Onetimers and Ol Scratch

Last night Hinged, the band I play in, played a show with two cool bands from Chattanooga as well as a violinist who was the grandson of a notable Chicago magician and drummer/guitarist who immigrated to Chicago from Tanzania.  The show was in a small, homemade theater behind a magic shop, presumably constructed for magicians’ performances.

You should check out music by the Onetimers and Ol Scratch:

Secret performances

In a thread about recent shutdowns of houses doing DIY shows in Chicago and the best way to balance keeping things on the downlow and still accessible, someone shared this awesome piece of history from The Missoula Oblongata:

At the time, Missoula’s punk and DIY community was undergoing a crackdown by the fire marshal, who had systematically shut down almost every local venue that wasn’t a bar. This meant there was no affordable and accessible place for young people to organize concerts, art shows, or events. When people responded to this by organizing shows in their own houses, the fire marshal found the houses, shut down the shows, and threatened arrests.

In response to this strange and grave situation, The Missoula Oblongata’s first production was a performance of Macbeth, which we held in secret in the basement that we’d been renting out for rehearsing. The space was only accessible through an unmarked door hidden in an alley. There was no public advertising for the performance. The performers (local artists and friends who had never been in a play before) each handed out sealed invitations to people they knew (not including the fire marshal, with whom we were all now well acquainted). The invitations instructed them to meet at The Oxford (a local dive) on April 6th at 8pm wearing a red carnation. Sure enough, on that day, at 8pm, an usher dressed like a skeleton arrived and escorted the entire carnation-wearing horde from The Oxford to the alley and the unmarked door, and then down into the basement to watch the play.

Week in review

What I’ve been doing this week – on and offline.

Getting older

I went to see Paul Baribeau this week.  It was one of the more crowded house shows I’ve been to in Chicago.  The feeling between Baribeau and the audience as pretty strange.  He writes songs that are explicitly personal, so it’s strange to hear a whole room singing along (not to mention singing along slightly off-time and off-key).  Maybe it speaks to the real need that people have to understand or process the kind of things Baribeau writes about: relationships and growing into adulthood.  There was this one guy in front who kept demanding certain songs and he and Baribeau got into this kind of weird, mostly-joking but strangely confrontational back-and-forth.  Though I love the participatory aspect of DIY punk, it’s frustrating when it seems like the show means more about you singing along to a song you love than listening to what someone else has to say or how he says it.  At best, I think it’s a compromise between these things, a perfect balance arrived upon organically by the performer and the crowd.  But, there’s a distinct difference between having a collective experience with music and a room full of individual experiences.  Maybe the show felt like more of the latter because people didn’t really know each other. It seemed like the crowd was a mixture of people from Chicago, the suburbs and folks from out of town and people from the suburbs.  Everyone seemed pretty young which might have contributed to the dynamic as well.  Chiara referenced research about “millenials” being more selfish than past generations.

Being off of school (mostly, I’ve still got some loose ends to tie up with my independent study) is great.  For one, I finally had time to go to the library.  I picked up Harvey Pekar’s Best of American Splendor and I feel like I have a different reading of it a few years after the last time I read some of Pekar’s comics.  Pekar writes about his life making underground media in a really unglamorous way, which is refreshing.  You can’t dispute that he loves what he does or makes compelling and at times really beautiful work, but there’s nothing glamorous about working for decades as a file clerk or the anxiety of failing health or trying to figure out how to make ends meet.  As I get older, I’m less interested in finding optimistic ideas to buoy me through tough times and more interested in how people persist, even through tough questions or challenges.

Pekar is also pretty unapologetic about his mercenary intentions with his art, which is also refreshing.  DIY punk spends so much time demonizing making money, or rationalizing it, but doesn’t provide a lot of examples of working-class people finding complex, sustainable lives while still basing what they do on some core values.  A few weeks ago I read an interview I liked with the hip hop group Das Racist that touched on authenticity, punk and class:

Suri: That’s the whole thing. Punk bands have never had the question of authenticity because authenticity was about how broke you were. The whole break between punk and hip-hop in the 80s was because hip-hop kids were like, I will rap about having money because I grew up with none of it. White kids were like, I will not sing songs about having money.

Vazquez: I think it’s complicated in both circles. There was like broke punk kids and rich kids and broke rappers and rich rappers.

Suri: But a lot of punk kids choose to be broke and rap kids, we don’t choose to be broke. I grew up wanting to make money at every opportunity to. I wouldn’t shun my money. I’d buy a $200 pair of sneakers.

Kondabolu: And my mom wouldn’t let me go to vintage clothing stores. She’d be like, “Why are you going to buy someone’s old clothes?”

