NXNE Staff Top Albums for 2017, first up, Festival Founder Michael Hollett's picks



1 – DANIEL CAESAR – Freudian – Sorry OVO but the next big star out of Toronto won’t be on Drake’s hit making label. He’s Daniel Caesar, and we’ve had our eyes on this smooth singing soul star for years. NXNE was proud to present a relatively unknown Caesar in 2016 but with two Grammy nominations and a killer debut disc, he’s not a secret anymore.

2 -  ST. VINCENT, Masseducation – St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is well on her way to superstar status with her consistently impressive and challenging art rock. She’s an amazing live performer, her 2014 sets first at SXSW and then at NXNE were two of my live show highlights of that year. Clark enlisted production ace Jack Antonoff, who played NXNE 2017 with his awesome band Bleachers, to create an irresistible, beat blasting aural attack.

3 – KENDRICK LAMAR, Damn – Kendrick Lamar was already too big to be an opener when he took the stage in support of Kanye West’s somewhat insane 2013 Yeesus tour and Lamar’s ascension hasn’t slowed a bit. He’s back, a little angrier but just as essential with 2017’s Damn.

4 – SZA, Ctrl -- Languorous, luscious soul-infused rap from by rising star Solana Gugu Rowe, SZA. After a few promising EPs, SZA’s 2017 debut full disc is a rich and rewarding ride through beat-rich soul sounds.

5 – IBEYI, Ash – Paris-based twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kiande Diaz create the kind of beautiful harmonies that only siblings seem capable of. Daughters of the late, Grammy winning Buena Vista Social Club percussionist, Anga Diaz, it’s no surprise that haunting rhythms are at the core of this lush sound sung in English, French, Spanish and Yoruba with plenty political punch. Ibeyi’s 2015 set at NXNE was a highlight of the festival and 2016 NXNE Alumni Kamasi Washington helps out on this excellent release.

6 – ARCADE FIRE, Everything Now – Sure, at one time, critical darlings, Montreal’s Arcade Fire seemed incapable of a making a misstep. Now, not so much. Perhaps they were a little -- pick one -- precious, cocky, arrogant, over-confidant, tone deaf, on how they rolled out their latest release and the under-attended tour that promoted it. But Everything Now is a great disc from a band that still powerfully and poetically pushes boundaries.

7 – CURTIS HARDING, Face Your Fear  -- Soul-sational song stylings is an excellent follow-up to his 2014 Soul Power debut.  His recent Toronto gig at Velvet Underground was a stunner. This talented singer has worked with Cee Lo Green on backup vocals and songwriting and has also collaborated with edgy Atlanta noise rockers, the Black Lips.  Maybe even better than Leon Bridges in the Soul Olympics.

8 – JACKIE SHANE, Any Other Way – Fantastic that amazing transgender music pioneer Jackie Shane is finally getting the praise she deserves. Shane left her US home and became a soul singing sensation in Toronto’s Yonge Street area clubs in the 60s. This remarkable collection of re-releases and previously lost tracks makes me think pre-British invasion Toronto was way cooler than I thought.

9 – ALVVAYS, Antisociallites – Bright and jangly power pop with a subtle edge. A hook rich feast that highlights lead singer Molly Rankin’s great vocals. This East Coast bred-band made their Toronto debut at a 2014 NXNE Mod Club gig.

10 – THE SADIES, Northern Passages – One of Canada’s most consistent music makers, a great collection of country-surf-punk, a chaotic, compelling collision of influences.

Congrats to all NXNE Alumni Grammy nominees

Danial Caesar is just one of the great NXNE Alumni acts to pick up a Grammy nomination this week. Caesar played NXNE in 2016.

Danial Caesar is just one of the great NXNE Alumni acts to pick up a Grammy nomination this week. Caesar played NXNE in 2016.

Congratulations to all of the great NXNE Alumni acts who picked up Grammy nominations this week.

We're especially thrilled for local rising star Danial Caesar's two nominations, for best R and B performance, Get You and best R and B album, Freudian. Caesar had yet to receive any major media press and was still largely unknown when we enthusiastically presented him as a discovery,  early-in-the-day-act at NXNE's Canal Stage at the old Port Lands site in 2016. He's selling out five nights at Toronto's Danforth Music Hall next month.

