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NXNE 2015: Five things we learned at Majical Cloudz and Paper Bag Records 100 featuring Sam Roberts, Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene may just be getting back together…

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    Rob Duffy rounds up his first night at North By Northeast, the music festival that takes over Toronto’s downtown clubs until Sunday.

    1. No one summons darkly romantic vibes like Montreal’s Majical Cloudz

    NXNE 2015: Five things we learned at Majical Cloudz and Paper Bag Records 100 featuring Sam Roberts, Broken Social Scene Back to video

    At first glance, Majical Cloudz singer Devon Welsh surprised many audience members by eschewing his trademark shaved head for lush, almost flowing dark locks. But the singer’s bold new look quickly took a back seat to his voice, once he and synth guru Matthew Otto eased into a series of memorable cuts from 2013’s deeply evocative LP Impersonator. On the strength of Welsh’s nakedly earnest delivery, “This Is Magic” and “Childhood’s End” are just as moving now as the first time we heard them. That rare, raw emotion makes them one of Canada’s best young bands to watch.

    2. Majical Cloudz’s forthcoming album sounds like one of the year’s best

    There’s no title or release date as of yet, but from the handful of new songs that Welsh and Otto unveiled at Toronto’s Berkeley Church, the next album from Majical Cloudz already sounds like essential listening.

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    The new songs feature a slightly more expansive sound than the deliberately muted tones of their debut, and if you thought Welsh’s lyrics couldn’t be more emotionally direct, you were wrong. “I want to kiss you inside a car that’s crashing / And we will both die laughing,” he sings, as your heart drops to the floor and shatters in a million pieces. Any other artist might sound hokey being so straightforward, but not Welsh. He means it, and his passionate presence makes you feel it too.

    3. The NXNE hype machine is firing on all cylinders

    You arrive over an hour before the 9pm (early by NXNE standards, right?) showcase that you’re dying to see, but there’s already a line forming. The venue is full, and the polite security folks say there’s simply no guarantee you’ll get in. Sound familiar? Welcome back to the city’s most special and most stressful weekend of the year, where frenzied text messages about rumoured special guests are a dime a dozen. This year’s NXNE may ultimately be remembered for a public outcry over a certain bearded rapper, but festival organizers are experts at stoking fan anticipation. The long lineups and mad-dash venue-hopping commutes that we’ll all live through this weekend are proof that their skills are still razor-sharp.

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    4. For 13 years now, Paper Bag Records has been a great champion of Canadian music.

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    But we already knew that. With the tastemaking Toronto indie label celebrating its milestone 100 th release, CEO and co-founder Trevor Larocque and his dedicated team gathered together a smorgasbord of Paper Bag artists and pals for a special retrospective evening at Lee’s Palace dubbed #PAPER100.

    This seven-hour love-in featured a lineup of Canadian indie luminaries, including Sam Roberts busting out his career-making hit “Brother Down,” Born Ruffians covering Tokyo Police Club’s breakout showstopper “Nature of the Experiment,” PS I Love You doing what they do best (shredding, obviously), Young Rival getting loud, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan getting very loud, Matthew Barber bringing smooth, folky vibes, and Oshawa indie-folk stalwarts Cuff the Duke playing backup to just about everyone. The result was a worthy celebration of a valuable institution that’s discovered and nurtured countless emerging Canadian talents. And speaking of that…

    5. Broken Social Scene may just be getting back together…

    …Or at least that was the very, very strong hint dropped by frontman Kevin Drew when he and fellow bandleader Brendan Canning took the stage at Lee’s Palace in the wee small hours as Paper Bag’s super-secret guest. The sparse crowd of die-hards who stuck around far past anyone’s bedtime were treated to a not-quite-like-Field-Trip grand total of three songs off Paper Bag’s first-ever release, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People: a dynamic run through “KC Accidental” followed by assists from The Luyas’ Jessie Stein on “Lover’s Spit” and Young Galaxy’s Catherine McCandless on “Almost Crimes.”

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    Somewhere amid the tidal wave of reverb, Drew ambled a few feet in Canning’s direction and yelped that he’s getting the old gang back together. “I love this man!” Drew shouted, leaning in towards his partner in once (and perhaps future) crimes. Drew went on to thank Larocque for the integral role he played in building You Forgot It in People into Toronto’s decade-defining album: it was Larocque’s appeal to Pitchfork that won the band the glowing review that soon launched them into the indie-rock stratosphere (and yes, made Broken Social Scene popular enough to break away and start a tastemaking label of their own).

    And now, thanks to Drew’s vague early-morning pronouncements, we can be slightly more hopeful we’ll see Broken Social Scene on a Toronto stage again before long. Let the rumour mill start spinning.

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    Broken Social Scene may just be getting back together…