In Defense Of Music Festivals

(NOTE: The below column represents the personal views and opinions of the author, Tim Ellis, and is not necessarily reflective of the opinions of the Toronto Guardian staff, nor the institution as a whole.)

Defence of Music Festivals
Raver at Digital Dreams Festival in Toronto throwing up the heart sign.

Today’s column is a little bit different, but I think it’s an important discussion to have in our community. By now you’ve surely heard about the two deaths that occurred at Veld Music Festival two weeks ago. Veld is a festival that runs annually and attracts tens of thousands to Downsview Park each year. It’s also quite professional – Veld is managed by INK Entertainment, a company that has successfully hosted large events for years. Like all major events and even most of the underground shows, they maintain medics on staff for the event to help prevent tragedy. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing that anyone can do.

Any death is tragic, but cutting off the lives of young people is especially so. I’m also always struck by injuries and deaths that involve the electronic music community, which today of course is a massive subset of society. Fortunately, these deaths and injuries are exceptionally rare in Toronto despite the millions of clubbers, ravers, and festival goers we see each year.

Part of the reason for this is because the city of Toronto has embraced harm reduction and rational safety policies to an admirable extent, largely due to the efforts of promoters, councilors and ravers from the first big onset of electronic music culture in the 90s. One of the essential policies that Toronto has decided upon is ensuring access to city property for electronic music events. The reasoning is that city property is much more likely to be safely managed than a random club, or (especially) a fully underground break-in or freetek party. Having been to a great many parties of all sorts, I can assure you that this is quite accurate. Not every promoter is as scrupulous about safety as INK or the general underground scene, and if organized events are not occurring, kids often take it upon themselves to simply have a party of their own. As we have all been kids once ourselves, I’m sure we can each attest to this.

In Defense of Music festivals
VELD 2013

Recently, however, this policy came under fire from a small cadre of city councillors. Giorgio Mammoliti and Mark Grimes, two councillors with close ties to developers and wealthy business owners throughout the GTA, pushed through a ban on electronic music events at the city-owned Exhibition Place. The claim was that the move was for safety, although why safety should be an issue at one city venue and not others, and only one genre of music and not others (such as, say, country music), was never quite explained. Mike Layton and Gord Perks led the charge to overturn this direct contravention of the city’s policy on maintaining access in the interest of safety, and in the process uncovered the real roots of the Councillors’ objections – they were acting on behalf of a competing business interest with whom they had close ties (this story is covered in more detail in my interview with Mike Layton here). Suffice to say, the council issued a stinging rebuke of this out-and-out corruption with a 31-4 rejection of the policy; Mammoliti didn’t even deign to show up for the vote, although Councillor Grimes performed an inspiring series of procedural maneuvers to try to avoid a publicly-accountable vote.

Last week, in the wake of these tragic deaths, Councillor Mammoliti jumped back into the fray. He issued a statement calling for someone to “take responsibility” for the deaths of Annie Truong-Le and Will Amurao. He specifically blamed INK Entertainment – which was, purely coincidentally I am sure, the company with which he had clashed earlier this year – for failure to adequately prepare for the show, and suggested that they should never again be issued with permits. Somehow he overlooked making any concrete suggestions for how INK should have improved their performance safety. He has since issued a retraction of his statement in the face of threats of legal action; however, he has made no indication that his attitude has changed.

Perhaps he genuinely felt vindicated, even though his initial proposal had absolutely nothing to do with the venue in which Veld occurred and would have changed nothing about the festival; perhaps he simply made a cheap political calculation that somehow he could score some points off of his opponents using the deaths of these young people. But it doesn’t really matter what his reasoning was.

I knew Annie. Oh, we weren’t close friends, and in fact we didn’t even meet through music; we both met as volunteers at a rally. She was a nice young lady, ambitious and smart and always eager to get involved. And she liked to dance, like a lot of my friends. Like a lot of your friends. There’s an entire community of us in this city, a big one. And Councillor Mammoliti needs to know that there is nobody who looks after our community like ourselves. We certainly don’t count on him to do it.

The Councillor thinks that somebody needs to take responsibility for keeping us safe – which is, ostensibly, his job – and that’s fair enough. But listen well, Councillor: WE have taken that responsibility. Our community takes important steps to protect each other. We know that drugs exist, and we know that you and the people who share your attitude will continue to drive drug users into the criminal system instead of the medical system, which makes protecting people with accurate information, safe equipment, and real medical help dangerous for all of us. But we do it, because we know you aren’t going to look out for us and because we care about each other. I wasn’t at Veld Festival, but I do know that INK Entertainment provided trained medical staff and takes reasonable precautions at every event of theirs I have attended – often massive festivals like Veld that require incredible resources to organize.