Vazquez: It’s also easier—you know, the idea of rejecting privilege comes with the fact that you have it in the first place.

I also went to Quimby’s, the first time I made it there since I’ve been a Chicago resident, and in a total impulse buy, I picked up Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement Again, as I get older, I’m interested in how people iterate their ideas and reconcile them with new experiences.



Pekar and Joe Sacco also have a nice comic about gentrification in the American Splendor compilation. I like how, in just a few frames it captures the ambivalence around neighborhood change. There’s the fear of people getting pushed out, some hope for seeing resources come into a neglected neighborhood and folks just having other concerns.

I went to dinner one night this week at a good, but slightly fancy place in Logan Square. Driving north on Kedzie from Humboldt Park, you could see a demarcation between different neighborhood residents as we got closer to the square.  Teenage Latino girls with these fabulous neon hoop earrings gave way to 20-30-year-old white people walking their dogs.  The restaurant was pretty terrific, but the patrons didn’t look like the neighborhood as a whole, which is always a little disarming.  It’s a good reality check though, to recognize where I stand, despite a consciousness of issues that affect communities in Chicago.

Restoring dialog

The “Restoring Honor” Rally was big news and a big site for meta-analysis this week.  I heard this segment on WBEZ’s Worldview and thought commentator Frank Schaeffer did a pretty good job of pinpointing the way that some Americans responded in the wake of Obama’s election.  They looked around and realized the country they lived in and realized it wasn’t the country they thought it was and freaked out.  But Schaeffer also articulates a certain contempt for people who react fearfully to a changing country and to feelings of using power in the culture.  I’d like to see someone speak frankly about this fear and across the divide of those who feel more comfortable in a country perceived as less homogeneous and those who fear it.  I felt like some of this was going on during Obama’s campaign, but once he was elected it sort of dropped off and we’re all left with crazy polarization and taking potshots across the divide.  I don’t agree with the rhetoric or the values of those like Glenn Beck but I think the fear they exploit is a pretty human response that has to be taken seriously and acknowledged, even while trying to move away from that fear.

Fixed width layout widths

I’ve been working on a cleaner version of The Max Levine Ensemble website and a basic theme for Toby Foster’s website.  Because of the artwork that David and Nick gave me, I have to use a fixed-width design.  I was curious what a good width for modern browsers/users should be, and the best example I found was in this  2-Column, Center-aligned Fixed Width Layout with CSS tutorial.  The tutorial author says:

I’m adding a wrapper division around the entire body html we have so far, and in the CSS, I’m giving this wrapper division a background color just for demonstration purposes – and a width. The width is based on current trends per W3Schools Browser Trends. According to this information, the vast majority of all surfers views at resolutions of 1280 or higher, so I’ll shoot for 1280px. To allow room for the scroll bar and a bit of the (white) body background to show, I’ll set the width of my wrapper at 1200px.

Mike Gibson of Love Has No Logic had this to say:

I usually work with a 960 grid. And set up the following column groupings inside it that’ll float around and shift.
3 columns of 300 px with 30 px padding between them.
2 columns of 465 px with 30 px padding (sometimes I’ll altar this to 450 px columns with 60 px padding to let the larger columns breathe)
3 columns with the outer columns both being 200px and the inner column being 500px, 30 px padding, though this is also nice with 45 px padding between each and a 470px middle column
4 columns of 140px with 40px padding
With those basic column constructs I can pretty much start working with any sort of modular design I need.


I’ve been listening to a lot of the bands we’ll be playing with on the upcoming Defiance, Ohio tour.  In particular, I’ve been into The Sidekicks from Cleveland who play melodic punk in the vein of Built to Spill.  I also gave Shellshag a good listen for the first time and I love how they’re poppy but also noisy and weird.

I feel like as I have less time to practice with Defiance, Ohio, I’m more self-conscious about how well we play.  I feel like how comfortable we are playing really effects the quality of the performance, so I decided to get my guitar set up.  I’ve always played acoustic guitars with pretty high action, but after playing Theo’s hollow-body electric guitar and realizing how much more easy and fun it is to play an instrument with lower action, I took it to a guitar tech.  He told me something interesting about acoustic guitars and action:  instrument makers usually leave the action high from the factory because they’re worried about the neck shifting, creating fret buzz in the showroom.

WordPress file uploads

I was setting up a new WordPress instance for Ryan Woods’ painting website, and he was having problems uploading files, getting a cryptic error message.  It turns out that the Network upload size limits were set to only 300 KB.  It took a while to find this limit, but it’s at Super Admin > Options in the left hand menus in the administration pages.  Then scroll all the way down and look for the Upload Settings section.

