The true music lover lives with a tune in their head day in and day out, connecting with a certain rhythm that inspires, usually by means of core favourites. Any music lover knows the thrill of discovering a new favourite; instantly understanding ourselves better and opening our world to the possibility of more.
As a music lover, I could not have been more enlightened by my experience at North by Northeast (NXNE) this past week in Toronto, ON, and how much more possibility was just at my fingertips. New to this year’s edition, the music festival began with a sold-out interactive conference, NXNEi, which yielded great insight into the diversity of the event. For three days, representatives from musical, social, business and entrepreneurial fields gathered, offering their minds to better prepare participants for the new social and online mediums they must now navigate to achieve success.
From Scott Belsky, breaking down the action method to turn creativity into productive business, to a panel consisting of Amber MacArthur, Alan Cross and Erica Ehm discussing the architecture of online communities, there were experts abound with engaging opinions. Even speakers like Boston University professor Patrick Haney or Youtube channel phenom Rafe Malach from “Friends of Rafe” contributed to the on-going discussion that supported businesses both big and small as well as the individual artist attempting to make a broader impact.
As well as giving individuals the tools to succeed, NXNE immediately provided a whole host of artists with a forum to extend their influence and broadcast to an eager Toronto public. Operating in 42 venues across town to showcase more than 650 bands, each band could assume a voice to represent themselves. Where many festivals would focus on a specific genre of music or the popularity of their acts, Toronto opened its doors to bands of all levels, from all around the world, perfecting an experience for the music lover.
As a foreground to the events that were happening around town, a huge free stage was set up at Yonge and Dundas Square to advertise the quality of music that was in town this week. You could begin the evening early by catching an act such as Toronto native k-os, who paired up with Saukrates, and follow him with loveable Canadian icons Sloan who were so into the crowd they didn’t want to have to wait to go live to start playing. The Raveonettes hit the stage the next night to open for the legendary Iggy and the Stooges who, in the words of Jack Black, “melted faces” with their sheer rock and attitude. The main intersection of Canada’s biggest city accommodated an estimated 25,000 for the biggest free rock concert in Toronto in 40 years. The square was so packed for the weathered and topless blond icon that people were sitting atop street signs and alley garbage cans to catch a glimpse, while several mosh pits throughout the crowd accented the cultured mix of rockers both young and old. Iggy unleashed a heaving mass of rioters with the simple words “I’m lonely up here. I need some Canadians who go crazy. Don’t worry about the security guards, they’re cool.” They were not, in fact, that cool, and there was more than one unlucky crazy Canuck who didn’t make it to the stage, though the effort was not lacking as limbs flailed much akin to Iggy’s dance style. Sunday evening closed out with a completely different vibe with Kid Sister and De La Soul lending their beats to the Toronto street, but this diversity would only entice more people to come out and enjoy. “This is not a hip-hop show right now, this is a soul concert. Let your soul hang out!” rang the words accompanying a De La Soul cover of James Brown.
The energy of these huge acts was matched, if not exceeded, at any number of venues where I would retreat to catch my next new favourite artist. Wavves, rockers from San Diego, fell into that category as they rocked Lee’s Palace one evening with self-made alien props spewing fog. Japandroids also captured attention with a spectacular high energy show. The pit was humming for these Vancouver natives, who finished with well deserved handshakes from the crowd. They would make way for Thee Oh Sees across town at the Bovine Sex Club to swallow the mic and let loose their musical fury on a packed house. Frontman John Dwyer would literally inhale the mic on occasion as he played with amps to create an even more psychedelic, hyphy sound.
Established names finding new musical tastes, letting way to new talent was the unofficial eb and flow of the festival, caressing the music you know and then showing you how to love in a whole new way with any number of new artists. With bands from just about anywhere, such as The Gin Riots from London, England, We are Enfant Terrible from Paris, France, or Violent Soho from Brisbane, Australia, the music was as diverse as the selection of artists from around the world. Even with the enormity of well-known bands present, you could still stroll into a park and catch an act such as The Sheepdogs from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan doing a set in a tree, audience sprawled out around them in the grass.
To further drive home the artistic influence, the festival also featured roughly 40 films that took place in and around the music. A collection of documentaries, featuring mainly content about musicians or stories connected to them – including This Movie is Broken, a story set around Broken Social Scene – there was certainly lots to experience during the daytime as well.
I am certainly the first one to rush out and find a ticket to my favourite artist, to soak in their impact live. However, I was presented with a chance to extend my boundaries in Toronto at the NXNE festival. Young acts littering the city from any number of genres would yield numerous bands to add to my core. Not only could I experience the music, the festival also gave me a chance to learn about the industry, talk with bands and businesses alike and find a new understanding in all the music I hold close. When you attend next year, expect nothing and plan only to wear comfortable shoes, letting the festival take you where it will and teach you everything you thought you already knew about music.