Eleven bands into Saturday’s 18-band bill at Chicago Fest, I got to talking with Shawn Creeden, the singer of the New England-based hardcore band Bad Business. “Aside from being in this band, I hate everything about hardcore,” he told me. “The bands are all the same, the politics are totally unrealized–it’s all false awareness.” He smiled, then went back to crocheting the brown scarf he had started working on the day before.
Chicago Fest 2005: three days, 38 hardcore and punk bands at top volume, Pulaski Park field house auditorium. For 375 fans from all over the world, it was a chance to be amongst their people (be they Canadian male feminists against fascism, skinheads from Bogota, or black-clad 11th graders from Waukesha), affirm their faith in punk, and angrily disavow all else.
I Accuse kicked off Friday’s lineup. Before he counted off the manic opener, the drummer, all of 16 or 17, nervously surveyed the room, then took a hit off his asthma inhaler. The singer had the demeanor and vocal stylings of a feral dog–hardcore boilerplate, which was so closely adhered to over the weekend that I had a hard time distinguishing between I Accuse, I Attack, I Object, My Revenge, Punch in the Face, Caustic Christ, Expired Youth, Forward to Death, Life Set Struggle, Cardiac Arrest, and Weekend Nachos.
It probably didn’t help that the bands were limited to 10- or 15-minute sets, with the exception of the headliners, who each played for a whole 30 minutes. Most hardcore bands don’t have a single song over two minutes in length, so in 10 or 15 minutes you might expect to hear between six and nine songs. But as all the bands were prone to dogmatic proclamations, Grammy-length thank-you speeches to the promoter, shout-outs to birthday boys and girls in attendance, and explanations of the meanings behind certain songs, they were averaging about four per set. Unfortunately, the microphone had the clarity and fidelity of a toilet-paper tube, so it was a lot of “rarawawa fucking awesome rarawawa scene unity rarawawa Pensacola fest in July rarawawa happy birthday Carlos 1-2-3-4!” Though the Rat Bastards, a (white) local punk band, managed to get their message heard in spite of the Mr. Microphone: “This song is about the gentrification of Cabrini-Green, and it’s called ‘White People–Get the Fuck Out!'”
Later on, browsing a merch table stocked with handmade vegan soap and xeroxed pamphlets entitled The Anarchist’s Complete Guide to Fascist Gestapo Pig Interrogation, I overheard one teenage boy pep-talking another: “See, everyone here, everyone in this room is your comrade. Well, except that one skinhead girl.”