WHAT'S IN THE BOX with JULY TALK, DIAMOND RINGS (DJ set), DUSTED, KATIE STELMANIS (DJ set), BADBADNOTGOOD, ZEUS and others at the Drake Underground (1150 Queen West), Wednesday (December 26) to December 30, 8 pm. $5. 416-531-5042. For the full festival lineup, see the club & concert listings.
The holiday season doesn't seem like a particularly ideal time to throw a music festival. The city streets become unusually still after everybody leaves for their hometowns or holes up inside with family and friends.
But it's also break time for Toronto's globe-trotting touring musicians, who get a chance to catch a breather before heading back on the road. Drake Hotel music programmer Nathan Stein is using that to his advantage.
This year's What's In The Box festival - held annually in the Drake's intimate Underground space during Boxing Day week - includes white-hot local acts Diamond Rings and Austra's Katie Stelmanis, who play DJ sets on December 27 and 28 respectively.
Instrumental jazz/hip-hop upstarts BADBADNOTGOOD, who have had a breakthrough year, headline the electronic/DJ-focused night, also featuring Detroit's Shigeto, on December 29, while classic-rock lovers Zeus close the fest on December 30.
"Many of the [participating musicians] have pretty hectic international touring schedules," says Stein, "so we're very fortunate that they're going to participate in our festival while they're home during their Christmas vacation."
But the five-day fest is also known for its inclusion of notable up-and-coming acts, and this year's reflect Toronto's sudden proliferation of duos.
Blues-folk two-piece July Talk headline the Boxing Day event (Wednesday, December 26), while Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians plays tunes from his well-received solo debut album on December 27 ahead of the Diamond Rings DJ set.
Moon King, featuring former Spiral Beach members Daniel Benjamin and Maddy Wilde, appear on the dream-pop-heavy December 28 show, also featuring reverb-drenched duo Dusted (newly returned from a European tour with Great Lake Swimmers), Beliefs and Elsa in addition to the Stelmanis DJ set.
Another advantage to the holiday timing?
"A lot of people have time off, so those who have always wanted to get to the Drake midweek finally can," Stein says. "And it's only $5 a night to see five incredible acts. To be honest, I don't see any disadvantages."