SMASH IT DEAD is an annual weekend-long punk festival in Boston, collectively organized to raise funds for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. In the words of the organizing collective, the festival “aspires to use punk music, workshops, and discussion as means for spreading awareness about sexual assault.” Now in its fourth year, the fest has established a following within the national punk scene as an annual meeting place for feminist punks looking to further the conversations about rape culture, anti-oppressive politics, safer spaces, and inclusion within the punk community.
The “rape culture” conversation has evolved quite a bit since the festival started in 2011, arguably shifting from strictly a feminist concern to one of major mainstream consciousness. Yet still, when we see a 2014 high school newspaper in Wisconsin being censored by administrations for acknowledging the harmfulness of rape jokes (to name just one example), the reality of rape culture still seems like an epidemic that is stitched into the fabric of our world. Smash It Dead is the sort of space that challenges attendees to smash that culture when they see it, encouraging a direct-action approach to sexual violence education amongst scenes and friends. Radical festivals like Smash It Dead take these difficult conversations and break them down them into concepts we can address in our every day lives, with workshops on topics like consent, self-defense, male privilege, and supporting trauma survivors.
After the 2012 festival, the organizers carried their work even further, forming a year-round collective, Support Boston, as a way to “continue conversations about consent, accountability and supporting survivors,” says Ali Donohue, one of the festival’s organizers, who plays in Tomboy, Fleabite, Potty Mouth, and has been to similar feminist fests like Clitfest in Chicago, Up Yours Fest at SUNY Purchase, and Ladyfests in Philly, Providence, Boston, and Easthampton. “After the fest wrapped, we all kind of looked around and were like, ‘Okay, what now?’”
The fourth installment of Smash it Dead takes place next weekend at the Cambridge YMCA and the Democracy Center, featuring workshops, zine readings, and performances by bands like Downtown Boys, Crabapple, Margy Pepper, and dozens of others. For the first time, this year’s festival will also include a P.O.C. Caucus facilitated by Suzy X of Shady Hawkins, a space for P.O.C. (People of Color) only to discuss and share experiences within the punk scene regarding interracial solidarity, anti-blackness, cross-cultural appropriation, passing privilege, gentrification and what it means to decolonize. (“Last year's Smash It Dead Fest saw the participation of many people of color, as performers, organizers and as attendees,” wrote Suzy in an email. “But many conversations about patriarchy, sexual violence and the criminal justice system seemed vacant without deep critical discussions on the role of white supremacy in maintaining these structures.”) A concurrent conversation about white privilege and anti-racism will happen in another room for those who do not identify as POC.
In advance of the fest, we corresponded with some of the organizers to gather an evolving oral history of sorts, a collection of ideas and perspectives on why events like Smash it Dead continue to be vital.
THE ORIGINS OF SMASH IT DEAD
Kimberly: “The first Smash it Dead was primarily planned by Sadie [from Peeple Watchin’], but I gave feedback throughout planning. Our friend Cea and I (among others) helped out during the fest … I personally focused on creating a distro of zines that we carry at the Papercut Zine Library to table with; I wanted to let folks at the fest know that we could be a resource for anyone hoping to learn more about consent, supporting survivors, confronting male privilege, and other topics related to the SiD.”
“I think I still come to realizations a few times each year, about the necessity of fests like Smash It Dead. There are moments where a friend is feeling triggered or unsafe at a show, and there are times when that person is me... when this happens, I’m grateful to have the space each year [at Smash it Dead] to speak openly about these issues and to learn about how we can support each other better.”
THE FIRST THREE YEARS
Ali Donohue: “I wasn’t involved in the first year of the fest and actually didn’t attend because I was out of town at the time. After the first year of the fest there was talk of doing another and it seemed like it was organized with more intention. A collective was formed and we started meeting and it’s been collectively organized ever since.”
Rani Gupta: “Attending Smash It Dead last year and seeing Condenada was a hugely inspirational moment (cheesy, but true!). Though I had been going to shows in Boston for a little while, I rarely saw non-white women playing in bands, let alone being fiercely determined and playing aggressive, relentless music. Last year’s fest was this sort of magical weekend where I found myself feeling a sort of comfort I had never felt before. Though I was not an organizer at that point, it’s something I will remember for a long time.”
Kimberly: “My friend Cea and I facilitated a small workshop on consent at the 2011 fest. Afterwards, a couple came up and thanked us; they told me that although they had already been intimate, that they wanted to start using verbal consent. It made me think of the first consent workshop I went to, and how important it was for me to keep learning about how to keep my partners (and myself) safe through better communication.”
Ali: “In 2012, our friends Jake, Inman and Matthew put on a workshop about male privilege that included a shadow puppet show and that was really cool. There were a lot of people in the room and it was very engaging. I remember them talking about micro-aggressions that women and female-presenting folks deal with, like going into a bike shop and being talked down to. It was nice to have people explaining why that sucks and how to not contribute to that behavior. Also seeing Sourpatch play at the Democracy Center last year was such a treat and just a very dreamy and memorable moment for me.”
