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For five days last week at venues across the city - the regular club kind, the pop-up kind and the altogether strange kind (the streetcar) - the 20th anniversary edition of NXNE rocked on. There were massive YDS shows with Spoon and St. Vincent. There were shows where we discovered bands we hadn't known before (Unfinished Business!). There were not-so-secret late-night shows with Ryan Hemsworth and Mac DeMarco. And everywhere, everywhere, people were talking about Future Islands.
But there were also those unexpected moments that seem like they only happen during festivals - when a performer, song, bystander or even a piece of equipment makes a lasting impact. Here are some of our highlights.
For complete lists of our favourite things at NXNE 2014, plus show reviews, videos, photo galleries and more, see nowtoronto.com/nxne/2014.
The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores do the limbo
Throughout their early set at the Horseshoe on Wednesday, Toronto dance-punks the oOohh Baby Gimme Mores threw merch to their fans, walked through the crowd clanging a cowbell and, best of all, started a limbo contest. Singer/guitarist Densil McFarlane kicked it off by climbing down from the stage and slipping lithely under an outstretched cord, and then encouraged audience members to do the same, which they did. The four-piece's enthusiastic efforts and high-energy tunes were rewarded at the end, when it was announced that they'd been chosen to play at the Jay Z-founded Made In America festival in Philly.
Omar Souleyman's no-nonsense showmanship
Forty-seven-year-old Omar Souleyman looked like a don, decked out in a traditional outfit consisting of a jellabiya and keffiyeh, and sporting a neat moustache as he and his DJ played electronica-infused dabke folk music from his native Syria to Thursday's VICE Island crowd. In stark contrast to the Future Islands frontman who followed him, he didn't move much, but when he did it was methodical and purposeful, his most strenuous dance move consisting of his gently flipping his wrists back and forth like he was curling a mini-dumbbell.
Golden Teacher and Goat get their leotard on
Unhinged dancing by women musicians in bodysuits was the theme of my NXNE. Bring it on. Golden Teacher did just that at Lee's Palace on Friday. The collab between Glasgow noise punks Ultimate Thrush and analogue house duo Silk Cut got animalistic during a set that never let up for a moment, with one of their dancer/singers rocking it big-time in a leopard-print onesie. When the two wildly costumed women lead singers of Swedish experimental fusion collective Goat took over next, things only got crazier.
Tim Hecker through a Funktion One
While the Great Hall's owners work through the arduous process of getting a proper liquor licence for their downstairs venue the Blk Box Theatre, their powerful high-end Funktion One sound system has been collecting dust. Rather than let all that wattage go to waste, owner Nav Sangha decided to move the giant stacks of speakers up to the main room for NXNE. On Thursday night, the increased power allowed crystalline clarity for White Poppy's solo ambient performance and a deafening roar for Fresh Snow's drone rock, but made the biggest difference for Tim Hecker's experimental electronic set. Playing in complete darkness helped put the emphasis completely on the eerily beautiful washes of sound.
Small child steals the Spoon show
A small child hoisted on her father's shoulders and playing catch-and-release with one of the beach balls bouncing over the Yonge-Dundas Square crowd earned the kind of enthusiastic cheers Spoon were unable to attain during their Saturday headlining set. The band sounded fine and their best songs were on display, but the performance lacked spontaneity - unlike the little girl shyly but happily playing in public. For those few minutes, everyone in the vicinity smiled at her and one another, cheered each time she caught the ball, cheered louder when she flimsily chucked it a few feet ahead, and then turned our attention back to the stage.
Unfinished Business remind us that school sucks
Three years ago, the now teenaged girls in Unfinished Business met in elementary school and honed their shredding skills at Girls Rock Camp Toronto. Since then they've played alongside Fucked Up at Long Winter, opened for Mac DeMarco and released their debut LP. On Sunday, the band added headlining NXNE Festival Village at Edward Day Gallery to their bio. The trio played quick and dirty punk-pop ditties that focused on the important things like how much school sucks and haunted houses rule, epic fails and why it's okay to laugh when people trip and fall. Lead singer and guitarist Sita rocked out on a killer cream-coloured Dimebag Darrell axe while belting out "FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL... THAT'S WHAT I CALL AN EPIC FAIL." My own epic fail? Not picking up their LP on vinyl and a kitten-emblazoned band T-shirt.
The Lytics draw a crowd at Ryerson
You know when a band starts jamming outside in a kind of random spot with no one around, and then little by little people start trickling in, gathering in their shared appreciation for the music? Until yesterday, I thought that only happened in TV commercials. But then I caught Winnipeg rap quintet the Lytics playing on a Red Bull party bus on the Ryerson campus and witnessed exactly that. The positivity-fuelled group - made up of three emcees, one singer/emcee with a mean falsetto, and a DJ - started performing for a handful of scattered spectators but wound up attracting a pretty hefty crowd of charmed passersby with their poppy style of throwback, Tribe-ian hip-hop. There were even a couple of swooning young women with stars in their eyes.