Burning Love at Not Dead Yet 2014. Photo by Raeven Ramirez.
Now in its fifth year, Not Dead Yet has become known as one of the best hardcore punk festivals in the world. The festival began in 2010 as the brainchild of Greg Benedetto. It was under Greg's booking outfit Stuck In The City that he started putting together the festival. Not Dead Yet has taken place in Toronto, Canada during the fall. Until this year, it was held in late November. As the fest has continued to grow in profile and size, the lineups have become more diverse and feature live acts from around the world. This year's edition features bands from Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, and Sweden. In the process, Benedetto has grown Not Dead Yet into one of the most diverse and internationally known hardcore punk festivals.
One of Not Dead Yet's biggest strengths has been its ability to play to the various groups within the hardcore punk subculture. It draws from the Lockin Out Records crowd as much as it is does from Katorga Works'. Beyond hardcore punk, the festival has also worked to include other genres including noise (this year's edition features an entire show devoted to it). This kind of diversity speaks to a greater philosophy that has been cultivated among hardcore kids and punks in recent years. Decades ago, it was unofficially mandated that kids stuck to a certain sound and scene. If you were a spikey jacket punk, you did NOT associate with hardcore kids or metalheads. Festivals like Not Dead Yet (and its local predecessor Fucked Up Weekend) have helped to break down these walls in recent years by putting together lineups that transcend simple subculture tribal designations.
More important than just promoting diversity, Not Dead Yet reminds people about Toronto' vaunted history within hardcore punk. It has been one of the most prolific scenes in North America for years and too often people forget this. This is the same scene that has produced Urban Blight, Fucked Up, No Warning, Career Suicide, S.H.I.T., Mad Men, and so many more great hardcore bands. In truth, there are few scenes that have been better than Toronto in the last fifteen years.
Die at Not Dead Yet 2014. Photo by Shane Parent.
Not Dead Yet's importance isn't something that can be quantified in just the four days that bands play. It is something that takes a year's worth of planning and promoting to make happen.There's a reason why the shelf life of hardcore punk festivals isn't long, people get burnt out. That being said, Greg Benedetto and Toronto don't seem to be burning out any time soon, in fact it seems like they're only just getting started. This year the festival has become more ambitious in its booking with the inclusions of the noise show (in coordination with Ascetic House) and other lineup choices. And, much as they have in the past, Not Dead Yet has been praised for fostering diversity.
On the eve of the fest, I talked to fest runner Greg Benedetto to ask about what it was like coming up a punk in Toronto, what goes into putting together Not Dead Yet, and who the greatest Toronto rapper of all is.
Noisey: Everybody has that moment where everything clicks and they realize "this is who I am and this is what I want to be doing with my life." What was the moment you decided you wanted to be a lifer in hardcore punk?
Greg Benedetto: Truthfully, I have no idea when it clicked. It's all been a blur. I remember shit like finding out Operation Ivy preceded Rancid and that changed how I was looking at punk. It was like peeling back a curtain and I think a lot of kids my age went through a similar thing. I also remember getting Propagandhi's Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes when it came out and seeing that it included a reading list saying that if the music is important, then so is this stuff. Things like that are instances that certainly changed how I saw music and the world I was existing in. The shit that's getting promoted to you is not the be all end all and you should always be concerned with and interested in the subtext, the details and where people and messages come from.
What was it like coming up in the Toronto scene? What do you think makes Toronto stand out in the hardcore punk landscape?
I can only really speak to my own experience but when I was a kid, I loved it here. A lot of what I'm still doing to this day is built around continuing the shit I saw around me and making sure that the great traditions we have had here continue and the shit ones die off.
