Garage on Fire!

When the creators of Horizontal Action xeroxed the first 251 copies of their zine in 1997, they had no greater ambition than to plug their favorite bands and score some free records. “It’s fun for us, and I guess we have a lot of energy,” says cofounder Todd Killings (aka Todd Novak). Since then the biannual newsprint zine, which runs interviews with garage bands, attitude-packed reviews of garage records, and some drearily unimaginative porn, has become a trusted source for fellow enthusiasts, and its circulation has ballooned to 5,000. This weekend Horizontal Action will publish its 11th issue and host its third annual three-day garage rock festival, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Blackout.

The Horizontal Action crew–Killings, Uncle Ted (aka Brett Cross), and Billiams (aka Baseball Furies drummer Matt Williams)–came up with the idea for the Blackout not long after they started publishing. “We thought, ‘Why not take all of these bands that we’ve been interviewing and have them play here on one night?'” Killings says. “They were bands that couldn’t really afford to go on tour or didn’t think they were popular enough to do so.” In 1997 Horizontal Action started planning what was to be the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Blackout; the show–which would’ve featured the first local gig by Detroit’s Dirtbombs–fell through after a miscommunication between the organizers and the Empty Bottle, their prospective venue, but the work they had done encouraged them to organize more live shows, sometimes as many as two or three a month, in small clubs like the Big Horse and Pops on Chicago.

In April 2001 they finally presented the first Blackout at the Beat Kitchen. The three-day festival featured the Dirtbombs, Memphis legend Tav Falco, and New York’s Andy G. & the Roller Kings. They sold out one night; last year’s event, with the Compulsive Gamblers, the Spits, and the New Bomb Turks, sold out two nights. This year the Blackout has moved to the larger Subterranean, where ex-Beat Kitchen talent buyer Derron Swan is now doing shows, and Killings expects the event to be the most successful yet. Horizontal Action had already sold 40 weekend passes via their Web site more than a week before the event, mostly to out-of-towners, including fans from Germany and Italy.

Though the garage scene has lately been pillaged by the major labels, thanks to the success of former underground faves like the White Stripes and the Hives, and though the Blackout may well benefit from the hype, the Horizontal Action crew has tried to keep the festival low-key and intimate. “The bands get to drink for free the whole weekend, and they don’t have to worry about getting in or out,” says Killings. “We just try to keep it more on a friendly level and less of a business thing. We’re trying to keep the fun in it.” Probable highlights of this year’s Black-out include the Chicago debut of New York’s Little Killers, the first new act in five years on the venerable Crypt label; Syracuse vets the Penetrators, who’ve been bashing it out since 1976; and Austin howlers the Hard Feelings. All three bands perform on Friday night. The Blackout starts on Thursday, May 8, and runs through Saturday, May 10. See the music listings for more info or check out the zine’s Web site at

Mexican Mix

Juggling genres has become second nature to many acts hailing from south of the border, as new albums from two of Mexico’s best underground bands demonstrate. On their recent Dance and Dense Denso (Universal) the Mexico City quartet Molotov fuses metal and hip-hop as so many bands have done before–bits of Faith No More, Tone-Loc, Beastie Boys, and Sir Mix-a-Lot ricochet through their music (though they toss in some accordion on one tune in a nod to their regional roots). But the group manages to make this formula their own–and it’s particularly well suited to their political lyrics. They sing and rap in gutter-mouthed Spanish and English, assailing Mexican political corruption, the rivers of red tape generated by ineffectual nonprofits, and racist American border patrols (“Don’t call me gringo, you fuckin’ beaner / Stay on your side of that goddamn river,” they sing on “Frijolero”).

More sophisticated and entertaining is Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. 1 (EMI Latin), the third album by Monterrey’s El Gran Silencio. Just as a master chef can whip up an unexpectedly fantastic dish from staple ingredients, the band uses accordion-stoked norteno, shuffling cumbia, punchy ska, tongue-twisting Spanish-language dancehall, sunny pop hooks, and old-school hip-hop to concoct pithy, dynamic original tunes. On the title track, horns and accordion play the riff from “Wipe Out” in unison underneath a furious ragamuffin chant, while on “Huapanator” the band veers from sprightly Tex-Mex stomp to expansive rock-guitar heroics and back again. But this protean combo never sounds like they’re trying to be clever–the verve and precision of their execution reveal their seemingly convoluted ideas to be entirely logical.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Karlic.