NXNE 2017: WTF tho?
NXNE held its second-weekend festival last weekend amidst storms and rainbow flags.
This year, Canada’s own North by North East (NXNE) music festival faced its fair share of obstacles. Scheduled the same weekend as Pride, cancelled on by Tyler the Creator , and hit by erratic weather the entire weekend: the festival had more than a few obstacles this year. Despite these setbacks, NXNE partied on at Toronto’s Port Lands, and Elle and Vanessa were there the entire weekend to rep Team Lupinore. Here’s their very honest review of the festival.
Elle: First thing I felt when I walked onto the festival grounds was the strange and slightly eerie vibe. I think it had to do with the low turnout. With a bigger crowd, I think the overall energy of the festival would have been better. Although, as one gentleman pointed out, there were perks to the poor turnout:
I have to admit it seemed like 1/4 of the people they expected. Kind of sad really. But at least bathroom lineups weren't out of control— CAMP30 (@CAMPTHIRTY) June 26, 2017
Vanessa: Yeah, I think the low turnout combined with the unimpressive venue really affected the overall vibe of the festival. I think a barren parking lot was a poor choice in venue, and it didn’t seem like much effort was put into sprucing it up. Last years grounds weren’t much better, but at least there was some fake grass.
I'm surprised I haven't seen you in this crowd of 20— m'laura lloyd (@lauralloyd) June 24, 2017
Elle: Essentially, the venue was a massive hunk of cement (that’s not super accessible by public transit by the way), with some fence, stages, and an attraction or two thrown in. The seating offered was also subpar. Some clusters of plastic picnic benches, and a few crates near the main stage, assumingly put out to be sat on. The “VIP” section offered cottage-style chairs, but of course, us regular folk did not have access to them.
Vanessa: There was a serious lack of seating available! Many people resorted to just sitting on the pavement. Not only did the lack of adequate seating and shade make the experience generally uncomfortable, but it could have made it inaccessible to our friends with disabilities.
Elle: NXNE claimed on their website that this year they kicked it into high gear with their amenities. However, I was very, nay, supremely underwhelmed.
The mention of “way more food trucks” had me thinking that there’d be a list of options to choose from if I wanted to chow down and/or wet my whistle. No such luck. A rather compact area on one end of the venue had a few food trucks that were more or less the same idea: Tasty and quick but overpriced and greasy. Also: 10 bucks if you wanted a Budweiser. Overpriced cheap beer. Oh, the irony.
Vanessa: While I expected nothing less than overpriced, heart attack food (so standard festival fare), I was happy that they decided to include a water refill station this year. Last year, I think I spent almost $20 dollars just on water (I’m a thirsty gal). However, the refill station was really out of the way, hiding on the outskirts of the grounds. Elle couldn’t even find it at first! It should have been a lot more accessible.
Elle: Also, it was not noted on their site that it was quite literally only for water refills. BYOB, kids - bring your own bottle. (But, never fear, they had bottled water available. For 3 bucks.) While I commend NXNE for its eco-friendly approach to offering water, I have a feeling it was inadvertent.
The one saving grace of the amenities was the “Recharge Lounge”. Pretty straightforward, an area where you were able to recharge your phone. However, there were also comfy couches to park your rear on, nicer bathrooms than the standard port-a-potty offerings on the main grounds, some shade, and an overall peaceful area to “recharge” and then return to the festivities.
Vanessa: I think the Recharge Lounge was probably one of my favourite parts of the festival (aside from the actual music), too. It was a great place to relax, and you could even hear the music while sitting inside. However, the lounge was a smoking friendly 19+ area, so anyone underage was left to either scavenge for empty picnic tables or sit on the unforgiving pavement.
Vanessa: NXNE really tried to set themselves apart with the addition of non-music entertainment. Obviously, the point of a music festival is to see the live performances, but it was nice to have something else to do if you needed a break. Of the additions, I personally enjoyed the comedy tent most. It was a nice place to chill and get of out the sun.
The Midway rides and carnival games were a cool idea, but I don’t think they worked out. During the day, both were empty. In the evening, the rides picked up as more people arrived, but the games were still barren. Honestly, it was probably hard for people to stomach another $20+ dollars on carnival games when they already paid $80-125+ to get in.
Elle: Guys. The games area was such a sad site. The staff, I’ll give it to them, they were enthusiastic. For the most part though, it was a ghost town. Which made the fact that they were blasting music even more jarring and depressing, as no one was there to complete the ambience of a bustling row of carnival game stands. Swing and miss on that one.
Like my fellow co-writer, I strolled my way into the comedy tent during the fest as well. The shade was great, but the tent itself, well, the comedian that had already started her set as I first walked in said it all: “Can anyone f***cking hear me over the inflatable tube men that are right outside here?”. Nothin’ funny about inflatable tube men being obnoxiously noisy while a person is trying to perform, NXNE.
Vanessa: Despite its flaws, NXNE always has an impressive line up including both large and small artists across different genres. While the festival was generally empty during the day, you could count on it’s headliners to draw in a crowd, and the earlier bands still gave great performances despite the small audiences.
NXNE also curated a pretty diverse lineup this year. This year's lineup included numerous female artists and artists of colour. Some of my personal favourites were Son Little and his combination of “blues, soul, gospel, [and] rock and roll”, Lizzo’s energizing alt-hip hop that had everyone dancing, and John River’s powerful spoken word on about the complexities of race and fatherhood.
Elle: The performances I saw at NXNE this year were, overall, pretty good. A modest variety of acts, no serious blunders, and it was during some performances that, for once, I saw the very strange turnout of people actually come together as one. Opening night’s headliner was Post Malone. While I’m not necessarily a huge fan, it was a memorable experience because of the energy he brought. I loved seeing the crowd “jiving” as one during his set.
Another act that stood out to me was, “grandson” (and who I also had the opportunity to interview!).
Vanessa: Overall, NXNE wasn’t a horrible experience, but it was generally underwhelming and there weren’t many improvements from last year. However, the performers did really well at creating a fun energy despite the small crowds. While the music was great, the lack of comfort, accessibility, and convenience makes it hard to justify spending $125+ for the weekend.
Elle: In NXNE’s defense, I haven’t been to many festivals, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. Perhaps it wasn’t one of their best years, and I just happened to give it a go the year that isn’t representative of what the fest is actually about. Okay, niceties over with.
Bottom line: I didn’t like it. Some of the acts gave a great show, don’t get me wrong. Going to the fest also introduced me to bands I didn’t know existed. However, the crowd turnout and strange venue, along with confusing aspects such as the inflatable tube men and the puzzling Porsche partnership, had me feeling like someone just threw this festival together.
Would we come back?
Vanessa: Probably not. While I loved the performances, I would rather save my money to see my favourite acts separately (or at other festivals). I was fairly unimpressed last year, and just as unimpressed this year. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Elle: Short answer: No.
Longish answer: In all fairness, I am only saying no if the festival was to be the same as it was this year. If the festival made major changes, perhaps I could give it a second chance. Based on my experience in 2017 though, I’m sorry NXNE, but, I think it’s time we take a break (that’s my cowardly way of saying let’s never see each other again. Ever).