Published Sep 08, 2019"This festival's brought to you by the nothingness inside of you."
One hand on a mic and the other resting on his stomach, Matty Matheson is sweating under a five o'clock sun and a blue Mack truck hat, van Gogh's Starry Night stretched across his chest as he's piecing together the origin of his festival in an explicit stream of consciousness that meanders into anecdotes about friends pissing in his pockets and offering up dog shit biscuits as metaphors for the bittersweet hands we get dealt in life.
Matheson launched the first MattyFest as a Dirty 30 birthday bash for himself in the basement of his Parkdale restaurant, Parts & Labour, but the parties stopped after a third instalment helped precipitate realizations about the self-destructiveness of his Kitchen Confidential lifestyle.
Since then, he's gotten sober, hosted a pair of shows for VICE, toured behind his first cookbook, relocated to a farm in Fort Erie, and he's working on a new restaurant. Meanwhile, Parts & Labour closed its doors for good in January.
So this year, MattyFest has been revived as a two-stage co-production with Live Nation at Echo Beach, and the 2019 reboot has a program to match the chef's larger-than-life glow-up, including headlining performances from Wu-Tang Clan, Danny Brown and Descendents.
Making their way through the gates, attendees were greeted by an inflated giant baring Matty's shirtless tattooed likeness, legs spread eagle and arms throwing up peace signs, starfish-like, at a fork in the path leading to either stage. Along the way, a stream of highly grammable offerings from local restaurants like Buca, Famiglia Baldassarre and Jen Agg's Le Swan that meaningfully elevate festival food beyond the deep fried everything we're used to (although some well-meaning experiments like Superpoint's openface mortadella sandwich quickly become precarious compostable plate balancing acts sending deli meat to a sandy end), as well as a VIP BBQ pit, sponsored activations, Matty Money booths selling tokens for food purchases (menu items fetch one or two tokens, $6 each) and a presence from Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) offering naloxone kits and information. It's a wonder the city didn't catch whiff of this and strong-arm its way in and call it Mattylicious.
I started celebrating the only way I saw fit, trading in my currency for Matty Money and wandering over to the Matty Stage for a burger lunch from Matty's Patty's, devouring lengthy pepperoncinis and greasy simplicity from a shaded grassy knoll as local Luna Li's guitar and violin loops washed over me like a daydream.
The afternoon programming on the main Beach Stage called back to MattyFests past, previous fest performers like Jennifer Castle and METZ warming up in the sun, Castle and her expanded Angels of Death band taking everyone down a hazy psych-folk trail while toddlers danced aimlessly around their parents like cherubic fairies. Watching one ear-muffled kiddo indifferently topping up the bed of their toy dump truck with sand while METZ filled up the open air setting with huge, chugging noise spectacles that stretched their songs well-beyond their recorded versions, I questioned the implications of the vast performance setting, but when the crowd hoisted Good Grief singer Dan Ashworth and his rolling walker above their heads for a finale performance of "Spit You Out" it felt as intimate as one of the hang-off-the-ceiling club shows METZ thrives in.
So far so good. But when night came, many of the food vendors had sold out, and the remaining options decreased rapidly as attendees scrambled to use up their tokens, a long line stretching up the beach from Maker Pizza. Some complained about this for the rest of the night, but it was by design and stated prominently in the festival literature: in a commitment to sustainability and minimizing food waste, all of the restaurants would only provide a limited number of meals. For my Matty Money, this was an opportunity to try something new, so I picked up some fried squid with romesco from Canis, sat down on a rock, and tried to process fans moshing to Gogol Bordello while sopping up as much squid ink as I could.
Alternating between blistering hardcore blasts and emotive pop punk choruses, Descendents ripped through their set with their usual blend of humour and energy, dedicating "I Like Food" (and then "Wienerschnitzel," and then all of the songs) to Matty, because a band that shifts so swiftly from suburban boredom to Peter Pan syndrome to anti-fascism to substance abuse to fast food excess really does get at the essence of all of this, and they know it.
For similar reasons, MattyFest could have been easily satisfied with the conoisseurial flows of Ghostface and Raekwon the Chef in the headliner seats, but the whole Wu-Tang Clan (pictured) comes out for MattyFest, a hopeful extension of the same legal manoeuvring that allowed them all to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers with Toronto fans at a free concert at Rebel last year; even ODB's eldest son came out to supply his father's bars. They play all the hits — "C.R.E.A.M.," "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'," "Bring Da Ruckus," "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" — and then some over the course of 80 minutes, not without treading into pretty shamelessly crass self-promotion: the performance is preceded by trailers for the RZA-directed Cut Throat City and Hulu's new biopic series Wu-Tang: American Saga, and at one point Raekwon makes sure to alert everyone to his new bricks and mortar outpost at Yonge and Dundas.
You can cut the ham with a knife, but it's impossible to deny the enduring self-made nature of the crew, and as I'm watching Inspectah Deck boast on "Protect Ya Neck," I think of Matty's dinnertime sidestage crowdwork: "Who in the crowd is a broken person? Yeah! Who's had trauma? Yeeeeah! We're all broken! And that's the thing about it, we're all broken, but guess what? You can put yourself back together."