In 2010, Camilo Medina and Javier Forero, natives of Colombia who grew up in Miami, moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute. They settled in Lakeview and tried to immerse themselves in the neighborhood’s music scene, but they had a hard time finding other aspiring musicians on the same wavelength—people with an interest in 50s and 60s pop, ideally who also spoke Spanish. They did manage to connect with another SAIC student, Guillermo Rodriguez, and in 2013 they started the band that would eventually become Divino Niño, with Rodriguez on guitar, Forero on bass and vocals, and Medina on guitar and vocals.
As Divino Niño took shape (they eventually added drummer Pierce Codina), their orbit remained narrow. They could’ve found like-minded folks in the punk, garage, and crusty psych bands that frequented Logan Square’s DIY spaces and bars, but they didn’t spend any time there. Because the scene Medina had gotten familiar with in Miami had been relatively small—every young musician seemed to know every other young musician—he assumed that after more than five years in Chicago, he’d seen all the city had to offer. “I thought I knew all the bands,” he says. “Me and Javier were talking about moving to LA, because I just wasn’t really connecting with the bands here and I thought that the scene in Chicago wasn’t that great.”
In spring 2016, the scene that Divino Niño had failed to find came to them instead. The band got a Facebook message from Alex Fryer, co-owner of Chicago DIY rock label Dumpster Tapes. Fryer was organizing an in-store performance for Argentinean surf-rock group Las Piñas at Avondale’s Bric-a-Brac Records, and she wanted Divino Niño to open. “As soon as I started connecting with Alex, I started going to shows in Logan Square, at Cole’s, the Empty Bottle,” Medina says. “I started discovering people my age—the same things I thought were cool, they thought it was cool too.”
By May 2016, Divino Niño had already released two album-length collections of demos. They wanted their easygoing, throwback rock to sound pristine and effortless, though, and they were constantly frustrated with their recordings. They scrapped three different versions of their first proper full-length, Foam, before settling on the one that drops next month via Winspear (original home of hot Long Island indie-rock commodities Lemon Twigs). The band started making progress toward the sound they wanted after connecting with Dumpster Tapes. “We started building the community,” Medina says. “And that has been essential for us finishing our record and sharpening the vision of what we want to do artistically.”
With its lush weave of dream pop, yacht rock, and Laurel Canyon folk, Foam is one of the year’s most accomplished local rock releases so far. Divino Niño pulled it off with assistance from friends they made after connecting with Fryer: scene utility player Justin Vittori (Grapetooth, Knox Fortune) added percussion to a few songs and Wurlitzer to another, and pop wonder Paul Cherry helped produce one track.
Earlier this month Divino Niño played Thalia Hall with Brooklyn indie-pop group Crumb, and they’ve booked a release party for Foam at the Empty Bottle for June 21. Between those two, on Saturday, May 11, Dumpster Tapes hosts Demolición, its mostly annual festival celebrating local Latinx-fronted acts. In October 2016, Divino Niño played the first Demolición, just a few months after their first Dumpster Tapes show. They tried to work around their other commitments to play this one—Medina offered to do a solo set, but ultimately he couldn’t make it happen (it turns out he’ll be in Miami during the daylong mini-fest). “I just wanted to be part of it, because I think the Latin community longs for representation,” he says. “They want to see people who speak Spanish—they want to see a person that looks like them, that has similar roots to them, doing something artistic. And that’s very important.”
Representation is a big part of what Fryer and Dumpster Tapes cofounder Ed McMenamin want to accomplish with Demolición. Fryer in particular is concerned that most of the spaces that host the label’s shows aren’t congenial to Latinx audiences. “It was a personal project for me, as a Chicana, as a brown woman,” she says, “to create this space for other artists, other performers, and people that looked like me that maybe didn’t feel as welcome just walking into wherever we normally held our shows.”
On the bill with Divino Niño at the first Demolición were postpunks Bruised, feminist punks Cabrona, bilingual rockers Rai, and dream-pop singer-songwriter Mia Joy. Joy had put a band together earlier in 2016, and Demolición was one of their first performances. She remembers getting nervous about playing such a big show, but sharing the stage with other Latinx musicians meant she didn’t feel like she had to prove to a bunch of white dudes that she deserved to be there.
