With over 100 live shows taking place over the course of June 13th to the 22nd (not to mention the countless comedy shows, interactive events, and art and film showcases taking place throughout the city of Toronto), it was hard to narrow down the list of who we liked the most. However, after much deliberation, here are The Main’s Top 15 acts of the fest! All reviews by Leah Concepcion, Max Libman, and Courtney Baird-Lew, with photos by Clayton Rego (Juicy J), Courtney Baird-Lew, and Charles-Elie Bedard:

(Don’t forget to check out our extensive photo coverage of  Yonge and Dundas Square, House of Vans Vice Island, M for Montreal Bruise Cruise, and M for Montreal’s M for Manning Showcase!)


Biggest Crowd Pleaser: Juicy J @ Yonge and Dundas Square

Taking the stage after a great performance by Run the Jewels on Sunday, Juicy J sized up the crowd at Yonge and Dundas square with one perfect phrase: “Y’all are TURNT!” With a bottle of Henny in hand, the former Three 6 Mafia member delivered his best 420-friendly tracks to a slew of crunk fans, making sure to insist we “smoke up to this one” before almost every song. Puffs of smoke rose from the masses and, by the time he started playing old Three 6 Mafia hits (including “Stay Fly”), people were going off: enthusiastic twerking, girls sloppily making out, and flashers were all caught on the big screen. To top it all off, Juicy J ended his set by signing each of his sneakers and throwing them─along with his gold chains and drum sticks─into the audience, causing some fans to lose their minds. Now that’s how you work a crowd.  – Leah Concepcion

(Check out more photos from Yonge and Dundas here)


Best Dance Moves: Future Islands @ House of Vans – Vice Island

Future Islands have had a great year. Based out of Baltimore, the synthpop outfit has gathered a tremendous amount of critical acclaim (specifically in the last few months) not only for their music, but also for their stellar live performances. Led by vocalist Samuel T. Herring, the band put on a performance that wasn’t only well-nuanced, but emotionally charged, with Herring pulling out facial expressions and dad-like, chest-pounding dance moves that could put Beyonce to shame. Their entire headlining set at The House of Vans Vice Island was nothing short of spectacular, and by far one of my favourites of the festival. – Courtney Baird-Lew

(Check out more photos from Vice Island here)


Best Artist/Venue Combination: Run the Jewels @ Adelaide Hall

One way to ensure a memorable concert is too book a given act in a venue which is slightly too small to accommodate the act’s fan base. This approach will almost always help create a vibe during the performance which is at once intimate and completely unhinged. The organizers behind NXNE totally nailed this strategy by booking Run The Jewels at Adelaide Hall. The small-ish and uniquely constructed venue combined with the raucous crowd and Killer Mike/El-P’s larger than life personas to create a performance that was straight up musical nirvana. – Max Libman


Best ‘I Do What I Want’ Performance: Bloodshot Bill @ M for Manning / Lee’s Palace

Set to the relentless clash of his hi-hat and pulsing kick, Bloodshot Bill’s fast-paced, jangling tunes had the crowd going wild at Lee’s Palace on Thursday night. Not only is he an unbelievably talented multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also got the boldest personality out there. Without even a hint of reservation, Bloodshot Bill switched from his Elvis Presley-style drawl to sneering, clicking, moaning and everything in between, with even a bit of yodelling thrown in at the end. It takes a lot of bravado to casually spit on stage before imitating a woman’s climax, and Bloodshot managed to pull it off. His no-fucks-given attitude is ultimately what sets him apart as the most charismatic performer I’ve seen at NXNE to date. – Leah

(Check out more photos from M for Manning here)


Best Feel-Good Throwback: Spoon @ Yonge and Dundas Square

Touring in promotion of their eighth studio album They Want My Soul (which will be released on August 5th), indie rock pioneers Spoon hit the Yonge and Dundas stage with a wonderfully nostalgic set. While not exactly setting the crowd on fire, the band’s familiar tunes nonetheless brought the visibly older crowd back to those summer days when Spoon was still playing on your favourite alt. rock radio station. The crowd – which was composed of upwards of 10,000 people – was taken on a journey through the bands repertoire, with the crowd pulling out those early 2000s sexy-dance moves during ‘I Turn My Camera On’ – a hit which in itself made the entire experience more than worth it. – Courtney

