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Old, But Not Dead Yet

One man's journey to Not Dead Yet Fest in Toronto. Or, a saga of learning to love furniture as much as you love hardcore.
December 3, 2013, 4:05pm

S.H.I.T. by Justin Friskie

It’s 2:30 a.m. in Toronto, and a band named S.H.I.T. is playing a loft above a bike shop downtown. (Drake is not here.) I’m hitting on an old friend, scanning the room for a New Yorker with a car so I can get a pair of rare space-age end tables home to my Brooklyn apartment.

As it happened, I was in Drakeville for a hardcore fest, Not Dead Yet, the Chaos in Tejas understudy currently enjoying its third year. My plan was to see under an hour of live music and get my pair of Kay Leroy Ruggles for Umbo end tables, in white, back home in one piece. I had been after them for a while, but no one near me was selling. I bought them from a Toronto store a week earlier, on a tip from a friend, Jonah. I told him I’d get them home myself, and he picked them up for me. Seeing S.H.I.T.’s set put my under-an-hour goal in jeopardy, but I could get the tables home, I was sure of it. They were plastic and each two feet tall, resembling shiny piss-white pieces of excreta, and got smoother the more I looked. I just needed to find a friend with a car.

Limp Wrist by Justin Fiskie

Being over 30, I am one of the five oldest people here. (Here is Soybomb, a loft above a bicycle shop on Bathurst and Queen, in its 10th year of operation, and, per its Facebook page, “home to 4.5 people, 2 cats, and 1 dog.”) We’re is right downtown, not too far North or East, and close to Hard Luck Bar, the night’s main venue, from which came a trickle of punks. The line outside, which I skipped, is 40 deep and four wide. The first person I saw inside was a college-aged kid with rosy cheeks and a U.S. military-issue Vietnam-era steel pot, the helmet from Full Metal Jacket. A band I was not there for played songs I didn’t know and I leaned against some plywood, chatting up my friend and seeing others from Texas, Virginia, and Montreal drift in and out of the frame, but none from New York. Did I bite off more than I could chew? How can no one from New York be here? Was I dumb to broker a vintage furniture deal during a weekend of hardcore shows?

A bicycle co-op with bad carpentry is, at first blush, a bad setting for something important, but this is how hardcore shows work in 2013, and, indeed, have always worked. They happen where they can. The music from the 1980s that makes its way into books and museums is a split from today. Hardcore—angry, civilian music—is still around, of course, and plentiful, regularly replenished with young men and women seeking music, radicalism, an end to their own crushing boredom, fashion, friendship, violence, or any combination of the above. Miniscule, unprofitable, and American, its bands are predominantly college-aged (like S.H.I.T., younger than me), and vary from bad to pretty good. Some, now and then, are great. (Some of us think it hasn’t produced a good full-length album 1990; if right, that’s the difference between then and now.) Still, most bands stick to singles, and all are either good or interesting live. The dozens of relatively anonymous, perfectly bad groups that make up the majority of every city’s scene play in bike squats, sometimes packed ones.

Iron Age by Angela Owens

Not Dead Yet’s lineup is a quick and accurate snapshot of the genre now. There is Limp Wrist, queer-core ex- of Los Crudos who were “that spic band” from the 1990s (same singer); Mind Eraser, a band whose drummer forgot his passport at home and didn’t cross the border, and who used three drummers in their headlining show on Friday; Iron Age, a reunited thrash group from Texas whose guitarist made Deadspin and is now in law school with one in the oven; Disengage, the side-project straight-edge band of the popular pop-punk group Title Fight, who used another guitarist from another straight edge band a couple towns over since their guitarist doesn’t want to do it anymore; The Omegas, whose singer wears raincoats and Blu-Blockers on-stage and does bad standup between songs but who overcomes these disabilities on record; No Tolerance, a straight-edge band who shares a singer with Mind Eraser and whose guitarist has a black-tattooed arm and two black-tattooed legs, or, if you like, one white arm.

