NXNE 2014

The top 25 bands to catch at NXNE 2014

The top bands to catch at NXNE will be in Toronto between June 18-22, though Toronto's largest music festival's actual music portion begins Saturday, June 14. If you haven't checked out NXNE's schedulizer yet, it's worth a look - maybe your deep black heart didn't know Swans were playing Yonge -Dundas Square for free (they are, and we're about to tell you all about it), or that your favourite little band from [insert indie blog here] is on the festival line up (get digging, digger). From late night dance parties to Vice Island to The Horseshoe, 2014's line up is more stacked and diverse than previous years.

Yonge and Dundas Square, where all performances are free (June 19-22), will see the majesty of St. Vincent's art pop, the pomp of Juicy J's hip hop, and the high-energy whatever of Sleigh Bells, plus acts from further abroad like Omar Souleyman and Golden Teacher. Before you hit the shows, check out our guide to staying sane at Y&DS - the advice is from from last year, but the wisdom remains solid.

It's not all good programming - the worst band playing NXNE is playing it four times - but there's also plenty to see on the Island (official and not), a lovely set of shows at Massey Hall, a decent sampling of folk and roots acts for those who like their music less hype-oriented, and the usual additions of NXNE's Comedy, Film, Interactive, and Art portions. Tickets can be purchased individually or music wristbands can be bought for $149. If you want to see a band that's playing late, you're probably going to have to show up early, so check out full lineups via this page to see if you can handle it.

Here are our top picks for NXNE 2014.

See also

Yonge Dundas NXNE


St. Vincent (indie rock, art rock/pop)
Friday, June 20, 9:10pm / Yonge Dundas Square
Just like a lot of her music, St. Vincent's career has been a slow and steady build towards an excellent payoff. With each album receiving more critical acclaim and mainstream attention than the last, she seems to have reached her zenith with her fourth, self-titled effort - an indie rock smorgasbord with all the expert instrumentation, quirky hooks and complex lyricism she's known for, but delivered with a newfound confidence and conviction that's captivating the biggest audiences yet. She's so good, even Nirvana asked her to front their band for a night. SK

Juicy J (hip hop)
June 22nd, 9pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
If you'd like to embrace the trippy movement, be sure not to miss Juicy J, who will be headlining NXNE's Sunday evening showcase at Yonge Dundas Square. His rise to stardom since his work with Three 6 Mafia has been interesting to watch as he has managed to crossover into the pop world (featured on Katy Perry's smash single "Dark Horse"), while also having massive trappy club singles including Platinum-selling "Bandz a Make Her Dance." M

Sleigh Bells (noise pop)
Thursday, June 19, 9:10pm / Yonge Dundas Square
Even if you don't think you've heard a song by Sleigh Bells, you probably have: countless films, TV shows and commercials aiming for an edgy-yet-accessible soundtrack have borrowed their tunes over the past few years. On paper, singer Alexis Krauss' sweet r&b influences don't seem like they should fit with guitarist Derek Miller's metal and hardcore background, but in practice, their yin-and-yang musical chops make for some pretty explosive material - utterly infectious, but with a dark side. Their danceable live set in the open air of Yonge-Dundas Square is basically the perfect way to kick off summer. SK

Swans (noise rock, no-wave, metal)
June 20, 7:40pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
Singer Michael Gira's distinctive howl has frightened audiences for three decades now. Originally formed in 1982, Swans were giants of the 80s noise rock/no-wave scenes. Swans originally broke up in 1997 but reformed in 2010 stronger and more pissed off than ever. Their three post-reunion albums have brought them greater acclaim and a wider audience than their original incarnation ever knew. Their last two albums, 2012's The Seer and the freshly released To Be Kind have received massive acclaim despite their ear-splitting volume and two-hour run times. Live shows are said to be transformative experiences - plus, the drummer's name is Thor. What more do you need to know? DB

Eagulls (post-punk, indie rock)
June 20, 5:30pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
June 20, 11pm / Edward Day Gallery
June 21, 11pm / Lee's Palace
If Robert Smith were more surly than melancholy, The Cure would have sounded a lot more like Leeds, UK's Eagulls. The new darlings of the British tabloids like NME there's no telling just how far this post-punk band will go. Unfortunately, the UK mags have the nasty habit of eating their young. Known as brash and outspoken, Eagulls would most certainly not care either way. Expect the unexpected when they make their Toronto debut. ESP

