Torontoist's Top Picks for NXNE
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Torontoist’s Top Picks for NXNE

We cut through the noise, and give our best best for the annual music fest.

It’s time for another year of NXNE, with free shows and for-money shows all around the downtown core (and a bit beyond). This year featured a big distraction with the controversy that surrounded Action Bronson’s scheduled free show in Yonge Dundas Square, which has since been cancelled. But beyond that, there’s lots of great shows going on.

We went through the schedule to share our best bets, and how you can make the most of the festival.

Heems, Drake Underground, Thurs. June 19, 9 p.m.

Former Das Racist MC Himanshu Suri’s troubles with depression and substance abuse have been chronicled in great depth—both in the media and on his own Twitter timeline—but when he’s on, he’s one of the most visionary artists in hip-hop today. His Indian-American heritage influences his music in terms of both content (“Flag Shopping,” “Patriot Act”) and sound (“Soup Boys,” “Cowabunga Gnarly”). His latest album, Eat, Pray, Thug, is full of genre-bending genius. Heems’s hip-hop is laced liberally with everything from indie rock to hazy post-R&B and spoken word. And when he’s not doing all that, he’s delivering powerful, insightful talks on police brutality and the South Asian community. We can’t guarantee that this will be a great show, but it could be.
-Chris Dart

Foxes in Fiction, Lee’s Palace, Fri. June 19, 9 p.m.

NXNE marks a triumphant homecoming for Toronto expat Warren Hildebrand, a.k.a Foxes in Fiction. Since hauling his Casio and cassette tapes to Brooklyn in 2012, Hildebrand’s earned glowing reviews for his latest LP, seen his record label Orchid Tapes flourish, and toured two continents with newfound collaborator Owen Pallett.  
Despite the excitement surrounding him, 2014’s Ontario Gothic is a deeply personal album, forged from Hildebrand’s rural Ontario childhood and the death of a close friend. Elegiac, dreamy, and delicate, it’s 31 minutes of ambient bliss. Lead single “Shadow’s Song” is particularly stellar, finally answering the question of what Twin Peaks‘ theme song would sound like produced by Phil Spector. A perfect wind-down show for those experiencing festival burnout.
-Kate Fane

Son Lux, Danforth Music Hall, Weds. June 17, 9 p.m.

Even if you’ve never heard of Son Lux, the electronic artist alter ego of musician Ryan Lott, you know his music. Lott has composed scores for both television commercials and film alike, including 2012 sci-fi thriller Looper starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, and this year’s Paper Towns and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.

As Son Lux, Lott’s been labelled by Consequence of Sound as the “dark, operatic middle ground between Owen Pallett and In Rainbows-era Radiohead.” In 2013, he collaborated with New Zealand pop star Lorde to produce “Easy (Switch Screens),” which he then reimagined for his album Lanterns. If he’s good enough for Lorde, he’s good enough for us.
-Sarah Duong

Best Coast, Yonge Dundas Square, Sat. June 20, 8 p.m.

If a season can be introduced with music, then singer Bethany Cosentino and guitarist Bob Bruno’s Best Coast is the band to do it. For NXNE, they’re bringing their trademark West Coast–style alt/surf-rock to town, and it’s both both summery and psychedelic. California Nights, the band’s brand new album that’s received rapturous reviews since its release this spring, features a glorious title track, whose “California nights, make me so happy I could die!” lyric makes us feel the same way. Expect ’90s alt-rock polished with heartfelt lyrics and melodic, summer tunes that make for perfect sing-a-longs on a warm summer evening. Even better? The Californian duo’s gig is one of the few free performances at this year’s festival.
-Paulomi Patel