A singer at a concert sings into the mic while fans reach out and rock out.
RAEIN is playing New Friends Fest on Aug. 3.

DIY Defiance: How New Friends Fest Is Growing Ontario’s Post-hardcore Community

For musicians living in Toronto, amidst the closure of numerous venues, noise bylaw crackdowns, and a cost-of-living crisis, seeing the cooperatively run environments of European squats can be an eye opening experience.

“It was very life-changing,” says Respire guitarist Egin Kongoli about the post-hardcore band’s first time touring Europe in 2017, where they mostly stayed and performed in those squats. “You might have Syrian refugee families that are being housed there in one part of the complex, and they’ll be having a punk and metal festival [in another].”

It was the absence of that type of radical environment in Toronto’s music scene that inspired Kongoli to join together with fellow Respire member Rohan Lilauwala and former La Luna front-person and filmmaker Venessa Gloux to form New Friends DIY collective (NFDIY). It’s a communal effort that aims to bring in the lessons they had taken away from the European scene. “Individuals are more prone to just kind of giving up,” explains Kongoli over a Zoom call with collective member Kai Lumbang. “So a solution that we saw in Europe to that [problem] was putting things on in a much larger collective setting.”

These experiences would also inspire the collective to start New Friends Fest in 2018, which has grown into a mainstay of the underground music scene. The predominantly all-ages festival invites people from all over Southern Ontario to come together over the course of a week to connect with old friends and make new ones.

The Festival

This year’s festival takes place at the Lithuanian House from Aug. 2 to 4. While each edition has boasted diverse multi-generational lineups, this summer is particularly notable for the large number of influential and foundational post-hardcore and screamo acts who have recently reunited.

Post-hardcore, like post-punk, can be described as an evolution of hardcore punk music that blends the power, ethos and sonic intensity of hardcore with more experimental tendencies. Screamo, in particular, pushes the intensity and experimentalism even further, employing screamed vocal and highly progressive musical structures while mixing in the passionate performances
and lyricism of early emo (another subgenre of post-hardcore).

Raein, from Italy, helped to pioneer screamo in Europe while New York’s jazz-influenced Saetia helped to usher the sound from its beginnings in the late ’80s to what it has become today. The Newfound Interest in Connecticut, who have reunited after 18 years, are legendary figures in the Southern Ontario post-hardcore scene whose members went on to be in several well-known Toronto bands such as DD/MM/YY. Mississauga’s Terry Green, who recently released their second album, Provisional Living,
are one of many local highlights.

New Friends Fest consistently hosts a diverse lineup of bands and performers and strives to create a welcoming environment for all. New Friends Fest writes on its website that the festival strives to “create a mutually empowering atmosphere free from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of oppression. NFDIY aims to encourage a diverse artistic scene where audience members can see themselves and their identities reflected in the performers they see on stage.”

During the festival, the community- building practices that NFDIY learned from European music scenes are visible all around. Events normally treated as peripheral to live music at other festivals become integral parts to creating a cohesive environment. “We do catering at the festival,” explains Kongoli. “We also have a pool day here.” There are karaoke events where the performers and audiences can often be seen bonding over their favourite songs. “You have to show that there is a community of people that are willing to put this together” says Kongoli.

Indeed one only has to look at the numerous photos and videos of the event to see hundreds of smiling people from different generations and walks of life gathered together in celebration of the culture they found a home in.

DIY: Past and Present

In spite of the success, running the festival still has its challenges. From difficulties finding venues, navigating the pandemic, and contending with funding cuts in the arts and culture sector, the collective has had to rely on community. “Many long standing institutions that get the funding every year, many of them are all of a sudden receiving nothing,” says Lumbang.

“Since 2019, we received some [municipal] funding,” adds Kongoli, “until this year when they pulled all funding.”

“Thankfully we are at a level of the fest where I think we’re gonna be fine,” says Kongoli.

For nearly 50 years, punk rock music and culture have persisted internationally on the strength of community, relying on the skill, support and resources of people who believe in the grassroots DIY ideals and find catharsis in the genre’s aggressive sound. The continued existence of the collective and the festival is a testament to this tradition.

As venues across the city continue to shutter, New Friends Fest is a reminder of the resilience of the underground punk scene and its DIY culture. At the centre of this space is a group of musicians eager to do concerts differently in Toronto. “I think DIY and emo has a very big global sort of community,” Kongoli expresses with a smile. “You can be a band, but also do a little bit more than just be a band; you can be a band and feel like you’re part of something.”


We’ve teamed up with the New Feeling music writers co-op to bring you more music journalism. Look out for co-publications with New Feeling like this one. They also helped with the music event listings this issue.

This article appeared in the 2024 Summer issue.