Toronto’s North By Northeast (NXNE) music festival has cancelled a scheduled Action Bronson performance at Yonge-Dundas Square due to widespread community protest. Erica Shiner’s petition against the concert focused on Bronson’s song “Consensual Rape,” asserting that the Queens rapper “glorifies gang-raping and murdering women” and that allowing him to perform on public property would be “an insult to the people of Toronto.” After the petition attracted 37,756 supporters and drew plentiful media attention, NXNE decided to pull the plug on Bronson’s free, all-ages gig but expressed their desire to feature him at a ticketed event during this year’s festival. (Like Austin’s South By Southwest, NXNE takes place in venues around Toronto rather than one centralized location.) In a statement issued today, festival organizers said they see the compromise not as an act of censorship but a chance to let the public decide whether Bronson’s work has merit. Here’s their full statement:
We at Northby Northeast (NXNE) are very proud of our 20 plus years relationship with the people of the City of Toronto. And for almost ten years we’ve shared Yonge-Dundas Square with you to present free, all ages shows open to the public. YDS is the city’s space and as such we are obliged to listen to how the city and community want it used. A significant number of Torontonians have indicated their desire to have Action Bronson not perform at the Square. As annual guests in this space we feel we must accede to the strong wishes of the community and honour their input.
As a result, we will not be presenting Action Bronson at Yonge-Dundas Square but, hopefully we will still be presenting Action Bronson as part of Northby. We remain fundamentally committed to presenting this artist on a Toronto stage. We are not moving the Action show because we believe in censoring him or any other artists. In fact, we find the limiting of artistic expression distasteful. When artistic expression is limited, freedom and the evolution of ideas is often the casualty.
Hopefully, Action Bronson will accept our invitation to play at another, ticketed venue in the city so the public can decide for themselves if his work has merit. We booked Bronson, in part, because of his latest excellent disc, Mr. Wonderful.
We hope that this series of events does not foster some type of artistic chill in Toronto and its public spaces. Yonge-Dundas Square must remain a dynamic place where many viewpoints are expressed not just culturally but also at political events and rallies staged there.
We are heartened by the community engagement that has been taking place around this YDS show. This debate continues an important conversation about violence against women and its depiction in art and culture that is long overdue. We salute all of those who fight this battle and we would encourage everyone who has signed the petition or been engaged by this conversation to commit themselves personally to continuing the fight against violence against women. We at Northby pledge to continue being part of this discussion with the intent to help act as agents of change.
The Directors of North by Northeast