Omar Souleyman (world, folk, electronic)
Thursday, June 19, 8:15pm / House of Vans at VICE Island
June 20, 6:30pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
Hailing from Syria, Souleyman has been wowing audiences for 20 years now. He mixes traditional Syrian folk music, singing in Kurdish and Arabic, with heavy electronic dance elements. For most of his career, he's performed at weddings and has close to five hundred recordings that have been presented to the married couples and then copied to be sold by local retailers. Last year, he released his official debut Wenu Wenu, which was produced by Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet. Souleyman's energy and idiosyncratic style make him one of the can't-miss acts of NXNE. DB

Danny Brown (hip hop)
June 19th, 7:40pm @ Yonge & Dundas Square
June 20th, 12am @ Mod Club
Danny Brown has been around the block a few times. In 2010 he dropped a collaborative record with G-Unit's Tony Yayo called Hawaiian Snow. This led many to believe that he would sign with the label, but not surprisingly his image wasn't really a proper match for that crew. Since the hipster bubble has exploded, his tight jeans, missing front teeth and eccentric attitude have been accepted with open arms. Although he's scheduled to play two shows for NXNE, the hype surrounding his midnight show at Mod Club in particular is reaching a boiling point. M

Golden Teacher (electronic)
June 19, 6:30pm / Yonge & Dundas Square
June 20, 11pm / Lee's Palace
Born of several noise and house projects (yeah) and more suited to the kind of European festival one might find in a sketchy-but-beautiful abandoned castle on some Czech hillside than an industry-centric Canadian festival, Golden Teacher are a six member electronic group making phenomenal dance music - and that should about sum it up. There's even a member of legendary noise-punk duo Blue Sabbath Black Fiji popping up here, which like, omg. Lucky us. AJ

Run The Jewels (hip hop)
June 21st, 1am / Adelaide Hall
June 22nd, 8pm / Yonge Dundas Square
In 2012 Killer Mike released his sixth studio album R.A.P. Music, produced entirely by El-P. After this the duo made their collaboration official and would begin working together as Run The Jewels. They released a self titled album thorough Fools Gold Records in 2013 that was praised by major media outlets around the world, including Pitchfork which listed it as one of the top 50 albums of that year. They've been touring heavily since and are gracing NXNE with two shows that are sure to be memorable. M


Spiritualized (space rock, neo-psychedelic)
June 20, 10pm / Massey Hall
I'm sure if you would have asked 1990's Jason Pierce if longevity was in his vocabulary the answer would have been a resounding no. But here he is in 2014, creating some of his most soulful and heartfelt music as Spiritualized. With a rotating cast of characters, Pierce remains the focal point. Seeing Spiritualized can be downright religious and the fact that he's playing Toronto's temple of music, Massey Hall, guarantees that the experience is bound to be otherworldly. ESP

Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy (noise punk, hardcore)
June 20, 1am / The Horseshoe
What started out as a "fake band" slapped together for a scene in an Emma Roberts movie has turned out better than expected for this loud Syracuse quintet. Despite what The New York Times deems an "unprintable name," Perfect Pussy continue to ride a growing wave of acclaim instigated in 2013 by their release of a four-song cassette (remember those things?) and sustained with their debut full length, Say Yes to Love. Their meld of exuberant hardcore and Sonic Youth-inspired noise is absolutely combustible live and a must-see act, especially if you're into moshing. SK

Future Islands (indie pop)
June 19, 8:30pm / House of Vans at VICE Island
June 21, 12am / Tattoo
Either you saw their Double Double Land show (don't worry, I missed it too) three odd years ago or you saw that Letterman performance a few minutes ago that turned them into one of the internet's meme-iest bands for a bit (no offense, Nickleback photo video thing I wish I didn't just have a flashback to). Unlike many memes, there's substance here: Samuel Herring's obviously got a voice of unusual depth, lyrics do intelligent/corny New Order pop thing, and Singles is one of the year's better releases. It's so nice when a hypey band deserves the spotlight. Before you make fun of Vice for putting Future Islands on the Island, imagine the push back if they didn't. AJ