2016 NXNE headliner Father John Misty also picked up a nomination for Best Alternative Album, Pure Comedy. (He also gets one of our Best Rider ever demands for his NXNE show. Father John wanted a piñata back stage which he kicked the crap out of before heading out in front of the NXNE crowd. Whatever works bro.)

Misty battles NXNE 2013 Yonge Street headliners, The National in the alt album category. Their disc, Sleep Well Beast is The National's entry in the Grammy sweepstakes.

NXNE faves, Run the Jewels headlined Yonge Street in 2014, Killer Mike was on Yonge in 2012, for their contributions to Chase Me, nominated in the Best Rap Song category.

Portland's, Portugal, The Man were up-and-comers in 2012 when they played an early set at Yonge Dundas but this year they are up for a Grammy in the Best Duo/Group category.

Jack Antonoff's band, The Bleachers was a highlight of NXNE 2017. Antonoff seems to be everywhere these days and he picked up a Grammy nom for his work as producer on Lorde's Melodrama, nominated as Album of the Year.

Good luck to all of the NXNE Alumni Grammy nominees. See more future starts this summer in Toronto at NXNE June 8 - 17.


NXNE remembers Gord Downie


NXNE joins Canada in mourning the loss of our great friend, amazing talent and activist, Gord Downie who passed away Tuesday night. Our thoughts are with Gord's family. Among other things, Gord was always a mentor of up-and-coming bands and he was always very supportive of NXNE. The Tragically Hip did a "secret show" for charity during NXNE's first year in 1995. And Gord and his band The Country of Miracles were the first band ever to play Yonge Dundas Square when it opened and NXNE was proud to present him. Gord also played club shows for the festival and he also regularly played our White Ribbon Fundraiser shows to fight male violence against women. We are forever grateful for everything Gord Downie did with us and for all of Canada in his remarkable life. 

RIP dear Gord. NXNE founder Michael Hollett remembers his friend and teammate in the following article.


The first time I played hockey with Gord Downie was probably in 1991 in a Monday morning pick up game, largely populated by musicians that still endures to this day. Gord and I had become acquainted as we both explored the “checkerboard floors” of Toronto’s emerging Queen Street music scene, he with The Tragically Hip as they made their name, and me trying to tell the story of all the amazing music in my weekly, NOW Magazine.

But an intimacy is gained in the dressing room and on the ice that can be deeper than snatched and shouted conversations in a crowded club. You never would have guessed Gord was fronting a band on stellar trajectory that autumn day in the early 90s. I would go on to play plenty of hockey with Gord and he was always the same in the room, one of the quiet ones, just another teammate lacing up his skates and listening to the trash talk, not a rah rah or look-at-me guy. He was almost exclusively a goalie, fitting for this contemplative man, biding his time “at the loneliest end of therink” but this day he was playing out.

We now wear full equipment in the Monday game but back then skaters wore winter gloves on their hands and baseball caps instead of helmets on their heads. I remember looking across at Gord and being a little stunned as he jammed newspapers into his jeans to act as shin pads and taped them to his legs. Talk about old school.

While Gord was a pioneer in many ways, he was old school in terms of core values like loyalty, especially to his family, friends and, his country. He had a strong sense of right and wrong and Canada was reminded of that as he used his last months on Earth to demand we all do a better job at reconciliation with indigenous people. Gord was always a good guy to have on your side. He had a smile that could protect you like an umbrella on a stormy day and he shared it generously.

But he was no pushover and could get prickly when NOW have gave his band a crummy review, even though he respected that I refused to tell my journalists what to write. The only time he was ever actually grumpy with me was at our annual playoff hockey pool when I chose his beloved, then Boston Bruin, Joe Thornton before he could.

