Still pics on the way!
NXNE 2008: MUSIC FANS UNITE IN CANADA
by Sue Static
For the past fourteen years, the second week of June has seen music industry biz kids; aspiring bands and music fans make their yearly trek to Toronto for the North by Northeast Music & Film Festival and Conference. Canada’s answer to Austin’s venerable South by Southwest, NXNE also provides a music conference with music showcases and networking parties and an indie film festival. The festival has become a great place to check out new artists and films and also learn something in the process.
This year's festival was the best one yet and drew a record number of attendees and bands. I’ve been attending the festival since the second year of its existence and it has become an annual destination of mine. The showcases feature indie and veteran bands from across Canada, select cities in the U.S. and from around the globe. At NXNE one can see up and coming bands from around the world including Japan, London and Australia all in one weekend! This year even went beyond featuring bands from Israel and India! All styles of music from rock, punk, metal, rockabilly, worldbeat, electronic to singer-songwriters are represented at showcases around town. Detroit was represented this year by one of our top electronic artists; CARJACK; the hip hop posse the Platinum Pied Pipers, and Ann Arbor hip hop master Yoshi all showcased at the festival.
This year’s theme was “Music Takes Over” and featured the usual music industry conferences during the day with seminars on various topics such as management, touring, selling your music online and record deals along with a Demo Derby, where bands submit their demos for music industry critique. While most of the panelists are from the Canadian music industry and the topics have a definite Canadian music angle, there is still a lot of information that U.S. bands can find interesting and useful. The majority of the information is geared toward newbies in the business, but with all the new technology out there and the ever changing musical climate, even veterans of the business can take home an idea or two or be reaffirmed that they are on the right path.
Promotion is another good aspect of NXNE and business cards, flyers, magazines and demo CDs are tossed about the conference site hoping to get read and heard.
The happening outdoor festivities this year were centered at the NXNE Indie Music Market, an outdoor stage and marketplace in Downtown's Yonge-Dundas Square for bands to sell their merchandise outside of the festival. It featured live performances from many bands throughout the day and evening hours. New additions to the festival this year was outdoor stages located throughout the city and outside of town at the Pearson Airport where many bands played throughout the weekend.
One recurring highlight of the festival is the celebrity interviews. In previous years, guest interviews have included music icons such as John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and PIL fame and David Johansen from the New York Dolls. This year was no exception, with not one but four music icons taking the hot seat. These interviews featured electronic music pioneer- Thomas Dolby, The Stranglers’ frontman Hugh Cornwall, who also performed a musical set and screened his film “Blueprint” at the film festival. The Hip Hop scene was also represented by the legendary spinmaster Fab Five Freddy and Sheek Louch. The keynote speaker this year was longtime BBC broadcaster Bob Harris.
With so much music-related stuff to see and hear, there is never enough time to attend the film festival portion of the event that runs concurrent to the seminars and showcases. This year featured rock documentaries, indie music films and videos at downtown theaters. The films are as varied as the music program is and also gives much needed exposure to the filmmakers. The many various films this year included: “Global Metal”, a documentary on the metal scene around the world; “Agile, Mobile, Hostile”, a film about the notorious Andre Williams; and “Rolling Like A Stone”, a film of a party the Rolling Stones attended and probably don’t remember back in 1965 in Sweden.
Naturally, the main attraction of the festival is the musical performances and the many venues that hosted showcases over the weekend. Toronto is an ideal city for club hopping with its safe and reliable mass transit system - you can cab, subway, trolley or better yet, walk to many of the clubs. Some of the clubs are side-by-side or within a block of each other so you hardly ever miss the start of a show. The good news is almost all the sets start on time, the bad news is that the small venues are sometimes so packed you can’t get in, but rather than wasting time standing in line, you can find more music a short walk away. This year the showcases were extended at most clubs until 4 a.m.!
After attending so many years, I've got showcasing down to a science: You pick your target bands based on the guide's description, recommendations or familiarity - or in some instances, if they have a cool band name - and area of clubs and schedule each time slot. If you find a band isn’t worthy of staying, you just go on to the next nearby club because you just may stumble into something special.
