North by Northeast expands

Running from June 14-20, this summer marks the 16th year that North by Northeast (NXNE) has taken place.

Managing director and co-founder of NXNE Andy McLean, alongside fellow directors Michael Hollett and Yvonne Matsell, was inspired to create the event after repeatedly attending South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

McLean reminisced about a time when Internet was not a readily available resource for promoting new bands and when the independent music scene was just “starting to be a viable option for a lot of bands.”

McLean went on to say that he “wanted to provide a platform for musicians in Toronto,” which eventually evolved into the festival it is today – showcasing over 650 bands from around the globe.

What to expect this year

Known for booking a combination of some of the biggest established names in alternative music, as well as numerous up-and-coming buzz bands, McLean refers to the musical component as the “lifeblood of the festival.”

With over 40 venues showcasing at least five bands a night, each playing 40 minute sets, NXNE promises to be jam-packed with renowned names like Iggy Pop and Sloan, plus hundreds of artists “just on the verge of breaking” the Canadian music market.

McLean remarked that in some ways the festival is “not quite the underground event that we used to be,” but remains dedicated to preserving the principles on which NXNE was built.

Partnering with media company Flash in the Can, NXNE has introduced a new interactive component for 2010.

After two years of planning, the interactive element will feature workshops, keynote addresses and panel discussions devoted to what McLean describes as “exploring the world of digital media and how it relates to music, gaming and screen-based technology.”

In addition to musical and interactive events, the film component of the festival will be screening 40 works that cover diverse subjects, ranging from country music legend Johnny Cash to post-modernist author Thomas Pynchon.

Looking to the future

When speaking about the future of NXNE, McLean said that the organizers are content with the growth that they have achieved in the last 16 years and emphasized consolidating the already existing components of the festival.

“It’s at a nice point now, where it’s easy to navigate for the consumer. They can see as much music as they want to and check out movies as well,” said McLean, “And hopefully do the interactive thing. “So for us it’s about maintaining quality and building on what we’ve got now.”

Advice for students

With affordable student passes and free shows throughout Toronto, what is McLean’s advice for university kids? “I’d tell them to come out, even if you’re totally broke!”

He also suggests stocking up on sleep because the venues will be open until 4 a.m. Describing NXNE as “a once-a-year opportunity to discover something that you can make your own,” the festival is the perfect vacation for music lovers, film buffs and tech geeks alike.