It’s time for North By North East in Toronto. Here is all you need to know:
THE HISTORY: In its 22nd annual celebration, North By Northeast (NXNE) festivities will take place for an entire 7 days for the first time in existence! The Canadian cousin of Austin, Texas’ South By Southwest (SXSW), NXNE’s exponential growth in popularity is strongly represented by its scheduling enhancement from its original 3-day docket in 1995 to 2016’s weeklong extravaganza.
Akin to SXSW, NXNE floods the city of Toronto’s expansive list of live music venues, with the usual ‘main stage’ – often featuring the main music draws and free attendance, situated at Yonge Dundas Square. For the first time this year, NXNE will also feature a specific ‘rural festival location’ slightly outside of the urban downtown core and venue hotbed, at Toronto’s Port Lands. The Port Lands are located about 5 kilometres southeast of downtown at the Gardiner Expressway / Don Valley Parkway / Lakeshore Boulevard East junction. This ticketed sub-event (only $80 for a two day pass!) of NXNE will host festivities on Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th, akin to an actual outdoor, weekend festival. NXNE Port Lands will feature artists such as Schoolboy Q, Father John Misty (a Mighty Records favourite), Born Ruffians, Mother Mother, Ghostface Killah, Dan Mangan and HIGHS, amongst others!
Historically, NXNE has always hosted quirky, fun and novel ways to host musical performance apart from the collection of host venues. It appears that, with the inclusion of the Port Lands location this year, there will be less attention focused towards these novelty performances. That being said, I can’t help but remember the amount of fun had at NXNE 2014, when a few friends and I attended the Bruise Cruise; a boat party tour of Toronto Island featuring musical performances from The Posterz, Calvin Love, PS I Love You and Walter TV – all hosted by Mac DeMarco himself! I vividly recall having a down-to- earth conversation with Mac in between his (expectedly off-kilter) hosting duties, as well as Benjamin from PS I Love You about his hometown of Kingston, ON – where I was a resident for four years while attending Queen’s University.
For a taste of my personal history with NXNE, have a gander at the below list of bands (many personal favourites) that I’ve been lucky enough to catch over the years at the festival:
- Spoon 2014 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- The National 2013 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- Alvvays 2014 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- Mac DeMarco 2014 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- Hayden 2013 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- St Vincent 2014 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free)
- The Flaming Lips 2012 @ Yonge Dundas Square (free, and a fantastically called-audible after a cancelledRadiohead show, originally scheduled at Downsview Park)
- Spiritualized 2014 @ Massey Hall
- tUnE-yArDs 2014 @ Massey Hall
- Future Islands 2014 @ Toronto Island
- Rhye 2014 @ Massey Hall
THE MUSIC: “NXNE has been all about great music for 22 years”, featuring some of Canada and the world’s best indie bands, and an invigorating focus on hip-hop and soul for this year’s edition. You can take their word for it – as NXNE has, and continue to play host to some of the biggest music acts on the scene! If however, for whatever reason, you need more encouragement to check this festival out, revert back to my above list of incredible bands that I’ve been lucky enough to catch at NXNE over the past few years.
Perhaps more importantly, NXNE organizers have an uncanny ability to find and invite bands that are literally on the cusp of stardom. Looking over their list of musical alumni, I can’t help but notice (and subsequently regret missing) the past inclusion of acts such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Grimes, Deafheaven, Baths, Surfer Blood, Ty Segall, Courtney Barnett, The Dodos, Lower Dens, The Men, DIIV, Vince Staples, Wild Nothing and No Age. Had I been aware of these bands at the time of their NXNE performances, I most certainly would have been more excited for each year’s festival instalment. However, this information serves as a reminder that, here in 2016, I can almost guarantee to stumble across a pleasant surprise at NXNE this year, or in any subsequent year to come.
THE SETTING: Various venues, locations and landmarks within the City of Toronto, specifically:
- Toronto’s Port Lands – Gardiner /DVP / Lakeshore Boulevard E junction
- Yonge Dundas Square – Northeast corner of Yonge St and Dundas St
- Mod Club Theatre – 722 College St
- Danforth Music Hall – 174 Danforth Ave
- Phoenix Concert Theatre – 410 Sherbourne St
- Horseshoe Tavern – 370 Queen St W
- Lee’s Palace – 529 Bloor St W
- Silver Dollar – 486 Spadina Ave
- Hard Luck – 772A Dundas St W
- The Garrison – 1197 Dundas St W
- The Rivoli – 334 Queen St W intersection
- Drake Underground – 1150 Queen St W
- Smiling Buddha – 961 College St
- Bovine Sex Club – 542 Queen St W
- Sneaky Dee’s – 431 College St
THE FOOD: Since NXNE is by-and-large hosted in the heart of Toronto, festival food recommendations generally need not apply, as the plethora of delicious food options normally available across our city’s diverse and multicultural palette will remain intact. Though, if you find yourself feeling famished while at the Yonge Dundas Stage, I would recommend travelling 5 minutes north on Yonge and taking a stab at Banh Mi Boys, just north of Gerrard on Yonge. There’s something about spicy Asian sandwiches that has captured the appetite of Toronto residents. And in keeping with the value and bang-for-your-buck theme of NXNE, Banh Mi is deliciously inexpensive.
I would imagine that the Port Lands festivities would have plenty of food vendors on site for attendees to choose from. But just in case, a quick Google search of ‘food near Port Lands Toronto’ has yielded some very interesting choices. Cherry Street Restaurant (275 Cherry St), for example, serves comfort foods from 7am-3pm in a 100-year old building that was once a bank. While The Keating Channel Pub (2 Villiers St) offers a pub food menu with a lakeside patio, and – if you’re up for hoofing it up to Queen St E in Leslieville, you could grab a legitimate Hogtown Sandwich at Rashers.
EXTRAS: NXNE has always been about more than just music, and that trend will continue this year with the addition of a video gaming component at the Yonge Dundas Square main stage while musical acts are vacated. NXNE claims that the video game component will be the ‘largest E-sports event ever in Canada’. I can’t say I’m super into video games, especially given my age (though do not cross me in Super Smash Bros Melee), but this could very well be a part of NXNE history, and would be at least worth a stop by, given the location’s proximity.
As done in past years, NXNE will continue to host their Interactive Conference on June 15 at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business (Bay & Dundas). The Interactive Conference will feature Nolan Bushnell of Atari as the keynote speaker, and will continue to focus on the application of technology in music, film and the arts. Furthermore, the comedy, art and film festival portions of NXNE will also return.
STANDOUTS: Father John Misty, Schoolboy Q, Dan Mangan, HIGHS, Born Ruffians, Cold Specks, MSTRKRFT
VERDICTS: Considered by us at Mighty Records to perhaps be the best bang-for-your-buck value festival in Toronto, with much more than just music on display, NXNE is the perfect opportunity to catch all the festival fun and atmosphere on a budget! With the new Port Lands location hosting a two-day mini festival-within-the-festival, on top of the regularly slated weeklong activities, NXNE offers the perfect opportunity to not only catch great live music only footsteps away from your door in virtually all the city’s downtown venues of merit, but also in the form of free music at Yonge Dundas Square, and even at a park-hosted, rural-feeling stage within Toronto’s Port Lands. What more could you ask for?