In an unfair but unavoidable way, NXNE is set up for daunting comparisons to its brand-sake sibling, the Austin, TX hullabaloo that is SXSW. At SXSW, the biggest acts in music, of contemporary buzz and unshakable yesteryear, just show the hell up in the Texas culture hub, surrounded by tech hopefuls, tote bags and BBQ secret menus. For Toronto’s NXNE, a slice of that happens ... sometimes.

Some years you’ll see titans - Iggy Pop, De La Soul, Mudhoney and more - without a wink of sleep. You’ll fill the cataracts with, say, Les Savy Fav, Japanther, Anamanaguchi. It’ll be great. It’ll feel like one of the most exhilarating concert-hopping experiences of your local life. But it’s a bit of an illusion, because you squinted. There wasn’t that bittersweet, overwhelming option of other acts, but fuck it, you had a good time.

That’s NXNE on a good year. So what are the odds that NXNE '13 will strike that sweet spot for all the music-jonesing denizens of Toronto? Unlikely - but not impossible.

If you like the punk rock, then by all means get your hair stiffy. Of all the sweeping genre offerings NXNE ’13 delivers the healthiest serving with its a filthy punk buffet, with flavours of all kinds! There is a bevy of great hometown heroes like Fucked Up (June 16th, Horseshoe), Odonis Odonis (June 15th, The Garrison) and Moon King (June 13th, Horseshoe). A similarly static showcase will be on June 13th at The Beaver, with Hussy and Mexican Slang. Loud youth from further places include the precious Danish, underage drinkers Iceage (June 16th, Horseshoe), not to mention White Lung (June 15th, Horseshoe) and Shannon & The Clams (June 15th, Silver Dollar Room).

For the dangerously curious, there’s the not-quite Black Flag super-group FLAG, with Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, along with other alumni (but not the ones to tie the Black Flag knot) continuing to find things to be angry at on June 15th at the Opera House. For those whose punk rock palette never evolved past junior high, Billy Talent takes Yonge and Dundas Square for free on June 15th and Social Distortion on the 13th.

Do you like loud music, but aren't necessarily angry? Don’t worry, there’s good old fashioned, unthreatening indie rock as well! From all across the true north strong and free gather an all-caps-for-no-reason BRAIDS (June 13th, Comfort Zone), We Are Wolves (June 14th, Wrongbar) and the I-can’t-earnestly-stress-how-good-they-are Cousins (June 15th, The Garrison). Local icon and high-fantasy–facial-hair canvas Gentleman Reg takes the Rivoli on June 13th. Sloan, Sloan! Sloan is Sloan at The Great Hall on June 14th.

For indie / alt / pop / alternative / whatever acts that have to go through customs, brilliant lyricists and neurotic rappers WHY? get shit off their chest at the Horseshoe on June 15th. Likewise, We Are Scientists do a freebie at Yonge and Dundas on June 15th, and a payme at Lee’s Palace later that night. For things to make you go ‘huh?’ there’s US Girls (June 13th, The Garrison), Buke & Gase (June 14th, Horseshoe) and Julian Lynch (June 14th, Sneaky Dee’s).

The hip hop offering is a bit paltry, but it is there. They also all perform for free at Yonge and Dundas on June 16th. Old-school NYC pair Smif N’ Wessun hit the Drake Hotel on June 15th. New-schoolers stop by too, like Fat Tony (June 15th, Bruise Cruise & June 16th, Yonge Dundas Square) and Joey Bada$$ (June 16th, Wrongbar). It was bad news when Big Boi dropped out of his headlining show due to a knee injury, but the swift substitution of Ludacris was a pleasant surprise, for all those with Fast 6 promotional posters burning for an autograph. Just don’t spend too much time wondering why they couldn’t bill the two together in the first place.

For surefire memories forever, make sure to check out room-blaster Dan Deacon’s set at the intimate and soon-to-be-too-sweaty Horseshoe (on June 14th) with Moon King and The Soft Moon. Or there’s the Bruise Cruise, a fate-tempting party boat that’ll shake around Lake Ontario with Fat Tony, We Are Wolves, Odonis Odonis and Mikal Cronin on a Saturday (June 15th) afternoon. Sure, you could miss currently unstoppable The National on June 14th, for FREE, FREE FOLKS, FREE! at Yonge and Dundas Square, but you’d be kicking yourself for weeks to come.

This isn’t NXNE’s strongest showing. There’s two very obvious headliners, a slim backup of fan favourites, undergrounds and risers, and the usual tidal fog of unknowns and hopefuls. With those top layers a little slimmer than usual, and a lot of shows related only by proxy (wristband owners still have to pay another 20 clams for the FLAG show, and can get into Agnostic Front, Postal Service, Rancid and The Weeknd shows through an absurd-as-it-sounds lottery). There’s a fair support of comedy, tech and art showcases, and a handful of films, but arguably that’s a wobbly branch towards other now-SXSW staples when its core music trunk still needs to grow.

Toronto doesn’t really have its own MASSIVE festival, where musicians already on the tip of your tongue rally on various vicinity venues. If you somehow compiled the waves of summer festivals, NXNE, CMW (which uncharacteristically ruled this year), OVO and ALLCAPS, then you’d be close. But there’s also an argument to be made for a) Pacing yourself and b) Not being such a whiner when you’re forced to choose which of your favourite bands you’ll have to see on a Thursday night.

- Zack Kotzer

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