Touch and Go has been a crucial part of the Chicago landscape for so long now–establishing residency in 1986–that it’s easy to take the label for granted. But back in the late 80s I remember anticipating nearly every release like it was Christmas morning, whether it was Big Black, Killdozer, the Butthole Surfers, the Laughing Hyenas, or Die Kreuzen. Along with a handful of other labels that are either defunct (Homestead) or on catalog-driven life support (SST), Touch and Go defined the sound that came to be known as indie rock–though at the time anyone on the label probably would’ve just called it punk.

Quality music aside, the label’s most enduring and important legacy may well be its modus operandi. Touch and Go didn’t start as a business: it was an artistic endeavor governed by a philosophy of self-sufficiency. Corey Rusk just wanted to put out records, sell enough to break even, and then start all over again. His label’s certainly gotten bigger, but the reason it still thrives is because it’s always been run within its means. Defying traditional record biz wisdom, Touch and Go gave its artists an even split of profits and built relationships on trust, never locking anyone into a contract. (That arrangement allowed the Butthole Surfers to successfully sue for the rights to their back catalog several years ago, but in a karmic twist, their career tanked shortly thereafter.) The model has since taken root around the country, particularly in Chicago, where Thrill Jockey, Drag City, and Bloodshot all employ similar practices. And Rusk has been supportive of like-minded imprints, offering manufacturing and distribution deals to some of the most influential indies in the country: All Natural, Kill Rock Stars, Estrus, Merge, Thrill Jockey, and Drag City, among others. Some of those labels no longer use Touch and Go for this service, a sign of the growth the arrangement helped foster.

Touch and Go survived the alt-rock boom with only a few defections (Urge Overkill, Girls Against Boys, the Jesus Lizard, Therapy?), and while its aesthetic was stuck in a rut during the early 90s, the label eventually broadened its scope by launching Quarterstick, a sister imprint less focused on rock, and bringing in acts like Calexico, TV on the Radio, CocoRosie, and !!!, among others. It also preserved the music of some of the most crucial combos in punk rock history, reissuing the work of Naked Raygun, the Big Boys, the Effigies, Blight. Some of the bands reuniting this weekend–Big Black, Killdozer, and Scratch Acid, in particular–are stifling a strong distaste for nostalgia solely out of devotion to Rusk and his label.

The 25th-anniversary festival, which doubles as the 10th anniversary of the Hideout’s annual block party, runs Friday, September 8, through Sunday, September 10. Gates open at 4 PM on Friday and 11 AM on Saturday and Sunday. There will be 25 full sets and seven minisets, taking place on two stages at the east and west ends of the site in front of the Hideout at 1354 W. Wabansia. Advance ticket sales end at noon on Thursday, September 7; anyone who has purchased will-call tickets or a festival pass can trade them in for a wristband starting at 4 PM at the Hideout. At the gate, single-day tickets cost $20, and a weekend pass goes for $45; call the Hideout at 773-227-4433 to check availability. All shows are all-ages (children ten and under are admitted free) and reentry is allowed. Professional cameras, audio recording devices, and all outside food and beverages (except sealed bottled water) are prohibited. Food and beer will be sold on-site, and Reckless Records will be on hand selling the entire Touch and Go catalog. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Tuesday’s Child, Literacy Works, and the Thomas Drummond Elementary School. –Peter Margasak

By Liz Armstrong (LA), Jessica Hopper (JH), Monica Kendrick (MK), Peter Margasak (PM), J. Niimi (JN), and Miles Raymer (MR)


5:00 The Shipping News

The Shipping News started out ten years ago when Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble, former bandmates in the short-lived Louisville group Rodan, got together to compose music for This American Life. Mueller, by then a member of June of 44, and Noble, a member of the Rachel’s, wound up enlisting Rachel’s drummer Kyle Crabtree for their debut, Save Everything. Since then the band, which added bassist Todd Cook a few years ago, has recorded two more full-lengths and a trilogy of EPs that gracefully cross-pollinate post-rock and math rock. BM a West Stage

