HIRS by Riley Taylor
HIRS by Riley Taylor

From DIY Roots to Community Growth: the journey of New Friends Fest

14 mins read

As August rolls around, Toronto’s Lithuanian House is set to transform into a hub for screamo, punk and hardcore enthusiasts, with the New Friends Fest marking its calendar for a three-day spectacle from the 2nd to the 4th. This year, the festival is all about mixing it up with bands that have been off the radar for a while, like Newfound Interest in Connecticut hitting the stage after 18 years, and Saetia making a grand Canadian entrance. Then there’s Raein, flying in from Italy for their first North American gig since 2013, adding a dash of international flair to the lineup.

What makes New Friends Fest stand out is not just the blend of old favorites and fresh faces but the sheer diversity of the acts. From local heavy hitters like Vile Creature to international guests like Algae Bloom from the UK, the festival is shaping up to be a punk and hardcore melting pot. It’s this eclectic mix that promises to keep things interesting, offering a little something for everyone, whether you’re into screamo, emo, or hardcore punk.

Behind the scenes, the festival is a labor of love, run by folks deeply embedded in the DIY scene. This year, they’re pulling out all the stops to make sure the festival stays true to its roots, with a focus on community and inclusivity.

It’s not just about the music; it’s about creating a space where everyone feels welcome, from the die-hard fans to the curious newcomers.

The organizers have been busy, not just booking bands but also planning for some extra fun stuff around the music. Think gear demos for the tech-savvy and maybe even a Magic: The Gathering tournament for the gamers. It’s this blend of music and community activities that sets New Friends Fest apart, making it more than just a festival—it’s a gathering spot for a diverse community bonded by a love for punk and hardcore.

In chatting with the organizers, it’s clear they’re excited about bringing friendly bands to the stage, and they’re equally pumped for some of the festival’s first-timers. They’re all about mixing things up, introducing attendees to new sounds, and maybe even sparking some new friendships along the way.

Read our interview below.

New Friends Fest 2024
New Friends Fest 2024

In the tapestry of past New Friends Fests, what lessons have you drawn from last year’s event that are shaping this year’s festival?

– Egin: When we first started New Friends Fest in 2017, three of us ran every aspect of the operations. Against all odds and even in the midst of a pandemic, New Friends Fest is opening its doors for our 5th time this year. This means we’ve learned more lessons than we have time to share.

Overall, ensuring long-term sustainability is the most important thing for a DIY community and volunteer-run event like ours. As our project has grown, we have increased our team to nine individuals working year-round to make New Friends Fest and our local New Friends DIY series run.

In all honesty, NFF would likely not exist anymore if it wasn’t for the contribution of our community members who have stepped up to take on this responsibility. This year has taken our collaborative work further, with everyone taking on more of the work behind the scenes. We are excited to see NFF and NFDIY keep growing and changing as new generations find our niche scene, come to our events and take over the reins from us. The following answers have thus been provided by our new team members.

As we look forward to New Friends Fest 2024, what are your expectations and aspirations for this year’s gathering?

– Kai: I hope we can open the minds of people new to this scene. If I might be a touch dramatic, being exposed to this music and atmosphere for the first time at places like Soybomb and D-Beatstro (RIP) ultimately changed my life. I think one of our greatest strengths and biggest hopes as organizers is to recreate those conditions for a new generation of young punks and tell them, “Hey, you can do this too.” If we can impress even a little bit of our passion onto someone new, then we’ve done our job right.

– Max: Aside from having fun, we hope people leave with something new to explore. Maybe that’s a band they haven’t heard before, a new pal or two to hang out with, or maybe something as simple as a new shirt from the merch swap. There’s a lot to enjoy at New Friends Fest.

PG.99 by Riley Taylor
PG.99 by Riley Taylor

Crafting such an impressive lineup is no small feat. Can you walk us through the process of how you curated this year’s array of bands?

