S.H.I.B.G.B's shuts down
Photo Credit/Stefan Bird
DIY venues are self-run places where expression and freedom are prioritized. About seven years ago, Adrift Clubhouse was founded in Kensington as a way for owner Lyndsey to skateboard in the winter and, to subsidize the space, put on shows. Although the space closed quickly, the residual energy that was left over took root in Greg Benedetto, a local punk promoter who began to crave having a space like that again. At the time, Ryan Tong, the vocalist for S.H.I.T., a hardcore Toronto rock band who have a reputation for helping to bring the Toronto punk community together, needed a place to practice. They found space in an affordable industrial neighborhood and called it home. Seven years later, S.H.I.B.G.B’s is a hidden home in the west end of Toronto, tucked behind a blacked out door in the industrial Dundas neighborhood. It has become a necessary staple in the Toronto hardcore scene.
Upon entering S.H.I.B.G.B’s, you follow a flight of stairs into a bare, concrete room furnished only with a sinking grey couch and a slightly-raised stage at the front of the room. It is the appropriate landing site for members of Toronto’s punk community and void of anything but the necessary equipment to put on a riotous show. In the amount of time it takes to run through a usual 15-20 minute set time, the space evolves into a being of sheer power. “S.H.I.B.G.B’s is like a second home to me,” Ryan Tong explains. “…. Despite the fact that it is essentially a weird-smelling, dank, concrete box in the ground, the people and the things that went on in that space are what made it a comfortable place for me.”
Ryan recalls the excitement of first finding S.H.I.B.G.B’s and “having a new space we could really call our own. It's amazing to think about what was created out of nothing, as well as all the individuals who saw it as an opportunity to make it something more.” A space that was and still is needed in Toronto. Ryan and Greg both believe DIY spaces should be a strong community, one where, as Ryan explains, “A community can regularly congregate, share ideas and work together—it’s essential as a means for free exploration and expression.” For Greg, a DIY space is “the means of allowing music or other practices to exist outside of an exclusive capitalist corporate-driven architecture. DIY for me is about providing space for the community to allow alternative ideas to exist in opposition to current ideas and the status quo.”
S.H.I.B.G.B’s was not about tokenism, but instead about having an open space that is community-oriented. “We do our best to navigate those priorities in hardcore, which is a realm of music that is guitar-based rock music at its core, that is [not] dominated ... in those things.”
Having these safe spaces allows for the punk scene to flourish. Greg notes that what really makes Toronto punk unique is its strong roots in queer punk: “Toronto is the place where queer punk was born. As someone who has been involved in Toronto hardcore for 12 years or longer, it's interesting to see that as a recurring thread.” Greg feels it’s incredibly important to understand the history of the Toronto queer scene. Dating back to the early 2000s, he recognizes Will Munro and his involvement in migrating the queer scene out of the “gaybourhood” and establishing its own identity elsewhere in the city. In 2015, bands such as Fathers, Anti-Vibes and Triage have taken up the torch. Greg reiterates that “it’s important to be proud of being from Toronto,” a sentiment that can get lost when we compare our music scenes to those of others.
S.H.I.B.G.B’s doesn’t only cater to a music-involved crowd. It also hosts art shows and screenings of local, political art. Ryan believes that it is the ethic and intention behind these various modes of expression that continue to draw interest and support from the community, and subsequently interest in S.H.I.B.G.B’s as a venue. Greg also points out that having “wicked art” is a byproduct of providing a space where such expressions can flourish. “As a space for art, music or film, the space is the root that allows things to take hold,” he explains. “The space is ultimately most important.”
Unfortunately, S.H.I.B.G.B’s is closing its doors for good. This space that was foremost for the community saw capital and profit as secondary concerns. “We pay rent, we pay taxes, and as such we’re tied down to those capitalistic demands that everyone else is,” explains Greg. The space isn’t just for entertainment or cheap beer, which resulted in a disconnect from the politics they were trying to create. Refusing to participate in the bureaucracy of city licenses, they depend on the community to come to every show to support the space. “In Toronto it’s increasingly getting harder and harder to take up space and take up space in a manner that people are interested in engaging in,” Greg laments. And even if they do find a new space with cheaper rent, “Torontonians are fickle and won’t travel there.”
As it was one of the earlier DIY punk spaces to establish itself, the vacancy left behind with the closing of S.H.I.B.G.B’s will allow other spaces to carry on the punk DIY tradition that the community needs. Ryan has plans to open his own record shop, serving as a bit of a continuation, with a focus on the outer punks of the world. Greg is excited to continue to promote within the DIY punk community. He’ll be promoting for Ryan’s shop and D-Beatstro, which Greg commended for its awesome work in community activism.
The DIY punk community will continue without S.H.I.B.G.B.’s, likely dealing with many of the same struggles between being anti-establishment and yet still required to pay rent. Hopefully, newer venues will learn from S.H.I.B.G.B.’s accessibility issues and seek to provide an inclusive, welcoming place for all members of the community.
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