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The annual DIY punk and hardcore fest is off this year, but they'll be throwing a one-day mini-fest in August at Velvet Underground
For nearly a decade, Greg Benedetto and Sarde Hardie have been putting on the annual Toronto punk and hardcore festival Not Dead Yet. But not this year. This would have been the 10th edition of the fest, which has become an important cog in Toronto’s DIY music infrastructure – but they’ve decided not to do it.
Instead, NDY will be putting on a festival in New York City called Hardcore Hell from August 9 to 11, and a scaled-back one-day mini-fest in Toronto on August 16 at Velvet Underground.
The event, which the show poster jokingly calls Not Not Dead Yet, will feature Kriegshog and Skizophrenia (both from Japan), Vaaska (from Austin, Texas), Game (from London, UK, but with Jonah Falco from Fucked Up on drums) and local bands Absolut, Tashme and S.H.I.T. It came about after they had already decided not to do the festival, as a way to bring the two Japanese bands (who had expressed interest in playing) to the city, while still making it worth their while.
“Not Dead Yet operated as a way for us to create an excuse for bands we like to come to Toronto,” says Benedetto over the phone. “This is exactly that but a much, much smaller version.”
So why not do the full festival?
“We were just feeling less connected to that model and we didn’t want to stay married to it,” Benedetto says over the phone. “It’s a lot of work and it takes up a lot of our spare time, which is a lot for something that is essentially a labour of love.”
Benedetto says he and Hardie tried to take a step back last year and allow others to apprentice and eventually take it over, but they still found themselves feeling like the bosses. Instead, they wanted to create space for other younger folks to put on DIY shows from their own perspectives.
“We felt we needed to blow up the legacy,” Benedetto says. “[Legacy] is such a pervasive thing. [DIY punk] is not supposed to be founded around that, but a lot of us hold up our heroes. I hate that shit.”
Not Dead Yet is still booking and promoting shows throughout the year, though on a larger, less DIY level.
Now he says he’s seeing people taking up the mantle, citing festivals like New Friends Fest, Trapdoor Fest, Festival Lingua Franca, which focuses on punk and metal bands with Black members, and Our Latin Thing Punk Fest, which focuses on Latinx members of the local punk scene.
He says he’s impressed at what people in the punk scene – not to mention other DIY scenes, like dance music – have been able to do considering how much independent culture is getting priced out of Toronto right now. In the last few years of the festival, they always had to scramble to find new venues because so many of their staples – Rancho Relaxo, Soybomb, the Silver Dollar, S.H.I.B.G.’s, and recently Faith/Void, D-Beatstro and Coalition – keep shutting down. And it’s getting harder to find spaces to play that aren’t bars.
“Long term, I do wonder what the future of independent culture is in a city that is so driven by the pursuit of capital,” he says. “I don’t know what Toronto looks like next. I’m having trouble understanding it now.”
That said, he’s allergic to the eulogizing that goes on when a venue or festival ends. He wants to push forward the idea that anyone can do what he and Hardie were doing with Not Dead Yet fest.
“Call or email the bands you like or message them on Instagram and ask them to play, find a place to do the show and then do the show,” he instructs. “Learn from that action, fix the things that were broken the first time and do it again. Then do it again and again and again. That’s all it takes.”