6:00 Supersystem

Like a lot of other bands whose careers have been tied to the big disco-punk come up, Supersystem are trying to stay faithful to the dancing muse without sounding played out. On their newest, the curious and wildly varied A Million Microphones, the D.C.-Brooklyn quartet mashes together minimal house with over-the-top, Looney Tunes-inspired Borinquen bounce; zippy blips with Zapp-y synths; go-go rhythms with rock-the-body robotics. Groups like the Rapture may still be better known, but it’s Supersystem who’re a full 120-bpm ahead of their time. Supersystem will also DJ at Rodan, 1530 N. Milwaukee, Saturday night at 10 PM. Call 773-276-7036 for more information. JH a East Stage

7:00 Girls Against Boys

While most bands in the early 90s had all the sophistication of a fanzine scene report, Girls Against Boys came on like the Playboy Advisor. With bass-heavy production and bedroom vocals, the band oozed a nasty-suave sheen over a posthardcore framework, giving all the punk kids a reason to reconsider decadence. After a string of killer albums for Touch and Go, GVSB signed with Geffen, releasing the absolutely horrid, shticky Freakonica in 1998. But their last record, 2002’s You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See (Jade Tree), had an unexpected emotional and melodic range. MR a West Stage

:00 Ted Leo + Pharmacists

Leo and his Pharmacists are such a new Touch and Go signing they haven’t even released an album on the label yet. But the band’s road-testing a batch of fine new songs, righteously tight mod boogie coupled with right-on wartime polemics. Ted Leo will also DJ at Rodan, 1530 N. Milwaukee, Saturday night at 10 PM. Call 773-276-7036 for more information. JH a East Stage

9:00 !!!

They showed up just in time to get lumped into the dance-punk scene, but !!! have always been a little too buggy to fit in with the one-trick Gang of Four rips. Interlacing ESG’s skewed funk, the Clash’s pop melodicism, and Fela’s trance-inducing psych power, this septet creates a sound that can transform taciturn indie kids into a writhing, sweaty mass of temporarily funky dancers. MR a West Stage


Noon The New Year

The New Year rose from the ruins of Texas slowcore pioneers Bedhead, who went out on a high note with 1998’s Transaction de Novo. Matt and Bubba Kadane carried their clockwork riffs, intimate vocals, and introspective bent over to the New Year’s 2001 debut, Newness Ends, but the new songs were shorter, quicker, and louder, giving their weighty malaise a newfound passion and insistence. Their last album, 2004’s The End Is Near, was more of a return to Bedhead’s hypnotic languor. JN a East Stage

12:55 Uzeda

This Sicilian quartet picks up right where it left off eight years ago with Stella, a bludgeoning yet pinpoint-precise wallop of lacerating guitar, tomahawk bass lines, and thudding drums. As usual it’s the vocals of Giovanna Cacciola–who’s spent the last few years in Bellini, along with her husband, Uzeda guitarist Agostino Tilotta–that really distinguish the songs, simultaneously conveying strength and vulnerability, darting between oblique melodicism and psychodrama. PM a West Stage

1:50 Pegboy

Contrary to popular belief, Chicago posthardcore flag-wavers Pegboy never really broke up–they haven’t made a record since 1997, but they’ve performed sporadically. Founded in 1990 by Naked Raygun guitarist John Haggerty and his brother Joe, and rounded out with ex-Bhopal Stiffs Larry Damore and Steve Saylors on vocals and bass (Saylors was later replaced by Raygun bassist Pierre Kezdy), they’ve released a trio of solid LPs, including their best effort, 1997’s Steve Albini-recorded Cha Cha Damore. BM a East Stage

2:35 Tim Midgett & Andy Cohen

It’s just one of several minisets taking place between full performances, but this appearance by Silkworm members Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen might be one of the most emotionally charged moments of the festival. The group disbanded after the death of drummer Michael Dahlquist last summer; Midgett and Cohen are looking to provide some sense of musical closure, playing a few Silkworm classics and perhaps the odd cover. The New Year’s Matt Kadane will join the duo on keyboards. See the Meter for more. BM a West Stage

