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Culture Shock

Gig Report : Screamo Lives On In Chicago

Shin Guard, For Your Health (above), Crowning, and Frail Body play an amazing show in a Chicago DIY venue.

Somewhere in the west-side neighborhood in Chicago, there is a community of artists thriving in what used to be a real estate office. Last week, that basement transformed into something entirely different. The bright studio lights dimmed to a dark red, and 50 strangers gathered together to see something rare and special. It's not often you get to see an honest-to-god screamo concert. There were four bands on the bill, 2 local bands and 2 bands finishing their first nationwide tour. In my conversations with the crowd members, they seemed just as excited for their hometown favorites as they were for the touring bands. That is the biggest difference between a show in a venue like this versus one in a bar or concert hall: everyone had to make an effort to be there and was entirely present in the moment.

Frail Body (Rockford, IL) // Photo by @x_mollyjean

The first band of the night, Frail Body, happily warned us they hadn't practiced in two months before launching into their onslaught of screams and wailing guitars. The only three-piece band of the night, the vocalist and sole guitarist decided to compensate by playing out of two amps in parallel alongside two PA's for just his vocals. The effect was an all-encompassing soundscape filled with fuzzy, screeching riffs and a bass tone you could feel throughout your body. In the first two songs alone, strings broke and guitars got replaced mid-verse, but nothing could distract from the emotion and musicianship on display. By the time the final lyrics of "She loves me not/ she loves me so" and the accompanying shouts from the crowd died down, everyone in attendance was drenched in sweat and had a smile on their face.

Screamo in 2019 has something of a misunderstood reputation. It was only recently that I set aside my presumptions and fell in love with the raw, chaotic energy and emotion found here. I'm not alone, the scene is starting to see an incredible revival, and the Midwest is at its epicenter. The genre is not for everyone, but I think a lot of the hate for it comes from the more ... unfavorable stereotypes thanks to bands from the mid-2000's like Falling in Reverse, Asking Alexandria, and their Myspace-scene-uwu-core counterparts which bear little resemblance to what we see now. Screamo bands today sometimes refer to their music as skramz to differentiate themselves from the pop-punk-metalcore mashup that came before them. The new sound is usually accompanied by political themes, technical guitar work, and, of course, the trademark screaming vocals with influence from all walks of hardcore and metal.

For Your Health (Columbus, OH) // Photo by @x_mollyjean

For Your Health, 26 shows into their 30 day Death of Spring tour, played next and brought a frenetic energy to the stage as soon as they started. Fresh off the heels of their recent split cassette with Shin Guard (we'll get to them later), For Your Health came to the stage with absolutely nothing to prove and still the vocalist showed energy and charisma I've only seen at massive music festivals. Every scream, every word, seemed ripped out of their throat. The crowd hung on their every word, shouting "Fuck ICE" right along with them during their most politically charged songs. Part of what makes this music so great is that every feeling and emotion that goes into it is right there on the surface. The emotions and the message are clear even if you can't quite make out the words at the time. The screams and guitars continued to beat down the crowd until the singer strings the mic up from the ceilings, shouts their final words, and walks away through the crowd.

Shin Guard (Pittsburgh, PA) // Photo by @x_mollyjean

To speak candidly, the reason I knew this show was happening was because of Shin Guard's breakout release this year, 2020. 2020 packed into 26 minutes what I have heard much more experienced bands struggle to fit in their entire discography. Sweeping highs of technical guitar work alongside the crumbling, discordant noise elements create a musical experience that so far sits at #1 on my personal albums of the year list. So when the band came on stage, I was shocked to see that they were all my age, maybe younger. Also, there were three vocalists. I soon learned why, as they all traded off with high shrieks and low black-metal growls, often layered one on top of another. Even during the quiet passages in between, there was a lingering feeling of anxiety. You wanted to hear what came next and, more entertainingly, how on Earth they were going to translate that amazing moment from the record into a live performance. It's a gamble to see an experimental band you love live, but I am happy to report that Shin Guard lived up to my every expectation.

Crowning (Chicago, IL) // Photo by @x_mollyjean

At the end of the night, the final hometown band, Crowning took the stage. Crowning, the only hardcore punk band of the night, was celebrating their last US show before leaving on a tour across Europe. The entire basement shifted as every local fan shifted to the front to shout along to every song. It seemed like they knew every word by heart, and it was easy to see why Crowning was able to do something amazing like leaving the country on their art alone. The lead vocalist had a commanding stage presence and kept the tempo up from the moment they started until the last fuzzy guitar tone faded.

This concert was an amazing experience for me. On a personal note, this was way out of my comfort zone. In a city I've lived in for a month, going to a basement show where I knew no one was more than a little intimidating. It was strange though, as soon as I set foot inside someone struck up a conversation with me. The environment was so friendly, so welcoming, I felt at ease immediately. One thing metal and punk critics and fans alike love to harp on is the shocking disparity between the aggressive, violent sounding music and the community that surrounds it. For one night in a stranger's basement, I felt like a part of something special. I got to see two bands I already loved, and found two new local bands to watch out for. And hey, when one of these bands is opening for the Next Big Thing (or if they end up being that Next Big Thing), I get to say hey I saw them in a basement once. If for no other reason than that, do yourself a favor. Go see a show outside your comfort zone. You might find something special.

Nick is spending their summer days working at an office job and their nights exploring what they can find of Chicago's music scene. They are currently losing their mind trying to make up for a lost adolescence of punk-fueled angst they missed out on. You can find them on Twitter @justnickisfine.

ARTISTIC CREDITS: All photos contained within this story are taken by Molly Kinnunen and used with her permission. You can find her on Instagram at @x_mollyjean or on Facebook as "mk photography."


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