NXNE: The Northern Version of SXSW
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Austin’s annual indie music party has a relative in the Great White North.
By Barbara Fletcher
You’ve no doubt heard of South by Southwest (SXSW), the indie music, film and interactive festival that lights up Austin, Texas, every March. But did you know that there’s also a Great White North version held in Toronto every year in June?
Meet North by Northeast (NXNE), SXSW’s little cousin in Canada.
Like SXSW, Toronto’s annual festival, kicking off on June 13, is held up by five pillars: music, art, film, comedy and interactive — the biggest of these being music, which supports the final four days of the recently expanded 10-day shindig. Last year’s attendance reached 350,000, and the city coffers saw an economic impact of around $50 million. As NXNE celebrates its 20th year with 800 bands on the roster — encompassing a selection of the hot and hip in Canadian and international tunage — there’s lots of music to choose from, and attendance is set to be the highest to date.
Canadian bands to see
At least that’s what Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been angling for since his trip to Texas last fall to build upon the “world’s first music city alliance agreement,” signed in July 2013 with Austin. The musical partnership was forged to help foster music in the two cities, and Canada’s largest city hopes to pick up some tips for fostering a music scene to help boost its tourist cred — and, of course, to rake in resulting tourist dollars. The jury’s still out on what Austin gets out of the alliance; after all, the city is one third the size of Toronto and has managed to become the “Live Music Capital of the World” all on its own.
NXNE’s lineup testifies to the place it has earned on the festival circuit. Just a few of of the notable acts taking the stage in various clubs and halls across the city: Sleigh Bells, a noise pop duo from NYC; The Pizza Underground, Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin’s band (which was recently not well received); Tune-Yards (aka tUnE-yArDs), Merrill Garbus’ looped and layered music project; and baroque pop noble, St. Vincent, an avant-garde singer-songwriter from Oklahoma. Hot Canadian acts include red-hot DJ and renowned remixer Ryan Hemsworth and “jizz jazz-er” Mac DeMarco (who’s now a Brooklynite), plus tons of others on their way to indie greatness.
Five Other Must-See Bands
• Future Islands – Arty synthpop (Baltimore)
• LOW – Indie slowcore (Minnesota)
• Eagulls – Melodic punk (Leeds, U.K.)
• Le1f – Loud and proud rap (New York)
• Fuck Buttons – “Rainbow rock” (Bristol, U.K.)
A handful of established bands are also making an appearance. English space rock band Spiritualized, Austin quartet Spoon and rapper-songwriter Juicy J grace this year’s playlist, as well as Swans, an NYC post-punk group from the ’80s ‘No Wave’ scene.
The NXNE music-only wristband (which doesn’t guarantee entry to shows) will cost you $149 for the four days. But there are also 30 films and 150 comedians participating. The platinum badge — which provides the best chance for snagging a spot — will set you back $599. The badge works for the entire festival, giving priority access to all five streams, plus some other perks like industry schmoozing opps, VIP viewing areas and BBQ/bevvie parties.
So whether you’re looking for another stop for your summer music festival plans or you want to see how the music fest in Toronto (recently voted more travel-worthy than Rome) stacks up against the one in Texas, NXNE might just be worth checking out.