Father Stretch My Hands Pts 3-6: My NXNE 2016 Experience

Every year, for every city-wide festival, anywhere in the world, there is a chorus of people shouting the same thing. "It's just not the SAME this year." "It's not as good as last year." Or "[Insert event] sucks this year." Or most succinctly, "Wah!"

Port Lands Skyline/Seagull

Well... yeah, things were actually different at NXNE in 2016. But I'll spare you that part for now. Because at the end of the day what this festival was always about (The Music) was as good as ever.

Interpretive Balloonery/Seagull.


Day 1

I got to the Port Lands, which was mercifully cooler than the rest of the city. So a big plus for that. The Port Lands is a strange part of Toronto. It's one part shipping dock, one part abandoned parking lots, and a notable population of seagulls that may literally outnumber people.

Views from the Port Lands/6/Seagull

By 7:00 PM it became impossible not to notice the festival grounds were surprisingly empty. It's not like the lineup was not well known. By this time a legend was about to take the stage, Ghostface Killah. As a very good boy that did not listen to Raps and Punks Music in high school, I only got into him as I entered university in 2006. This was before I even listened to Wu Tang Clan, which is probably a weird chronology for most people. But it's been a while since I listened to his solo stuff, so I went in with minimal expectations, expecting to half recognize songs throughout and occasionally bob along. That was dumb.

Ghostface Killah pointing at a seagull in the sky.

Ghostface crushed any expectations I could have possibly had, going through a medley of his own hits, Wu Tang's and some old hip-hop classics too (Juicy!!!). What stuck out the most was just how commanding and wildly entertaining he is as a performer, doing everything he could to make the show as satisfying for his audience and for himself too. Calling on stage a couple dudes to do Method Man's part on "Protect Ya Neck" ("Boo these motherfuckers off the stage if they suck!"), about 50 girls that he at some point disappeared into, or just taking in all those seagulls at the Portland grounds ("Those birds are beautiful, man"), Ghostface looked and acted like he was, One of The Greats.

Ghostface Killah giving a lecture on the breeding habits of seagulls / Tony Stark.

Ghostface Killah unaware of party on stage behind him; likely thinking about seagulls.

Aforementioned Seagull.

Up next was Daniel Caesar, who I hadn't listened to before and decided to keep it that way up till the show. There's just something about going into a show with no expectations whatsoever, with an open mind, and being left awestruck. Caesar has a voice somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Miguel, two artists whose voices alone could fill up a whole album no questions asked. But like those two, he succeeds in part by the gorgeous instrumentation that surrounds his voice. Buoyed by a hometown sunset that synced with their set, Caeser likely picked up more than a few fans that night.

Daniel Caesar syncing with the sunset. No seagulls acknowledged during set.

As Schoolboy Q was prepping, the crowds slowly increased. But still, the crowd was noticeably below the capacity one would expect for the size of the grounds. Sensing an opportunity and perhaps a sense of security, the seagulls came. It was like running through pigeons in Chinatown as a kid again, but with seagulls. Food truck vendors and patrons were surely pleased.

People enjoying perfect summer weather and gorgeous view of the city, unaware of Birds plotting above.

It was hard at this point to avoid wondering why NXNE decided to program their festival this way this year. I've attended NXNE since 2008, and for a while it seemed like the festival could actually become the SXSW of the North. NXNE for me was comedy shows, movies, music industry conferences and talks, and of course, the widespread shows throughout the city in random venues and shitty bars you never heard of. This year most of that was stripped away in favour of a singular, more festival-like event. It's clear that NXNE is in some sort of major transition, but to what exactly is anything but clear. I don't doubt NXNE must have been burned by the spectacular debacle of Action Bronson last year, but even then, its hard to explain the confused identity of NXNE this year.

Shadows filling up space.

Whatever observations I had about NXNE 2016 dissipated the moment the DJ for Schoolboy Q started pumping up the crowd. An amazing sound system coupled with a very game crowd helped elevate Schoolboy's show beyond anything else in the day. Schoolboy knows how to own a crowd, going through his new stuff (which was excellent) and even his pal Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" and "Mad City" in honour of his birthday.

Schoolboy Q, commenting on the lack of seagulls during the night at the Port Lands.

Schoolboy Q, covering Kendrick Lamar. Happy Birthday guy!

After the collective experience of Ghostface and Schoolboy, I was left with one question: "Why don't I go to more hip-shows?" And I guess if that was the lasting impression I was left with on day one, NXNE succeeded thus far.

Schoolboy Q: Wide shot.

Later that night I headed out to Lee's Palace for Cold Specks. Every time I've seen her, its usually involved her playing guitar and a large and lush band. It wouldn't have been wrong to even describe the music as being similar to bands like the National. Well, that was not the Cold Specks there tonight. On stage with producer and band mate Jim was a different, more electronic and experimental Cold Specks than I was used too. It may have been the best show of hers I've seen so far. At the end of her set, about to play her favourite of her new songs, she said, "You guys should go out now and enjoy your Friday night, but nothings gonna beat this."

Cold Specks at Lee's Palace.


Day 2

What do those balloons mean? Are they trying to tell is something? Or are they a clever way to repel/attract seagulls?


In a dramatically sharp contrast to Friday, Saturday at the Port Lands was "Indie Rock Day". Depending on who you are, lets say a late 20-something year old guy still clamouring for the pure days of 2004-2009, when it was okay to still like Garden State (arguably), Saturday would've been your day of the year. Mother Mother and Born Ruffians put on fine sets that had their fair share of committed fans.

Mother Mother performing at the Port Lands.

Way in the distance, Born Ruffians performing at the Port Lands.

Moonshot. Ominous lack of seagulls.

And then there is Father John Misty. Father John Misty is... well. Have you seen his Instagram? Or his interviews about... anything?

Father Stretch My Hands Pt 3 (see, that title actually meant something!)

Father John Misty is like the embodiment of branded identity, curated irony, and social media induced self-awareness. You probably read that sentence and thought to yourself, "Ugh". I swear though, somehow he takes all those things and turns it into something beyond any individual criticism or commentary on "society" or "social media" or "the times" that would undoubtedly crumble into embarrassing pretension by a lesser artist.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt 4.

A lucky fan's Instagram account about to blow. Up.

It's a full blown character, an art piece, something between madness and fine acting. At times even he seemed to be unsure of what he's supposed to be, but even that was probably all part of his performance. Going through all his best songs in his catalogue, with some of the most expressive dancing I've ever seen on stage (sorry Beyoncé), this was a spectacular show.

Father John Misty in between sexy dance moves, and winning hearts.

There are few acts I've ever seen as captivating and transfixing as J. Tillman, and on top of all that was a slide guitar (!!!) oozing through the sound system and filling the air. And that voice, which sounded flawless and was performed effortlessly. There's nothing better than watching an artist performing at their peak. And he really hates Budweiser too, so points for that.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt 6 / Nobody likes Budweiser, right?


--Kenny Chatoor is a regular magazine contributor and former CJLO radio DJ currently living in Ontario, "Yeah things are good, there is definitely nothing like CJLO in Toronto though, which is a bummer." Follow @kenchatoor on Instagram for more NXNE photos and video!