The top 5 venues to hit up during NXNE 2014
It's hard to know what venues to hit during NXNE's 10-day music and arts blitz, on now until June 22. The festival has grown to feature film, comedy, visual art and the "Interactive" technology conference, and now boasts (perhaps suspiciously loudly) an overwhelming and hefty roster of approximately 800 bands at roughly 50 venues across the city.
As NXNE has grown, so too has the difficulty of figuring out where to go and what to see once you have your pricey little wristband. There's now a pretty nice smartphone app, but the list is still daunting even with helpful preview posts (plug-plug-plug-sorta-plug). If the idea of live music on a TTC streetcar makes you preemptively woozy, here are the top five venues you should hit up this year to get the fullest NXNE experience possible.
This one's a no-brainer. Yonge-Dundas Square has become ground zero for the biggest NXNE acts, reliably attracting thousands to cram the busy intersection with the promise of top-billed talent. This year, catch indie darlings such as St. Vincent, Spoon, Sleigh Bells and Mac Demarco, as well as hip hop stars Juicy J, Danny Brown and Run the Jewels. Also... Swans. The sight-lines and sound may not be great, but it's totally free - no wristband required, although wristbands are supposed to grant you access to a new VIP section starting this year. Let's see how that goes. Check out our handy guide to not passing out from bad decisions at Y&DS here.
The Great Hall
This historic West Queen West theatre tends to fly a little under the radar during prime concert season, but it's a beautiful and unique space for live music; the Victorian design and high vaulted ceilings lend a sense of majesty to whatever's happening on stage. This year, they've booked a solid lineup consisting of NXNE's more innovative and experimental bunch: there's the Wavelength showcase with Tim Hecker and other electronic acts; comedic musicians like Reggie Watts and that pizza joke band or whatever, and atmospheric artists like Anamai and Stuka in the venue's more intimate Conversation Room. Just make sure to wear something light, as the hall has a reputation for overheating in the summer.
There's a certain charm to seeing bands in a little dive bar that you just won't get at bigger and fancier venues. Despite its unassuming presence, Smiling Buddha often surprises with enchanting and eclectic line ups. The lineup this week includes a hefty Buzz Records showcase and performances local noisemakers Greys, Mexican Slang and Dirty Frigs; Brian Borcherdt's side project Dusted; and Nice Head, a promising new group consisting of former Cursed and Burning Love members. If you want the ultimate music-nerd cred of catching a band play a small, sweaty bar before they hit it big, the Buddha is your top choice.
There's a lot to love about this Queen West institution - two live music rooms, memorable exterior murals and a communal vibe that genuinely bolsters local art in all its forms. Fans of roots, blues and folk can stop by pretty much any day of NXNE and find an act to fall in love with: grab a whiskey and drown your sorrows to the tunes of singer-songwriter Brad Fillatre, the somber folk of Yes We Mystic or the toe-tapping bluegrass of Pretty Archie. In-house label Cameron House Records also hosts a patio showcase June 21 out on the adjacent street headlined by hometown heroes Zeus.
It'd be a shame to finish out a major music festival without at least one visit to one of Toronto's most iconic venues. Lee's is hosting a handful of the most anticipated showcases this year with artists in a wide range of genres: the oddball R&B of Har Mar Superstar, Swedish fusion-rockers Goat, NYC rap crew Ratking, new-noise harbingers Metz and their Sub Pop labelmates Pissed Jeans, just to name a few. The multiple floor levels and seating at Lee's provides great views for all, even when packed to the gills - yet another reason it's a must for your NXNE itinerary.
Writing by Shazia Khan. Great Hall photo by Ivy Lovell.