North by Northeast — otherwise known as NXNE — has taken over Toronto annually since its inception in 1995. It was based on the highly successful South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. The festival sprawls across various venues all over Toronto connecting music, comedy, film, video games and an interactive media conference together.
In its first year, NXNE brought 300 bands to the city, which were mostly local and unsigned acts at the time. Since then, the festival has grown exponentially, now taking place over ten days every year in venues ranging from the smallest of clubs to the flagship, free headlining stage at Yonge-Dundas Square. Lights, CHVRCHES, U.S. Girls, the Flaming Lips and Billy Talent are just a few names among many that have headlined the festival over the years.
In recent years, NXNE has tried new experiments to keep up with the ever-changing festival landscape. In 2016 and 2017, the festival retooled their headlining stage into a ticketed event in the Port Lands, but returned to the free format at Yonge-Dundas Square for 2018. In 2017, NXNE introduced the Club Land Curator Series, featuring up-and-coming artists as selected by local tastemakers, including Shad, Cadence Weapon, and members of Broken Social Scene and July Talk.
NXNE is about more than just music. It hosts one of Canada’s largest eSports events through their Game Land sector of the festival, kicking off with online tournaments before culminating in a weekend-long live event. Additionally, NXNE also hosts film and comedy festivals, running concurrently with the music festival. NXNE has brought top comedy acts such as Marc Maron, Martha Chaves, Dave Foley and Lucy DeCoutere to their comedy tent, which is programmed by Toronto’s legendary Comedy Bar.
Local bars and venues participate in the fun with extended last call until 4am, and the festival routinely shuts down Yonge Street for their Festival Village, which boasts several booths from sponsors, gaming stations and buskers. Though there are plenty of free events throughout NXNE, you can also purchase a wristband to gain access to every festival event across the city.