by David George-Cosh
It has never been so good to be an indie-music fan in Toronto.
With the success of August’s Hillside Festival still ringing in the ears of fans, and last week’s stellar showings from Cuff the Duke and Metric, it’s only fitting that another festival is taking place right in the heart of Toronto this weekend.
The inaugural Ear to the Ground festival features a wide spectrum of Canadian and international musical talent, while adding theatre and audio-visual performances to the mix.
Showcasing such Canadian talent as The Hidden Camera’s, Live 8 and Parade and Picnic darling K’naan, Kid Koala and everyone’s favourite buzz band, Death From Above 1979, the festival strives to hold true to its ideals of promoting an indie culture over a corporate one.
Not surprisingly, the three-day event also has a Ryerson connection. Colwyn Llewellyn-Thomas, guitarist for local five-piece controller.controller, attended Ryerson several years ago in pursuit of a photography degree but left halfway, deciding to give more attention to his burgeoning music career.
“I really enjoyed it and got great experiences from it as well. Ryerson had some great people and the professors did a lot of work that I enjoyed,” Llewellyn-Thomas said. “However, I felt like I had to choose between pursuing my degree and becoming serious about music. I think sometimes it pays to put your best foot forward and focus your energy on something you want to do.”
Controller.controller is just one of the few local bands to snag a much-coveted performance slot. Craig Logue, executive director and producer of the festival, said he wanted to include as many local acts with the international ones as possible.
“I’ve been working on this idea for about three years and was looking for an idea that was different from everything else going on (in Toronto),” says Logue, who also booked Kat Burns and The Most Serene Republic.
“I’ve been thinking about a multi-disciplinary festival that combines a lot of art forms into one venue.”
When asked to define the festival’s difference between crass commercialism and independent capitalism, Logue summarizes his answer with one word — beer.
“Brick Brewery is one of our main sponsors this year, but the way their sponsorship is being represented at the festival is done without any of the usual marketing techniques that the major beer companies put on, such as giant inflatable beer cans and half-naked women in tight, revealing T-shirts.
“Having Brick on board is a perfect example of independent capitalism without being crass or obtuse or anything like that. All Brick wants is a couple banners in the beer garden and their logo on our sponsorship pages and that’s it.”
Llewellyn-Thomas is looking forward to his own band’s performance of post-punk alternative rock, but is also excited to see the numerous high-profile bands expected to play.
“There has never been such an event like this in Toronto before, one that is so focused on independent art,” says Logue, a veteran of the city’s booking scene.
“There is a danger with this many artists that it can collapse into itself, like the Blues Festival from a couple years ago, but I’m confident people want to come out to see everything Toronto is doing.”
Llewellyn-Thomas agrees. “I’m also looking forward to seeing Death From Above, of course, and Sleater-Kinney too,” he said.
“We like to collaborate more with other musicians and artists, and play with other local groups as much as we can.”
The festival is scheduled for Sept. 16 to 18, but is no longer being held at Exhibition Place as originally announced.
Instead, look for Llewellyn-Thomas, controller.controller and the rest of the bill at the Phoenix Concert Theatre and the Opera House.
Controller.controller plays at the festival on Sept. 17. Their new album X-Amounts will be out Oct. 11 on Paper Bag Records.