North by Northeast, often abbreviated to the more hip NxNE, is a weeklong extravaganza of film, art and music held at multiple venues around downtown Toronto on a yearly basis.
It's modeled after the much larger yearly festival South by Southwest, held in Austin, Texas. I was fortunate enough to catch most of the final weekend of NxNE, which focuses mainly on music.
This year’s festival was a fine example of the impact Northern Ontario has had on the Canadian music scene. Sudbury’s Pistol George Warren performed two showcases over the weekend, while Sault Ste Marie native Kalle Mattson performed five.
Northern roots were well represented in shows from Young Mother, Fevers, Ketamines, Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs, and Fever City.
Some past acts from both Northern Lights Festival Boréal and River & Sky Camping and Music Festival performed as well, including Canailles, Jenny Omnichord, The Joel Plaskett Emergency, Lindi Ortega and Lindy.
This year’s NxNE saw the festival narrow its focus by halving the total number of venues from last year and adding the beautiful Massey Hall as a location.
Most shows sounded superb, and the overall quality of the musical acts was very high.
I caught Kalle Mattson on Friday afternoon. He was fresh off a positive review from the taste-maker music reviewers at pitchfork.com.
Kalle performed songs from his latest record, “Someday, the Moon Will be Gold” to a hushed and reverent audience at Berczy Park.
Mattson’s set stood in stark contrast to that of Young Mother (featuring Sudbury natives Josh Turnbull and Jesse Laderoute), who performed at the Smiling Buddha on Saturday night. Their aggressive, powerful and angular sound was perfectly suited to the claustrophobic venue and spastic lighting. Young Mother don’t play much anymore, so I felt very fortunate to have caught this rare performance — they even brought in a saxophonist from Montréal for the occasion.
Probably the most well-received set by an act from the North was for Sudbury’s own Pistol George Warren. The eight-piece pop/rock/country/soul band played a mixture of crowd-pleasing oldies and some new material that was more Talking Heads than Waylon Jennings.
PGW always brings the party, and despite the fact they took the stage at 2 a.m., their sold-out show at the Dakota was an instant dance party and the perfect way to cap off the weekend.
This was an NxNE I’ll remember for the rest of my life, as there was an overwhelming amount of good times to be had and an impossible amount of music to take in.
Clayton Drake performs in Sudbury bands The Birthday Cakes and Almighty Rhombus.