Toronto’s North by Northeast (NXNE) festival showcases music, film, comedy and tech throughout the city. T-Town is one of the most congested traffic cities in North America, so I advise saving your cab money for public transportation. I tried rollerblading this year and that was a bad idea, especially at 4 a.m.
Wristbands for the festival are affordable and totally worth it. There’s a chance you won’t get in to some of the bigger shows but there’s always something happening down the block. There are plenty of free daytime shows at venues like Dundas Square, Toronto’s version of Times Square. Dundas featured top notch headliners like Danny Brown, St. Vincent and Spoon. In reality, you don’t need a pass/wristband to have a blast at NXNE.
LOVE the food, but stay away from the street meat, even though it’s tempting. This year, my fav food spots were the Golden Turtle, Bang Me Boys and Hooker Harveys. I also avoided water during the course of the festival in order to reserve space for cold local brew.
Thursday & Friday highlights
I missed the boat for the Vice Island party, which served an all you can drink buffet on an Island in the middle of Lake Ontario, with acts like A$AP Ferg, Future Islands, Omar Souleyman and Pusha T performing on scattered stages throughout the island.
Later, at 2 a.m., I was a judge alongside Mac DeMarco for Jonathan Toubin‘s Soul Clap and Dance Off Competition. I personally don’t remember anything but I was told I disappeared after the first round.
Friday’s M for 159 Manning was one of the most unique events I’ve ever attended. This ultimate DIY BOYB BBQ house party, with 13 bands and five DJs on three stages, has been going strong for five years. But this was an M for Montreal copresentation and its first official affiliation with NXNE, curated by Broken Social Scene’s drummer Justin Peroff and 159 Manning house owner Tim McCready. One stage was located in Tim’s living room, which resembled an old bookstore, and a second stage was set up in a dark basement with a low ceiling that reminded me of a scene out of The Goonies. The main stage was an Austin-style homemade backyard job.
Light Fires aka the Queen of Toronto is Reggie of Gentleman Reg, in sparkling drag. He or she might make you question your sexuality.
I fell in love with Toronto’s Allie at an intimate performance for roughly 20 people in Tim’s living room. She gave us a taste of the future and that future shall be bright. Heart pounding beats topped with soulful R&B. I’d love to get a silkscreen of her gem of face for my pillow someday.
San Jose’s Xiu Xiu performed a controversial 30-minute set that consisted entirely of one droning noise with zero motion, but big emotions. Some people were disappointed and laughed at him while others were raising their eyebrows in awe waiting for any slight change in the layers of white noise. I personally got zoned in and had the best rest of the week. It pretty much charged my internal battery for the rest of the festival.
Montréal’s Canailles was the token franco band on the bill but this didn’t stop the crowd from going nuts. Most attendees had no idea who they were but let’s just say the bottle pounding started and the liquor seemed to kick in simultaneously across the sold-out party. I’ve seen ’em plenty in the past but they must have started juicing cause this Quebecois folk band got heavy and surprisingly psychedelic.
Lastly…. Before Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, there was KC Accidental. KC made their first appearance in over a decade and this was a special moment. The instrumental collective is led by Toronto darling Kevin Drew of BSS and Charles of Do Make Say Think, with Dave Hamelin of the Stills joining them on keyboards. This performance was a highlight of my so-called career, and I suspect that everyone who was in that backyard will cherish that magical sunset. ■
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!
See all of Mikey’s festival reports here.