Thursday night turned out to be the most happening night this year, starting off at the Big Bop music complex which houses three clubs in one; the Kathedral/Reverb/Holy Joes. While the metalheads lined up outside the Kathedral this night, I chose to go upstairs to Reverb where U.K. popstars Mad Staring Eyes had the crowd moving with their “mysterious” pop tunes. Their bandaged faces were reminiscent of the 70s’ Canadian punk legend Nash the Slash, but their sound was new wave pop rock. Holy Joe’s, the intimate room upstairs showcased STAND, a pleasant folk rock act from Dublin, Ireland. Back down to Reverb, the band Monotonix from Tel Aviv, Israel were raising quite a ruckus as they set up off the stage in the middle of the dance floor and preceded to drag audience members into their spectacle to be part of the show.
Over at the legendary Toronto venue El Mocambo, Kids in the Hall star Dave Foley introduced the Canadian band the New Odds (formerly the Odds of "It Falls Apart" semi-fame) from Vancouver. Meanwhile, upstairs, The Vestaloynes from Toronto were definite crowd pleasers with their refreshing sense of humor and marching band uniform style, playing music that sounded like a cross between The Animals and The Hives. We headed down the street to The Silver Dollar for the buzz band of the festival, Semi-Precious Weapons; these NY glam rockers put on a fine rock n’ roll spectacle. Finally, we stuck around for Toronto’s own hard rock act, Diemonds, who failed to capture our attention after witnessing the Weapons explosive set.
Friday night was hindered by some bad weather with on-again-off-again thunderstorms that made it rough for club-hopping. In this case, the Big Bop complex was the best bet for seeing as many bands in one place without having to go outside. Unfortunately, the weather made it unbearably hot to stay at Holy Joe’s. Caught the end of the set by Beth In Battle Mode from GET CITY before Detroit’s own Carjack hit the stage. Carjack's electronic robo-rock and outrageous antics had this eclectic artist not only taking over the stage but the entire room! At first the audience didn’t know what to expect but their curiosity overtook them and Lo-Fi Bri kept them captivated the entire set. The only thing missing from this performance were his robots that were left at home for border crossing reasons. Carjack definitely showed them a taste of what Detroit electro-rock is all about. Returning to down to the Silver Dollar for a late night set by The Hoa Hoa’s from Toronto and caught the tail end of hard rockers Bionic’s set at the El Mo before calling it a night.
On Saturday night, took a break from the musical activities to indulge in something completely different. NXNE was offering extras this year to festival goers. One of these extras was free entry into the musical “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Being a fan of the film and musicals made this a must see and it was quite an enjoyable excursion. Highly recommended for fans of the movie if you get a chance to see it - GO!
Back to the music action later that night with a showcase of Australian bands at the Rancho Relaxo that gave you a sample of the rockin’ world down under. Finally we ended the night with what we could see of the band called KAKKMADDAFAKKA from Norway that was rocking the packed house upstairs at Sneaky Dees. The streets were jumping with festival goers late into the night on Saturday with everyone trying to catch every last drop of NXNE. Caught the last TBA band at Silver Dollar who we didn’t get a name but it didn’t really matter as around that time we wouldn’t have remembered anyway!
While there are more music conferences and festivals than ever around the country and many feature the same program of music seminars and showcases, NXNE stands out among them. I’ve been to many of the others over the years, but this is the one that I keep eagerly going back to year-after-year knowing that odds are something exceptional may be discovered. If you are interested in taking a cool trip to a nice city, having a good time, seeing some cool music, doing some networking and perhaps learning a thing or two about the music business, then you should definitely check it out. If you are in a band or a rabid music fan, consider taking a trip to Canada for next year’s NXNE which is June 11-14, 2009. Music submission deadline is January 31, 2009 and registrations, which include all of the festivities, are taken until the festival begins. Showcase only wristbands are also available to purchase at locations throughout the weekend.
Check it out at www.NXNE.com