(Check out more photos from Yonge and Dundas here)

Once-In-A-Lifetime Secret Show Experience: Sleigh Bells @ Tattoo

Sleigh Bells have yet to achieve stadium status but their days of playing small venues are most certainly behind them. This fact made the duo’s performance at Tattoo Rock Parlour (capacity 150) all the more special. Sleigh Bells has an absolutely huge sound and getting the chance to experience the duo’s big beat infused pop-metal onslaught in a tiny room with 149 sweaty, moshing, die hard fans made this show absolutely indispensable to any festival goer. – Max


Most Transcendental Set: Spiritualized @ Massey Hall

J. Spaceman (a.k.a Jason Pierce) and his band of talented musicians took to the Massey Hall stage last Friday night, performing to a crowd of diehard fans yearning for that Spiritualized fix. The band, as expected, did not disappoint – bringing everyone inside of Massey Hall to their feet (and their knees) with their expertly conducted transitions, and extended version of ‘Hey Jane.’ Accompanied by a backdrop of lazer beams and glowing stars, Spiritualized proved that space-rock could indeed take you to a higher plane of non-drug induced consciousness. – Courtney


Best Surprise: Calvin Love @ The Bruise Cruise

At a festival as big as NXNE, you’re bound to end up catching a lot of acts that you didn’t expect to see. Some you’ll be indifferent to, others you’ll suffer through, and─if you’re lucky─you’ll stumble upon one or two that you really like. For me, that was Calvin Love. Aboard the Bruise Cruise (a boat cruise/show/party hosted by Mac Demarco on Saturday), I teetered down to the stage just as Love began to play. An Edmonton native, he and his recently-assembled backing band delivered ridiculously groovy, synth-heavy, disco-esque tunes that were the perfect soundtrack for being day drunk on a boat. Love’s voice has a brooding, slightly sexy quality to it that’s not unlike Ian Curtis of Joy Division (they kind of look alike, too, actually), which added the perfect amount of sass to their upbeat, Strokes-like sound. Definitely wasn’t expecting to find him in the hull of a ship, but I’m sure glad I did! – Leah

(Check out more photos from the M for Montreal Bruise Cruise here)

Most Jaw-Dropping R&B: Rhye @ Massey Hall

This past year L.A-based duo Rhye proved that an androgynous falsetto and an impressively minimalist, sexy sound can go a very, very long way. One of the most anticipated shows of this year’s festival, Rhye took to the Massey Hall stage quietly and in near-darkness, preserving that mysterious quality that helped them rise to fame in such a short span of time. Singer Milosh – who was accompanied by five other supremely talented multi-instrumentalists – sang without a hitch, launching into track after track of compelling vocals, and announcing half way through that his parents were in the audience and celebrating their wedding anniversary. Ending the night with a feel-good, bass-heavy dance session, and with the president of Sennheiser dancing across the aisle from Milosh’s parents, Rhye proved that jazz is still sexy. – Courtney

IMG_3156St. Vincent edit

Best Yonge and Dundas Headliner: St. Vincent

While Sleigh Bells, Spoon and Juicy J all put in more than valiant efforts, we have to give this one to Annie Clark who is more commonly referred to as St. Vincent. Clark is the absolute definition of a dynamic performer. She combines the awe-inspiring stage presence of Madonna with the guitar chops of Prince. Her impact on the audience at Yonge/Dundas square was palpable as diehard fans fervently sang along to every piece Clark performed while those who were less familiar with St. Vincent’s material stood with mouths agape in both awe and appreciation. If that’s not the definition of a headlining act I don’t know what is. – Max

(Check out more photos from Yonge and Dundas here)