Le1f (hip hop)
June 19, 6:15pm / House of Vans @ VICE Island
June 20, 11pm / Mod Club
Friday, June 20, 1am / Edward Day Gallery
Ooooo Le1f, hii. This NYC rapper / internet-destroying-mixtape-dropper oozes dark positivity and cheeky sexuality. Openly gay, Le1f is one of those hip hop names you can point to while spitting "MackleWUT?" and getting your silky soft ultra black panties in a four car twist up. It's okay - you're gonna dance it out later. AJ

tUnE-yArDs (pop, electronic)
June 19, 10pm / Massey Hall
The most famous band to use MSN-speak c 2000 in their band name, this weird pop act is the mostly solo project of New England native Merrill Garbus. Now three albums in, Garbus has perfected her unclassifiable mix of drum loops, ukulele and multitracked vocals to become one of the most distinctive contemporary artists. Guided by a child-like sense of adventure, her new album Nikki Nack explores new sonic realms while providing her rabid fan base with her most melodic and danceable set of songs to date. Her sense of fun combined with a unique approach to live performance has made Tune-Yards a live favourite. DB

Pissed Jeans

Pissed Jeans (punk rock, hardcore)
June 19, 10pm / Mod Club
June 20, 1am / Lee's Palace
I'm so excited at the prospect of seeing this Allentown, Pennsylvannia band that my night might just end up with me sporting a pair. Playing the kind of loud, heavy, sleazy, noisy punk rock that crawls out of dingy basement clubs can either kickstart your night or very well put an end to it. Either way, you're going remember it. It would be in your best interest to drink lots of fluids before you undoubtedly expel them in your jeans or otherwise. ESP

LOW (slowcore, indie rock)
June 18, 12am / The Horseshoe
Seldom does a band with such a depressing name sound so uplifting. Sure songs move at a downright glacial pace but than just sets the stage for this Duluth, Minnesota band's anthems to soar. And you would be hard pressed to find a band that does it better. Their stripped down sound comes across as powerfully live as it does on record. With a 10 record catalog to draw on (their last 4 courtesy of Sub Pop), their set at the Horseshoe will certainly tug at your heartstrings. ESP

Goat (hard rock, afrobeat, psychedelic)
June 20, 12am / Lee's Palace
This masked and costumed Swedish psychedelic group describes their live shows as "a harvesting of souls" which should tell you a lot about what you're getting into when you see them. They are a continuation of a several decades-old collective based in the small Swedish town Korpilombolo. They play what they consider to be world music, mixing traditional psych-rock with African polyrhythms. Their amazing 2012 album, appropriately called World Music, has brought them to a new level of international attention. Both drone-heavy and funky, Goat produce a heady blend that has to be experienced live to be fully appreciated. DB


Pistol George Warren (blues, r&b)
Saturday, June 21, 2am / Dakota Tavern
Sudbury band Pistol George Warren are set for their 4th NXNE appearance this year. They promise to bring their unique blues-R&B good times show and love of British comic Simon Amstell to the Dakota Tavern stage. Pistol George Warren Fans should know bourbon for the boys / beer for the girls and the safe word is "Star Wars". RA

Lindi Ortega (alt-country, folk)
June 19, 10pm / The Horseshoe
Since relocating south to Nashville in December 2011, Lindi Ortega has twice been nominated for the Juno Awards, twice been long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, and her albums "Little Red Boots" and "Cigarettes & Truckstops" have received several 4 and 5 star reviews. Her Nashville relocation and festival gigs, and international touring also included a guest spot on ABC's "Nashville". Those with longer memories will recall the years she spent playing Toronto clubs on Queen St. and College St. and living the indie artist life. Harlan Pepper and Lee Harvey Osmond also play the Horseshoe this night. RA

Hannah Epperson (orchestral folk, indie pop)
June 19, 10pm, Rivoli
Named one of Canada's "Top Artists To Watch" by CBC radio (2013), Hannah Epperson is receiving high praise on the west coast for her music. Epperson's performances are a layering of her violin, loop pedals, vocals and songwriting. Her success includes 3-cross Canada tours, festival appearances, graduating at the top of her UBC class (2012), and a spot among the top 20 in BC's artists competing for the Peak Performance Project. RA