“I was so used to the music scene being predominantly, like, white hetero males playing garage rock,” Joy says. But Demolición was different: “I remember not feeling very judged. There was this common thread of being Latinx, but also there was different genres.” The festival helped Joy feel more grounded in the local scene, and she believes that such events play a critical role in encouraging young Latinx musicians to get involved. “We have to have shows like that, where we’re taking up predominantly all of the space,” she says. “Because unfortunately we’re either left to open or we’re lucky enough to share gigs with mostly white musicians.”
Dumpster Tapes presents Demolición 2019
Featuring performances by Girl K, Town Criers, Perro Feo, Tenci, and Pkng, plus DJ sets from Dumpster Tapes staff. Sat 5/11, noon-5 PM, Auxiliary Art Center, 3012 W. Belmont, $10, 21+
Divino Niño, Bunny, Girl K, Valebol, DJ Paulcherry69
Fri 6/21, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $12, 21+
When it came time to book this year’s Demolición, Fryer reached out to alumni for lineup recommendations. “I had so many names for her, which is really awesome, because I don’t think I would have had names three or four years ago,” Joy says. The third Demolición (it skipped 2018) features indie rockers Pkng, tender folkies Tenci, prog punks Perro Feo, power-pop mavens Town Criers, and indie-pop darlings Girl K.
Pkng guitarist and singer Elmer Martinez moved to Chicago from northern California in 2016, and he got acclimated to the local scene in part by attending Demolición—it was one of his first local concerts. He was on assignment for Hooligan magazine, working on his first piece for the Chicago-based outlet. “I truly felt like I was at an intimate gathering with mis primos,” he wrote in his review. “And I am eternally grateful to the people at Dumpster Tapes and all of the performers for creating such a special experience.”
Martinez has been especially influenced by meeting Fryer. “I just love her work ethic,” he says. “Dumpster Tapes, they’re always doing stuff, like showcases, shows, and different releases—that’s definitely an inspiration. I want to be in those leagues, so that kicked my butt into gear, musically.”
McMenamin and Fryer met at a Cobra Lounge show in 2013 and launched Dumpster Tapes within months. Fryer, a 27-year-old Chicago native, had gotten involved in the scene in her late teens; she had a DJ shift at WHPK, and she’d recently been an intern for a year at the Empty Bottle. McMenamin, 33, grew up downstate, and before he moved to Chicago in 2011 he’d already started dreaming about getting involved in a big-city music scene. “We both, before meeting, had always wanted to start a label,” he says. “I remember living in Peoria and googling, ‘How do you start a record label,’ but not really having the scene I could build one with—there were some bands I liked in Peoria, but hard to build a label.”
The two of them bonded at shows by some of the scene’s promising young garage bands, including Flesh Panthers, Gross Pointe, Son of a Gun, and the Morons. “As Ed and I started going to these shows, we came across a lot of bands that we really loved and grew close with but that didn’t have anything out on a physical format yet,” Fryer says. The label debuted in October 2013 with a split cassette that paired Son of a Gun and Gross Pointe.
“We didn’t have a five-year plan when we started,” McMenamin says. “We had about a one-month plan: ‘Let’s put this thing out on cassette. How do we figure out how to put it on a cassette?'” By 2015 they were putting out new music almost monthly, and that year they released their first vinyl (Flesh Panthers’ NGC 2632, in partnership with Tall Pat Records) and the first EP by Cut Worms, aka onetime Chicagoan and national garage-scene darling Max Clarke.
Dumpster Tapes also throws release shows for the local acts on its roster. The label found an early advocate in Logan Square dive Cole’s, but as the neighborhood’s garage and punk scene has grown and scattered, some of its acts have become too big to play there (or in the DIY spaces that nurtured them). Dumpster Tapes has remained steadfast in its support of the scene, though—it’s become a frequent presence at the Empty Bottle, and in 2017 it began booking monthly shows at the Slippery Slope.
“We tell everybody, if they agree to do a tape with us, they’re part of the family,” Fryer says. “We’ll continue to promote them and support them, whether or not we end up putting something out with them again. Or if the band only makes it a couple of years—it doesn’t matter.” And musicians often reciprocate by staying loyal to Dumpster Tapes. After Cut Worms signed to Jagjaguwar in 2017, their new label enlisted Dumpster Tapes to release a cassette version of the band’s 2018 album, Hollow Ground. And when Dumpster Tapes threw a fifth-anniversary party at the Bottle, the headliner it booked was Cafe Racer, whose front man, Michael Santana, had played in Gross Pointe. One of the garage scene’s best bands, Cafe Racer put out their 2016 self-titled debut through Dumpster Tapes—and they also played the second Demolición in December 2017, alongside McMenamin’s power-pop four-piece, Laverne.