In Defense of Music festivals
VELD 2013

On the other end of the scale, a few weeks ago I threw a small Happy Hardcore rave with barely a hundred people in attendance, but we had medical professionals on site like Veld did, and like we always do – like our community knows we must. And like most events – like almost 100% of electronic music events in Toronto – it was perfectly safe for absolutely everyone in attendance, safer even than walking down the street at night in your district and certainly safer than an unsupervised party at an unsupervised and un-permitted venue like the ones raves used to be forced into. Our community takes harm reduction seriously and works hard to ensure that real, scientifically accurate information gets into the hands of the people who need it most, and we keep an eye on each other because we know that sometimes people get out of hand and we know that those people can’t go to the police for safety because you and your allies will insist on arresting them instead of helping them. So we help each other. Do we get it perfect? No. Do we do a good job and run one of the safest scenes in North America? Absolutely.

What we don’t do is try to prevent one another from taking those steps by closing down our access to safe spaces and safe venues. What we don’t do is scare people away from help by threatening them with criminal action. What we don’t do is try to shut down the promoters who know what they’re doing and force people back into unsupervised lots. We know how irresponsible that would be.

I wouldn’t dare suggest that Councillor Mammoliti was responsible for the deaths of those kids at Veld, the way he’s tried to suggest that his political opponents are. But after ten years of being intimately involved in this community, I do know that it is the attitude shared by people like the Councillor, who try to shove us back into the parking garages and abandoned buildings we came from when we didn’t have any other options, who pose a very real threat to safety. Our city has embraced rational harm reduction because it works. When you oppose that, you oppose the safety of the very people you’re supposed to protect.

We are not pawns in your political games, Councillor. We are residents of your city. We are your neighbours, your friends, your relatives, and many of us are your constituents. We don’t need you to shut us down, and we don’t need you to make us criminals; we need your help. We need you to work with us to learn what can be done to make a real difference and improve our safety even further.

We need you to do your job.

Councillor Mammoliti is engaged in a tight race with at the moment with opponents Nick DiNizio and Keegan Henry-Matthieu for his position on council. If you live in Ward 7 and you care about this issue, take the time to let the Councillor know how you feel – and that his stance will impact how you vote.



VIDEO RODEO: Our video this week comes from Vice’s THUMP Channel, a recap of Digital Dreams festival. Digital Dreams is a massive festival that takes place at the Exhibition place and this year is estimated to have single-handedly brought in over ten million dollars of economic activity to the city of Toronto, all of which would have been lost had Councillors Mammoliti and Mark Grimes had their way. It was also a hell of a party!

ATTENTION: VIDEOS WANTED!  Did you have a great time at a rave or EDM event and managed to capture it on video? We’d love to showcase short clips of you and your friends having a great time with great music.  Reach out to us with your name, the name and date of the event, and a link to the video if you’d like us to consider yours!


Looking for a party? You’ve come to the right place! Below is a sample of what you can find this weekend and next in the rave and EDM community around Toronto. For more EDM event listings and reviews, check out our friends at!


John 00 Fleming is an absolute pioneer and legend in electronic music, with deep ties to Toronto stemming from his engagement here during the first heyday of Toronto raving. Tonight he shows off his British stamina with an eight hour set at Toika (471 Richmond West). Tickets are just $20 for what is sure to be an epic journey through dance music!


If you’re looking for something a little more underground, you’ll want to head over to Andy Poolhall (489 College) to catch three of Toronto’s top breakbeat legends in action! Marty Mcfly, Farbsie Funk, and D-Monic team up to bring the oldschool vibe to College street, and at just 5$ cover before midnight there’s no reason not to check it out!


Representing the new generation of DJs and ravers, RvM at Club 120 (120 Church) has featured the harder styles of dance music and continues to do so this weekend. The event runs right up til 4 AM and costs just $10, giving you good bang for your buck. If you want to stomp your feet to something a little bit harder, then RvM is the place for you!


There’s no way I could pass up pointing out the birthday celebrations for my favourite local bar, Bassline Music Bar (865 Bloor West, and I typed that address from memory because I go there so often). They’ll be celebrating two years of solid lineups, great drinks, and fond memories with – what else? – a kickin’ party. No admission cost and no gift required, just head down and share a drink with a crew of music lovers like you.


About Tim Ellis 34 Articles
Tim is a writer, DJ, event coordinator, campaign manager, dog lover, and recovering American who now makes his home in Toronto. He's quite confident that this is the best city in the world.