Punk-Space Organiser Interrogation #1: Greg Bennedetto, S.H.I.B.G.B’s

For my next few columns, I’m going to be looking at DIY Spaces around the world. This shit’s on my mind in the theoretical and the real because some chums and I have been plugging away at a plan to open a space in London. As its the harshest city awash with hope-sucking tendencies and the shining pleasure-free private glass dildos popping up where homes and common space should be, I need constant inspiration from people who are really doing it right now. Greg’s spot, S.H.I.B.G.Bs, named after his band S.H.I.T, has been quietly whirring up the gears in Toronto for a while now, so I decided to start with him. How do the urban politics of different cities, the level of enclosure and privatisation that’ll be accepted without a riot, affect punks’ ability to run and maintain their own spaces? It’s a question with a hundred answers, here are Greg’s.

What was the venue sitch like in Toronto prior to you opening the space?

At the very best, it was up and down. There was a venue called the Big Bop that ran from the mid nineties to the late 2000s and housed 3 separate rooms for shows. It was great for bigger stuff and was always welcoming to all ages stuff. For smaller DIY events, for as long as I’ve been living downtown, shows bounced around various non-punk run bars and spaces such as Ania’s, The Q-Bar, Sneaky Dees, Rancho Relaxo etc. In about 2008, we started doing shows at a place called Siesta Nouveaux pretty regularly. I did about 50 shows there, plus plenty more booked by others that ran the gamut of punk. That place was closed and razed for condos in 2012. There was also the Adrift Skateshop and subsequently the Adrift Clubhouse that collectively lasted about 5 years and was home to a ton of shit. Additionally, before my time, there was a collective space in the 90s called Who’s Emma that was home to a lot of wicked shows by the likes of Crudos, Dropdead, Ten Yard Fight – basically any relevant band from the 90s. It collapsed under the weight of the organization itself.

When did the idea for SHIBGBs come about – any other spaces you’ve been inspired by?

Well, the Adrift Clubhouse was maybe the starting point for the idea. It was a raw space in an old building right downtown (now razed for condos). That space opened after our friend Lyndsay moved her skateshop but still needed an indoor space to skate in the winter. We helped her cover rent by doing shows there. When it shuttered quickly, it was always sort of in the back of my head to find a similar space. I don’t know that we’ve necessarily taken influence from any specific space, but there’s been a lot of music and experience that has influenced how we want to run it. Truth be told, I hesitate to say there is a totally successful blueprint of a punk venue yet. Except maybe Now That’s Class in Cleveland. It’s the happiest place on earth.

What was the process like for actually securing space and what are the financial pressures?

Securing the space was tricky. Navigating commercial lease agreements is very difficult. Having a friendly punk realtor & lawyer helped a lot with navigating the tricky stuff. Financially, we just need to make rent. We were able to get a month to month lease, because of the nature of the space – underground, no ventilation, right near the train tracks – which helps with the financial pressure but at the same time doesn’t promise longevity. We have to pay rent and utilities ultimately, and pay down a bit of a loan that we took to cover first & last and the cost of the PA. So far though, we’ve been doing pretty good.

Who’s involved on a day to day basis (given the name, presumably some of your band members) and how do you split tasks and make decisions? Consensus, benevolent dick-tator ship or both?

On a day to day basis right now, I’m sort of that benevolent dicktator. The band and the other folks who practice there help out with stuff around the space occasionally – maintenance, cleaning and what not. Our friend Andy helped a ton, but then he moved out west and we miss him. We are in the process of holding monthly meetings to discuss how we can better use the space and how it can become more community run. Truthfully, I find in today’s current punk social landscape (and maybe this is just Toronto), it’s hard to do things when you’re waiting on other people’s opinions. I thought it better to just get the ball rolling and if it was somewhat successful, try and figure out how to move it to something more permanent. The downside is that this causes an immense amount of stress. That said, the transition seems to be beginning well. There are a lot of young punks who are keen to help and it’s actually creating a community around the space that isn’t forced, which is super important to us. Short answers to both questions – we’re not the best at splitting tasks and it’s sort of a “both” situation.

Best show so far?

I think most would say the RAKTA show in October, or the opening night gig. No one knew we were working on the space, and we opened it just in time to coincide with our first 7″ release. We announced the show 10 days before and it was packed and a great time. We had a dance party and did some karaoke after. It was near perfect. SHITMAS was also cool. We put way too many people in there for that.

What part of town is the space in, and role if any do you think DIY spaces can play in gentrification?

Timely question. The venue is on a street that is somewhat forgotten. It’s the closest industrial strip to downtown, the rest have been removed. When we opened up there, all that was there were some local community restaurants, some mechanics, a Portuguese bakery, a practice space rental building that lots of locals use and a middling “hip” restaurant that no one really went to. Since we’ve moved there, another space opened (that sucks) and another restaurant / venue is opening across the street from us (which we have some hope for). There’s also another practice space that just started hosting gigs.

Unfortunately, I think a successful space like ours is ultimately the harbinger of gentrification – which really sucks. We recently declined an interview with The Toronto Star (Canada’s most widely read paper) for that reason because they wanted to do a feature on the street and how it’s allowed for spaces like that to happen. The author disagreed and printed a piece. Since then, multiple publications have posited that it is in fact, the next hip part of town. There’s already a couple fancy restaurants, an art gallery and a coffee shop slated to open.

The problem there is, we need cheap space if we want shows to be cheap. It also doesn’t help our security there. We’ll see what comes of it. We try our best to not disrupt the community – no sign, no hanging out in front, nothing starts til late – but sometimes it feels like its mere existence is too much.

Does anything happen there other than gigs?

The folks in VCR have started organizing some movie nights. We recently organized our first punk swap. And we’re trying to work on other fun events like karaoke and bingo. We’re also talking about putting a shop in the front of it, where kids can buy punk wares and records.

What kind of lifespan do you see it having?

Honestly, not long. I’d love to see it transition into something a bit more concrete as it seems to be serving a very vital purpose. Like I said, there is a community forming around it, made up of what we think are some of the best bands in the city. If we could turn it into a permanent establishment, I think that’d be immensely valuable – but some people might not think that’s very punk haha.

If you run a DIY Space anywhere in the world (especially if outside North American) I would love to hear from you / interview you for this series!

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