Joe’s NXNE

danny brown

Standing in the Budweiser VIP area, a stone’s throw away from a Red Bull drinking lounge and opposite of an assortment of MIO water bars, I begin my first NXNE on a Thursday night pondering all of the chatter that had been building since well before the festival’s kick-off a week ago. Yonge & Dundas Square, the center of Toronto as well as NXNE, is no stranger to in-your-face advertising; Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have the best seats in the house, permanently stone-faced with gold guns in tow, looming over the festivalgoers and city dwellers on the streets below. Their billboard (promoting a movie that had just came out a week prior) is one of the more permanent mainstays in the city square and it shares the skyline with an assortment of ever changing television screens. Later in the week, a gentleman holding a free beer provided by that same VIP lounge remarks to me that St. Vincent is something of a hypocrite, as she headlines the stage with her signature “weird” theatrics and encourages the audience to embrace the same independent spirit, all while her performance is encased in a camera advertisement on the screens above her. NXNE is very evidently in a state of flux, much earlier in an evolutionary process than its seemingly more cynical cousin SXSW (which has long grown past these over-branding baby steps). You can still see the proudly weird personality this festival strives to bring out of Toronto shine through the increasing corporate glut, however – it all just depends on where you look.

Thursday, when I’m not glancing at the selfies sponsored by Mio towering above the VIP area where I’m being offered free (i.e. ugly) t-shirts, my eyes are trained on the man at center stage, who is very literally standing in a town square giving a passionate sermon about the virtues of oral sex to an excited audience of thousands. This is something I would never see in my hometown of Detroit, where the rapper who is currently holding court (Danny Brown) is also from. Back home, Brown plays festivals too, but they’re behind metal barriers that often have something like a doubly exclusive and foreign “Mad Decent Block Party” banner hanging over them. At Yonge & Dundas Square, however, where absolutely anyone can suddenly find themselves walking into the middle of Brown’s high energy X-rated party set, I’m greeted by the sight of a truly open experience that only NXNE can offer. The giant billboards melt away and the more uniquely human occurrences appear more sharply – the sight of three, four, five, and then six skateboards being waved in the air at once throughout Brown’s show is both perfectly appropriate and acutely odd when coming from a city where people wouldn’t even be able to ride a skateboard to a set like this, much less take them into the crowd.

Also unusual for a first timer is how tightly knit the festival’s circuit of showplaces are. Once Brown ceded the YDS stage, it was only a few block walk before I arrived at the revered Massey Hall. It’s Massey’s first time participating in NXNE and it certainly stood apart from the city’s other heavily branded settings. With much of the cloying advertisements and overpriced beer gardens relegated to the basement, the 120-year-old Hall held a dignity that went largely untarnished throughout the fest. If any issues arose at all, they stemmed from attendees who were far too excited to be there. My time there began with a ripping set by tUnE-yArDs Thursday night that caused the audience to get up from their comfortably reclined seats, and concluded the following Saturday with a sensual and surprisingly raucous Rhye show that featured an extra player in the audience with far too little reverence in Massey’s presence and one too many hands built for awkwardly clapping along. Otherwise, NXNE audiences kept themselves in check, especially during an intimate and fun Kelela show Saturday where even she felt compelled to note that the (mostly) Canadian crowd “knew when to keep quiet at all the right times”.

On Friday night, I’m hoping the right time was approximately 11 PM, around when Speedy Ortiz took the stage at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Drinking in an artificial pine forest built in a parking lot just west of the city’s center earlier in the day can have that effect, but the packed house wasn’t about to let me nod off quietly during the Boston crew’s energizing set. The last time I had seen Speedy Ortiz, they were playing for free in the restaurant below a White Lung show in downtown Detroit early last year, and of the young bands that played on Friday night, they had showed the most promising growth in the time since. Swearin’, a comparable group that followed Speedy Ortiz, performed material that seemed to lean heavier on their assured debut than their more rushed follow-up album and the show benefitted from it.

