NORTH BY NORTHEAST LAUNCH CONCERT with Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles, Cuff the Duke, All Systems Go! and the Salads at Dundas Square (Yonge and Dundas), Thursday, June 5, 5-8:30 pm. Free. Rating: NNNNN
The best part about scheduling a massive musical festival in the balmy summer months is the opportunity it offers to take advantage of outdoor venues. For the past three years, NXNE organizers have thrown an electronic rave-up block party in the parking lot down at 229 Richmond. Sadly, this year's block party got nixed after the festival failed to drum up enough interest from sponsors.
Fortunately for anyone desperate to escape the oppressive claustrophobia of jam-packed club-hopping, next Thursday's free launch concert provides a breezy alternative.
It's also the first event at Dundas Square hosted by private organizers, says NXNE managing director Andy McLean, a fact that presented more than a few obstacles.
"We were excited about taking advantage of the city's newest venue," he states.
"The intersection is so busy, it's a great way of picking up people and making a statement. Plus, the show's a way of giving back something to the city of Toronto and instilling confidence after all the negative publicity that's been going on.
"But, Dundas Square being a brand new venue, there are considerable challenges. There were logistical considerations - for example, maintaining access to Saint Mike's Hospital, an emergency centre for all of southern Ontario, and the traffic in the area.
"It's very different from dealing with something like Nathan Phillips Square, which is relatively self-enclosed. We had an all-departments party at Metro Hall last Friday with the police from 52 Division, the fire department and folks from the city."
One of the issues circulating around the newly minted, ostensibly public space is the city's designation of "appropriate" and "inappropriate" activities (cycling, skateboarding and peace protests bad; buying cut-rate theatre tickets good) - and the exorbitant fees required to book an event.
McLean admits that the organizers endured some hassles but is diplomatic about the specifics.
"With the block party, we initially had to turn a downtown parking lot into a dance club. We had to create an infrastructure, bring in PAs and porta-potties, negotiate noise bylaws. By the third year, though, we'd got into a rhythm.
"With Dundas Square, we only had to bring in a big sound system, but there were other concerns. We didn't have that infrastructure in place."
A further negative repercussion of the block party's disappearance is that electronic music - along with hiphop, already under-represented at NXNE - loses a crucial showcase. McLean hopes a series of electronic nights at the El Mo will make up for the absence.
As it is, the lineup for the Dundas Square launch show is solid, and eclectic enough to attract a wide audience without being ridiculously random. Headliner Gord Downie, who anchors the bill, appears with his killer Country of Miracles band (see cover story, page 42) to preview tunes from his new Battle Of The Nudes disc.
McLean says they built the rest of the bill around Downie, snagging local country-punks Cuff the Duke to provide a segue into the Country of Miracles' artsy indie rock, while openers the Salads (fizzy funk) and All Systems Go! (adrenaline-heavy punk pop) promise to be high-energy party-starters.