NXNE 2011: How To Go Solo
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NXNE 2011: How To Go Solo

Forget compasses, GPS, or helpful Sherpas. From June 13–19 this year, Torontoist is here to be your guide to everything NXNE.

Chad VanGaalen at Canadian Music Week 2009. Photo by Lyndsay Jobe from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Toronto in the 21st century has a grand tradition of sprawling rock collectives, but we’ve also produced a number of celebrated DI(All)Y artists, performers who create highly idiosyncratic music, like Owen Pallett, Maylee Todd, and Diamond Rings, and even ex-pats like Peaches. They are artists who are just as comfortable playing by themselves with a couple of looping pedals as they are in front of (or with) a backing band. Though solo acts of all genres are interspersed throughout the festival, we’ve taken a close look at the NXNE schedule and have a few suggestions for where to sniff out individualists making their own special brand of music.
What to bring: While they may have an independent streak, solo artists cover a wide range of genres, so if you’re dressing to impress (or fit in), that’s probably going to be more dependent on the venue than the artist. Jeans and a checkered shirt will probably go over well with Carolyn Mark’s crowd (Victoria’s longtime favourite hostess plays The Dakota Tavern on June 17); you probably can’t dress too colourfully or eccentrically for the adventurous fans of Doldrums (Sneaky Dee’s, June 16 and 18). But, really, wear what you want.
Where to go: Some higher-profile solo artists like Chad VanGaalen (The Great Hall, June 18) and Jennifer Castle (Wrongbar, June 16, and The Great Hall, June 18) are playing at larger venues, but many solo artists are playing rooms where the smaller stage and intimate setting is of benefit to them (think The Central), or rooms with a history of supporting solo and acoustic acts (like Mitzi’s Sister). A number of newer venues have quite a few solo acts scheduled, like 918 Bathurst (where both Dr. Ew and Brian Borcherdt play on June 16), and Bread and Circus. But you’ll be able to range all over town and find artists doing it for themselves (and hopefully, you).
Dos and Don’ts: Do take a chance on an artist you’ve never heard of, in an out-of-the-way venue; moreso than with new bands, you’ve got a good chance of discovering a new and emerging talent that could go on to really make a name for themselves. Don’t think you can carry on a conversation at the back of the room when the artist is playing, especially if it’s a quiet or acoustic set; you’re already wristbanded or stamped, so there shouldn’t be a problem with stepping outside (or to the lobby) if you simply must talk with your friend or chat on the phone.