2:55 The Ex

When the Ex found a home at Touch and Go in 1998, nearly 20 years into their career, it was such a natural fit the only question was why it took so long. Fiercely independent and ever true to its self-taught, instinctual approach, this Dutch combo has never stopped broadening its palette, from slate gray postpunk to aggressive free improvisation, Ethiopian pop tunes, traditional folk music from around the globe, even theater–all while sounding like no one but the Ex. Their most recent album, 2004’s Turn, might be their best yet: the addition of upright bassist Rozemarie Heggen, whose classical technique allowed them to explore dissonant textures without sacrificing rhythmic power, seemed to give the band a new focus and energy. Unfortunately Heggen left the Ex last year; they’re continuing on as a quartet. PM a West Stage

3:50 Killdozer

By 1983 something in the underground hive mind had started to change–the first flush of hardcore was slowing down, mutating into something bigger and heavier but no less mean. Saint Vitus played a big early role, as did the Melvins a few years later. But unlike so many other bands that made their mark during that period, the mighty Wisconsin trio Killdozer never wound up flirting with metal’s superhuman posturing or grunge’s bleeding-heart whining. Their songs were cheerfully violent, rationally snarky, from their debut, Intellectuals Are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite, on through later classics like Uncompromising War on Art Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Killdozer broke up in 1996, following their “Fuck You We Quit” tour (a blistering live recording of their final show, The Last Waltz, was reissued by Crustacean Records last year); this reunion is the closest Michael Gerald and company have come to participating in the music scene since. MK a East Stage

4:35 Jon & Kat

Although the Mekons’ Jon Langford and Ex drummer Katrin Bornfeld have only played a handful of shows together–including a memorable set at the Hideout in June–their union is already generating considerable excitement. The pair have an intuitive chemistry that’s palpable whether they’re working out one of their art-noise originals or dismantling a George Jones classic. An album from the duo is due next year; this is a miniset. BM a West Stage

4:55 Didjits

The Didjits glorified anti-PC asshole behavior before it was cool, but it was the outsize charisma of front man Rick Sims that really made them special. For my money nothing topped their 1987 debut, Fizzjob, a 21-minute barrage of old-school rock ‘n’ roll riffs and rhythms blown up to AC/DC-size proportions, but the band released four more albums before they called it quits in 1994. Sims went on to form the Gaza Strippers and briefly played with the Supersuckers, but these days he mostly works with Lookingglass Theatre Company. He’ll reunite with the other original Didjits, drummer Brad Sims and bassist Doug Evans. PM a West Stage

5:40 P.W. Long

One of Touch and Go’s most overlooked talents, roots-punk kingpin P.W. Long is perhaps best known as the founder of Mule, a warped hillbilly combo that cut two minor masterpieces in the early 90s. Long released two more records with his next band, P.W. Long’s Reelfoot, took a five-year hiatus, and finally reemerged in 2003 with Remembered, a bluesier and more mature-sounding effort released under his own name. Now living in Dallas, Long continues to play with a variety of Texas collaborators, but he’ll be appearing solo for this miniset. BM a East Stage

6:00 Negative Approach

There’ve been a lot of hardcore bands that sounded like Detroit’s Negative Approach, but few ever matched their ferocity–and none of them had a singer like John Brannon. Total Recall, the 1992 retrospective that compiles the band’s Touch and Go discography, features live tracks from 1982 to 1984 that capture the group’s incendiary rawness: when Brannon bellows “Don’t make me do what I don’t wanna do!” at the end of “Pressure/Fair Warning,” it’s not hard to imagine why you shouldn’t. Brannon went on to terrify and piss off audiences with both the Laughing Hyenas and his current band, Easy Action; two members of the latter will round out this lineup, along with founding drummer OP Moore. JN a East Stage

6:30 Sally Timms

Mekons singer Sally Timms has spent most of her solo career working the alt-country terrain as “Cowboy” Sally, but she charted an altogether different course with 2004’s In the World of Him, a brilliant if misunderstood collection of matte-black material about women written by men. For this miniset she’ll draw from those songs, accompanied by her frequent collaborator Justin Asher, of Johnny Dowd’s band. BM a West Stage

