Purity Ring on Day I of NXNE. Cantina on Tattooine or Pandora from Avatar?
We might never make it to Toronto for NXNE this year. My Attorney’s been inside the Red Carpet Inn for a creepily long time. We took a break halfway, five hours from Boston, and were looking for a cheap hotel, but when we stopped in Utica, which had literally ten of them, every single one was full.
“It’s a great night for Utica,” my attorney says after we check motel number eight off the list.
“What the fuck does that even mean?!” I scream into the brutally foggy night. “I feel like the Virgin Mary right now for Christ’s sake.”
Apparently “Rome” is 15 minutes away, so my Attorney takes matters into his own hands and calls a bunch of places, I guess the logical thing to do.
“Red Carpet Inn is only $50 a night!” he says, with just enough optimism to make me immediately doubtful.
This doubt is affirmed when we roll up to a totally abandoned red building with one car in the parking lot.
“They call it the Red Carpet Inn so they don’t have to clean up the blood stains,”
he says to me as he walks through the dense fog towards the door. I’ve lost him, I think ominously, then quickly whip up Foursquare and chuckle.
“This place is a fucking dump! Spooky!”
“Can’t emphasize just HOW creepy this place is. But it’s cheap! BUT… BRING A SLEEPING BAG!”
“We named it the Red Rum Inn … wicked creepy! But despite our concerns we weren’t murdered in our sleep…”
My Attorney finally returns after ringing the buzzer and waiting for 10 minutes until the lone Indian Man who owns the place (the only other car in the parking lot) slowly shuffles from his lair to the door. Needless to say we made it out alive, for about 16 hours later, we are in Toronto and approaching Yonge Dundas Square for Bad Religion. My Attorney loves punk rock.
Two of the big screens high above Yonge Dundas, Toronto’s Times Square, are projecting the trailer for Abe Lincoln Vampire Killer and two boxers beating the shit out of each other, as we approach between hundreds of punks flocking towards the Bad Religion show in droves of “I don’t give a fuck.”
Marathon runners are flying down the street we’re trying to cross, a ninja street performer is doing weird gymnastics to my left on the corner, and directly in front of us is a huge expanse of black, spikes, Leftover Crack, Dead Kenndys and Bad Brains patches, the ground beneath the converse and boots is littered with empty whiskey bottles and crunched beer cans … as we sprint through the race and between stopped cars towards another MASSIVE punk rock show at NXNE.
All I can think as I run into the thousands-deep crowd and cloud of weed and cigarettes is … why the fuck did I leave my cigarettes in the car? I needs one, Jesus Christ I needs one.
Surprisingly enough, every guy I ask for one, no matter how scary they appear, immediately hands me one. The trick to advancing in the crowd is to follow the buffest and spikiest punk dude, so I chose this guy (—>) and made it. Right before Bad Religion started, the guy to my right turns to me:
“Wanna go up there so you can see better?”
BU-WUH?! I think, as all of the guys around me step aside and beckon me forward. That was easy.
With the first notes of “Do What You Want,” a circle pit forms right in front of me and I’m chucking my shoulders into guys and pushing them back in. I can totally understand this show: it’s like getting lost in techno and dance every week. It’s a release.
Plus, I went to this kind of shit all the time when I was 13.
One burly punk crouches down to tie his shoe and the big fat dude next to him protects him by blocking the flying kids around us. I’m struck by the camaraderie of this scene … as kids crowd surf, killing each other and laughing, leaving the ground, screaming along, “DO WHAT YOU WANT!”
“This is a song about relating to one another, which I think we can all relate to,” the singer says during the dramatic pause before they move into “Dearly Beloved.”
Hilariously enough, the lyrics are “I CAN’T RELATE TO YOU. I CAN’T RELATE TO YOU.” Over and over. Though middle fingers, the classic rock and roll hand sign, and “FUCK OFF!” cheers and flying punks fill the air, I’ve never seen a crowd of such diverse ages, one little boy on his dad’s shoulders, or a crowd that looks out for each other as much as this one.
Between this show and BADBADNOTGOOD at the Hoxton across town, I’d like to start a new segment entitled, “Canada, whazzup wit dat?!”
CANADA, WHAZZUP WIT DAT?!
Whazzup with not being able to make left-hand turns in Toronto?
