Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
NXNE 2012 Day Three
Friends, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, DIIV and more at NXNE
Frank YangIt was sometime on Friday that, in looking at my NXNE schedule, that I realized just how Pitchfork-y it all was and for that, I apologize. It wasn’t intentional, but there’s no arguing that the balance of stuff I’ve heard of/stuff I was curious about/stuff that doesn’t come through town all the time is pretty influenced by the online echo chamber.
But to be fair, the options amongst my usual go-to of acts from the UK and Scandinavia was frightfully lean this year; like I can count them on one hand. A consequence of the global recession, I suppose, but at least one of the acts who did make it over was 2:54. Their show kicking off the night at Lee’s Palace wasn’t far removed from when I saw them at SXSW but definitely better, both for my being familiar with the material and their having developed some more stage presence, frontwoman Collette Thurlow having traded her thousand-yard glare for some dramatic sway-dancing. I like but can’t claim to love their self-titled debut – they excel at atmosphere but the songwriting could be stronger – but they were tight and had an air of slight aloofness, and as one of the few British acts at the festival, they played ambassador well.
Londonist has an interview with the band.
You probably didn’t need to be told that DIIV were from Brooklyn; just a look at their outfits and/or haircuts would have made that conclusion obvious. But assuming that meant they were going to be some unworthy, overhyped flavour-of-the-minute would have been a mistake. To be clear, they certainly sound very “now”, their shimmery jangle being very reminiscent of fellow buzz band Real Estate, but with more jump and less emphasis on vocals and more focus on creating a tight, airy groove. The initially claimed the were going to play their new album Oshin in its entirety, but the insertion of a “new song” mid set made that claim questionable, though I suppose that with the album not out until next week, they’re all technically new songs. Oh, and then there was the Nirvana cover that’s probably not on the record. In any case, their music was well-personified by their live show: the rhythm section kept their heads down and tended to business whilst the guitarist danced around like electrified marionettes.
The build-up around New York’s Friends started a good year ago, so by the time their debut album Manifest! came out a couple weeks ago, they were probably due some good, solid backlash. And while I haven’t heard the album, the live show certainly entertained for the 30-plus minutes they were on. They had far less reliance on electronics than I’d have expected – lots of percussion to with the guitar and bass, and less electro-pop than old school disco/funk. Frontwoman Samantha Urbani had presence to spare, offering a great impression of an ’80s pop diva with a simpler, more innocent kind of sexy. Her pipes were also good but her breathy-to-squeal move got formulaic pretty quickly. The same could be said for their sound as a whole – it’s pretty templated – but if you were looking for a band to soundtrack a dance party for this night, at least, you couldn’t do much better.
At this point it was goodbye Lee’s, hello mad dash across town to The Garrison. And while I made pretty good time if I do say so myself, I still needed to brandish the priority pass to jump the queue for Yamantaka//Sonic Titan. I already explained how their debut YT//ST improbably found its way onto the number two slot on my Polaris Prize ballot, but it probably counts as remarkable that they did so without my having seen their live show. Not that live performance is supposed to influence our voting, but it’s hard to imagine not being influenced by such an elaborate production. And with the costumes, the Kabuki paint, the stage dressings, they arguably had the most going on onstage at the fest for a band not named Of Montreal or The Flaming Lips.
And yet for all that they put into it, there was a refreshing lack of pretence from the band. They set up their gear and props like anyone else, and the cognitive dissonance of hearing them finish an intense, thrash/operatic passage and then ask for monitor adjustments was pretty funny. In performance, though, they were all business and deadly serious – there was no irony detectable, and I don’t even know if allowing themselves to dance a bit during “Hoshi Neko” even counts as breaking character; it’s a pretty danceable song. It was a unique, breathtaking performance that left you dazed and feeling like you may have just joined a cult. And you may be right.
Killscreen Daily talks to band principals Ruby Attwood and Alaska B about the influence of video games on their music.
Following that show was going to be tough and topping it impossible, so it’s probably a good thing that New York’s Widowspeak don’t even attempt to blow you away with theatrics or spectacle. Their sleepy country/dreampop had the perfect sort of late night vibe that didn’t quite come across during their mid-afternoon set at SXSW. It wasn’t all aural narcolepsy, though – the guitars got a little more aggressive than I expected and downright heavy at points, but despite wielding a mean axe, Molly Hamilton’s voice smoothed it all over. Those asking for more vocals in the mix slightly missed the point – she’s at her best as a honeyed whisper you have to lean in to hear. And though the audience seemed a bit restless – understandable if they were still on a Yamantaka come-down, they were largely appreciative. As they should have been.
A brace of new videos coming at you from across the pond – first there’s Summer Camp with a murderous clip for the title track of their forthcoming EP Always, out July 10. You can also hear it in French, if that’s your thing.
Video: Slow Club – “Beginners”
Kate Nash has put out a new video for a non-album track that was apparently written and recorded in under 24 hours. Who’d have guessed.
And a few more show announcements over the last few days: John K Samson returns to get intimate – and all-ages – for a show in support of Provincial at 918 Bathurst on September 6, tickets $25 in advance.