Kimberly: “Finding space in Boston that is all ages, wheelchair accessible, and affordable enough to host a benefit show is probably the biggest logistical challenge we face when booking Smash it Dead. I think that there are many intangible challenges as well; we are constantly thinking about how we can make the venue a safe and welcoming place for those who have dealt with trauma in their lives.
Krystina: “I think as the sorts of bands we want to highlight become more clear - obviously, this fest centers around the experiences of marginalized people in punk/hardcore - it can be challenging to find bands that fit with our intended mission, since POC and trans people are, well, pushed to the margins of most scenes.”
Ali: “The fest aims to inspire people to be more critical and as a result that opens ourselves up to criticism but that outside critique is necessary. We are always trying to learn and do better and that is a challenging but rewarding way to live and a challenging and rewarding way to plan a festival.”
Krystina: “I’m always inspired by the conversations I see happening around the fest. The workshops we host have the potential to get people talking about very difficult things, which is a crucial way to facilitate growth in our community. Its exciting to see people take their positive experiences at Smash It Dead back to their own local scenes, too.”
Ali: “It’s always cool to see new friendships forming at the fest and important conversations being had. One of the most rewarding things for me has been the friendships I’ve formed with my fellow organizers. It’s also really cool to see all these people I admire from all over come together in Boston for the fest.”
Ali: “Support Boston formed after the second year of the fest in 2012 as a way to continue conversations about consent, accountability and supporting survivors,” says Ali Donohue, one of the festival’s organizers. “This was after the first year that the fest was collectively organized and I think after the fest wrapped we all kind of looked around and were like, “Okay, what now? We were inspired by Support New York and decided to start something similar here as a way to continue those conversations year round.”
THIS YEAR’S FEST
Rani: “I’m very excited for the POC caucus and anti-racism discussion on Sunday. It will be a great opportunity for self-identified folks of color to share their experiences, and it will be a time for white folks to discuss ways in which they can challenge their privilege. On the music side, I’m looking forward to seeing Downtown Boys for the first time. Friday night will inevitably turn into a dance party - how will that not be the best? I’m also excited to see Permanent Ruin again because they rule.”
Kimberly: “I’m excited for the readings and brunch on Saturday morning and leading a workshop about safe(r) spaces with other Support Boston pals.”
Krystina: “I’m looking forward to being reunited with friends and acquaintances from all over and just enjoying the whole spirit of the weekend. I find shows in Boston to often be macho and uncomfortable & I think SID is the antithesis of that.”
Ali: “Yeah I’m excited to see out of town friends. Super stoked to catch Downtown Boys, Neonates, Young Trynas, Shrew, Curmudgeon, Crabapple and Margy Pepper.”
Rani: “There have been a few road bumps, but that is the nature of planning any sort of event. One specific obstacle we have been tackling is the accessibility of the spaces in which we book. The Cambridge YMCA is wheelchair-accessible, but unfortunately the Democracy Center is not. Since the DC is considered a historical building by the City of Cambridge, there are certain codes that the space has to abide by. We tried to work around this by looking into ramps we could set up for the weekend; after someone inspected the space, we were told that the width of some of the doors was not enough for someone with a wheelchair to move through comfortably and safely. This was very frustrating for us to hear, but we hope that one day the DC will be accessible to everyone who wants to attend an event there.”
Kimberly: “The temporary ramp actually couldn’t be installed because there isn’t enough space from the door to the sidewalk! It’s extremely frustrating, but i’m working with the director to look into long term plans to make the space accessible.”
Ali: “Friday night of the fest has always been the “wildcard” night. Last year it was at the Cambridge Elks Lodge and the year before that there were two shows at different DIY spots -- one at Trouble Ahead and the Boxfort. The Elks has become very expensive to book and neither of those other DIY spots do shows anymore because of Joe Sly and the BPD. Finding spots to book all ages and accessible gigs is really hard when spaces are becoming too expensive or ceasing to exist because of the cops cracking down. Also fundraising is a fairly difficult thing to do. We raise enough money before the fest to pay out of town bands so that all the money made at the fest goes to BARCC.”
Rani: “Well, I think some of the goals will always remain the same: to create a space where marginalized identities feel welcomed, to have educational and interesting workshops, and to have bands with members of color, queer folks, trans folks, non-binary folks, and women. In terms of the future? I would love to see new faces attending and participating in the planning of the weekend. I want to see as many people in a room for a workshop as there are for a band’s set. I want people to continue to come to Smash It Dead to learn, make friends, have fun, and feel safe.”
Kimberly: “I want Smash it Dead to continue expanding beyond the weekend that it happens each year. A couple years ago, some of the SiD organizers and I formed Support Boston--a group aimed at exploring transformative justice models and applying them to situations that arise in our community. I want to see everyone involved in the Boston DIY scene working to dismantle rape culture in their own way; by addressing micro-aggressions in our friend-groups, booking shows in an intentional way (beyond the straight, white, cis-male-dominated lineups, for instance), supporting the survivors in our lives, and learning how to hold ourselves and each other accountable.”