NXNE Festival @ The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, Canada
Review & photography by Mohamad Agha
Less than a day after Toronto Raptors’ momentous NBA win, Yonge-Dundas Square, in the heart of downtown Toronto turned a street into a festival with two stages, a gaming tent, a small and often empty comedy tent, a flea market, and a beer garden across from the main stage.
One of the first acts to perform on the main stage was Canadian rock duo Cleopatrick, performing a set of very exciting and enjoyable rock to start out an unbelievable weekend filled with tons of electrifying sets by artists from all over. Fans of the duo were visibly excited to see such a great performance from a great Canadian duo.
Next up was The Regrettes, a band formed by frontwoman Lydia Night. As they began to get ready, Lydia mentioned “I’m wearing red for you guys,” to cheers from the crowd, a result of the historic Toronto Raptors wins the day prior.
Next up were the headliners of day one, indie-rock band Cold War Kids. As they took the stage, the square erupted with cheers from the crowd as the band began to rock out, their set was definitely the best way to round out the first day and to start off a jam-packed weekend filled to the brim with music.
Day two started off with performances from Windsor based blues-rock duo The Blue Stones, who recently released the music video to their most well-known song, Be My Fire. They performed songs off their critically acclaimed debut studio album, Black Holes, and the commanding stage presence of frontman and guitarist Tarek Jafar is apparent. He rocks back and forth and moves the crowd with his powerful booming voice, and their set leaves the fans and the crowd wanting more.
Much of the crowd at the square dissipate after the performance exploring the narrow street that the festival has taken over, filled with tents containing various activities, a gaming tent where players enjoyed some classics, a tent advertising and giving away flavored sparkling water, and the second stage at the end of the street with even more performances.
Next up on the main stage was balaclava-clad female MC Leikeli47. Her set was filled with energy as she moved across the stage spitting rhymes, and also brought up a fan to dance while she rapped. She then proceeded to bring a trio of women wearing colorful colors on stage to perform a dance routine as she moved back and forth, captivating the crowd with her rapping and her exuberant personality, and as her set winds down. She thanks the crowd and requests their help in recording a video for her friend back home in Virginia.
Performing next was 88GLAM, a duo signed to the popular Toronto record label XO. A fan favorite at the festival, 88GLAM’s set was full of fast-paced and catchy songs, which had the audience singing along. At one point, one of the members, 88Camino, began handing out bottles of water and told the crowd “Don’t spill or drink any of it” as they told the crowd to get ready to go crazy when he counted down; the crowd began jumping once he told them to jump and the bottles of water were thrown into the sky as the mosh pit opened up with fans going crazy. Their set left the fans wanting more and waiting for the final act of the day.
The headliner for day two was Santigold. As she went on stage for her hour-long set, accompanied by her band and two backup singers, received loud cheers as her fans had been waiting for her performance all day. Wearing a sequin dress and cape, as well as bright green neon shoes, the lights reflecting off her clothes, she began performing and had the crowd singing along. A great end to the second day of NXNE.
Day three was off to a great start as Just John and his producer and frequent collaborator Dom Dias took over the second stage of NXNE and got the crowd excited and ready for the final day of music at the square. Before he began his set, John took time to give a shout out to the Raptors and thanked them for using his song, “Soundboi,” as a part of their historic campaign. He performed some unreleased music and commanded the stage with his electric presence and began rapping and rhyming a capella, as the fans cheered him on and Dom directed the fans and their excitement.
Back on the main stage, Kallitechnis, a songstress hailing from neighboring Montreal, took the stage and delivered a smooth and powerful performance assisted by her band, she captivated the audience and the crowds. Her voice filled the square as she captured the attention of all with her dance moves and her stage presence.
Next up, another Toronto native. alt-R&B singer anders hit the stage and performed music from his EP, Twos, electrifying the already hyped crowd. During his set, there were some unexpected technical difficulties, but anders pushed on, determined to have a good show and end the festival on a good note. He ended his show by thanking the crowd and his hometown.
The final act of the festival, KILLY, was what everyone had been waiting for. As his set time neared, the crowd could be heard screaming at the top of their lungs “KILLY, KILLY KILLY.” As he came on stage, the square erupted with screams and excitement as he was the main reason many had been in attendance for NXNE. He performed songs from his recently released album, Light Path 8, and the atmosphere in the square was unlike any other, as people were following along as he performed his songs. Unfortunately, he also experienced technical difficulties, but he pushed through and performed one of the best sets seen at the festival, closing out an already electrifying weekend.