On June 11th and 12th, Toronto’s Woodbine Park hosts the Canadian edition of Bestival, now in it’s second year. Whereas last year’s fest was held on the Toronto islands, this new location suggests a new future for the fest: a large open-air venue that’s easy to get to and nestled deep in Toronto, right off of Queen Street.
This year, there is a deep slate of performers over the two days, not to mention more than a few side diversions. So let’s dive in!
Early acts on Saturday include Toronto DJ Maddmon, Small Town DJs, Rob Da Bank and Jonathan Rosa, all of whom will open the day with dance beats. Additionally, local hip-hop producers Thugli, 4B, Shaun Frank, and Joris Voorn, among others, will be doing DJ sets during the opening day.
But the day’s first live act is Elliott Vincent Jones, who used to front Ell V Gore before going solo. Nowadays, he’s making dance-pop music under his own name. There’s no full-length yet, but has a few tracks, like bouncing “Dawawine.”
Another interesting early day act is English singer Rationale, whose music mixes slow R&B grooves with touches of contemporary dance. On songs like “Fast Lane,” the smooth beat is played against chopped-up samples, while “Fuel To The Fire” is a showcase for his voice and delivery.
Also from England is the indie-pop group Swim Deep, currently touring the second LP Mothers. Swim Deep is a quintet who formed in 2011. Their second album is an interesting mix of keyboard grooves and indie rock, a light kind of indie rock which reminds me of keyboard-heavy stuff from the last decade like Tokyo Police Club. Songs like “Namaste” have a propulsive beat that translates well in live performance, while “:Grand Affection” has a nice New Wavey beat.
There’s also a performance by Porter Robinson, a self-taught musician who’s been making compelling dance music for a few years now (you may remember his 2012 single with Mat Zo “Easy,” and it’s killer anime-inspired video). His dance music has one foot in EDM, but enough elements which keep things unique and falling into dubstep cliches. For one, he’s big into anime and cites Dance Dance Revolution as an influence, and his music has samples of Japanese vocals and beats which veer into edgy territory: “Fresh Static Snow” has a thunderous bass riff against gently buzzing keyboards and vocals that sound like a malfunctioning android; “Flicker” builds around a sampled groove and Japanese vocals and brings to mind The Chemical Brothers at their late-90s finest
Finally, Bestival Toronto’s first day finishes with the headlining acts: Seattle-based act Odesza, UK-scenester Jamie XX and Aussie rockers Tame Impala, who I’ve been assured will not be represented by the muppets from the video for “Cause I’m A Man.” Last July, BGM’s Conor Patrick Hogan called Currents “one of the most complicated and fulfilling pop albums that’s debuted in my entire life,” which is pretty high praise by anyone’s definition.
As one should expect from a dance-oriented festival, the DJ sets continue on Bestival Toronto’s second day with sets by the Toronto-based producers like Hrmxny and Pusher, and by international performers like Lee K, Tom Trago, Unlike Pluto and Skylar Spence, among others.
Live acts include the moody indie rock of The Twilight Sad, a Scottish trio currently touring their fourth record Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. We didn’t review that one, but Phil Maye was bullish on their previous release No One Can Ever Know, calling it “heartbreaking” and full of emotion.
Another British act appearing on Bestival Toronto’s second day is The Wombats, a trio whose indie rock whose sprinkles of keyboards and straight-ahead beats show their dance-rock inclinations. Right now they’re touring their third record, Glitterbug, which includes the singles “Give Me A Try” and “Greek Tragedy.”
My personal highlight of the day comes with a set by Grimes, who is currently touring her record Art Angels, a record M Milner wrote about in great detail last year. She’s built on her record’s expanded sonic palette, mixing live instrumentation and a backup cast of singers and dancers to an already compelling stage show. It’s also her last performance in Canada until Montreal’s Osheaga festival at the end of July.
Finally, long-running alt-rock legends The Cure close Bestival Toronto on Sunday night. They’re basically legends, so I’ll spare you their backstory and instead note this spring has been a crazy one for Cure diehards, with their sets regularly including rarely-played songs and new, unreleased ones. This isn’t likely to be just a greatest-hits kind of set, but something fresh for those who’ve seen them before.
Aside from the live music on both days, there are other points of interest at Bestival Toronto this year. There’s the Inflatable Church, where couples can get married (really!), a “SuperGalatic Opera,” several cosmic-sounding, New Agey events (including a “Shamanic Soundbath,” which sounds like something Constance Demby might be into) and even a costume parade.
Tickets for Bestival Toronto are still on sale and the venue is easy to get to. All in all, it should be a fun weekend in Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, please visit Bestival Toronto’s homepage, bestival.ca.
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.