The New Wave of Hyde Park Rock: Two scenes struggle to define the future of local music

Standing in the audience on the University of Chicago’s Bartlett Quadrangle at last Saturday’s DKE Battle of the Bands, it seemed as though inoffensive is now the rule in Hyde Park music. Stumbling upon the scene, someone raised on the grittier hard rock of decades past might have been understandably confused: If this is a rock show, then where are the black T-shirts and blue jeans? Where are the massive amplifiers? If these bands are American, why is everyone singing with a faux-English accent? Why is nobody headbanging or throwing up the devil’s horns? Don’t these people want to rock?

The Hyde Park music scene of the past few years seems heavily biased towards indie guitar pop. Many of the more popular Hyde Park bands of the past couple years, such as the Electric Shoes, Saturday Realism, and the Flying Fishes, have all occupied corners of this genre. They approximate a “Hyde Park sound,” drawing influence from the softer end of ‘80s and ‘90s guitar rock. It is made of more Smiths than Led Zeppelin, and it doesn’t have to be played very loudly. Looking further back upon older Hyde Park bands like alt-country band ADEN or indie rockers First Coat would seem to confirm this trend and suggest that there must be something in Hyde Park’s water supply keeping music subdued and arty.

On the evening of the Battle of the Bands, in an apartment building basement in west Hyde Park, a different trend in Hyde Park music could be observed. Pataphysics International HQ, a DIY venue for the fringe elements of Hyde Park cultural life, was hosting the debut performance of the Butts, a rowdy new four-piece band of University of Chicago students; an improvised collaboration between Hyde Park-connected The Names That Spell and fellow Chicagoans the Young Turks; and a performance by the brutal Caleidoscopio de Herpes. These bands break from the old “Hyde Park sound” and represent the less Bartlett Quad-friendly elements in neighborhood music.

“Hold on to your butts,” Butts guitarist Rick warns the audience before Saturday’s show. According to him, the Butts are all about “chillin’ with your friends, kickin’ back, chillaxin’ and maxin’.” They are the kind of band that makes you want to give high fives to everyone around you. In their lyrics, they attempt to incorporate profanity as frequently as possible and use the word “butt” liberally. In a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” performed on Saturday night, they found ways to incorporate the word “butt” into every verse. Their sound draws influences from garage rock and is colored by the sound of practice amplifiers screaming for mercy as they are cranked to maximum volume. According to Rick, the world of rock music in the wake of the Butts is going to be “a whole lot shittier.”

The Names That Spell typically play trans-genre music performed on a range of instruments and non-instrument noisemakers. According to their website, they combine “folk, rock n’ roll, Afro-Cuban, and jazz music.” Saturday’s collaboration with the Young Turks sounded more along the lines of Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” album updated with electronic instrumentation.

Caleidoscopio de Herpes strip rock music to its most basic components: large amplifiers and booze. They approach music with a brutality that left the ground covered with droplets of blood after a performance last year. Shortly after beginning their set on Saturday, the performance broke down into a wrestling match accompanied by blast beats. Some audience members backed away in fear; others held up the Devil’s horns. (Editor’s note: At press time, Caleidoscopio de Herpes was on hiatus due to breaking seventy-five percent of their equipment after the Pataphysics show. No, for real.)

Pataphysics International, characterized by its chaotic environment and edgier musical fare, contrasted sharply with the day’s earlier Battle of the Bands. This contrast seems to point to a fragmentation of the Hyde Park music scene and the existence of multiple movements competing for the “Hyde Park sound.” Will local legends paint Hyde Park as a haven of college rockers or lovably offensive freaks? Only time will tell. Hold onto your butts, indeed.

Full disclosure: This paper’s Editor in Chief is the “lovably offensive” keyboardist of the Butts, but did not contribute to the writing or tone of this article.

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