6:50 Scratch Acid

If Scratch Acid’s twisted, grinding, and painfully noisy art-punk sounds a bit underwhelming today, it’s only because so many subsequent bands absorbed and refined it–chief among them of course the Jesus Lizard, the foursome that Scratch Acid vocalist David Yow and bassist David Wm. Sims went on to form in 1989. Yow, who even at his most coherent sounded like an escaped mental patient with a thick coat of foam on his lips, only dug deeper into his madman’s bag of tricks as the years progressed, and Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison delivered riffs that Scratch Acid guitarist Brett Bradford could only dream of. But during their time this Austin outfit, propelled by the powerful drumming of Rey Washam, put genuine danger into punk rock, and no one was more at risk than Yow, whose bodily sacrifices rival Iggy Pop’s. PM a West Stage

7:45 Man or Astroman?

Man or Astroman? was one of the most consistently fun live bands of the 90s–a bunch of proud nerds from Alabama, obsessed with cheesy 50s and 60s sci-fi movies, who assumed fake identities and cranked out blistering neosurf tunes. They eventually became so popular that they created “clone” bands to re-create their stage show around the country–one of them consisting entirely of Astrowomen. This will be the first time the original lineup has performed together in eight years. MK a East Stage

:40 Big Black

It’s impossible to explain how earth-shattering Atomizer was in 1986 to someone who wasn’t around at the time: with vicious, slashing riffs and a skull-cracking drum machine (“Roland,” the fourth “member” of the group), Big Black’s first full-length managed to outheavy 17,000 metal records, and the band never even sounded like they were exerting themselves. Big Black recorded just one more LP, Songs About Fucking–heavier on the snark, lighter on the primal rage–before they quite intentionally packed it in, leaving behind nothing but a huge ring of ripples. Steve Albini, Santiago Durango, and Roland (presumably) will be joined by Jeff Pezzati, the band’s first bass player, for this miniset. But it might not be as good as Atomizer, so don’t get your hopes up, cheese. MK a West Stage

9:00 Shellac

Some bands use tempo changes, goofy time signatures, and other stripes of rhythmic fuckery as a way of showing off. Shellac uses them like a prizefighter throws in bluffs and head fakes: to keep you from anticipating the knockout blow. Their first record since 2000–tentatively titled Excellent Italian Greyhound–is set for release early next year. MR a West Stage


Noon Arcwelder

This Minneapolis power trio still pops up in the midwest every now and again, and has played All Tomorrow’s Parties twice in the last few years, when Shellac were the curators. It’s been seven years since they released a record, and their crunchy, blustering guitar swirl and dense, precise rhythms still sound very much of their time, for better and worse. MK a East Stage

1:00 Quasi

Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss (of the late Sleater-Kinney) keep it raw on their latest, When the Going Gets Dark. Where their previous records were loaded with overdubs, this one’s more immediate and spontaneous, a raucous din of bashing beats and in-the-red piano hammering with a psychedelic glow (aided in part by Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann). The melodies may not be quite as front-and-center, but Quasi’s still as catchy as ever. PM a West Stage

2:00 The Monorchid

The Monorchid may have been short-lived, lasting just a couple years, but the D.C. quintet’s 1997 debut, Let Them Eat the Monorchid, stands as one of the most ferociously fun postpunk albums of that decade. It was a rough-hewn wallop of sputtering guitars and locomotive drums, with front man Chris Thomson spitting obliquely humorous lyrics like he was the world’s crankiest man-baby. Their lean and terse second record (and Touch and Go debut), Who Put Out the Fire?, was their last–they broke up weeks after it was completed. Although this will be the Monorchid’s first show in eight years, most of the members have kept active in a handful of other classy bands–Thomson with Red Eyed Legends, bassist Andy Coronado with the Wrangler Brutes and Glass Candy–so they shouldn’t be out of practice. The Monorchid also play Friday night at the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee, at 9 PM. Call 773-489-0011 for more information. JH a East Stage

3:00 Enon

This trio, led by former Brainiac lieutenant John Schmersal and featuring bassist (and former Blonde Redhead member) Toko Yasuda and drummer Matt Schulz, is coming off its best record yet, 2003’s Hocus Pocus, and a surprisingly enjoyable odds-and-sods set, 2005’s Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence. This festival performance will be the second date of a two-week tour, during which they’re testing out some sly, genre-hopping material for their forthcoming full-length; expect everything from straight guitar pop to skewed sound collages. BM a West Stage

