From October 17-21, the Red Bull Music Festival descended upon Toronto for 4 incredible, diverse events featuring local talent: This is the Place: MorMor, Encounters, In Conversation with Frank Dukes and One Night Only Jessie Reyez.
One of the festival’s best parts is the unique format, year over year. Last year’s festival saw six shows over 9 days, featuring a collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and a diverse group of artists including DVSN, Tanya Tagaq, DJ Scratch Bastid, and others; 2017 featured Red Bull Sound Select with artists include Majid Jordan and Jazz Cartier. The festival is an offshoot of the Redbull Music Academy, a global music institution that began in Berlin in 1998.
The Toronto component originated in 2007 in the old Red Bull headquarters at Queen and Spadina and even then, it featured a diverse lineup of music-related events including exhibitions, late-night dance parties, and workshops. Each year, as the festival evolves and puts forth cutting edge artists and musicians who are driving the music scene, Red Bull solidifies its position as a leader in the global arts community. Mad props. This year’s lineup offered something for everyone: a huge, late-night electronic dance party, a musically diverse, gorgeous evening featuring a rising pop star, an evening of industry insider conversations for music nerds and an immersive evening with a multi-instrumentalist synth-pop artist. Check out our recap below.
THIS IS THE PLACE, MORMOR
We gathered at the Berkeley Church on October 17 to kick off the 2019 Red Bull Music Festival with Seth Nyquist, better known as the artist MorMor. Synthpop? Psychedelic R&B? It’s hard to define MorMor’s unique sound, but the venue suited his incredible vocal talent, as did opener LA-based singer, songwriter and cellist Kelsey Lu. With 2 EPs under his belt in the last two years, people are paying attention to MorMor for his social realism infused lyrics, mad skills on several instruments and creative vision. All this past year, he’s been touring across Europe and North America and spending his time pivoting between LA, New York, and Toronto, developing his next move and gaining traction as a rising artist. If Thursday’s performance was any indication, he will continue to make waves through his intelligent, unorthodox approach to music creation.
The festival’s largest event was held at one of Toronto’s newest and tucked-away venues, the Symes, split into two rooms. All night, all night, all night it went on in the beautiful art deco space. The massive lineup of Toronto’s most important current DJs included Bambii, Ceremonies, Ciel, City Dance Corporation, Chippy Nonstop, efemmera, Equiknoxx, Joel Eel, Karim Olen Ash, Kehdo, Korea Town Acid, Machine Woman, Madam X, and Raf Reza.
In the main room, Madam X and Korea Town Acid performed a live PA set and Toronto party don and Discwoman member Ciel DJed. In the room upstairs, dancehall and global underground beats reigned with Toronto’s queen Bambii at the helm. What set this apart from any other late-night dance party? The ability to bring together so many of Toronto’s underground and micro-scenes in one place – that magic created by the harmony of so many different types of music and sounds is truly representative of Toronto’s music scene and its unique selling feature on a global scale.
IN CONVERSATION WITH FRANK DUKES
Is that name familiar? Maybe to a select few but likely, you had to look the name up. Adam Feeney, better known by his professional name, Frank Dukes, has local roots, but global cred. Grammy nominee, DJ, producer, songwriter – Dukes is respected for a mad list of accomplishments and skills. Having worked with Drake, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Travis Scott and a myriad of others, Dukes is known for creating catchy samples and beats, originating from his high school years as a DJ in Toronto.
On Sunday night, Dukes chilled with an intimate group of about 200 captivated music nerds at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, hosted by Gavin Sheppard, founder of The Remix Project. Set up to mimic a basement recording studio, Dukes and Sheppard took turns playing samples and records as they went through Dukes’ impressive growth as an artist. After winning a Red Bull Big Tune competition in 2010, Dukes worked with Ghostface Killah to produce his first beat used in a song by a major artist, “Purified Thoughts”. Following that, he began a creative evolution after 50 Cent used a number of his tracks on mixtape projects; one of these, “Talking in Codes”, using a sample from Menahan Street Band’s song “The Traitor”. This started a relationship between Duke and the members of Menahan that led to one of his most interesting achievements, the creation of the Kingsway Music Library, a collection of samples he has made available to producers with the intention to be licensed. As part of a recent project, he worked with the Regent Park School of music to record samples that were added to the library, one of which was used by Taylor Swift song’s “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” in her album, Lover. In Conversation was notably exceptional because another opportunity to hear the behind the music stories directly from this rising superstar in such an intimate setting will be rare.
The 2019 festival closed off with rising pop star, Jessie Reyez in an intimate, electrifying show at the intimate Winter Garden Theatre on October 21. The multi-faceted, provocative show began with Reyez wheeled out in a straitjacket, as part of one of the many skits performed throughout the night. Actors played roles in numerous scenes commenting on inflamed political issues, several costume changes were had, a Colombian band performed, and Reyez’ performance was backed by a full orchestra. She is confident and comfortable in front of her audience and the diversity of show elements kept the audience on their toes throughout her set. To top it off, Reyez performed a new song, Love in the Dark, and announced her upcoming debut album. Ending with “Figures”, Reyez was the perfect close to the festival, sending a clear, strong message that Toronto is a key player in moving the global music scene forward.