DSC_0934St. Vincent edit

Best of the ‘Shitty Art’: Xiu Xiu @ M for Manning

M for 159 Manning (a house party/show/BBQ organized by M for Montreal) had a diverse lineup that, all-in-all, made for a pretty sweet day. After seeing some rockabilly in the backyard, a punk band in the basement, a bit of R&B in the living room, and a choir in the parlour, we filed back outside for Xiu Xiu, not quite knowing what to expect… and what we got was twenty-five minutes of this: NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGHHHHHHH. Feedback, at a painfully high volume ─ oh, and there was some wind tunnel noise in there too. The nice buzz that we’d carefully cultivated from previous acts and ample beer was effectively killed by the unbearable sound, causing some to leave while others begrudgingly stayed to scowl and complain. Xiu Xiu, on the other hand, appeared extremely focused throughout the entire set, which was almost funny, all things considered. Was it a joke? No one knew for sure. Maybe Xiu Xiu’s got an odd sense of humour, or maybe it really was meant to be art ─ either way, it was still shitty. – Leah

(Check out more photos from M for Manning here)


Most Mesmerizing Set: Fuck Buttons @ Adelaide Hall

Bristol-based duo Fuck Buttons proved that live, electronic performances could still be avant-garde and undeniably dark. Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power didn’t seem to change facial expressions throughout the entire set as they managed their respective instruments and boom-box like tools from opposite ends of their cloth-covered table. Much like modern-day maestros, Hung and Power weaved effortlessly through their 45-minute set, looking almost alarmingly chill, never exchanging more than a glance to signal a transition to the next track. Leaving multiple mouths agape throughout the entirety of their performance, Fuck Buttons were by far one of the most mesmerizing and intense sets of the fest. – Courtney

Most Rock n’ Roll Moment: Perfect Pussy @ The Horseshoe Tavern

For the better part of their set, Syracuse punk quintet Perfect Pussy were experiencing technical issues. Bassist Greg Ambler continuously, and to no avail, requested help with his monitor which had evidently stopped working. Several songs later and with no Horseshoe sound technician in sight, Ambler did what any self-respecting punk rock bassist would do: he absolutely destroyed his bass and walked off stage. The performance than promptly descended into chaos, as lead singer Meredith Graves began rambling incoherently into the microphone and guitarist Shaun Sutkin seemingly pushed every single guitar peddle he had at the same time, creating what can only be described as sonic diarrhea. The madness continued even as roadies began disassembling the band’s stage set up as Graves and Sutkin essentially refused to leave. Rock and Roll. – Max


Best ‘Underground’ Band: Technical Kidman @ Baltic Av.

Technical Kidman are one those bands that Toronto crowds just don’t seem to warm up to. With solid beats and an even tighter sound, the jokingly self-proclaimed ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’ band played a very small crowd, even though they could have easily played a set at a much bigger, grungier space like Tattoo with ease. With an effortlessly cool demeanor combined with an intense sound, Technical Kidman are a band that commands and deserves your attention. Listen to them, dance to them, fight to them, whatever, but make sure that great bands like this don’t go unnoticed. – Courtney

Best ‘Good Vibrations’ Set: How Sad @ Dakota Tavern

If you ever need a little more pep in your step, listen to How Sad. I saw them at the Dakota Tavern on Thursday night and it was like every happy chemical in my brain was released at the same time. First of all, hats off to all the band members for managing to enthusiastically jump around for an entire set ─ they made it look easy, but that takes some serious stamina. Secondly, the Dakota couldn’t have been a more appropriate place; their cozy, rustic decor complimented the positive vibes perfectly. And third, a big shout out to the crowd that night, which was warm and seemed genuinely stoked to be there. If there’s a recipe for creating the most fun show possible, How Sad had it down to a tee that night. – Leah


 Best Represented City: Montreal

For a city that has half the total population of Toronto and about a quarter of the English speakers, members of Montreal’s music scene seemed to be essentially omnipresent at NXNE’s best events. Whether it was Mac Demarco playing what seemed like 7 shows a day, the M for Manning showcase or the excellent Montreal-themed electro night at the Hoxton featuring Tommy Kruise and Jacques Greene, our fair city managed to prove yet again that it has one of the world’s greatest indie music scenes. – Max