Wednesday, June 17, 2015
It's June in Toronto which means that NXNE is here. The five-day music festival (Northby for you hipsters) showcases rock acts from across the world to fill clubs, large and small, across downtown Toronto. There are also record and comic book fairs, live comedy and film screenings including the Canadian premiere of the outstanding biodoc Amy (review here).
The $49 pass gets you into all the small clubs while the $60 pass gets you into virtually everything. (Read the fine print here). Meanwhile, The New Pornographers (above), Shad and legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins (top) are throwing free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square, but go early because it will be packed (see below for more Northby tips).
Also free is a wonderful display of gig concerts at the NXNE festival hub at 120 Spadina Avenue just north of Queen Street West and within spitting distance of the Horseshoe Tavern and Cameron House.
If you've never done NXNE before, here are 11 down-and-dirty survival tips:
1) Plan ahead. Get the compact NXNE Gig Guide or app before you see any band and decide on a plan of attack. Select the acts you wish to see. Or, choose the geographic area you want to cover (i.e. Queen West). Or, select a genre (i.e. acoustic, death metal) and find those venues that specialize in the music you want to hear.
2) Pace yourself. Each act plays for roughly 40 minutes which gives you 20 minutes to hit the john and grab a drink, or run to the next venue. At all clubs, the first shows start at 7:00 pm and most final shows start at 1:00 am. That's seven bands in one night. A few clubs such as Sneaky Dee's will go as late as 3:00 am (starting time). If you the have the stamina, suffer insomnia or are unemployed, go for it.
3) Eat regularly. Standing in line, craning your neck to see the stage and texting in the dark burn up calories. Load up on veggies and protein before your first gig and lay off the fats which'll make you sleepy. You need stamina. Toronto's street food sucks due to hellish city hall bureaucracy, but there are reliable hot dog carts and pizza joints near every venue (my personal favourite is Baun Mi Boys at Spadina/Queen).
4) Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Nobody cares about your Armani at NXNE. A t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a cap (for rain) will do.
5) Pack water. This can be tricky. Most doormen are smart, but a few meatheads may mistake your generic water bottle as a vessel for smuggling in booze. By law, bars must serve free water to patrons, but carrying your own saves you from body-surfing above the crowd. Clubs are saunas, so you need to need to hydrate. And no, I can't advocate you sneaking booze into any licensed establishment (though I can't deny it doesn't happen).
6) Use ear plugs. You're not old, you're smart. You're hearing seven bands per night and you don't want your ears to explode. Protect them so you can enjoy music for a long, long time. Little-known fact: by law, clubs must supply free ear plugs to customers who ask for them. All you need is one pair for the entire festival.
7) Carry your stuff in a small bag, something you can throw over your shoulder to hold your snacks (i.e. crackers), water bottle and Gig Guide. Don't be a wanker and carry your laptop in a big-ass knapsack that will take up two bodies in a live club.
8) Cycle. If you're travelling between clubs or geographic areas, the best way to beat gnarly downtown Toronto gridlock are two wheels. Four means you have to find parking which is nearly impossible on a Friday or Saturday night. The TTC lies at the mercy of street traffic and can be unreliable, and besides you pay through the ass to use Toronto public transit. Or, walk (see #4).
9) Have a plan B. Your badge gives you priority over single-ticket holders, but most people will wear badges and popular acts will mean line-ups. You could miss half the set of a band. So, be ready to hop into another club if you don't want to wait.
10) Don't be afraid to walk out. A rule of thumb: give a band three songs or 10 minutes. If they don't grab you, split. Just make sure there's another venue nearby so you can catch the rest of another act.
11) For the free concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square: Come early. Wear super-comfy shoes, because there's zero seating. I personally hate watching shows at YDS, because only a giraffe can see the stage, and everywhere you turn you're bombarded by advertising. But, hey, it's free and Bootsy is playing.
Enjoy. Have fun. Love music.