Toronto is inarguably the birthplace of queercore (see J.D.'s), and has a long history of queerness in punk, all the way from Bruce La Bruce to Will Munro and beyond. It's of the utmost importance to me that that community always feel welcome in what goes on here. I think, despite that the fact that the Internet seems to focus on the negatives in punk as a whole these days—and there are certainly a lot—the community locally does its best to listen and to adapt and to actually concern itself with building a community. And I'm not talking about Not Dead Yet here specifically, I'm talking about women, LGBTQIA & POC folks who speak up when others can't, who are concerned with having a punk community and making sure that it's welcoming and open to people and who are at gigs in the pit and keeping punk a threat just the same. I don't think other places have that the way Toronto has it. Much support to the folks out there trying to make that a thing in their scene.
Not just that, I think this region has been creating some of the best and most influential punk and hardcore in the world since the 70s. To me, that's indisputable. From the Viletones through to Fucked Up, there's a litany of bands from here that have changed the music we love.
Who is your favorite Toronto hardcore punk band of all time?
God damn. Picking a classic is too hard so let me say that Viletones, Youth Youth Youth and Fucked Up have all played some degree of importance in how I see this city. But right now, I'm gonna say the bands I love are TRIAGE and VCR. They share a member or two and are made up of the kind of individuals that I think really capture what Toronto is about.
Tell us about the bands you've been in. Who taught you to play drums?
Have you heard the Violent Future recordings? I think it's evident that no one has ever taught me anything about drums! I also play guitar in S.H.I.T. I'm marginally better at that instrument but not by much.
What's the hardcore punk scene been like in Toronto since Fucked Up broke out?
Like any other scene where a band gets hot I think. When they were on their rise, shows kept getting bigger and crazier and bigger and crazier. Then they crossed into the world of international touring success and there was a bit of a lull as they were so instrumental in creating the world around them. Hardcore currently is maybe the best it's been in the city since that period though.
Was the Fucked Up Weekend an inspiration for you when you started doing Not Dead Yet?
I'd say it was basically the template. The first year they did it, I loved it. Then I started helping in some capacity, be it filming stuff or running around doing shit and then eventually helping book it. When they wanted to stop, we decided to keep doing a similar thing.
Does the time of year (late October this year, but November in past years) and location so far North present a lot of logistical problems with booking the fest? I know last year there was a lot of issues when upstate New York got flattened by a blizzard.
It's a double edged sword. Fall in Toronto can be equal parts the perfect and the worst weather. Last year we caught the worse edge and that classic western NY blizzard fucked with our thing. This year, we're hoping for the nice edge and that's why we moved it up. 12 degrees celsius and sunny.
When does a punk fest stop being punk and become more mainstream? How mindful you are of this distinction when you're booking the Not Dead Yet lineup?
After this year, I don't think I know anymore. I think people are maybe fickler about what's what these days—they care not about ethics or approach but whether or not it "looks" punk. Fuck that. We do this as facilitators and this is something that we seem to keep touching on. There are folks out there who book fests because it's about them. Fuck that also. We do this for the community here in Southern Ontario and for the folks around the world who want to attend and use it as a place to meet and connect with other punks from all over. I'd say we stop being a punk fest when that stops happening. If the community is no longer invested in it, then we're done.
It takes a lot to put on a hardcore punk fest, to have the balls to say "this is MY fest and this is who is playing, and how it's gonna be done." How do you do all of that and not lose your ass every year when you put yourself out there making this fest happen?
Truthfully, it happens because it's not just my fest, it's our fest. There's a lot of people involved in and invested in it happening and that's really how we get through putting ourselves out there–it's not balls. We've always treated it as a series of gigs in the city over a small amount of time, so we've just scaled it up as we think it will work. And given that both Sardé and I have been booking shows for about 10 years in some capacity, we've kind of figured out that part. I mean it's mentally taxing, we get really emotionally invested in it but we get through it because we work together. And it doesn't hurt that we get to see friends from all over the world doing it.
Last question: Drake or The Weeknd?
Sardé said Drake's dance moves in the "Hotline Bling" video, but the first Weeknd mixtape [House of Balloons]. I feel like NDY is our version of "running thru the 6 with our woes" though.
James Khubiar is a writer. Follow him on Twitter.