Then came the headliner (non-Secret Guest category), Perfect Pussy. If you weren’t overhearing people worry about the increased branding of NXNE this week, you were overhearing an (often dismissive) opinion on Perfect Pussy. The hardcore band’s fast and furious debut album still confounds outsiders of the hardcore scene months after release and Perfect Pussy’s sets don’t provide the answers jaded people are looking for either. Much like the hype that preceded them, their show was overwhelming without ever coming down on an easy perspective for everyone to take – their Silver Dollar Room set months earlier was hobbled by a poor sound system, and this show ended in the bass player shattering his instrument in a frustration that didn’t quite register amid the torrent of noise raining down moments prior. The crowd at the front ate the spectacle up, hoisting the broken equipment while the last two members of Perfect Pussy, Meredith Graves and Shaun Sutkus, played out the remainder of the set to decelerating ambient noise and buried screams. The crowd in the back however, remained distant and unaffected by the theatrics. Perfect Pussy played a number of shows throughout NXNE that ended on much better terms sonically, but at this point in their career it would take a lot more than overcoming broken instruments or poor sound systems for people to find a true north in terms of crowd reaction to their sets.

If the opinion on Perfect Pussy played like a reaction to tuning to a much hyped pilot episode of a TV show that is decidedly “not for everyone” out of the gate, then the reaction to Future Islands (Saturday, at the Red Bull soaked Tattoo Bar) played like folks turning into the assured third season premiere of that same show, hopelessly lost. In the wake of their Letterman performance, Future Islands was able to pack Tattoo twice over, literally winding a line to get in up the block that could have just as easily filled the club on their own. Future Islands jumpstarted the crowd early by playing the song everyone came for (“Seasons (Waiting on You)”) second in their set, subverting expectations while setting the mood for a run of heavy numbers that followed. Their show was as high energy as promised, but a large gulf separated the bodies shuffling off key to Future Islands oldies and the headlining set (Surprise Guest edition) Spoon played at the Shoe the night prior. Tired and cranky as some in the crowd were, once Spoon hit the stage at 2 AM they may as well have been playing to a room of sugar high teenagers. Even when everyone knew the notes to a decade old song, the band took it in a thrilling new direction and the folks who stayed out late were more than game to play along. Future Islands presented thrillingly genuine Drama Club showmanship that could pack any house that weekend, but Spoon truly had the hits that afforded them an attentive audience among the best of the whole festival.

In between these two packed houses was a much more turned down affair – Hollywood (Florida)’s Beach Day played St. James Park on Saturday afternoon, a short walk from the Anthony Bourdain-famous St. Lawrence Market. It was the ideal setting for any band, but their easy going tunes shined brightest from the modest church gazebo under the afternoon sun. Barren of any advertising glop or hyped overcrowding, Beach Day played a no-pressure set that most musicians would kill to have even once in a blue moon. Their show certainly relaxed anyone who happened upon it, even if the music itself never reached the ambitious heights of the headliners playing closer to the downtown core.

That easy-going vibe could be felt in many of the side shows across the city too. I closed out my NXNE similar to how I began, amid merchandise for sale and beer for free. There were smaller, casual differences to note however, least of which being that the beer was French this time. The walls of Sonic Boom Sunday afternoon were far less coated with obnoxious advertising than the stages at Yonge & Dundas Square, and while this small show (put on by music news site Chart Attack) wasn’t nearly as packed with patrons, it certainly deserved to be. The sets by the nervy Weaves, electrifying Courtney Barnett and astute Army Girls were worthy of anyone’s attention, each act brandishing an instantly identifiable personality that ought to be packing houses, clubs, and halls much higher up on the bill in no time. It’s here that any first timer can feel the spirit of NXNE shine – the bigger acts and even bigger corporations may swallow this festival whole one day in the future, but as long as modest morsels like these don’t get brushed off the table, NXNE will remain a true treat for any newcomer and a real source of pride for every Torontonian.

Melody’s NXNE


[Just to clarify, that photo above was taken on the last day of NXNE when I decided to celebrate with a fried chicken dinner on a rooftop because if you had gone out that many nights in a row, you'd need some fried goodness to congratulate yourself for that many hours of human interaction too. So yes, I swear I saw bands -- more on that below!]

North By Northeast is my favourite time of the year (suck it, Christmas): free BBQs, constantly running into the best of friends and of course the incredible music.

This festival takes you through so many emotions and feelings, as I’m sure human interaction does to one person. Again, did I mention I spend most of my nights eating dinner alone in bed and watching Food Network re-runs? But with every performance, you can leave feeling a different way. That, or my hormones are completely fucked.

