Juan Diego Bustillos of Mil Ataris por Segundo and unidentified cat
Juan Diego Bustillos of Mil Ataris por Segundo and unidentified cat Credit: Courtesy the artist

The pandemic has constricted all our worlds—especially in its early months, I rarely went past my apartment’s front door. It’s been enough to make me want to scream, and Chicago multi-instrumentalist Juan Diego Bustillos reached that point at the end of 2021. “I’d been having a really shitty year,” he says. “In January, a really dear family member died, and the whole year started going into a downfall.” 

Bustillos found a rare bright spot in March 2021, when his interstate electronic emo band, Cats! & Beloved Pets, released the album Gatismo. As he kept writing and recording, though, he ended up with dozens of songs that didn’t fit that project or seem quite finished. “I didn’t really connect with them in the sense of, ‘OK, I don’t feel like this expresses how I feel,’” Bustillos says. Then his really shitty year gave him an idea. 

Cats! & Beloved Pets recorded this album between Illinois and Caracas, Venezuela, in 2020.

“I was like, ‘You know, why not try screaming?’ I’ve always liked screaming,” he says. “But I always thought, ‘I sound terrible.’ But it doesn’t matter. I really bottle a lot of things inside, so I was like, ‘I’m just gonna scream over this.’ It felt really cathartic and therapeutic in a sense, so I really liked that.” 

On January 4, Bustillos dropped his debut as Mil Ataris por Segundo, an EP called Gatitos Gatitos Gato. (Bustillos really is fond of cats.) He’s since put out seven more releases under that name. “Since everything kept being progressively worse, I kept having stuff to scream about,” he says.

On the plus side, Mil Ataris por Segundo debuted at the best possible moment. The recent emergence of fifth-wave emo has kicked off a stylistic free-for-all in the genre, which has spent decades grappling with cliches from its 2000s commercial peak. Bustillos’s fidgety looping guitars, cutesy overcaffeinated programmed percussion, and sandpaper shrieks align him with a peculiar subset of this increasingly hard-to-define musical movement: bedroom screamo, which Jude Noel documented at length for Bandcamp Daily in February. Unlike everyone profiled in that piece, Bustillos screams in Spanish; though he was born in Illinois, he grew up in Venezuela. He moved to the Chicago area just a few years ago.

This Mil Ataris por Segundo release will be reissued on cassette this spring by the Launch Point label.

Bustillos has won over some key players in fifth-wave emo, including Illinois native Jacob West, who records as CH Point. I found Bustillos’s music after West tweeted about a self-titled Mil Ataris por Segundo album that came out in March. West says he’s planning to release it on cassette in about a month via his new Launch Point label. In the meantime, I recommend getting your toes wet via one of the album’s more relaxed and somber songs, “Perros.”

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.