I left the comfort of my apartment on Sunday night in order to head across town to Sneaky Dee’s. The reason for my visit: the Toronto debut (and second show ever) of Nicole Dollanganger, an artist who has quietly been releasing albums on Bandcamp the last few years, but who only entered the greater public conscious last month when it was announced that none other than Grimes would be starting a record label in order to put out her new LP.
With this enormous co-sign in the back of my mind, I had mixed feelings about going to check out this show. Would it be overrun with new fans eager to check out the internet’s latest buzz artist (last night’s show came on the heels a lengthy profile in the hype-inducing publication The Fader). Was I one of these people who had blindly taken the bait? I’ll admit, the fact that Dollanger is from the suburban town of Stouffville, Ontario is what initially peaked my interest, and before last night’s show I had only listened to a small fraction of her lengthy discography. Still, I was relieved to show up at 8pm to not find a long crowd waiting outside, but rather a group of punks and metalheads mingling outside. This is when I remembered that this was a hardcore show, and that Dollanger’s place on the bill (first of four bands) wasn’t likely to attract too much attention.
My suspicions were confirmed at 8:30pm sharp, when Dollanganger took the small stage while a small but attentive crowd gathered up front. Joined by a bassist and guitarist on either side, Dollanganger stood somewhat timidly in front of a table of pedals, singing into her microphone without acknowledging the audience. It didn’t matter though, because as soon as she started singing I understood why so many people have latched on to her. She has a voice that can cut through everything. Compared to her recordings, which are quite minimal and pretty, the show was a cacophony, with the guitarist playing along on a bass drum while hitting a hi-hat with the headstock of his guitar, and the bassist, at one point, letting out a guttural scream. In fact, the two accompanists acted as the perfect complement to Dollanganger, backing off when the songs called for it, but really elevating the songs to a new emotional level in certain parts. Her 40 minute set seemed to go by quickly, but walking back out into the night, I was impressed. She knows exactly how she wants to present herself and her music, and she has, as a fully-formed idea. In this regard, the endorsement from Grimes makes total sense. Not only did they both release a lot of music independently before getting wider recognition, their worlds extends into other forms of art (the only merch Dollanganger was selling were a variety of zines). As much as the internet has destroyed the music business, it has also allowed artists like Dollanganger to find their audience. Think about how someone like her would have been discovered 20 years ago? Canadians have always had a hard enough time breaking through to the rest of the world, so when stuff like this happens, I can’t help but feel good.
Is a long successful career a guarantee for Dollanganger? Of course not, there are no guarantees anymore. But I think she’s making all the right moves, and now that she’s playing shows and moving off the internet and into the real world, more and more people will come into her world.
Listen to Nicole Dollanganger on Bandcamp.