Mention South by Southwest to any band, and they will know exactly what you are talking about. Mention North by Northeast (a.k.a. NXNE), however, and you might get some puzzled looks.
But for a young band, if I had to pick between SXSW and NXNE, there is no doubt in my mind that I would skip the hoopla of Austin and head to Toronto.
Taking place in late June in Toronto, Canada, NXNE hosts just over 600 bands in four days in 30-plus venues. This year, the lineup included some well-known indie acts like Deerhoof, The Pharcyde, Handsome Furs, Horse Feathers, Art Brut, and Royal Bangs, as well as plenty of younger, smaller, but still talented bands from the States and Canada. NXNE also has attracts of attendees from music organizations; The Agency Group, Brooklyn Vegan, BMI, KCRW, Windish Agency, Rhapsody, Vice and more all had a presence this year.
So why does Toronto trump Austin? For a young band, trying to rise above the crowd at SXSW is nearly impossible. Not only are there over 2,000 bands playing in Austin for the official showcases, but there are thousands of others that go to Texas just to play parties and underground shows. NXNE is about a third of the size of SXSW, so getting face time with industry professionals is easier. Setting up meetings is not nearly as difficult as it is at other festivals, and grabbing the attention of panelists after they speak is much less of a hassle.
Even the extra shows that surround the festival are more manageable than those at SXSW. To top it off, it seems that NXNE does a much better job of showcasing young bands and putting them in front of industry reps. At SXSW, I had to be at a reputable label showcase to bump in to professionals. At NXNE, it seemed like I couldn’t turn a corner without meeting another label rep or publicist.
Beyond the festival itself, Toronto has a fantastic music scene. While crossing the border and dealing with taxes and visas can be a pain, once you get that down, I would highly recommend that every indie band add Toronto to its touring route. Some of the city’s more well known venues, including Sneaky Dee’s, The Garrison, Dakota Tavern, Hideout, Horseshoe Tavern, and Rivoli, draw significant crowds and Canadian press attention.
If you do decide to head up here on tour, you’ll want to make sure your gigs are well-attended. There are plenty of promoters in Toronto, but two local companies that really stood out to me were Audio Blood, a local promotions company that also manages some bands, and Live in Bellwoods, which films live band performances in a city park called Trinity Bellwoods. Both were major contributors to NXNE’s success – Audio Blood’s showcases were great, and every show they recommended to me was fantastic; the all-acoustic shows that Live in Bellwoods organized during the afternoons drew a few hundred people each day – and if you need some promotions help, those are the guys you need to hit up.
Are you ready to come up for NXNE next year? If so, start planning now!