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Toronto Summer: NXNE keeps things youthful on its 20th anniversary

The North by Northeast (NXNE) festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer, but rather than resting on its laurels and quietly slipping into its third decade, director Christopher Roberts believes an energetic, youthful approach is the best way to honour the occasion.

This year’s festival runs from June 13-22 at various venues around the city. (See the full lineup here.)

The free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square (YDS) are often a highlight of the 10-day festival, and the big draws in past years have included legendary but ageing acts like Iggy and the Stooges and DEVO.

But this year Roberts is touting NYC indie rocker St. Vincent as a must-see act that reflects NXNE’s reinvigorated approach.

“(The past shows were) great for iconic acts and legendary acts but this year I think we’ve taken a little more of an artistic stride,” he said.

“I think St. Vincent is going to be just a mind-blowing, face-melting, pulsating experience at Yonge-Dundas Square. She’s really an artist who is truly in her artistic prime right now, that’s going to be really exciting.”

“I really wanted to make the change of being a little more relevant and have a sense of urgency on the curatorial side of the festival,” he adds.

Social media also plays a huge role in how the festival is promoted. (follow @NXNE)

“Twitter is the new press release,” Roberts adds. “We use it to get the info that we are excited about to our audience in a respectful way that appeals to their passion points and interests.”

Just as the music industry has undergone radical changes over the last 20 years, so too have music festivals.

Having a tight lineup of bands isn’t enough to stand out from the competition, and interactive speaking engagements, comedy, art, and film all play a key part in rounding out the festival experience.

NXNE has teamed up with Hot Docs to provide a slew of films that will be screened at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, including the Canadian premiere of Richard Linklater’s newest film Boyhood starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

“The greater idea is about being part of the undercurrent, about getting things done in the non-traditional ways that make the most sense to reach our audience,” Roberts said. “And that speaks not just to the music, but to film and comedy and art and interactive as well.”

For local bands, an appearance at a well-established festival like NXNE can catapult their careers.

“Everyone is trying to get some sort of buzz around their show,” Toronto-based musician Jessica Stuart, of The Jessica Stuart Few, said. “If you can do that successfully and you end up being a buzz band and end up getting some press, you can definitely grow your fan base a whole lot.”

Being able to catch a plethora of inspiring bands makes it a special time of year for fans, and performers.

“It’s just a great fun time,” Stuart adds. “It’s kind of like a marathon, but you make it work.”

Roberts is thrilled to able to help give local bands a chance to share their immense and eclectic talents.

“I think there’s something in the water here and it’s undeniable,” he said. “And to help to support that with what we are doing with the festival is a really proud point for us.”

Performing this year at Yonge-Dundas Square:

  • Ain’t No Love
  • Alvvays
  • Astro
  • Danny Brown
  • DJ Fusion & Ausar Ra Black Hawk (FuseBox Radio Broadcast)
  • Eagulls
  • Flex The Antihero
  • Golden Teacher
  • Juicy J
  • Kai Exos
  • Krazy Drayz
  • Mac DeMarco
  • Mibbs (of Pac Div)
  • Odonis Odonis
  • Omar Souleyman
  • Ratking
  • Riverdale
  • Run The Jewels
  • Sleigh Bells
  • Spoon
  • St. Vincent
  • Swans
  • Until The Ribbon Breaks

Check out the full Music schedule here

Check out the full Film schedule here

Check out the full Interactive schedule here

Check out the full Comedy schedule here

Check out the full Art schedule here