Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Seven must-see queer artists at NXNE 2015

From space-rock to folk-pop and hip hop, gays make waves at Toronto music fest

In 1995, North By Northeast (NXNE), inspired by South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, threw its proverbial hat into the ring of major musical festivals. Its mandate was simple: give musical unknowns a vehicle for exposure, and celebrate established musicians in local, intimate venues.

Now, 20 years later, NXNE has become one of North America’s most influential music festivals, showcasing home-grown and imported talent alike. Slots at NXNE are highly coveted and attract enough attention from both the media and the public to make an unknown artist’s career take off.

This year’s festival has a staggering amount of queer acts and talent. To help break it down, here are seven queer acts not to miss at this year’s NXNE.

Moonwood

What makes Moonwood’s upcoming showcase at NXNE a notable event is that the queer space-rock, psychedelic duo’s live shows are predominantly improvised. Originally the brainchild of vocalist and guitarist Jakob Rehlinger, Moonwood is now a full-fledged rock outfit and is fast gaining traction in the Toronto music scene. The band’s distinct sound combines elements of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Nina Hagen and Roger Waters. How their set will unfurl at NXNE is anyone’s guess, but anticipation is half the fun.

Moonwood
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
The Smiling Buddha, 961 College St W, Toronto
Moonwood.bandcamp.com

Damage Over Time

When Pam from Damage Over Time isn’t busy working as a hand model for a fisting dildo or organizing the Toronto Zombie Walk, she’s booking gigs with NXNE and Pride Toronto. The heavy-hitting, punk-rock outfit have secured a slot at NXNE’s Pride Showcase and will perform at Toronto Pride later this month at the Alterna-Queer event. Damage Over Time recalls the early, carefree days of the late Will Munro’s Vazaleen parties at El Mocambo, when gay punk bands like Limp Wrist satiated a thirst for queers to hear something — anything — other than an eight-minute Mariah remix.

Damage Over Time
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Coalition, 282 Augusta Ave, Toronto
Damageovertimerocks.tumblr.com

Folly and the Hunter

Montreal’s pop-folk quartet Folly and the Hunter have made a splash with their 2015 release Awake. The album was recorded at Toronto’s Revolution Studios with the legendary Howie Beck, whose music was featured in Queer as Folk and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Awake sees a slight departure from the band’s usual sound into blisteringly bright pop territory. Their NXNE show at Sneaky Dee’s promises to be a rare opportunity to see a band in blast-off mode in an intimate venue.

Folly and the Hunter
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Sneaky Dee’s, 431 College St W, Toronto
Follyandthehunter.bandcamp.com

Hua Li

Hua Li is like Iggy Azalea’s wittier, more talented and less homophobic cousin. Hua Li, also known as Peggy Hogan, takes on issues of sexuality, gender and race using experimental hip-hop as her platform. Why this Montreal-based artist isn’t on every major summer playlist at the moment is baffling. Let’s hope NXNE acts as the launching pad for this brilliant, promising talent. Not to be missed.

Hua Li – opening for Betty Who
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Mod Club, 722 College St W, Toronto
Huali.bandcamp.com

Gina Chavez

Gina Chavez is set to thrill NXNE in support of her 2014 record Up.Rooted. The lesbian songstress has crafted an ingenious pop record that honours her Latin roots, and it’s been critically celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. The NPR star has a sound that’s a hybrid of Ani DiFranco and Menudo. Up.Rooted effectively blends Chavez’s Latin folk background with unadulterated pop bliss. If Chavez can translate the sonic joy of her breakout record to the grand NXNE stage, it will be an experience worth writing home about.  

Gina Chavez
Thursday, June 18, 2015
The Rivoli, 334 Queen St W, Toronto
Ginachavez.com

Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound is Bradford Cox’s solo project. The queer indie darling is perhaps best known as the frontman for Deerhunter — an American five-piece band lauded by the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. Their 2005 debut, Turn It Up Faggot, cemented Deerhunter as stars in the indie-rock pantheon. Atlas Sound — a moniker for the artist’s solo work used since childhood — delivers Cox’s signature aesthetic of dream pop, shoegaze and noise rock that made him a star.

Atlas Sound
Friday, June 19, 2015
Lee’s Palace, 529 Bloor St W, Toronto
4ad.com/artists/atlassound

Lakes Of Canada

It’s no wonder Cult MTL named Lakes of Canada as Montreal’s fourth most pretentious band — the band just finished recording a concept album based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopic masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale. The ambitious project is slated for a fall release. But fear not, Lakes of Canada are also garnering positive press and topping best-of lists across the country for their rich, soulful, folk-inspired pop and live performances. On one particular list, the quintet shares company with the likes of Arcade Fire, Grimes and Simple Plan. Their set promises to be a highlight of the festival and bolster queer visibility at NXNE.

Lakes of Canada
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Cameron House, 408 Queen St W, Toronto
Lakesofcanada.com

nxne.com