Who to see at NXNE?

What’s… en-ex-en-ee?”

Don’t feel bad, we’ve all asked that at some point. If you’ve spent an hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve inevitably wondered about these letters – NXNE – that are splattered all over subway stations, cafe bulletins and street posts. Maybe you’ve even mouthed them aloud to yourself quietly in confusion. And if you’ve spent an extra hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve most definitely heard someone rave about North By Northeast, the elongated form of the heavily marketed four letters – and the music festival that’s engulfed the whole city.

Whether or not you have a $50 week-long wristband or plan to wander into one of the free shows, there’s a large likelihood you’ll inadvertently be a part of the last weekend of this citywide music gathering at some point – mainly because it has lasted 7 days and is comprised of 780 bands and 40 films. It’s everywhere.

Beginning in 1994 as a parallel to Texas’ popular South by Southeast festival, NXNE plays out in over 50 Toronto venues that host a handful of bands each night from Canada, US and around the world. Yonge and Dundas Square, or “Canada’s Times Square” situated outside the Eaton Centre, becomes so much more than the flashy and crammed tourist piazza; it becomes the swaying, lighter-lit festival grounds offering free live music during a select few nights this week – right in the heart of downtown.

One thing I’ve noticed from speaking with a number of people is how overwhelmed, and lacking commitment (despite desire), most are when it comes to seeking out any one NXNE event. Unlike Ottawa’s Bluesfest (which I’ve attended religiously for a number of years) where you wander the grounds to find your favourite artists all within strolling distance – NXNE is dispersed across the popular venues of our lively Toronto metropolis. Now, after nearly four months in Toronto, I’ve come to the realization like so many Torontonians have before me – that nothing in this beautiful, mammoth city is really that far or hard to get to. You just have to have to commit. And despite not wanting to do that in many other areas of our young lives, I feel as if music line-ups like these are worth the commitment. So, get off your behind and check out some of the amazing (and affordable) live music brought to you by NXNE. Here’s (only a fraction of) the artists who are worth the wander this weekend:


PLANTS AND ANIMALS (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 8:30-9:20pm: I love this band; they always surprise me with their up-tempo blend of progressive rock that’s both hard-edged and romantic.  Trust that they know how to rock a big stage – they’ve been invited to open for Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells and The National in the past.

MATTHEW GOOD – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:30-11:00pm: Everyone’s favourite a**hole. Even if you don’t like him or wish he were nicer, you obviously get a little emotional at “Apparitions”. Grown men will weep in the Dundas Square lights – I can feel it.

ZULU WINTER – Lee’s Palace – 2:00am: Grab your late night snack and a seat at Lee’s for this up-and-coming UK band’s dreamy alt-rock show. You’ll most definitely save a few calories by ditching the late night diner snacks for BBC’s favourite new tunes at last call; they’re danceable, experimental and surprisingly caked in emotion.


THE FLAMING LIPS – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:00pm-11:00pm: Please go see one of the weirdest shows that contemporary psychedelic rock has to offer. You may get knocked with a gigantic inflatable ball or be blinded by confetti, but you’ll get to see “Do You Realize??” live – which makes most things of that nature worth it.

THE LUMINEERS – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 11:00pm: I’ve been raving about this band to anyone who will listen, so I’m happy to have another forum to do it. They are incredible. This Colorado crew of revivalist Americana folksters have that lovelorn voyageur’s songwriting knack that’s launched genre companions like Mumford and Sons and the Head and the Heart – and I can only hope that their debut album adventure will soon bring them back to Ontario with more stories and even more sets in tow.

MATT MAYS – Lee’s Palace – 11:30pm: All the way back to his days as lead singer of the east coast country ruffians The , right up until he was radio rocker Matt Mays and El Torpedo – this raspy Canadian staple has never failed to put on a good show. Check out the bad boy’s live set to hear that mainstay growl and some sweltering Canadian alt-rock classics.

 YOUNG EMPIRES – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 12:00am: This indie dance-rock band caught my attention about six months ago, and I’ve been following their likeable harmonies and bright keyboards since, feeling like they were on the cusp of mainstream national acclaim. Hearing their Friendly Fires and Cut Copy-reminiscent beats, watching the blogosphere fork them in and learning they’ve nabbed a midnight spot at The Horseshow during Saturday of NXNE? I’d say they’re on their way.

Now go listen! For more information and the full line-up, visit http://nxne.com.

*Images via 1,2


Canada, Sing One For Me.

A,B,C, it’s as easy as 1,2,3. My allegiance to the lengthy alphabet of Canadian artists is certainly no secret at this point – so join me in a leisurely stroll through only a few of the countless greats you’ll find coast to coast. If you’ve heard these names before but haven’t gone any further in the discovery process, I’ve outlined for you which hits and hidden gems are those worth looking into to get you started. God bless Canada for sounding so great.

