Interview – NXNE founder Michael Hollett

With NXNE hitting Toronto next week, we got together with founder Michael Hollett to discuss the changes surrounding the upcoming festival, what music fans can expect this year, and what he’s most looking forward to at NXNE 2016.

What are some of the changes being implemented this year at NXNE?

The big thing is, we’ve made it lot larger. One of the most dramatic changes is that we’ve added a gated festival venue. And we’ve created a new festival site at the Port Lands that’s never been  used. I think it’s time, I go to a lot of festivals around the world and it’s clear that people want to have an immersive festival experience. We’ve got about four different lands this year, so when you go to Port Lands you’re in a cool environment by the lake, cool views of the city, food trucks, sponsorships, and that setting with the two stages where you can can meet new friends, which is part of the whole social experience.

What is the reasoning behind revamping NXNE to include the Port Lands and other bigger festival components?

The old model was running out of steam because Toronto is so spread out, and because of social media. When we first started there was no social media. We would have 1000 bands, 60 venues and people would go trusting our curation and would go take a chance. These days it’s almost impossible to not know about a band. Through social media and band sites, you can check out a band before you even get to the door. So what we were finding is people don’t want go to A show, they want to go to THE show. We had some bands packing venues and smaller bands touring from Saskatoon who would only get 8 people at their show. I couldn’t keep doing that to the bands.

The other thing is, people want to know if they can get in. If you go out and buy a wristband you can be out waiting for an hour and not be sure if you’re going to get in. We’ve still got about 15-20 venues and we’ve got great bands there. We’ve still got bands that are going to be discoveries as well as headliners. The bottom line is you’re going to get in.

We also kept Yonge Dundas Square. Our biggest festival shows were Yonge Dundas Square. Now with the new approach gaming is going to be a big part of it, and that is a hugely growing area which overlaps with music. Gaming and music uses the same types of tools to make art, we’re using the same tools and technology so I think it’s good to get together. Its time to mix it up, and getting back to the square which we are calling “Game Land” will do that. There will still be bands playing everyday, up and coming international and Canadian bands. It has an important part to serve the audience and the bands who will get the big audience that they deserve.

What are some of the highlights of the festival?

I’m looking forward to the first day of the Port Lands. I’m really glad that Toronto is having such a moment in hip hop and R&B right now and I’m excited for R&B artist, Daniel Ceasar. He’s going to be huge, people are calling him the next Weeknd and he’s going to be great.

Tasha The Amazon is also going to be awesome and Ghostface Killah is headlining but I think the whole bill is really great. It’s all hip hop on the Friday as well as some soul, reggae and then all the indie rock with Father Jon Misty on Saturday. It’s kinda cool getting all the up and coming artists together with the headliners.

How will this year’s festival contribute to Toronto’s local music scene?

We have some of the smaller bands playing before bigger bands at Port Lands and it will be a an opportunity for the bands who deserve a big audience to get it. We shine a spotlight on Toronto with the festival and refer to it as an evolving music city. We’re trying to get the government to see the value of identifying Toronto as a music city. It’s not just good for the soul and for the people but it’s great for the economy and it creates lots of jobs, and cool jobs for that matter!

Can you tell me a bit about the gaming component of the festival this year, including the Interactive Conference and the events at Yonge Dundas Square? How does this fit into the festival’s music-focused programming?

In addition to serving the audience we are trying to help musicians make a living, to find a way to actually monetize doing something they love and by bringing the two worlds together it will help bring opportunities to the musicians. By coming to the conference they will actually meet people who can help them get their track placed in video games, for example, like The Arkells did. They will meet people who will teach them about creating soundtracks for games, which would be a great job to have. The gaming people are excited and want to meet musicians but they need channels to find the music people. So we’re going to help do that.

What are some of the challenges in organizing a festival of this size?

There are so many things that can go wrong. Somebody disappears, communication issues are gigantic, but my colleagues at SXSW are really great to work with, and they’re actually helping a lot with the festival up here. I’ll tell you on Sunday how organizing the Port Lands went, as well as the giant gaming component of the festival. But the city and province have been very supportive and help out a lot. We are in a city of music fans and I’m getting so much excitement from the fans. To make all these sudden changes, people begin to think “wait a second,” the challenge is turning it into something good. But now people are starting to understand the changes and are getting excited for it.

What acts or events are you most looking forward to for NXNE 2016?

Like I said, Daniel Ceasar for sure, I mean I love them all- I’m a big hip hop fan to be honest. Shamir, he’s 19 he’s from Las Vegas and people compare him to Prince and Michael Jackson. Excited for Stonefield, they’re a great band from Australia. And A-WA is from Israel, they play real folk music with a full band, thats gonna be pretty cool. And Nolan Bushnell will be speaking at the conference, so I’m very excited to see him!

NXNE will kick off June 13th in Toronto and run until June 19th. Featured artists appearing at Port Lands include Schoolboy Q, Father John Misty, Ghostface Killah, Mother Mother, Dan Mangan, Shamir, Daniel Caesar, The Zolas, HIGHS, Born Ruffians, and many more!

There will also be artists appearing at venues across the city including Eagulls, Moving Units, The Joy Formidable, Stonefield, Cold Specks, Prozzak, Radioactivity, MSTRKRFT, Adam Baldwin, Vogue Dots, Diana, Screaming Females, Bertrand Belin, So So Glos and more!

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