Live Music: Justice, M83, & Austra at HARDFEST Toronto

There is always a lot of competition for summer events, last Saturday being probably one of the busiest with it not only being a long weekend, but the host of two notable weekend music festivals; Veld at Downsview Park and Osheaga in Montreal. Regardless, a trail of people slowly entered Fort York for Toronto’s Hard Festival. When we say slow, we mean slow. Perhaps it was part battling a sea of beads and cars left over from the Caribana parade, the stifling summer daytime heat or maybe both.

We arrived in time to catch the very end of Buraka Som Sistema, a nice contribution to the steamy Caribbean atmosphere. At this point most of the crowd seemed more interested in trying to find some shade than watching the music.

Toronto favourite Austra certainly had their work cut out for them to lure the crowd into the open, hot and sunny area in front of the stage. There was a warm welcome for Austra, and lead singer Katie Stelmanis opened with favourite “Lose It”. Slowly the crowd came out of the shadows and got into the cool vibe of a downtown open air festival. Austra closed with “Beat and The Pulse” getting everyone in a dancing mood ready for M83.

In typical M83 fashion, the sound check took what seemed like a million years. Which actually turned out to be a good thing because when it seemed like they couldn’t possibly check anything else, huge black clouds rolled over Fort York and the skies opened up.  Crews scrambled to cover everything up and the crowd got a chance to cool down. The rain passed over and M83 were quick to take the stage.

As a fan of M83’s earlier albums, we were pleased to hear a lot of tracks from the 2008 hit Saturdays = Youth. You certainly can’t deny the energy between lead Anthony Gonzalez and vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby; they at times seemed completely in sync, especially during We Own the Sky. Newer favourites like “Midnight City” really got the crowd dancing and we were super excited to hear them close with “Couleurs”, a synth-based track that is a fan favourite with Gonzalez mixing it different every time we’ve seen him. Now everyone really was dancing and ready for Justice to bring some “D.A.N.C.E.”

But wait…mother nature had a bit more in store. As the Marshall stacks and Justice pulpit took the stage the skies opened up. Big time. We were trying really hard to ignore the fact that this time there was thunder and lightning. Fingers were crossed that all the great energy wasn’t going to be lost on a cancelled show right before the main act. Thankfully the rained ended in time for Justice to come and play most of their 90 minute set.

The stacks were uncovered and Justice took the stage dropping their huge bassy track “Genesis”. Everyone went a little nuts, it seemed like that cool down heightened the energy a few notches. While Justice isn’t known for a huge personal stage presence, their Marshall stacks, pulpit, lights and sound make up for the fact that you really only see the shadows French duo Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay.

The energy continued throughout their set through favourites like “DVNO”, “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Waters Over Nazareth”. We saw a lot of happy faces when we left the venue.

Nice work Embrace and thanks for bringing Hard to Toronto. We look forward to more events at Fort York.