Volume 93, Issue 6
Friday, June 18, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
North By North East maps success
Gazette file photos
THE NXNE FESTIVAL PROVIDES A DIVERSE SHOWCASE TO MATCH ALL MUSICAL TASTES. London's own Zuul's Evil Disco (bottom) and Toronto's Silent Spring (top) were just a few of the 400 independent acts who took Toronto by storm for the fifth annual NXNE festival held last weekend.
By Sara Martel
Some say it's a musical schmooze-fest. Some say it's a monument to the independent artist. Others don't say anything, because they're too busy listening to the hundreds of bands brought together for the North By Northeast Music Festival and Industry Conference.
The festival, held in Toronto last weekend, was inspired by Austin, Texas' South By Southwest and NXNE directors Andy McLean, Michael Hollett, Alice Klein and Yvonne Matsell. Together, they have been working to establish the biggest musical festival and only industry conference in Canada.
With some 400 bands flooding 28 venues, 41 trade show tables and exhibitors, 25 conference tables and thousands of excited attendees, it is more than fair to say their five years of hard work has paid off.
Held outdoors at the Molson Canadian Rocks Gravel Pit and inside bars across Toronto, the NXNE showcase included acts ranging anywhere from R&B to pop to punk. According to managing director Andy McLean, the festival may even be coming to Ontario university campuses as soon as this fall.
The phenomenal success of the event has certainly not been lost on McLean. "Yes, we're actually up to five years and experiencing kind of an overnight success at this year's festival. It's almost like a band, you know you spend five years working and working and then in our fifth year it certainly seems like it has broken in a big way. People are responding very well to the concept and anticipating the event. So, all the numbers are up and the impact on the city is much improved."
A fiscal and touristic impact is just one of the many benefits NXNE brings to Toronto. The massive crowds inundate the bars, restaurants and shops with business, but McLean's vision is focused far away from these fiscal spin-offs.
"The music is the center stage. The music and the musicians are the foundation from which to build upon have a great festival, bring in tremendous live music venues. Then, we combine that with the industry, where you need media and record company people to be part of the reason why the bands are playing, because what's different about NXNE is that 95 per cent of the bands are unknown," he explains.
"We try to do the opposite of the mega-tours that go through on the circuit," McLean continues. "What we do at North By Northeast is try to give the bands that are emerging a step forward by bringing all the various components together over a three or four day concentrated period."
Due to its reputation of having helped such now well-knowns as the Matthew Good Band, Jim Cuddy and Big Wreck make it big, many independent artists flock to NXNE solely navigated by the hope of getting discovered and signing with a record label.
McLean recognizes this facet of the festival. "It's all about the bands making their own decisions. They can do what they want to do with the connections they make. I mean, there are bands who do get signed and will get signed this weekend and get a big record deal. That's not always the best thing they should be doing, but that's the goal people concentrate on."
On a personal note, McLean again draws attention away from the big business and places the spotlight on the music. "People like to concentrate on the big deals that are made, but quite honestly, I'd rather focus on the small victories that occur during the event, because more realistically bands need time to develop and grow and the independent route is a lot more viable then it ever was, so you don't actually have to choose to go to a big label."
At the risk of sounding like a bad Benetton ad, such is the beauty of the NXNE experience the diversity. Some go looking for stardom, some go to share their art in an indiscriminate arena. Others simply go to meander from bar to bar in the warm June weather and sip a cold beer while getting a taste of the incredible independent music scene.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999