Photos by Neil Van
This was my third year attending Time Festival’s annual Fort York celebration, and I’m happy to report it was by far the best. The festival gods bestowed us with ample gifts; perfect, cloudy weather, a diverse lineup, and well planned and decorated festival grounds, devoid of treacherously long food, bathroom and drink lines. The smaller ‘Overtime’ stage added to the site for the first time was an instant crowd favorite, providing a shady refuge for rap and electronic fans. The main stage didn’t slack off either, and happily wasn’t overtaken by a bloated VIP section as at other Toronto fests this summer. Time Festival has continued to evolve over the years that I have attended but I believe this year cemented it as the best one-day festival the city has to offer.
Much of the start of my day was spent in the shaded oasis of the Overtime Stage. I grooved along with Harrison as I walked through the gates, and watched his crowd steadily grow as punters improvised an impromptu dance-off in the middle of the dance floor. His glitch-hoppy vibes had the crowd bopping happily, and set the scene nicely for what was to become quite the dance party later in the day.
Next to take to the stage was Nyck Caution, who quickly showed of his fast-spitting rap style over some dirty trap beats. Killing the backing track momentarily, he performed some bars a capella to the applause of the crowd, before Kirk Knight joined him onstage. The two had good onstage banter, giving ample shoutouts to their home of Brooklyn, and passing out joints to the audience. The highlight of their set was Kirk Knight’s ‘I Know’, which expanded the already sizable crowd as the sun peaked through the clouds.
Next to take to Overtime was Chrome Sparks, who brought a live drummer on stage to help him craft an easy groove, perfectly suited to his late-afternoon timeslot. The producer pleased the crowd with a downtempo yet danceable set which focused mainly on his latest two albums. He ended on a high with his 2013 track ‘Marijuana’, which samples the same ‘70’s disco song as Jamie XX’s hit ‘Loud Places’.
Taking over the stage around 5pm, Jacques Greene brought the tempo back up, and got the crowd moving with his brand of deep, thoughtful house. The Montreal producer ran the gamut of his back catalogue, providing attendees ample reason to leave the safety of the shaded areas surrounding the stage to get up and dance. The final song of Jacques’ set was Clams Casino’s ‘Blast’, a nice shout out to the Hip-Hop producers’ long awaited return.
Over at the main stage, the audience was already gearing up for Joey Bada$$, undoubtedly one of the most hotly-anticipated acts of the day. The 21 year old rapper was quick to set the pace with 2014’s ‘Big Dusty’, which was an instant hit, and got the crowd singing along. After taking a nostalgic turn to play a few songs from his first album and talk about the late 90’s golden era of Rap, Joey brought out Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution to join the party. The three took turns performing and crowd surfing, before Joey ended on a high with his new single ‘Devastated’.
The addition of Overtime Stage meant the crowd never had to be without music for too long. Just as Joey Bada$$ was playing his encore, TOKiMONSTA was starting up, providing a ready-made dance floor as I moved between the stages. Interestingly, TOKiMONSTA started her set with some DnB before settling into her normal Hip-Hop heavy repertoire. It was great to see her add some diversity to the set alongside her own productions, with country sounds even making an appearance as the crowd enjoyed the now-shaded dance floor.
Back over on the main stage, Kehlani was already blowing minds by the time I managed to drag myself away from TOKiMONSTA. The RnB performer had more energy than I was expecting, and delivered plentiful upbeat poppy-electronic songs. The highlight of the set was ‘The Way’, a magnificently sexy track, which she played in it’s entirety despite the fact that Chance the Rapper wasn’t present to supply his parts. The crowd happily stepped in, shouting Chance the Rapper’s verse back towards the stage as Kehlani and her backup dancers popped and locked. Another fan favorite was her 2015 single ‘Did I’, which was stuck in my head for days after I left the festival grounds.
While KiNK and Toronto local Bob Moses kept the party going over at Overtime, Broods took the main stage next, providing some much-needed respite before the mayhem of Run the Jewels. While Broods’ sound is not one I usually go for, I enjoyed soaking in the sounds of the New Zealand pop duo as an evening breeze blew over Fort York.
Run the Jewels were my must-see act of the day, and looking around at the crowd while waiting for Killer Mike and El-P to take the stage, I wasn’t alone. The rap duo have performed in Toronto a number of times in the past few years, feeling the energy in the crowd it is easy to see why. They stepped out on stage to Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ and never once dropped the sense of bravado for the next hour, putting as much energy into their banter as they did their intense songs. My highlights were hearing the DJ shadow produced ‘Nobody Speak’ performed live for the first time, and chanting along with Killer Mike’s pointed criticism of a particular U.S. Presidential candidate.
Run the Jewels dropped hints throughout the show about the hotly anticipated RTJ3, and teased that the album would be the “colour of love”. Returning for an encore, the duo simply stated “RTJ3” before previewing a track off the new album which was their typical high-energy fare and had the crowd hype despite only hearing it once. Leaving the stage, El-P teased that the new album is coming sooner or later than you expect, depending on when you expect it. The song debut and RTJ performance in general left me on a high, yearning for more and festivals as well-run, fun and exciting as Time. Hopefully this too will come sooner than I expect.