Cooking as consensus

Florence and Sushi

I’ve spent this week hanging out with Florence and Oona since Chiara had school and work all week and they don’t start school until next week.  One of the hardest things has been building consensus about how we’re going to spend our day.  Oona’s down to play music, but Florence doesn’t want to.  Florence likes the idea of riding bikes to the zoo, but Oona neither wants to ride bikes or go to the zoo.  Flash games on the internet seem mutually captivating, but the end-of-the-summer weather is too nice to spend completely indoors.  The consensus activity today was to think of something we want to eat, walk to the store to get the ingredients and make it.  We ended up making sushi and Dora-yaki (red bean pancakes), though the pancakes came out a little weird.

Link Roundup

GAMBIT Summer 2010 Prototype Games – I’ve disliked video games since I was young and didn’t have a console and had to spend hours watching other people play after I died quickly.  But some people are really doing some interesting things with games right now.  I was out of town playing a show when the 3G Summit went down, but from what I learned about it when I wrote a preview piece in the spring, it seemed pretty awesome.  These game prototypes from the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab are all pretty interesting and have some interesting mechanics, visuals or ways of conveying information about the real world.

The Tummy Project – I only met Jamie recently when she offered to give me a ride back from Milwaukee that I ended up not needing, but I found out she has a blog that uses reader-contributed photos of tummies to think about body image.

2009 Illinois School Report Cards – The Tribune Apps Team made this useful news app to navigate Chicago schools and compare them by features like class size, ISAT scores and percent of students who receive free or reduced lunch.

How to Solder – If tour is a good way to lose equipment, playing individual shows is an even better way for me to lose stuff.  At least it gave me the impetus to fix a bunch of old instrument cables I had lying around.  I solder so infrequently that I didn’t realize I wasn’t tinning my wires properly.  This video helped.  Also, the number one tip I have for soldering things is to make a jig.  This video has one simple example, but I often just tape the wires to my desk so everything gets held where I need it.

Acoustic Guitar Amplification – This is the guide I’ve always been looking for.

An Experiment: Nate Powell

Nate Powell has performed in bands like Soophie Nun Squad and now sings in the melodic hardcore/metal band Universe.  He also draws comics and illustrations with his graphic novel “Swallow Me Whole” winning the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel.

Nate was in Chicago this weekend on a mini-tour with Universe scheduled around the C2E2 comic book convention.   During a break from signing books and talking to comic-book enthusiasts, Nate talked to me about the weekend and balancing passions and obligations in his life.

Visit Nate’s website, See My Brother Dance, to see some of his work or visit Universe’s MySpace page for upcoming shows and to hear some songs.

The Fest, day 3

All day I heard different accounts of the “riot” that happened at the house show the night before. From different accounts I heard that people tried to tip over cars. I heard that some people tried to rough up a cop, that someone got tazed by a cop, that the cops got surrounded only to have the people surrounding the cops surrounded by more cops. “There were like 20 cop cars there,” told one storyteller. I wasn’t there so I don’t really know what happened or who was ultimately responsible for things ending up such a mess. In the end, it sucks that people got arrested, someone got tazered, the cops came away frightened with any stereotypes they had completely confirmed.

I’ve never thought of the police as an institution that helped me or made me feel safe. Assy lectures and power trips when we did get caught skateboarding, or the mixed thrill and anxiety of evasion when we didn’t galvanized this as a teenager. Hearing stories about the Fraternal Order of Police having a legal defense benefit for the Chicago detective who killed two young men while driving intoxicated or seeing the billboard advertising the FOP-sponsored gun show on the way to the Fest don’t help this. Still, I’m convinced that the vague cops vs. punks rhetoric that is so familiar does more to excite us or think of ourselves as in a certain cultural space than it does to change anything about the way police operate or the role they have in our society. Thinking of cops as a homogeneous enemy hinders accountability from both directions. First, it takes away the personal responsibility of a cop for her individual actions. She does what she does because she is a cop, not because she chooses to do something that is hurtful or unjust. Second, it overlooks the larger structural problems about how cops are trained, what motivates or forces someone to enter into a career in law enforcement, the values that our culture ties to positions of power, or the fear and separation that make the police intermediaries for resolving social conflicts.

I did see a few good sets at the Kickstand. Tubers were great. Ever since we played with them last year in Santa Cruz, I’ve really enjoyed how they make heavy, driving yet interesting music. I’m a sucker for parts that kind of drone or groove on and then break into a different part, like your head breaking through the water after you’re floating at the bottom of a pool. Theo and others had mentioned being stoked about P.S. Eliot, so I decided to go to their show. I think I enjoyed it the most of any of the sets I saw all weekend. There was just a sense of everyone in the audience being engaged in what was going on. It felt like a mutually shared experience, which is nice because the Fest always feels so impersonal to me.