Caitlin Harnett (folk, roots)
June 18, 11pm / Dakota Tavern
Australian musician Caitlin Harnett is quickly forming a relationship with Canada. Her upcoming album "The River Runs North" was recorded in Ottawa live to tape with local musicians (and Kathleen Edwards as a special guest). Her songwriting takes listeners back to the 60's folk movement and draws comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne (a major influence). Following NXNE she tours Ontario, returns to Australia, then back to Canada. RA


Oneohtrix Point Never (electronic, drone, ambient)
June 20, 12am / The Great Hall
Living at the edge of electronic music, Brooklyn-based Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Daniel Lopatin, has carved out a niche for himself in a busy genre. He combines nostalgia and futurism to create evocative soundscapes that feel like the dance music you would hear in a dream. Coming from 80s revivalist act Ford & Lopatin, he has used the Oneohtrix Point Never project as a venue to explore his most out-there ambitions. In addition to seven albums and numerous EPs, he also helped compose the score to Sofia Coppola's film The Bling Ring. His live shows mix familiar and improvised sounds to warp your mind. DB

Autre Ne Veut (avant pop, r&b, electronic)
June 18, 12am / Tattoo
Brooklyn PBR&B (I didn't just, oh I did) dude calls his album Anxiety and plays Wrongbar last year to a literal flock of bros who sing along to an emotional chorus about sometimes "getting rough" in relationships like it's some kind of hockey ballad. Yet I still love Arthur Ashin's weirdo pop vocals and and strung out compositions. It's a real treat to see him go off live - the guy is hypnotic and clearly stressed out. Kinda like if an angel fell to earth and became a bro, but struggled with it. Might be tons of bros with feelings here. Come hide in a corner with me. AJ

Tim Hecker (electronic, ambient)
Thursday, June 19, 1am / The Great Hall
Montreal producer Tim Hecker may be one of the few artists who can escape the "it's been done" criticism hurled at almost all modern music, though some have attempted to question whether his work counts as "music" at all. Hecker engages not simply in songwriting, but in intricate sound sculpture, electronically altering found sounds and archaic instruments for an aural experience that's completely surreal, evocative and original. Bands like Sigur Ros and Godspeed! You Black Emperor have invited Hecker to tour with them, as they share his affinity for more cerebral sonic landscapes. SK

Ryan Hemsworth (electronic, internet)
June 20, 2am / Adelaide Hall
Hemsworth is from Halifax, but if y'all missed the Juno winning DJ (is that a thing? Go Junos...) in our Toronto preview and shook your head at us that's okay - it seems pretty normal for Toronto to claim him too. And who wouldn't want to? Hemsworth's peppy forward thinking, zillion-play Soundcloud remixes and free-for-download tapes are on par to Grimes videos in the Tumblr world. Hit him up for good vibes, IRL dancing, playing Winnipeg (who does that), seeming like a nice guy, and total culture mash/munching. These 2am Adelaide Hall sets gonna mess you up bb. PS: get there at 1am for Evian Christ! AJ

Pizza sponsors want you to see this band. If you want pizza, why not just buy some good pizza.

The Pizza Underground (comedy, festival's most obvious shills)
Thursday, June 19, 8:30pm / MiO Squirtcar
Thursday, June 19, 11pm / Lee's Palace
Friday, June 20, 10:30am / NXNE Festival Village at Edward Day Gallery
Friday, June 20, 8:15pm / The Great Hall
Okay, so things haven't really been going well for these guys. Even with all Macaulay Culkin's star power, his tribute band (of sorts) has already suffered the humiliation of being booed off stage and forced to cancel a UK tour in the aftermath. But really, if you're going to see a band that performs Velvet Underground covers with rewritten lyrics about pizza and kazoo solos, you can't be expecting anything in the way of "high art" or even proper playing of instruments. It's kinda supposed to be goofy. Head over [all four times! Nice one, NXNE -AJ] if you'd appreciate puns and awkwardly chowing a meager portion of free pizza at a show. SK

MioThanks to MiO for sponsoring our coverage of NXNE 2014

Writing by Evan Sue-Ping, Shazia Khan, Ryan Ayukawa, Markit, Dorian Barton, Aubrey Jax.

Photo: Sleigh Bells by Jenn Five/NME, Perfect Pussy by Samantha Marble, Yonge & Dundas by Alejandro Santiago, Pissed Jeans by Christian Bobak

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