– Max: The organizers of New Friends range widely in age, background, and lived experience. From that, our taste in music reaches into all sorts of alternative/heavy genres (I’m a big fan of experimental no wave, for example). When curating, we consider heavy acts that people may only get the chance to see once or twice in their lives, and we try to mix that with projects that are putting out unique and interesting stuff you don’t come across all the time. This isn’t the formula solely for the festival—we employ this in our events year-round!

– Kai: This year’s bill covers so much ground while still being threaded together by DIY, which is a natural extension of everyone’s on-the-ground involvement in music. Most of the time, figuring out the lineup is literally just all of us sitting on a call together and brainstorming as many great bands as possible, sending out e-mails and hoping people share our enthusiasm—it’s a surprise how often that works! One of the coolest parts of joining the team has been seeing how far each of our curatorial sensibilities reach, and I think that shows through this iteration.

New Friends Fest 2024

Are there any performances at this year’s festival that even you, as organizers, are particularly excited to see?

– Max: I have a special place in my heart for the UK three-piece Algae Bloom. Many summers were spent driving around in my best friend’s beat-up Jetta and listening to their brand of twinkly, clean-guitar-and-drums-only screamo, and I’m stoked to see them live finally.

Also on my list of must-sees is Awakebutstillinbed – it’ll be a real treat to get some emotive, clean vocals as part of the heavier stuff throughout the weekend. If you see me crying in the pit, come over and cry with me, ok?

– Kai: We Were Skeletons!!! I was still a teenager and never saw them when they were around the first time, so I’m super excited to lose my mind about them after spending over a decade with their records. Similarly, I never did think I’d get to see Raein in my lifetime, let alone at a venue within 20 minutes on the subway from my apartment… I don’t think that will feel real until I’m there! Your Arms Are My Cocoon were here last summer and blew the roof off the venue.

They’re a killer live band in a way that really surprised me. For those who haven’t seen them yet, I can’t overstate how much you aren’t ready! Dowsing is another long-time favourite I’m stoked to see again; they were the touring band at the first show I ever attended in 2012, so it’s a sweet full-circle moment to have them booked on a fest I’m helping organize. Another band I pushed hard for is Rainmaking—their excellent EP has been in heavy rotation for a while, and I was lucky enough to catch them at ZBR Fest last year. They’re SCARY good, don’t miss them if you know what’s up!

 What new, non-musical experiences can attendees expect at the festival grounds this year?

– Max: It’s still kind of musical, but as a gearhead, I’m excited to see what Empress Effects brings for their inaugural year as a sponsor! There are talks of a demo area where you can test some of their pedals. Hope it happens because it would be fun and something different at the festival.

– Kai: There may or may not be a Magic: The Gathering tournament running side-by-side in the bar area… Don’t forget about the music, though!!!

 How do you incorporate feedback from attendees into planning and making changes for the festival? Do you actively seek out opinions, or do you tend to make adjustments based on your observations?

– Kai: A little bit of both! Last year was the first time the original team got to take a break from running things 24/7 and actually enjoy the fest as attendees, and we all came together after the weekend with our own ideas about what should stay and what should change.

We’re always closely watching the Discord server and soliciting ways to improve the fest, and there have already been operational changes based on feedback from friends and attendees. The end goal is always to make the fest as fun and inclusive as possible for everyone involved, so our concerns as organizers usually aren’t all that different from those attending.

 Reflecting on the growth from 100 to 700+ attendees, how have you managed to maintain the festival’s ethos of radical inclusivity and diversity as it scales?

– Max: New Friends DIY comprises a group of people with widely differing social locations, so radical inclusivity and diversity aren’t just an ethos for us.

Some of us are queer, some of us are racialized, some of us are gender-nonconforming, some of us were assigned female at birth, some of us have differing access needs. Punk and heavy music historically have left us out, and in 2017, we started putting on shows that welcomed and included bands with people with our lived experiences.

That doesn’t change as the festival gets bigger. At the end of the day, we’re still showcasing music we want to hear, which necessarily includes music from people who might look like us or have lived experiences that mirror our own.

PG99 by Riley Taylor
PG.99 by Riley Taylor

The DIY punk scene is known for its close-knit community. How has New Friends Fest contributed to fostering this community, especially in the Toronto area?

