Concert Reviews

TIME Festival: Grimes, Flume, Action Bronson, St. Lucia, Jon Hopkins

Photographs by Sarah Rix. 

The sky was grey and the atmosphere was damp. Ponchos were sprinkled amongst the crowd, while a dash of one or two umbrellas that somehow snuck into the area could be traced as well (umbrellas weren’t allowed, sadly). TIME Festival was planted on a day that wasn’t sunny, but the day still had a lot of promise laying ahead of us. Sure, Death Grips and Charlie XCX weren’t going to be there, but an interesting evening was still about to take place. I had my skewer of pork belly and watermelon in one hand and my “apple mixed with pina colada” freezie in the other. I was ready for whatever interesting things were to come my way.

Majical Cloudz, while fascinating musically, did not start my time at Time with that pizazz I was expecting. Devon Welsh does not feel comfortable on stage yet; Not even remotely. While he redeemed himself later on (with a better but still forceful performance), he started his set all over the place. Was it nerves or was it him not being able to hear himself? I’m not entirely sure, but I will guess it had to do with his shyness. He stood frozen in place for the majority of the set, and at one point conducted an awkward question-and-answer session. The music itself was nice, but seeing musicians live should ensue some sort of connection between the audience and the performers, of which was severely lacking here.

Jon Hopkins took to the stage shortly after Majical Cloudz with one of the better sets of the night. With a slew of interesting visuals behind him (ranging from abstract designs to shots of scenery), Hopkins carried on for an hour with his never ending party of electronic sway. The bass was loud and catchy, and every song segued into the other with such grace. While there wasn’t much Hopkins could do behind a desk, he still moved around and felt the music he was creating. He didn’t say much to the audience, but rather just let his music speak for himself. He came and went quietly, but his set was well needed at Time.

The only band with live instruments that I caught at Time Festival was Smith Westerns of whom aren’t an electronic band at all. They seemed to fit at Time Festival with their groovy dream pop style, and it was nice to have seen something different from many other artists here. Their stage presence was one of the strongest of the day with an absolute care with everything they did on stage. It almost felt like the band members were restraining themselves from being more explosive than they could have been. While they didn’t feel stiff and were actually pretty animated, I wish they went the extra mile and really went ballistic. Nonetheless, Smith Westerns were very fun to watch and were a very necessary group in regards to adding some variety today.

Haitian DJ Kaytranada had a similar set to Jon Hopkins but with much less unity and much more variety. With his best efforts to try and contain all of the diversities Time offered into one set, Kaytranada played everything from trance, house, trap, rap, soul and more. Without a subtle transition between these styles audibly (the very fancy visuals behind him seemed to merge into one another pretty effectively though), it was as if each genre was announced with a roar instead of the passing of a baton. With each genre sounding so distinctively within their own confinements, this made Kaytranada’s set split into stuff you may like and stuff you may not like. I had fun some of the time and was put off here and there. There wasn’t a signature sound, here. There was an adoration of all things electronica, but with a set of Kaytranada’s favorite playlist to fool around with on his laptop, he had a fun performance but not a very memorable one.

Jean-Philip Grobler was one of Capsule‘s first interviews, and I knew, with his charming attitude and aspiration for all things optimistic, he’d be at the very least a pleasant performer to watch live. Grobler walked on stage with the rest of St. Lucia and, suddenly, Time festival was finally booming. Sure, people were having fun as if Fort York was a massive night club, but St. Lucia’s performance was when the grounds became an actual freak out. Grobler apologized for the rain but promised that he would try his best to make things okay, and with his tropically-upbeat music, it almost felt sunnier. Everyone was having a blast onstage, and everyone in the audience, even those new to St. Lucia’s music, was feeling the same amount of energy. I wish there was a wave of heat beating down on us all during this set especially, as I feel St. Lucia would be at its best during the true conditions of summer weather, but as it were, everyone had enough fun to get by.

Everyone had fun after St. Lucia as well. Not me, though: Not for this performer. Perhaps I am missing the punch line, or maybe I get the punch line and I simply don’t find it funny. These two words can easily predict a musician you either love or cannot stand: Action Bronson. With possibly the biggest crowd that day and many people almost on the muddy floor laughing, maybe yours truly is truly a stick in the mud. However, I will explain why Action Bronson’s set is easily my least favorite of 2014 thus far. There’s no question that he can rap. He does have a gifted way with words: Just not during his banter. “Fuck, I’m high” he yelled while messing up a song. We all could believe that, surely. He restarted tracks, he stopped during his own songs to talk and he even ate a sandwich during a song onstage. He jumped into the crowd and didn’t even perform for what felt like ten minutes. He’d remind us he still existed once in a while by telling us to hang on. He finally got back on stage as if nothing happened. Oh yeah, he also requested the DJ to change the backing track that was playing (while, of course, he wasn’t even performing and was in the crowd just running around). Maybe this was funny to some: A friend of mine found it hilarious. To me, Action Bronson just did not care whatsoever. I am all for having fun during a set, even if that means that the set gets sidetracked a bit. This level of silliness, however, is proof that Action Bronson would rather just do stuff than actually perform at his best, and to me that is the sign of a poor performer, and I would say that even if I was laughing with everyone else. As it were, though, I barely cracked a smile.

Flume brought things back on track with the best DJ set of the night. He was surrounded by neon pink lights that lasted the entire performance and his precise transitions into new tracks was so smooth, you could have slipped on them without realizing where you were going. Flume, born Harley Streten, was going as crazy as the audience. Although confined to his place behind his desk, it felt like he would have jumped off the stage at any second. His set went on for an hour but it could have easily gone on for many more. I await the time Flume returns to Toronto and performs indoors in a small venue. I hope this day comes, because I cannot express the amount of fun everyone was having with a massive crowd outdoors; An intimate setting would be unbelievably infectious.

The rain was clearing up, and with a mixture of artists at Time (some stellar, some disappointing), it was up to Grimes to make the festival a memorable one. Without a seconds thought, Grimes ended the night with an absolutely hypnotizing performance, and it was within seconds that everyone at Fort York knew that the festival was, all around, worthwhile. She burst onto the stage full of smiles and giggles. Her banter was clearly unplanned, and Grimes (born Claire Boucher) When it came to her music, though, she didn’t do anything that could have jeopardized her set. This is surprising because she took many risks. She tossed up songs we all know and love (Oblivion, Genesis, Be a Body (侘寂) and more) and let them land on the ground to shatter.

She picked up the pieces and tossed them against a wall full of glue and revealed the new perspective of these songs to us. They were radically different but totally familiar. They were refreshing takes and they took us around corners we didn’t expect while we felt comfortable with the driver in charge. She even played new songs for us; Some well established (Go) and another not even fully completed yet. On stage, there were many pink and purple lights going haywire, many dancers jolting around her and the trees at Fort York surrounded her spooky set so damn perfectly. Boucher herself was in a schoolgirl outfit, turning her set into a Britney Spears music video  within a nightmare (in the best sense of the word, of course). Her confidence is staggering, her attention to detail (audibly and visually) is fine tuned, and her abilities as a performer have increased immensely as her career has blossomed. Without question, Grimes was magnificent and the best way Time Festival could have ended. Yes, there were some misses (Majical Cloudz, Kaytranada, Action Bronson) and a few hits (Jon Hopkins, Smith Westerns, St. Lucia, Flume), but if there was anything that could have solidified Time Festival as a success, it was Grimes’ show stopping outro into the dark night of Toronto.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.