Anyway, I will now illustrate my NXNE experience the only way I know how to: through the power of GIFs.

Weaves @ Massey Hall
I had described Weaves’ set, opening for tUnE-yArDs, at Massey Hall as a giant beast tumbling through the elegant, historic theatre space, but I meant that as the biggest of compliments. The band’s sound is clearly so big and, for lack of a better word, so strange, that there’s a bit of oddness to seeing them in such a pristine venue, but when they laid into their songs, they boomed through the space like a monster and as an acquaintance of the Toronto band, I must say I was mighty proud of them.

giphy (4)

tUnE-yArDs @ Massey Hall
One big, massive percussion dance party, which are the best kinds of dance parties. One of the best shows I caught at NXNE.

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St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square
Seeing St. Vincent is more or less a religious experience wherein Annie Clark performs a sermon of guitar hero proportions. When she stands atop of flight of stairs and stomps down on the beat of “Cheerleader,” you almost feel your knees buckling down. Bow down to the church of St. Vincent!

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Spoon @ Horseshoe
I totally thought I was going to be forced to see Spoon play the claustrophobic Yonge-Dundas Square, but instead, I got to see my ultimate white-guy-indie-rock* crush Spoon play the equally claustrophobic Horseshoe Tavern on the night of my birthday. NXNE, the festival that gives the best birthday gifts ever. (* It’s just the truth. Plus, it’s one of my favourite genres.)

giphy (5)

Beach Day @ St. James Park
A park is almost like a beach, right?


Future Islands @ Tattoo
Duh, this is the only GIF to describe the show.


Kristian’s NXNE

future islands nxne kristian pedersen

Team Static Zine got to cover NXNE 2014! Check out what our team members got up to during the festival. Here’s Kristian’s experience.

After North By Northeast you’ve undoubtedly seen your fair share of concerts, and if you’re anything like us you’re struggling to decide on your favourite. Kristian put together this test to determine your spirit BANDimal.

Which NXNE band are you?

Jessica’s NXNE 2014

Team Static Zine got to cover NXNE 2014! Check out what our team members got up to during the festival. First off, we have Jessica’s experience. 

Weaves, Tobacco and tUnE-yArDs at Massey

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weaves nxne


tuneyards nxne

tuneyards nxne

St. Vincent at Yonge & Dundas Square, Courtney Barnett at Silver

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courtney barnett nxne


SATURDAY Luisa Omelian & Simon Amstell at the Great Hall, Courtney Barnett at the Silver Dollar


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static zine nxne

luisa omelian nxne

simon amstell nxne

courtney barnett nxne

Static does NXNE: 2013

Though we did not put out a NXNE-themed issue this year, we still took part in their festivities! Here’s editor Jessica’s 2013 festival experience.

While my co-editors were off enjoying more of the fest for other publications (grrr), I still got to see a good handful of interesting acts. I also was able to bring Static to the week in a couple ways!

Throughout the week, we dropped off Issue 7 zines around the central-west end of the city. Did anybody grab one? What do you think?

Anyways, the music!

On Thursday, I went to the May Cafe for the groovy electronic rock band Mesa Mesa (disclosure: a member of the band is a Static contributor / also in a relationship with me). It was upsetting to see that there was no sound tech working there that night, so they had some difficulties at first. But they regained their stride once it was fixed. What’s interesting after seeing them a bunch of times now, is that each time the songs are somewhat different. The band is constantly figuring out new ways to express themselves and get their work out in new ways, so you never really know what it’s going to be like.

weaves nxne


On Friday, I headed to the BLK BOX first for Weaves. I’ve been interested in checking them out since Rattail is no longer, and Jasmyn Burke is a really cool singer. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole set because they went on a tad late, but the 15 or so minutes I did get to see, I was into. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, I was expecting something a bit funkier for some reason, but I sure was drawn in to the wails of Burke and the guitars.

buke and gase nxne

Buke & Gase

Then I headed over to the Horseshoe for Buke and Gase, one of my newest favourite bands. I love them more and more with each listen. From their really smart lyrics to their DIY instruments to their matching names (Aron and Arone) to their lovable demeanour, I’m pretty smitten. They are still touring this year’s General Dome, an excellent album that will be high on my year-end list. They seemed to have a few sound difficulties setting up and throughout, but they took it like quiet champs. Their music is perfect for when you’re feeling like you’re on an anxiety battleground (and I sure did after trying to bike through the city since it was also Taste of Little Italy aka traffic ridiculousness on a Friday night), letting out those hesitant demons into really satisfying squeals.