(Right right right NOT left)
Whazzup with calling small coffees at Starbuck’s “short” instead of “tall?”
Whazzup with your unbelievably hospitable home-owners who give us a key to the house and the entire basement to live in
and feed me whiskey and banana bread upon arrival?
Whazzup with the Edgwalk around the CN Tower? Dat shit cray.
Whazzup with that one really sweet French music radio station where the announcer guy goes “TRE FANTASTICO” and “it’s 20 degrees out”?
More to come…
Walking into the Hoxton for BADBADNOTGOOD, my eyes are drawn to the green neon light strings crisscrossing at 45 degree angles across the ceiling of the entrance-way. Inside the venue, a long bar stretches across one side wall, the walls of simple white brick and exposed white pipes like the inside of an abandoned warehouse. Except the subtle light display is just enough to create a chill ambiance—phosphorescent blotches changing between soft blues, pinks, purples and orange … a shade of every sunset projected onto white.
Our friend and host Corbin, now photo editor for the Torontoist, told us not to miss this show, describing BBNG as a group of three “young kids, jazz school dropouts, who play hip-hop jazz sort of stuff.”
Plus, it’s pretty fucking cool that they’ve made music with Tyler the Creator and have a kid in a full-body lion suit grabbing his head and throwing himself around on stage as if losing his mind whenever they speed up the tempo.
At times, it feels like a performance straight from the future, and it reminded me a lot of west coast electronic music, with all the hip-hop, but it was crazy how they did it so well live.
“I got you,” I said, anxiously awaiting some dope beats as Clams Casino’s “I’m God” plays while they set up.
After exactly one thousand attempted puns on their name, my Attorney and I split up and I melt into the crowd.
Pianist Matt Tavares, bassist Chester Stone Hansen, and drummer Alex Sowinski, who is usually seen wearing a pig mask, have an explosive energy and genuine passion for their music. From the first piano riff, followed by an organic performance of covers of electronic and hip-hop songs, taking the original digital tunes and bringing them into the analog world with a beat and bass-centric blend, they make all the original tracks their own. And honestly, most of their stuff is better than the originals. Everything from totally instrumental versions of Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” and “Limit to Your Love” to the inescapable dance anthem…
…you know the one, okay,
“Lamborghini Mercy…” the memorable high-end loop of the track played with three fingers over and over by the keyboardist as me and the rest of the crowd “Drop it to the floor,” the sound so original, such a strong foundation, that you could “build a house up on that ass / That’s an ASS state.”
The vibe for Purity Ring inside Wrongbar, with a line spanning down the street even at 1am, was so different, it was like we took a space ship to the Cantina on Tattooine.
It’s like the young Corin and Megan of Purity Ring (both in their early 20s) rule an undiscovered planet that pukes out ethereal indie electronic music with hip-hitting, deep beats beneath lofty synth melodies, both of which Corin was making on the spot.
He was playing this sort of digital xylophone with Avatar-esque lights, each one appeared to be wired to certain buttons of his drum machines, so whenever he hit one of the orbs with a Booka Shade drum stick it would light up and play a certain sounding beat, and sometimes the highs, the spaced-out dings, while he looped a bunch of other percussive layers and played with the MPC and mixer in front of him with his left hand.
Wearing purple huge-rimmed square glasses like the queen of all hipsters, Megan’s high, angelic voice soared above the beats without a vocoder, though she did open with one, creating the weirdo ambient synth line by tweaking her own vocal chords—
shit was the definition of other-wordly.
Though I have to say, the crowd of this venue was the most annoying I’ve ever experienced. Jam-packed with gesticulating 16-year-old hipsters drunkenly bumping into me with drastic arms reaching towards the heavens or grinding with each other and making out so hard I thought they might get impregnated—not to mention the place was so packed I couldn’t even enjoyably dance. The whole experience taught me that Purity Ring, though they’re live show was super interesting and it sounded good, are much better enjoyed through my head phones while sitting at my desk at the Dig. It also makes for better appreciation of sonic subtleties.
Either way, Day I of NXNE left me totally crashing onto the futon in Corbin’s basement whispering “plus a billion points to Canada” to my Attorney, with dreams of organic beats and snaking synths, and nightmares of Tim Hortons and the Red Carpet Inn.
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR REPORTING LIVE: NXNE DAY II.
PHOTOS BY DIMITRI KOURI