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October 3rd, Beat Kitchen Chicago
In the 1990’s, punk and hardcore started to fray into two very distinct categories — “mainstream” and “underground.” As much of an oxymoron as “mainstream punk” might be, it became a reality with the increasing popularity of bands like Green Day, Rancid, Blink 182 and several others whose wallets and fan base swelled. Through the 1980’s and early 1990’s, punk bands really had no idea that there was money to be made playing punk rock, which allowed a lot of freedom and creativity, giving us a scene that was diverse and interesting; limiting any stylistic choke holds and horrible “post” this and “proto” that genre titles. There was basically punk, hardcore and everything else.
While the Green Days and Offsprings basked in mainstream MTV adoration, bands like MK Ultra, Charles Bronson, Los Crudos (all who shared members at one point or another), Pretentious Assholes, Billy Builders and countless other punk bands around Chicago (and the country really) were continuing to write songs that were far too extreme for mainstream rock radio. The scene was the most outspoken the punk scene had ever been, commenting the political as well as social.
Recently, in celebration of the release of their discography, MK Ultra reunited for one night at Chicago’s Beat Kitchen. With support from another “one time only” reunion band, Pretentious Assholes, east coasters Failures, Milwaukee’s Herds and locals Harms Way, they proved that their music is still vital nine years after their break up.
Up first was Harms Way, which features members of Weekend Nachos and Convicted as well as ex-members of countless Chicago hardcore mainstays and favorites. They play metal influenced hardcore that sits somewhere between Infest and Cannibal Corpse, delivered at both, break neck speed and down tempo sludge. Saturday night was no exception. I listened to their set, bobbing my head while perusing the Residue Records distro table.
Herds, from Milwaukee Wisconsin delivered a thrashy hardcore punk attack that would be most comfortable in a musty basement. Reminiscent of many of the bands coming out on No Way Records and Fashionable Idiots (who coincidentally is their label). What makes them stand out is they’re a bit noisier and unlike some of their contemporaries, their songs break from the formula of fast and loud, introducing tempo changes and breakdowns without delving into the cliched “hardcore breakdown” territory.
Filling out the middle of the bill was Chicago’s Pretentious Assholes, whose punk pedigree is as impressive as their ability to meld styles. Featuring members and ex-members of Charles Bronson, Dischrist, No Slogan and the Repos, they brought a healthy combination of crust, grind and good ol’ fashion hardcore to the show. Musically, these guys would have fit just as well on the Apocalypticrust Fest that was going on at the Black Hole that same night, but I was grateful they played this show instead. Unfortunately, there’s no link on line for this band. To find like minded bands, check out their pedigree.
Following P.A. was NYC’s Failures. The one thing I can say about the midwest, specifically the greater Chicagoland area is that the last of the real maniacs and mongoloids reside within it’s scene (and I say that with nothing but love and adoration.) As soon as Failures started, there was a mass wave of bodies ramming into one another, jumping from the stage and trying to take the mic from the singer. This is why I love punk rock. None of it was contrived or postured. There was no sense of irony to the mosh or the stage dives. It was pure and youthful; a lack of concern for your own well being. With the exception of some technical problems caused by a couple destroyed microphone cables, Failures tore through a thirty minute set in roughly twenty minutes with no pause or acknowledgment of the audience. If you’re a fan of raging, tribal, breakneck speed hardcore, be sure to check out their full length and 7”. Neither will disappoint.
Finally, ending the night was a set from one of my favorite Chicago hardcore bands, MK Ultra. At one point in the 90’s, indie rock heart throb John Vanderslice played in a band of the same name, issuing a cease and desist order on the locals, despite the fact that the audiences didn’t really overlap. MK Ultra reclaimed the name and spent their set Saturday night picking exactly where they left off in 2000. It felt as if they never lost a step and played with the same vigor and energy that they did in their “heyday.”
Unlike the 1990’s incarnation of the band, there was very little political banter between songs and was replaced with genuine appreciation for the audience attending and a call to the punk scene to start talking about issues on stage between songs. Something that was time honored in the 90’s, replaced by either apathy, or an understanding that everyone in attendance operates on the same page.
The discography is now available on two LP’s, along with a digital download coupon, on Youth Attack records.
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