While at the Kickstand, I ran into a friend that I met in Brighton when we were on tour in the UK this past spring. I told her that I was going back to school for journalism, and she mentioned that she had taken some journalism classes and was frustrated by the fact that her professors advised her class to write attention grabbing headlines that she felt distorted the story. Coincidentally, Patrick just wrote about something similar on his blog.

Everyone in Defiance, Ohio met up to eat together at Reggae Shack and I ordered the jerk tofu which was one of the spiciest things that I’ve ever eaten. It was so hot that it was this intensely visceral experience. I felt lightheaded and sweaty. It was pretty strange. After dinner, we went back to the Kickstand and tried to navigate around the huge line of people that were queuing up to get into the space. A few bands before us, the people at the gate weren’t letting anybody in and it made me feel stressed out. It was one of those situations where we couldn’t really do anything and it was probably equally frustrating for the people at the door and the people trying to get in. This was the second show we were playing and playing it to make sure we got to play an all-ages show and it was frustrating to think that people might get denied twice: for age and capacity.

When we played it was pretty fun and energetic, despite being really crowded. A bunch of stuff got knocked over, of course, and people were all over each other. I don’t know what can make this exciting in one context and stupid in another. I think the difference is about engagement. Is being at a show about a personal experience or a collective one? Is it about singing along together or being the person who sings the loudest? Is it about talking to the people who end up getting smooshed around them, or about being the person who gets to be at the front. I want to see this change somehow. I ‘m trying to not discount people’s excitement, but I want to feel comfortable myself and feel like everybody involved in a show is going somewhere together.

Oh yeah, I want to give a shout out to folks in Good Luck and Bomb the Music Industry for letting us borrow their stuff.

Photo of Tubers by Nicole Kibert via Flickr.

Fest 8 Day 2: Kickball and Costumes

I started my second day at the fest playing kickball. I know that plenty of people have traumatic experiences with sports from their youth and that, even with punks, its easy for things to turn ugly, but I do love the feeling of big groups of people being involved in something together. As Bepstein was explaining the rules of kickball and basic baseball strategies, I realized that the rules of real sports are every bit as arbitrary as the ones that you make up for games as a kid.

After the game, I checked out a new Gainesville-based music streaming service that seemed to have a nice interface. I was disappointed that it didn’t really seem to offer anything new beyond the traditional promotional model of music. There has got to be a narrative for music that acknowledges that people get excited about it and that there is a need for artists to be supported by their work that doesn’t come off as soulless and cynical as “we offer to bands the ability to place themselves behind similar more established artists … Which means more loyal fans.”

I spent a lot of time eating and wandering around before we made plans to meet up back at the hotel for practice in the early evening. We decided that we would try to do costumes for our show so Bz, Theo, and I set out to find some thrift stores. I think I ended up having more fun checking out parts of Gainesville away from the campus and strip mall fashion stores (Citi Trends was amazing) than I would have rushing between venues or standing in lines. It was slim pickings for costumes for six, and we passed up soccer team for something that ended up being less Halloween costume and more Halloween-inspired frumpy-glam outfits. The core of the costumes were a set of holiday vests that you would remember from a few of your older elementary school teachers. Coupled with short-shorts that were definitely not sexy, I hope the goofiness of the costumes was a sort of antidote to all the skimpy Halloween costumes that have sadly become the standard. We bought purple lipstick that became face makeup at a liquor store, and the cashier there seemed to be enjoying himself at a job that could be really annoying. He even wrote happy Halloween messages on all the brown paper bags for the liquor purchases which was such a fun, sweet thing to do.

I feel like it’s hard to really watch a band when I have to get ready, but Good Luck seemed really energetic and like people were feeling it. Things sounded a little crazy, and the heat and lack of practice made playing a little challenging, but the show went pretty well. I got the sense the that for both us and the crowd, everything was a little muted from the heat of the venue and the long day. I could hear Bz’s violin parts really well which is nice. Rather than feeling vulnerable, play, in costume and makeup always makes me feel more natural so I think it was a good call. Good Luck looked really good in their matching postal worker outfits and I heard that the Max had awesome mad scientist costumes and an atomic bomb pinata. The Vena Cava looked good in costumes that I couldn’t really identify but made me think gang member from the “Beat It” video. In general, it didn’t really feel like Halloween (I really miss the Bloomington cover shows), but I’m glad that some bands made the effort.