We’ve been out and about a lot during the past month at various events, including traveling away from our regular East Coast arena of the U.S. and heading up top to Canada for the annual North by Northeast (NXNE) Festival in Toronto, Ontario.
Held from June 13 – 22, 2014, NXNE brought out a ton of awesome international independent & mainstream musical, art, comedy and cinematic talent along with having strong Interactive portion of panels & presentations throughout their 20th anniversary celebratory event.
North by Northeast can best be compared to is South by Southwest (SXSW)…but it’s without the extremely high registration fees (seriously…there are more than enough options to be able to attend NXNE depending on your interest for not too much at all cash wise to FREE), the sometimes stifling amount of folks who give care more about being seen where the “popular kids” are rather than the entertainment on deck & hotels in the downtown area that tend to be affordable and of decent to high quality near a lot of the event venues.
After about 10+ hour ride on the Megabus (which has pretty much become our unofficial official ride back and forth to NXNE) from Washington, DC and resting up a bit, it was basically a non-stop run of hitting up cool concerts, art events, comedy shows and performing…with a lot of good going down and a few notes of things that can be improved.
Here are some random observations folks made during this year’s (the 3rd we attended) North by Northeast adventures along with some pictures and video for folks to check out...enjoy! - DJ Fusion/FuseBox Radio Broadcast
The BIG things about North by Northeast that makes it awesome +worth the travel, money & time to attend:
1. NXNE has a pattern of actually achieving a nice balance of independent music acts and more known mainstream/on the cusp of mainstream fame talent throughout the 10 days of action
Between various indie music blog favorites (Danny Brown, Omar Suleyman, Kelela, tUnE-yArDs, Brown Bag All-Stars, Run The Jewels, Le1f, Lizzo, etc.), past & present Billboard chart toppers of mainstream love (Juicy J, A$AP Ferg, Sleigh Bells, Pusha T, El Da Sensei, etc.) & “I never heard of you/have only briefly ran into your tunes online/in person, but DAMN SON/MA'AM, you got skills” (Fort Bowie, Ark The God Given MC, Brer Rabbit, the Oooh Baby Gimmie Mores, Black Alley, Ratking, Astro and 1000s of other music artists of plenty o' genres) performing all over downtown Toronto throughout the week, it's hard to NOT find something cool to peep on the entertainment end that suits your tastes.
2. NXNE is a HUGE, HUGE event, but in its own way, tends to have more of an intimate feel than big and impersonal vibe.
From “secret shows” to previously scheduled performances at multiple locations – held in lounges, clubs, bars & stores as well as the gigantic Yonge-Dundas Square venue (essentially the Times Square of the area where ALL of the shows held were FREE FOR EVERYONE - not just NXNE badge holders) – having friendly and helpful staff to assist with registration (one of the smoothest check-ins I have EVER had at an event to pick up badges, wristbands, etc. for press and as a performer), directions, suggestions of other events to roll out to & where to eat (which is super helpful when you’re starving after being out for over 12 hours and are ravenous for decent and not pricey eats after 2 in the morning) made things pretty easy.
Their website & phone app are also once again went above and beyond helpful in trying to figure out not just where to go to each day with all of the events and to keep track of your planned schedule.
Also, a vast majority of NXNE attendees we encountered seem to be at the various events simply for a good time checking out whatever was going down & gave events a relaxed vibe – there weren’t too many stereotypical festival “too cool for school” snob types around (a few pockets of said sort were at the Yonge-Dundas Square [YDS] Hip-Hop show and some secret shows, but they were the exception than the rule).
3. Toronto is just cool PERIOD & is highly slept on (at least in our corner of the States) for tourist business and culture.
Public transportation around downtown Toronto (excluding cabs) is decently priced, clean, runs often and is easy to use, which is nice in a major city.
There’s a ton of stereotypical tourist type things one can do in the city as well as simply just walking around to discover interesting nooks and areas of the city (including Kensington Market, the Univ. of Toronto area, the Harbor and more).
A few mini-tweaks North by Northeast can it make to go from awesome to SUPER AWESOME from observing some things:
Throughout the years as a fan and in the mix of events, I can definitely understand that anything that can go wrong will at the last minute before a show is going to go down. Some venues this year had professional sound people on deck (either that were already officially with the venue &/or via NXNE) and some did not.
Sometimes, this caused issues with how various music and comedy events flowed. While not extremely disruptive, a competent sound person can make a good event fantastic and make artists who traveled from all ponits of the globe to perform for sets which ranged from anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes long feel comfortable and just concentrate on performing at their best.
If there’s any way at all that music artists performing at North by Northeast can get a list of registered press to contact about their showcases before the event (perhaps via the NXNE PR), it will help them out a lot in terms of at least getting their names out there for media coverage.
This year had Uber and some other transportation folks give discount to NXNE attendees – if there was a way to get a week long pass via the public transportation system of Toronto in advance (or even if one arrives) to folks coming into town, it would be extremely helpful to folks new to the town and beneficial to promoting the pretty sweet local travel system.