– Max: New Friends DIY puts on events throughout the year! 2024 is poised to be our busiest year since we launched, and we’re happy to consider assisting any band who needs help putting together a show. We also have a pretty active Discord server, where people can find others to make music with, couches to crash on for out-of-town concerts, or just to socialize.

-Navya: Holding local shows throughout the year outside of the festival means that we often get to see and connect with people we may have originally met at the fest more often than just once a year. In terms of the fest itself, I feel like the social events have a huge role in building an environment where people can feel close-knit. Honestly, there is no better way to connect and cultivate a community experience than to make a fool of yourself during karaoke in a room full of quasi-strangers.

 Could you highlight some underground or emerging artists from the 2023 scene that have caught your attention and why?

– Max: Personally, I’m bummed we didn’t get them on the bill this year, but i’ve had the newest album from idialedyournumber on my playlist these last few weeks. It’s a solo project coming out of Halifax that mixes lo-fi bedroom pop and screamo with electronic motifs (the kids are calling it 5th-wave emo, hell yeah). It’s great listening for a rainy, late-night ride on an empty streetcar.

– Kai: There’s so much great music happening in our little corner of the world right now that it’s hard to keep track of everything, but I’ve got a few bands I can list that put out records I loved last year. New Forms (one of my most anticipated sets of the fest this year after having seen them at ZBR fest last spring), drive your plow over the bones of the dead (unbelievable emo-violence from Vancouver, perfectly controlled chaos), nhomme (mind-blowing mathy screamo from Japan that I would move heaven & earth to see live), Crochet (super young Las Vegas screamo band with a hardcore bent that does pretty much everything I dig), Drought (post-hardcore in the vein of “The Wave”), One Thousand Times Goodnight (extremely fun & deceptively technical emo band from St. Catharines that I had the pleasure of playing with twice last year). Also, local stalwarts Terry Green and Respire are due to release long-awaited new LPs in 2024. Personally, I’ve been listening to the Terry masters for months, and I can safely say it will blow pretty much everything out of the water.

Lastly, with massive bias (as my own band did a 3-way split release with them), Treehouse of Horror & Please Don’t Crash tore the city up last year, and I’m very proud to call them my peers.

Riley Taylor
NFF by Riley Taylor

In terms of the local Toronto music scene, how do you see New Friends Fest impacting or reflecting the current trends and movements within this community?

– Max: There’s an evident resurgence of heavy and experimental music into Toronto’s cultural zeitgeist. Since the founding organizers of NFDIY started doing this back in 2017, Toronto’s had several artist- and volunteer-run festivals pop up, such as Project Nowhere and Prepare The Ground to name a few. That’s not to say we were the first to put on a community-forward music festival, but we’re proud to be leaders in/part of what I see as a positive trend of cultural endeavours made by the local community, for the local community. Long live DIY.

With the festival’s focus on cathartic, passionate performances, how do you balance the intensity of the music with ensuring a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for all attendees?

– Max: I started going to shows as this closeted queer kid living in Alberta; I had a lot of feelings about being a weirdo, and I somehow stumbled onto a community of other weirdos who had similar feelings to mine and who wrote music about it as a kind of exorcism for all these challenging feelings. I think there’s a misconception that anger and intensity are always meant to push others away.

For some of us, creating and consuming heavy/intense music is part of collective catharsis: we’ve been told that our existence isn’t right, but dammit, we’re still here and fuck you for saying we shouldn’t be our authentic selves. Coming together from the margins – from places where we’ve been mistreated, traumatized, what have you – brings an inherent impulse to care for each other. In my personal experience, NFDIY fans and collaborators understand the work it takes to create safer communities, and we all do what we can to shut down anything that would get in the way of people having fun and being themselves without getting hurt.

– Kai: Perhaps it’s cliché at this point, and I can only speak for myself, but punk as an outlet of rage and frustration is pretty much universal. Where I think our corner of the scene differs is that the people who play this kind of music are (usually) feeling and talking about more than just, say, anger for anger’s sake.

