In a city with no shortage of music festivals, North by Northeast stands out as one of the scene’s elder statesmen. Entering its 23rd year, NXNE is building upon the changes made for its 2016 festival, doubling down on the Port Lands in Toronto’s east end as the home of the music festival stream and embracing the emergence of eSports as part of its gaming/tech component.
NXNE announced its first 10 artists on Tuesday, with headliners Passion Pit, Tyler the Creator, and Post Malone signalling a move to attract the city’s youth. The festival’s gaming component takes centre stage beginning June 16, with club shows set to begin June 19, and the Port Lands music stream is set to run June 23-25. There’s a theme of discovery in place for 2017, and NXNE is delivering an opportunity for Torontonians to find something new.
NXNE co-founder Michael Hollett spoke to Indie88 about changes in the works for 2017 and the task of finding balance between the event’s streams.
The festival set up camp at the Port Lands in 2016, and it will play host to much of the concert series once again. You can expect stage upgrades to be in place, as well as a renewed focus on entertainment this time around.
“We’re really going to embrace our lakeside setting,” Hollett told Indie88. “We love the new site, we love the location, we just want to make it more fun.
“We’re going to work on enhancing the experience there, we’re bringing in Midway rides… Doug Ford will be happy, we’re going to put a Ferris wheel, carnival games with cool prizes like band merch and tickets, things like that.”
If it appears that there’s a deliberate attempt to woo younger concert goers to the Port Lands, that’s because there is. In addition to the aforementioned headliners, the festival’s first wave of artists includes Bleachers, Sleigh Bells, Soul Rebels ft. Talib Kweli, Cold Specks, and Twin Peaks.
“We have a lot of festivals in Toronto, which is great,” said Hollett. “It has become a music tourism destination, but we all have to have our own unique flavour. We’re definitely going younger, I think we have a lot more hip-hop and soul than other festivals in Toronto and we’ve got fantastic indie rock, which I know your audience loves and so do I.”
There are no plans to abandon the festival’s club component either. In fact, there’s a renewed focus on integrating emerging artists via club shows curated by some yet-to-be-named notables of the Canadian music scene.
“People love the club crawl part of North by Northeast, we know that, it’s been part of our history for twenty years but you’ve got to keep re inventing it, keep it fresh,” Hollett said. “The whole way people experience new music has changed, obviously with social media. So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to have a wristband club series. That will be curated by leading Canadian musicians.
“We’ll get an artist to pick his or her favourite up and coming bands and we’ll have a night of that music. A very low priced wristband will you get into all these shows throughout North by Northeast. It’s a real return to our roots with a new twist.”
The rise of eSports has not been lost on the NXNE organizing committee. While 2016 saw competitive gaming added to the NXNE docket, this year’s Game Land stream is shaping up to be one of the largest eSports events in Canada. So if you’re a gamer that’s dreamed of playing Dota 2 or Heroes of the Storm on a giant screen in downtown Toronto, NXNE may provide you with that opportunity.
“We’re going all in now with competitive eSports,” Hollett told Indie88. “This will be the biggest free eSports outdoor event ever in Canada…we’re going to have professional gamers playing for big money prizes and amateurs will get a chance to play too. You think you like the flat screen in the basement, wait till you play on the giant screen in Dundas Square.”
It’s been a tough year for the Toronto music scene with the loss or impending loss of iconic venues like The Silver Dollar, Soybomb HQ, Hugh’s Room, and The Hoxton all closing or facing an uncertain future. It’s refreshing to see a local festival wade into the changing scene unafraid to try something different.
Of course, it’s all about finding a balance. Music, gaming, and tech are all connected in some way, and NXNE is throwing it all on the table for attendees to experience this June.
“I think what’s consistent with all of this is that there is a discovery element to North by Northeast, it’s fresh,” said Hollett.
“Whether it’s new ideas, new bands, new music, or even a new way to consume music. The Port Lands itself is a new venue. The Eastern part of Toronto is coming back to life and it’s a lot of exciting dynamic energy there and we’re tapping into that.”
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit www.nxne.com.