AUSTRA: This Toronto space-pop group has hit me like a ton of bricks recently, leaving me stunned as lead Katie Stelmanis’s piercing new wave vocals (wo)man-handle the clang of the catchy industrial instrumentals. Must hear: “Lose It” or “The Choke

BLUE RODEO: Rock daddies, folk brothers and our equivolent of a musical golden retriever – every man and woman’s best friend. Almost three decades later with a slew of tour dates to boot, Blue Rodeo bring it home every show – reminding us what it feels like to be from Ontario. Must Hear: “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and “Lost Together

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: This longstanding Canadian collective has the hearts and minds of our nation in the bag, and has for quite some time. Whether it’s breathless indie-rock, instrument-heavy hits or atmospheric oddities – this “Scene” has been the breeding ground for some of the most successful Canadian acts to date. Must hear:All to All (Skeet Skeet remix)”, “Almost Crimes” or “Lover’s Spit

DRAGONETTE: Originally a Women&Songs solo favourite of mine back in ‘02, Martina Sorbara’s folk-acoustic career must have not done it for her – because she emerged as the lively lead of Dragonette, a four-piece electric-pop dance group that stirs up craftier melodies than any of Catherine’s Dance Mix ’95 tapes did. Must hear:I Get Around”, “Stupid Grin”, and “Easy” (below)

DRAKE: Drizzy, Aubrey Drake Graham, Jimmy Brooks, or international superstar; whatever you want to call him, the guy is undeniably colossal. He’s got his hand in every hip-hop royalty cookie jar on the planet, and despite maybe not having lived the hard-knock life his rhyming peers have – the 24 year-old airwave-hog waves his maple leaf proudly. Must Hear: Forever” or “Fancy

FEIST: The sweetest girl in town. Gorgeous flower-child and innovative songstress Leslie Feist actually arose out of Broken Social Scene, taking productions like Grey’s Anatomy and 500 Days of Summer by storm with her distinctive croons, genre-savvy concepts and likable melodies. Must Hear:Sealion”, “I Feel it All” and “Inside and Out

GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS: Lead singer Tony Dekker’s haunting howls and folk balladry are just one of a kind – in Canada and internationally. The combination of acrobatic yodels and earthy grassroots strums has tagged these guys as some of the most magical songwriters in the country, snatching the breath out of my chest every time I click play. Must hear:Still” and “Your Rocky Spine

JOEL PLASKETT: …tells it like it is. This honest alt-rocker, who has toured with and without The Emergency, writes what we want to know other people experience as well. His observations are bang-on, his messages are annunciated and crisp, and his rock equipment chars the stage beneath him. Like many of the others on this list, Plaskett is a classic, a favourite, and a fixture in our hearts. Must Hear: “Nowhere with You”, “Face of the Earth” and “Nothing More To Say” (below)

MATT MAYS: Strolling unexpectedly onto the music scene as part of the Halifax jangly-rock group The Guthries, Mays branched out on his own to pick up the pace a little as Matt Mays and El Torpedo. A killer set of pipes  that topple over laid-back ripping guitar have drawn huge comparisons to the likes of Tom Petty, especially after having worked with Don Smith before – who helped launch Petty and Keith Richards in their own scorching rock careers. Must hear: “Tall Trees” and “On The Hood

METRIC: Everyone likes a little Metric. Tough girl Emily Haines got her start in BSS before dragging female-fronted alt-rock up from underground and into the mainstream with her band Metric. Sparkling dresses, a blonde coif and her cheeky rasp certainly haven’t held this broad back from spitting hits, sassing strangers and helping put Canada’s leading ladies on the map. Must hear:Monster Hospital (Mstrkrft remix),Police and The Private” and “Sick Muse

NEIL YOUNG: The man who’s laid the foundation for all rootsy-rockers, the king of the squealing harmonica, the visionary, and the godfather of all country-rock – enough said. Must hear:Harvest Moon” and “Heart of Gold

PATRICK WATSON: (Sigh) Oh, Patrick. This former Polaris Prize winner, in the words of Janis Joplin, always manages to take another little piece of my heart. Watson has the country’s most calming voice, which has landed him countless gigs on television show soundtracks, sold out shows on the global stage and creative projects with acts like the Cinematic Orchestra. Penning many of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard, his progressive pop will command my attention for years to come. Must hear:The Great Escape”, “Sit Down Beside Me“, “Luscious Life” and “To Build A Home” (below)

 STARS:  This group deserves a nod most definitely because they nursed me into my appreciation of Canadian songs; guiding me through the scene with whimsical indie-rock albums like Set Yourself On Fire and In Our Bedroom After The War. Lyrics like, “live through this and you won’t look back” still walk me through the motions of life – and bring me back to nights spent swaying to their booming concert encores. Must hear: One More Night”, “Tonight” or “Your Ex-lover is Dead

TEGAN AND SARA: Born only minutes apart, these West Coast twins have equal amounts of kick. Both hard-hitting and exposed at times, they’re another act that’s also cannon-balled to make an international girl-rock splash. Something similar to what we heard during our recess antics applies to this T&S – they’re not just good for two girls. They’re good for anybody. Must hear: You Wouldn’t Like Me” or “Fix You Up

THE TRAGICALLY HIP: Kingston, represent! I can’t help but be biased in describing my hometown favourites. Despite adoring them because they always wave back when sitting next to you at a tiny coffee shop in the Limestone City, it’s more of the fact that I can’t get enough of their original and timeless Canuck rock. To this day they know how to deliver, and it’s got to be a good sign the number of times I’ve heard of concert attendees making the trip yet again – “just because it’s The Hip.” Must hear: Bobcaygeon”, “Blow at High Dough” and “Long Time Running”. Want to see one of the best performances of all time? See below.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: 15 years after their inception, this AC Newman-lead Canadian power-group has become one of the most renowned music conglomerates in the country. A microphone-commanding combination of singer-songwriter Neko Case and Newman, this band’s soaring instruments and hearty vocals landed their album Mass Romantic at spot 24 on Blender Magazines’s best indie albums of all-time. Must hear: The Bleeding Heart Show”, “Use It” or “Challengers

Spark the BBQ, sport your red and white with pride, and make a playlist of these tunes – you’ll feel closer to your nation after the first tune. Happy listening!