why nxne


After they finished, I got stuck while up at the front since it felt like a hoard of people swarmed for the next band, WHY?. I’ve heard the name around for years, and really enjoyed Josiah Wolf’s side project a few years ago, so I decided to stay. From the few songs I have heard, I thought it would be entirely hip-hop, but I was wrong. It was more sing-a-long type hop rock with some rapping here and there. They clearly have a huge fanbase, people were going nuts! It was enjoyable enough but I obviously would have liked it more if I knew their music.

luyas nxne

what i could not barely see of the luyas

From there, I headed over to Sneaky Dee’s for The Luyas. I wasn’t optimistic on getting in after last year’s ‘let’s make everyone wait outside in weird lines for over and hour and then they’ll get inside and realize it’s empty’ stunt, but somehow I got in right away and it was pretty packed up there. I keep meaning to check out the Luyas more than the occasional listen, and know I like their sound, so I was glad to at least be there even though I couldn’t see them at all from where I was standing. They’ve got a really interesting sound that’s tailored around the singer’s dreamy high voice and from what I heard, the set was really good. I definitely want to check them out at a proper show the next time they’re here.

static zine nxne 2013

we accidentally left this there.wooops.

static zine nxne 2013

aviva doodling at our table

static zine nxne 2013

view from the table of the indie label market

On Saturday, co-editor Aviva and I tabled for Static Zine at NXNE and Broken Pencil’s small press fair on the Ryerson campus. It was weird returning to my alma mater (I’m still jealous they got to close Gould Street and got all the better food options and a Balzac’s after I graduated). It was a beautiful day and we were sitting with wonderful zine compatriots from the Toronto Zine Library, Clapboard House, The Continuist, Paper Pusher, Papirmasse, Little Brother, Koyama Press and more. We were across from the Indie Label Market, so we were graced to watch Kevin Drew signing records all afternoon. It was a fun experience but maybe not in the best location, so there weren’t a lot of people there. We did get a good number of names on our mailing list (hi, new people! thank you!) though. Looking forward to what can be done with this next year. We were happy to be involved and get out Issue 7 more!

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everyone sitting on the great hall floor waiting for Villagers

Villagers nxne


At night, I headed over to the Great Hall for Brazos and Villagers. During Brazos, people began sitting on the floor. It was Saturday, the end of the fest, so fuck it. Brazos are really good – pretty music from Brooklyn, so we all sat there in a nice daze. I do kind of have an inkling they’ll get really big with some sort of commercial jingle soon and then they’ll be all over the place and I can’t stand to hear the song anymore, though. Anyways, enjoyable! Unfortunately, right after their set, someone walked right out of the venue with their vintage bass. It does seem quite easy that someone could do that, especially if they have an artist NXNE badge around their neck. More security needed for sure! So because of this, apparently everyone was looking for the bass, which made Ireland’s Villagers start their set at 12:30 instead of 12. We all thought they would only be able to play for a few minutes in the allotted schedule, but they went ahead with their planned set and I’m so glad. It was beautiful, heart-felt and fun. It’s too bad we couldn’t see what would have been a full set since they’re touring for this year’s {Awayland}, but it was still a great taste of their show.

issue 7 launch

cupcakes on cupcakes

pat lepoidevin

Pat LePoidevin

Sarah Pinder

Sarah Pinder

Patti Cake

Patti Cake

Jessica Westhead

Jessica Westhead

Misha Bower

Misha Bower



On Sunday, we had our launch party! Unfortunately, we were scared off by morning rain and dooming forecasts, so we moved the party to The Central, who were very lovely and helpful. (Of course, it ended up being beautiful outside all day, sorry everyone. We learned our lesson.) Pat LePoidevin, Patti Cake and EONS performed wonderful music and Sarah Pinder, Jessica Westhead and Misha Bower read interesting and entertaining stories. We had cupcakes and free zines and lots of great people celebrating with us, so thank you to whoever came!

A lot of bands I mentioned are on the Issue 7 mixtape – so go give’r a download and check them out!