3:55 Three Mile Pilot

Three Mile Pilot was one of the more surreal major-label signings during the mid-90s alt-rock land grab: The Chief Assassin to the Sinister, released in 1994 and picked up by Geffen in 1995, was a pensive, experimental smorgasbord of clattery guitar, five-string bass, prog-rock drumming, and strained vocals. The band went on indefinite hiatus in 1997–Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel went on to found the Black Heart Procession and Zach Smith launched Pinback, with drummer Tom Zinser as a sometime member–but they’re currently working on a new album scheduled for release on Touch and Go next year. JN a East Stage

4:40 Tara Jane O’NeilFormerly a member of Rodan–along with Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble of the Shipping News, who play on Friday–Tara Jane O’Neil has released a string of meticulous solo records on the Quarterstick imprint since her 2000 debut, Peregrine. On her last record, 2004’s You Sound, Reflect, O’Neil’s sparse instrumentation gave her allusive, slightly mystical lullabies an almost folkloric quality. The follow-up, In Circles, comes out this Tuesday; she plays a miniset here. MK a West Stage

5:00 Seam

It’s been eight years since Seam made a record, but this quartet, led by singer and guitarist Sooyoung Park, still looms large in the small pantheon of Asian-American rock. Their last album, The Pace Is Glacial, sounded like an American variation on British shoegaze, with Park’s breathy vocals and bittersweet, pre-emo melodies at the center of a rough-and-tumble guitar squall. PM a West Stage

5:45 Brick Layer Cake

Shellac drummer Todd Trainer has been a member of both Rifle Sport and Breaking Circus, but it’s with his one-man band, Brick Layer Cake, that he gives free reign to his melodic side. Though he’s released only three records in 15 years, Trainer’s developed a distinctive breed of arty doom folk, his oracular voice commanding songs that build at a geologic pace. This is a miniset. MK a East Stage

6:05 Black Heart Procession

It might seem like the Black Heart Procession’s shade-blooming vibe would be completely lost on an outdoor stage, where the sunlight and fresh air make it impossible to build up the proper fog of cigarette smoke, but Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel’s crashing, swooning epics are made of strong stuff. Their latest, The Spell, shows they’re still incapable of putting out a bad record. Jenkins and Nathaniel will also perform with their mid-90s band, Three Mile Pilot, earlier in the day. MR a East Stage

7:00 CocoRosie

Twin sisters CocoRosie are chain-rattling ballerinas who peddle pretty little potions. On their latest, Noah’s Ark, they adorn their tender milkmaid melodies with tattered, lacy frills of toy piano, glockenspiel, and even samples of meowing cats or dripping water. These are the kind of ladies you want to spend a night holding hands with, then hope vanish from your life forever just so you have something to truly lament. LA a West Stage

:00 Pinback

Being a cynical dude, I’d assumed there was little chance Pinback’s last studio album, 2004’s Summer in Abaddon, would stack up to their brilliant first two. Actually, it smokes both of them, as Zach Smith and Rob Crow once again deftly meld technical prog-muso chops with soaring pop hooks and harmonies–kinda like a cross of the Police and XTC, minus the love songs and Sting. Smith will also perform with his mid-90s band, Three Mile Pilot, earlier in the day. Rob Crow will also DJ at Five Star Bar & Grille, 1424 W. Chicago, at 10 PM. Call 312-850-2555 for information. JN a East Stage

9:00 Calexico

Half the bands at this festival are either reuniting or no longer terribly prolific–and then there’s Calexico, who’re either at or near their creative peak. Nominally a duo–though Joey Burns and John Convertino never walk alone–the group released their fifth album, Garden Ruin, this spring. Calexico’s early focus on instrumentals has been on the wane for some time now, but here they’ve abandoned it completely, orchestrating lush vocal harmonies and articulating a sense of political engagement. It’s jarring, given the band’s trademark out-of-time qualities, but once you get settled in, the effect is like waking from a dream. MK a West Stage

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Niles J. Fuller, Shawna Enyart, Dennis Kleiman, Brad Miller.