S.H.I.T. played quick, with fleet drumming and a singer who wore black and used his microphone stand. Bicycles hung from most of the ceiling, and swayed when people danced. The backline was good, and made the bands sound heavy. Napalm Raid and Condition, two sturdy d-beat bands, turned in sets heavier and fatter than the YouTubes of their records I listened to the next week out of curiosity. Most of the crowd wore black and held tall boys, and our friend in the helmet moved in and out of it like a politician glad-handing constituents. The back room’s beers, on sale for cheap, got sprayed into the crowd, or tossed, during bands’ sets, as if on cue. No one was smoking, but it reeked of cigarettes, as did my outfit the next morning. There was a roof to piss off and fool around on, and see bands from, through a hole. The bathroom had a tub in the middle, a big one you might find in a honeymoon suite, and “no fucking” printed out on a piece of paper taped to the wall.

No Tolerance by Angela Owens

I hesitate explaining my travel plans for shows like these to people I know, unless they’re the friends I’m going to see. To a layman, it all sounds like bad bands in a smelly room. I can admit that it is. But a good hardcore show has less to do with the quality of the music on the bill—or its execution—than with who’s there, like a party. Anyways, no one goes for the music besides the high school kids—that’s what records are for. The best hardcore shows are like the end of a Fellini film, where everyone you’ve ever met is hanging out together, shooting the shit.

On Saturday, I missed the entire matinee and then my friend’s band opening the evening show, even though I stayed at his house the night before and hung out with him all day. I snuck into the third show, Iron Age headlining, with friends from Toronto, and another friend of mine was tending bar and fed me Diet Cokes. A pizza arrived. No one ordered it. My bartender friend said his friend, also a hardcore kid, was delivering pies that day and held onto the box so he could use it to sneak in. It still had a couple slices. I had one. I played with my phone, scanning for texts. Iron Age, who were setting up, stayed at my parents’ house seven years ago, where they spent most of the time showering and working out on the Nautilus. If I didn’t play my cards right, I’d be stuck hauling two bulky tables to the post office when the music stopped.

Omegas by Angela Owens

As Iron Age played songs I hadn’t heard in years but knew note for note, I refreshed my texts and thought about a George Plimpton story that perversely applied. He was having cold feet before his wedding. His friend Thomas Guinzburg was dispatched to help him snap out of it: “George, George,” he said, “just look at this way, whatever else, you are never going to be lonely again.” Guinzburg: “And he looked at me despairingly, eyes glazed with anxiety, and threw his arms around me and said, ‘Tombo, I’ve never been lonely in my whole life.’” Some people feel different all the time and are different through their whole lives, and sometimes they get together. Jonah tapped me on the shoulder and said he’d be at home Sunday afternoon, and I texted to see if my friend with a car would meet me then in East Toronto to pick up the Umbos.

I was craning my neck through every song and note of the dead conversation I was drawn into by the plywood, past bikes near my head and girls waiting for the bathroom. I finally saw someone from home and left my friend to talk to her. She said she drove up with an empty car, and that it was my lucky day and if I pitched in for gas, she could get my end tables back to New York. I was relieved I took the chance. Over 30, I’d moved on from records to outfitting my home. A young kid next to me asked where the bar was. My buying habits changed, but had anything else? I talk mostly about furniture with my friend Jonah, since the musical bedrock is an unstated agreement. He originally picked them up for himself.

I spent the rest of the weekend focused on the handoff, dashing into anywhere with wireless trying to get my two friends, who had never met, in one place. I went to the Sunday matinee show, where I fell asleep. The straight-edge merch guy was reading Dream on Monkey Mountain—he was reading it for class—and I found a note in my phone that said “Toronto has the best loose candy.” I got the call to meet for seven, took a streetcar east to a coffee shop that kicked me out at six, grabbed a donut and headed to Jonah’s, where I put the end tables in my other friend’s car and my vacation was over.