grey’ and self-titled ‘Anteros’, which is such an excellent track and sounds even better live, showing off Hayden’s brilliant voice. The band has created an iridescent variety of wistful indie-pop that’s just edgy enough to avoid being too sweet. Their performance was another standout for me, but I can’t help thinking that they might have benefitted from a stage closer to the city centre that would have drawn in a larger crowd.
The first and only other time I’ve seen We Are Scientists live was in 2010 on the NME stage at Leeds Festival, so I was determined to make it back to Leeds University Union to catch them before I had to leave. I made it to the Union in order to get a decent spot on the stairs, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea as I was constantly bumped into by people trying to make their way up and down the staircase, struggling against the tide of people that had also decided on the same viewing spot as myself. But the struggle was worth it. From the minute Keith Murray and Chris Cain walked on stage they built up a cheeky back and forth between each other and the audience, with Cain immediately going over to the audience at this side of the stage and shaking hands with members of the audience.
We Are Scientists opened with ‘The Scene is Dead’, before following up with other hits such as ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘I Don’t Bite’, and ‘Buckle’, the first single from their latest album ‘Helter Seltzer’, released in April. I had to leave shortly after, but I was happy to have experienced the 20 minutes or so in the band’s presence, which was the cherry on top of an already great day.
If the only music festival you’ve been to (and this is potentially more aimed to UK readers than U.S. fans) consists of standing in a muddy field in wellington boots or becoming heavily inebriated while trundling to the next stage to see a mildly hyped-up indie band, then an indoor festival, or metro-festival, is a highly different experience. Leicester’s 4th annual Handmade Festival took place on the May bank holiday with the stated goal of gathering “the best new and forward thinking music, comedy, art, film, performance and photography and bring(ing) it all together for one weekend”.
When I first arrived at the University of Leicester on the Friday, the welcoming sign of ‘H A N D M A D E’ spelt out up the stairs in large plastic letters beckoned festival-goers into the venue and gave a great indication as to how the festival sees itself: welcoming and with a hint of non-seriousness. Being a completely independent venture, Handmade is unique in that it prides itself on being a place to discover brand new things, and this is most prominent in its musical lineup. The headliners themselves are tenured enough in the industry to draw a crowd, particularly We Are Scientists (pictured at top), Deaf Havana and Lonely the Brave, who jointly win the award for “Largest T-Shirt Representation”. With these crowds drawn in, it was up to the acts beforehand, both local and national, to cement the weekend, and this they did.
On Friday, we were given the choice of either Lacura or Estrons, two bands that cover the rock spectrum nicely, with Lacura taking on the dreamscape, ease-you-in side of things and Estrons taking the face grabbing route. With both sets comfortably and officially kicking things off, the small crowd that had gathered at this early stage of the festival soon ventured to the weekend’s main stage, Academy 2, to witness Ash Mammal. This was the first sign that it would be easy to find your new favourite or soon-to-be favourite band here. Ash Mammal brought a raucous set, reminiscent of early Placebo and not easily forgotten.
An important aspect to mention before heading into any more detail on the weekend is the venue layout. In total there were three main stages for music, not including the smaller stages in the venue landing area. The main stages were the aforementioned Academy 2, the Academy 3, which was found by venturing down into the basement of the complex and through a labyrinth of corridors into a seeming ex-dance studio, and also The Scholar Bar. The initial trial of finding your way around the complex was confusing, but after one trip around the available open areas, it turned out to be a well-laid out routing that consisted of a multi-layered circle. Getting lost was a fool’s errand, and a mistake only made once.
The rest of Friday’s highlights included Black Honey, who are already gaining a serious amount of traction and for good reason. They combine blues-tinged, reverb-heavy rock with a frontwoman who has the sultry and confident attitude of Debbie Harry, Alison Mosshart and Cherie Curie combined. Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic brought an electronic turn to the proceedings with a light show and tunes to make a strong enough statement that should also aide their current hype. By far the biggest highlight of the day was punk band Pretty Vicious in The Scholar Bar, a tiny venue that already made the softer acts seem edgier than you would believe. Pretty Vicious brought out their re-birth of British punk and showed us exactly how they’ve managed to score a major label deal. Snotty, abrasive with purely fantastic riffs, they’re enough to give the Sex Pistols a run for their money.
Headliners We Are Scientists proved why they’re still going strong in the game after over a decade, a solid set full of the massive hits that first put them in the spotlight, peppered with newer songs which sounded just as strong. The show itself did feel like a watered down version of an atypical We Are Scientists event, at times feeling rushed. However, having taken to the stage 15 minutes late this was potentially an executed measure to get through all of the crowd pleasers.
Stay tuned to TGTF for parts 2 and 3 of Steven’s roundup of Handmade Festival 2016, which will follow in the coming days.