In the past few years, the festival landscape has exploded in Toronto and now the bubble is starting to burst. This seems like a tough environment in which to launch another new festival, but with NO FEST local label Buzz Records is aiming to do something different. It's a "non-festival," a way to foreground the amazing, all-time strong local music scene that festival culture often pushes out.
NO FEST has already announced the first piece of their festival lineup with Chastity Belt, Fake Palms and Twist, and today we have the second. On June 18, 2016, the front room of the Garrison will feature a day party with Casper Skulls, Pet Sun, Pony and more. The Beau's-sponsored event will run from 12 to 4 PM and will be absolutely free. All the details are here in the Facebook event.
We took the opportunity to meet up with Buzz Records co-founder Denholm Whale at his day job as the main booker at Smiling Buddha and talk to him about how NO FEST differs from all the other festivals in the city.
Chart Attack: You've been calling NO FEST a "non-festival." How are you approaching this differently than other festivals would?
If you have this huge wealth of talent in this city, why not put that on a pedestal? Let's focus on what's in front of us.
I mean, that's something that should definitely always be involved, really interesting artists from outside of the country that people want to see. They still are part of the dialogue. But, if you have this huge wealth of talent in this city, why not put that on a pedestal? Let's focus on what's in front of us. And so that's the ethos I want to build on for this festival. It's: these are bands in the city that you probably don't know, or that you do know, that are deserving of your attention.
It's hard to ignore that the festival is happening the same weekend as NXNE. And in the last few years, the local scene seems to be souring on that festival. I've heard some chatter that "well, somebody should throw an anti-festival."
I think there were a couple anti-NXNE startups, like the year of the radius clause. But that was never our intention.
We weren't sure if NXNE was even going to happen this year, so when we were booking it at that time we were like well, we don't know, because every staff member there we knew, all the programmers I knew, everyone was just gone. I don't really know what happened internally there, but it just.. changed. They put together something, so that's great. But at the time it was like "well, what are we gonna do? This is probably not going to happen."
We'd been working with them for the last four years, and we'd still love to be a part of it in the same way we were, but we couldn't just all sit around and wait for this festival. We knew we'd still love to something at that time, so we said, "okay, let's just do it at that time." And then eventually we realized, oh, NXNE is still happening, and there were some issues because of that.
When I moved to Toronto years ago, NXNE really engaged me with music in the city. They were able to incorporate the community in the festival. One of my first festival shows was with NorthBy. And it was not a great show, but it I got to be a part of it and it was really fun and it made me excited. I feel like over the years that has slowly kind of gone away, and we want to put that back into a festival.
How has your experience working with NXNE and other festivals in Toronto informed this?
If you want to get down to brass tacks, I'm sure the purchasing is very similar for headliners and stuff like that. But yeah, I want to take bands who are local and up-and-coming and make that what attracts people the festival rather than having huge bands attract people to the festival and then the local community be sort of a footnote. In my ideal scenario, you know, five, ten years down the road, this will be a festival people will go to just to see new bands, not to just go see a headliner. It will be, "oh, I've been to this, I don't know any of the bands, but trust me it'll be good."
Toronto has about a thousand new festivals now. Do you feel you have to do something totally different?
Not necessarily. For us it's less about looking at what other festivals are and aren't doing and more about what we want to do and bring to the table. A lot of those other festivals are just mega-festivals. Like WayHome festival, I'm not going to pretend like I can even compete or do something close. I just, I feel there is a gap for what we're trying to focus on. As much as we are small I feel like there's a way to make it big, but with those sort of intentions in mind.
NO FEST seems to reflect Buzz Records, too. It's like, this is a thing for you and your friends, but it's big enough that other people would want to come and they're invited to come.
[Laughs] I hope so. I want everybody to be friends.
It's weird, the music community, when you think about it, seems like it must be a huge monster of a thing. And a lot of the time it's like we all kind of know each other, especially people like us where we're not working for Pepsi, we're working for grassroots organizations that are trying to support and develop artists. Because we're all working towards those goals, yeah, we're all friends. And I feel like this can be a festival for everybody. And, yeah, I want it to come off as like a two day hang where people are just having fun and listening to bands that are good and are right at their doorstep.
I want it be friendly and I want it to be cheap, I want there to be free portions, I want it to be accessible for people, ideally I'd like to put in an all-ages portion in a way that makes sense. I don't want festivals to be these out of touch, huge, expensive, fashiony experiences that are exclusive to those who can just afford it or participate. I don't want it to be pretentious. Just have fun, watch some good bands, chill out,. There's something going on at this apartment after, come by if you want.