Doug Fredrickson, "Windy City Hardcore Community"
Many do not understand what it takes to be involved in a hardcore community and just as many do not know what a hardcore community is. Chicago's hardcore community is very unique. The way the bands, new and old, work with the local record labels to help interact and stay loyal to the fans is a very diligent process.
Chicago hardcore, like many of the other genres affiliated with the city, has an undefined sound. There is no sound that distinguishes Chicago from other scenes in the US. New York and the east coast have a more hip-hop feel to it, while many bands on the west coast and California have a more defined breakdown element. Many of the local bands are influenced by very different types of bands throughout history, which makes a common sound nearly impossible.
Man Made Hell is an up and coming local Chicago band who are just trying to get their name out. They drive all over the state to play shows. They do not make very much money, often times playing for free just to get their name out so that they can build a fan base. There is nothing worse than playing a show where nobody is really feeling your music. Recently they played a show with a touring band from Boston called, Death Before Dishonor, which I attended. This was a great opportunity for Man Made Hell because the show was well attended. After speaking with the band, they agree that building a fan base is the hardest part with local hardcore.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the local Chicago band, The Killer. They have been around since 2002 and have built up a very respectable local and national reputation. Hardcore kids from all over the country know who they are and recognize their music. Death Before Dishonor singer, Bryan, noted during their set at the Beat Kitchen that The Killer is "one of the realest bands in American Hardcore." After speaking with The Killer, they also agree that the first few years of being a band were the hardest because fans do not come easily in hardcore. All of the promotion is done by the bands, for the bands, which means a lot of unpaid hours. Now The Killer is headlining shows and playing with the biggest names in the genre.
These bands and other bands in the local scene do not just go on stage and sing about things that make no difference to them. Every song has a meaning behind it. Just as the two bands mentioned already differ greatly in fan base, they also differ greatly in their messages. The Killer likes to describe their music as being "geared toward the negative persuasion." Many of their songs are about their singer's personal life struggles and his hatred towards those who oppressed him. On the other hand, Man Made Hell speaks about their relationship with God, but do not
push their religion on anyone. They actually speak to how pushing religion on others should never be done. Message also can be a deciding factor when it comes to kids liking the band or not.
As important as the bands are to the local scene, they would be nothing without the local venues. What good is a band without a place to play? Many of the local music clubs do not schedule hardcore shows because owners and club managers feel that there is "too much liability." There seems to be a very negative stigma about hardcore music because of the violent nature of the crowd's interactions that really goes to hurt the scene and limit the available clubs to play at. The only two Chicago clubs that book real hardcore bands are The Beat Kitchen and The Subterranean, which are actually owned by the same person. Nonetheless, the hardcore community has become very grateful of both of these places. I have only been in Chicago for two months and have been to both of these places on a number of occasions. The Beat Kitchen offers a very close and personal experience with the bands. Fans often get right up next to the stage and are within a foot of the bands, then take a rest in the back next to a small bar area. Both the Beat Kitchen and the Subterranean are perfect venues to witness your first hardcore show or your 100th hardcore show.
Where do the record labels fit into this equation? The indie labels that sign hardcore bands differ very differently across the country. There are the very local record labels like Lifeline Records who sign very few bands, all of which are Chicagoland based bands. Then there are record labels like Reaper Records, who have bands signed from California to New York and everywhere in between. Record labels at the indie level do a lot of work with very few personnel working with them. Labels front money for video shoots, band equipment, studio time, putting CDs together, and they also may help with merchandise production. Local labels may have as few as five people working together, which makes for a lot of work for each individual to accommodate each band. By no means are record labels useless, they are actually a big help for the bands who work day jobs and do not have the time to help promote their band.
There would be no bands, no venues, and no record labels without the support of the local fans. The fans are the glue that sticks the hardcore community together. Many of the kids in the scene are very loyal. They come to shows in their band tees with slim jeans and a fresh pair of Nikes. Most of the people involved in the community do not really fit in anywhere in the city so they find a haven at the local clubs. Hardcore kids can almost always be seen wearing some sort of band T-shirt. This is just an example of how the fans are loyal. The bands need money, so they sell merch, which in turn the kids who appreciate the band buy to help support that particular band. Many kids, including me, buy all of their clothes at hardcore shows. Over the past month I have collected six shirts from bands I felt were worthy of support. Also, kids in the hardcore community network with each other, sharing with others some bands that they think are up and coming and bands that don't deserve your time. There is also a big group of hardcore kids who try to spread the genre and get others to listen. I would have never started listening to hardcore if it
weren't for a couple friends of mine in high school who turned me on to it. The hardcore community is one of the tightest groups I have ever been a part of.
The interactions of the crowd can be seen as very violent and jaw dropping. As a band drops a breakdown, all sanity quickly leaves the building. All of a sudden arms are flailing through the air mixed with flying elbows and swinging kicks. Naturally, with all of this madness going on, the spectators need to keep an eye out and protect themselves. Failing to protect yourself will almost certainly end with you leaving with a black eye or a fat lip. Surprisingly there is a strong sense of community amongst the fans. Hardcore kids can usually quickly identify each other walking down the street and strike up a conversation in an instant. There is no stronger sense of community than that of a hardcore scene.
Many people judge those of the hardcore scene and feel that those involved are just a bunch of losers with no taste in music. They do not see what is really important. All of the sweat and hard work put into producing a show is poetry in motion. Chicago hardcore is a very underappreciated art and people need to recognize it and give it its due respect.