I’ll never forget when Gord met Thornton for the first time. It was back stage at Hamilton Place and the Hip hadjust played a killer set -- small room for them right? -- in the summer of 1997. Thornton was the top draft choice that year, picked by Gord’s favourite Boston Bruins. I was talking with Joe when Gord came into the room, he unleashed that magnificent smile and made an hesitant beeline towards the young hockey player. It was is if the star was star struck. In a room crowded with friends and fans he could only see Joe. I introduced them and Gord was shy and close to  speechless, he just kept muttering, “Joe Thornton, number one NHL pick for the Boston Bruins.”

That was Gord, so filled wonderment and delight at life and all of its possibilities that it makes his early departure from this mortal coil all the sadder.

There are so many things to celebrate about Gord’s life but one is what a great role model he was for other musicians. I went on the road with Gord and the Hip to write a cover story for NOW on their legendary 1993, Another Roadside Attraction tour. The tongue-in-cheek backstage joke was that Gord secretly wanted to be in Eric’s Trip, one of the openers on a jam packed bill. Gord was always side stage each night for the band’s performance and of course they were delighted. Gord and the Hip always treated opening acts, and new bands in general, like peers, special guests at their shows. I think their example has helped set the bar for other Canadian acts as they become successful and remember to never forget where they came from.

Gord and I were briefly business partners, he, among others, helped me launch an ill-fated alternative newsweekly in Ottawa in 1998 called Capital City. We talked a lot leading up to the paper’s launch and I think he was more stimulated by my ambition and dreaming than the prospect of a big return on his investment. (Good thing because the paper didn’t last the year). But in our discussions I learned of his love and respect for his father Edgar, that’s Gord’s middle name. Edgar was a hard working salesperson, among other things, and he had clearly given his son a moral code to aspire to. Gord’s love of his father and commitment to the values he espoused was moving and monumental. Gord and his family were regularly with his father before he passed the summer before Gord we all learned of his own terminal illness. Commitment was fundamental to Gord and he took it very seriously.

You could say he was a solid guy.

We often ran into each other in our shared Riverdale neighbourhood after walking our kids to school, enjoying the exhale of having performed our parental duties and getting ready for the rest of our day. I know he cherished those walks with his kids as much as I did with mine.

It hurts to write these words and to use the past tense to speak of someone so alive and so important to my world and that of so many millions of others. So let me share an image I hope will make you smile. Gord moved a few times when he lived in the east end and briefly had a home on the edge of Withrow Park in Riverdale, site of an excellent outdoor rink. Like I said, he didn’t need to be the centre of attention, especially on the ice and he didn’t want to draw the spotlight to himself, he just wanted to play. So he’d put on his full goalie equipment, including his mask at home and slip slide from his house to the rink in the park, another anonymous Canadian, just another guy to his fellow skaters playing the game he loved in the country that meant everything to him. Well Gord, you mean everything to all of us and our hearts may break but our love for you will never bend.

Rest in peace dear friend.




NXNE announces 2018 dates, bringing back free, live music to Yonge and Dundas

NXNE is excited to announce we are bringing free, live music back to Yonge and Dundas this summer.

NXNE is excited to announce we are bringing free, live music back to Yonge and Dundas this summer.

North by Northeast (NXNE) is pleased to announce the 2018 edition will be held June 8-17. Now in its 24th year, the festival returns to Toronto’s downtown epicenter, Yonge-Dundas with free outdoor programming June 15-17. NXNE will transform Yonge Street into a festival village throughout the weekend to host free concerts, NXNE talk sessions and comedy shows.

In addition, the festival will expand the Club Land - Curator Series throughout the week. Leading Canadian musicians will host and curate showcases across the city at dozens of venues and clubs.

Game Land kicks off NXNE returning June 8-10, and will take place in a unique downtown Toronto venue. The three-day live eSports extravaganza will have hundreds in attendance and tens of thousands viewing online via NXNE’s Twitch channel.

“We at North by Northeast have always loved presenting amazing new music at Canada’s most exciting intersection, free of charge. And NXNE’s fans and supporters have been clear they love shows on Yonge Street, even miss them. So we’re bringing the music back to the centre of the city, bigger and better,” says Michael Hollett, NXNE Founder.

Stay tuned for additional announcements regarding NXNE in the upcoming months.