NXNE and MaRS discuss what this partnership means for the festival—and the city.
North by Northeast will have a new home next summer, when the festival moves its headquarters to the MaRS Discovery District.
The Park Hyatt on King Street West has been the festival’s base for the past decade or so, but it had become clear that the hotel didn’t quite embody the all-encompassing vibe the festival wanted to foster. While the conference sprawled across multiple floors, the hotel continued to function for the most part as normal (business people checked in, while hungover indie musicians guzzled Starbucks and dragged guitars up and down the escalators). The festival’s mission and goals, too, were continuing to evolve—and it was outgrowing the space.
“As we grew and our audience grows, and the people and the talent of the people we’re bringing in grows as well, it was just time for us to move on to a place that could facilitate those interactions better,” said Christopher Roberts, festival director at NXNE. “Even though the hotel was great, it wasn’t built for this kind of thing. MaRS, for lack of a better term, was a hand-glove fit for us in terms of what they’re doing, what their mandate was, and the facilities they had. That trifecta really sold the deal.”
The new headquarters marks a dynamic shift for NXNE Interactive, the digital conference that runs in tandem with the music portion. Over the years, the conference has grown substantially, as has the range of its participants. The 2014 edition saw speakers such as Paul Rosenberg, Shady Records President and Goliath Artists CEO; Oliver El-Khatib, OVO Founder and Drake co-manager; Suroosh Alvi, VICE co-founder; Cindy Gallop, MakeLoveNotPorn founder; and Victoria Taylor, reddit’s Director of Communications, to name a few. Each year the names get bigger, supporting a fusion between key thinkers in music and digital culture.
The increased attention being paid to the interactive conference suggests that NXNE might entertain ambitions of eventually matching the scope and calibre of SXSW—Austin’s larger, more expansive festival. To do this, Roberts says, the tech community and the music community in Toronto need to be better aligned. “I want to get that community engaged in what NXNE is doing—and vice versa,” he said.
Not only do MaRS’ facilities come properly equipped with auditoriums and built-in technology that can handle the AV needs of a festival of this magnitude (meaning the festival will no longer have to truck the equipment in), but MaRS itself comes with a built-in tech audience—which will play a crucial role in expanding the festival’s influence.
“I think it’s important for us to reach out to that community, engage them, talk about what they want to see at the conference and build it around that. I think it’s a much more thoughtful way of creating a conference, and creating a conference that is going to speak to our audience and what they’re interested in hearing about,” Roberts said.
At the same time, MaRS—known for its tech, clean-tech and healthcare startups—views partnering with like-minded organizations such as NXNE as part of a bigger mission. The partnership, one of the largest the organization has entered into to date, will help promote the message that these communities need to work together to better both the city and the country.
“This is not about doing traditional arts and culture for the sake of doing arts and culture,” said Tim Jackson, the lead executive at MaRS. “It’s about trying new ideas and experimenting.” He continued, “We know that in the tech sector, you advance things by innovating and trying new ideas. That’s part of what NXNE is—it’s innovating technology, music, and film. The same ideas that drive a technology entrepreneur also drive artists who are trying to be innovative, so bringing those two cultures together makes a great deal of sense.”
NXNE also announced a partnership with internet music publication Pitchfork. “Participating in last year’s NXNE was both rewarding and eye-opening. I was able to see first-hand what a truly amazing city Toronto is, and more so, what a unique and forward-thinking festival NXNE is and is building,” said Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie.
It’s too early for either party to release details on how MaRS’ amenities will be re-imagined to suit the festival’s vision, but, Roberts promises, “We will transform the space into NXNE that week.”
“It’s going to sound a lot better, it’s going to look a lot better, and it’s going to feel a lot better.”
NXNE will run from June 17-21, 2015.