Fryer and McMenamin began batting around ideas for what became Demolición early in 2016. “I was becoming more aware of the festivals that were happening in Pilsen,” Fryer says. “The lineup for Ruido Fest was really good that year, and they do a pretty good job of bringing local acts on the bill. I was like, ‘Why don’t we do something that’s got this feel for it on the north side, where we normally have our shows, and where maybe some of these bands don’t normally play?'”
White men dominate the north side’s underground rock scene, whether they mean to or not, and McMenamin’s thinking about Demolición came from the understanding that this state of affairs was likely to perpetuate itself—opportunities for musicians of color wouldn’t necessarily arise without lots of people putting in work. “There’s always a need to expose different audiences and different bands to each other,” he says. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen naturally—sometimes you kind of have to make an extra effort to make it happen.”
Demolición also motivated Dumpster Tapes to reach out to bands outside its circle. When Bruised opened for Alice Bag at a Chi-Town Futbol show in August 2016, Fryer was in the crowd—and every band on the bill had at least one Latinx member. “I think that was also maybe part of what inspired me,” she says. “That was how I heard about Bruised, and I fell in love with them after that.”
Because the first Demolición happened about a month before the 2016 presidential election, and Trump had been demonizing Latinx immigrants throughout the campaign, Fryer and McMenamin decided to donate part of the fest’s proceeds to a good cause—one they figured would piss him off if he knew about it. “That’s also what made it seem like it was important that it happened then,” Fryer says. They picked El Rescate, an initiative run by the nonprofit Puerto Rican Cultural Center that provides support for homeless youth, particularly LGBTQ+ youth of color.
Fryer and McMenamin have chosen different beneficiaries for subsequent Demolicións—in 2017 they donated to the Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund, and this year they’ll support Vida Libre, a bond fund for refugees and asylum seekers that’s run by binational organization Al Otro Lado. Fryer, who’s taking the LSAT this summer, has served as an associate intern for immigration policy at Chicago nonprofit Latino Policy Forum and wants to become a lawyer for refugees and asylees.
Vida Libre’s mission resonates with Kathy Patino, front woman of Girl K, a young act with a lot of momentum in the scene. “When Alex mentioned to me that the show functioned as a fund-raiser for the organization Al Otro Lado, I knew that I really had to do my best to be able to play,” she says. “I’m first-gen. My parents came from Mexico, and I know a lot of family that struggles with all the current political climate that’s going on right now—I’ve really been wanting to incorporate more activism in my being and Girl K in general, just ’cause I think it’s really important to spread good ideals and educate people, no matter what you’re pursuing.”
Though the past two Demolicións were in the fall, this year it’s in the spring because Fryer and McMenamin had their hands full planning Dumpster Tapes’ fifth-anniversary party at the Bottle in November. “We had a bunch of shows last fall and winter, including the birthday show—didn’t want to overextend everybody,” McMenamin says. The pair made a couple other big changes: for the first time, Demolición will happen in the afternoon and include a handful of Latinx vendors. Like all Dumpster Tapes shows, it’s cheap, though at $10 it’s one of their more expensive events. “We might’ve had—in five years—a couple of shows that were more than $10,” McMenamin says. “That’s important. I think if your art is not accessible, it’s not radical. If everyone can’t be there, then it’s meaningless to me.”
Fryer and McMenamin want Demolición to celebrate and connect Latinx musicians from across the diaspora and help them feel comfortable in Chicago’s rock scene. Town Criers singer and guitarist Andre Baptista, who grew up in Brazil, has been roommates with members of Post Animal and Twin Peaks vocalist-guitarist Cadien Lake James. “They started taking me on road trips, showing us how to book shows, put on a good show, how to sound check, and all that kind of stuff,” he says.
Baptista has gotten to know some local Latinx musicians too, and the familiarity he feels around them has sharpened his awareness of what makes his experience unique when he’s the only Latinx person in the room. “You notice little things that are just different in the way that you were brought up,” he says. “It makes sure that you don’t forget where you come from.” v