The beauty of emo and “post-hardcore” implies that there’s so much more to be said about our lives and experiences than what the genre’s forebears could do with 4 chords, whether that be as marginalized/oppressed people or just being pushed to the outside by any number of other factors.

We tend to attract so many real freaks for this reason—people who maybe don’t see themselves in more traditional punk or hardcore spaces—and I think those of us from that perspective are often very invested in maintaining a space that welcomes others like us. At its best, it feels like a safe haven from the bullshit of real life.

As organizers, what has been your most memorable moment or biggest surprise in the history of New Friends Fest?

– Max: This year will be my second year working with New Friends Fest, so I don’t have too many big memories to pick from! But, last year, seeing Jenna Pup of The HIRS Collective jump from a balcony onto an awaiting crowd while performing was pretty awesome.

Three of us volunteers also had a moving experience watching Spanish post-punks Boneflower play their set while we managed the merch table.

We bonded over how good the performance was and how we wanted to play music like that, and now we’re in a band together :)

HIRS by Riley Taylor
HIRS by Riley Taylor

– Kai: I only joined the organizing team last spring (well after everything was booked), but I’ve attended every previous iteration and played 2 sets at the inaugural edition.

The memories that stand out most to me: literally every attendee walking together in a huge troupe from Faith/Void to the Baby G during the fest’s first year, finally getting to see Cerce again in 2022 (a fever dream moment), Joie de Vivre’s backup vocalist/trumpeter hitting every note PERFECTLY without ANY monitors, and a bunch of us getting caught in the rain with Pageninetynine after their set last summer—lovely people and even better performers.

Beyond that, getting to see and chat with all sorts of folks late at night outside the venues has always been the secret sauce for having fun at the fest.

Looking at the broader landscape of music festivals, what do you believe sets New Friends Fest apart from other similar events, particularly in the realm of DIY punk?

– Kai: Our focus on heartfelt music and the scale we operate at are both super key to what makes the fest feel magical to me.

We’re able to bring 30+ bands from around the world without sacrificing the tight-knit vibes of a basement show, and our ability to do that is thanks to the community that’s formed around this kind of music. So many of us come to these weird, niche styles of punk and hardcore music feeling like outsiders, looking for vibrancy in our lives, and you can feel how much people care and connect with each other when you step through the doors.

Not to get sappy, but as someone who met most of the original NFDIY team as a teenager, I think it says a lot that the friendships I’ve made in this realm have continued to strengthen well into my late-20s. Having dropped in and out of the scene a few times when the rest of my life got in the way, I’ve been comforted to know that it has been and will always be here for me whenever I need it.

We put our all into doing this, and I hope we can make something people can depend on, not just during the fest but year-round.

Finally, for someone attending New Friends Fest for the first time, what piece of advice would you give to maximize their experience at the festival?

– Max: Don’t skip the social events if you can manage! It’s literally in the name– one of the best parts of the festival is meeting new people and making new friends. After a day of face-melting, sob-inducing music, there’s nothing like belting out a karaoke version of My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay” with all the pals you just made in the pit. One final pro tip: drink water.

– Kai: It may sound obvious, but try to catch as many bands as possible—you never know when you’ll find your new obsession, and you REALLY never know if you’ll get another chance to see them. Some of my all-time favourite performances in the fest’s history were bands I’d never heard of surprising me with incredible sets. Make time for yourself to hang out and stay fed/hydrated, but the more music you go out of your way to see, the more you’ll get out of the fest!

– Navya: Don’t be afraid to get to know others!! As the name (obviously) suggests, this is the best place to meet more like-minded individuals and make connections that can last a lifetime. My first year going to the fest, I was BRUTALLY ditched by my companion and had to brave the other two days alone- or so I thought. Almost immediately upon entry on Saturday, I struck up a conversation with people standing near me, and we are still friends to this day. Clearly, the rest of the weekend went well because now I’m a part of NFDIY.

NFF23 by Riley Taylor
NFF23 by Riley Taylor

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