Industrial Strength: Noise rock at the Chicago Electric Company in French


After dusk, the vast industrial district of Chicago’s West Side falls into an uncanny silence. Cut off from Michigan Avenue and residential neighborhoods, certain stretches of city would be devoid of life were it not for the numerous lofts and artist co-ops in the area. At an intersection like Fulton and Damen, the location of abandoned warehouse turned arts space/music venue the AV-Aerie, dilapidated buildings, empty streets, and piles of urban jetsam provide a bizarre juxtaposition to the distant Sears Tower. This forgotten corner of Chicagoland is the ideal place for the city’s disenchanted underground to tuck itself away–and make a lot of noise.

Formed by ex-members of Chicago’s semi-legendary but sadly defunct experimental rock group Coughs, Cacaw plays the dissonant, harsh, and sometimes frightening version of rock and roll that has made a home in grim West Side industrial neighborhoods. But this Thursday, Cacaw heads south, along with local punks Daily Void and New York’s Drunkdriver and Queening, to perform at The Electric Company in French, a former factory turned show space in Pilsen. Like other bands in the noise rock microscene, they delight in cacophony, pairing post-industrial anomie with the desire to simply have a good time. Downtuned and distorted by effects pedals, the guitars and bass form a lacerating mesh of sound over which singers Anya and Carrie screech with sincere rage. Guitarist Zack, who has also played with local punk cabaret troupe Lovely Little Girls, describes the group’s composition process as “trying to make a controlled chaotic mess”; a perfect description of their music, which sounds like it’s just barely being held back from tumbling into complete anarchy. For her part, Anya explains that she “writes songs about black magic and murder, mostly.”

The group describes itself as a mix of death metal, minimalism, and punk, an unusual combination that manages to convey the group’s simple but wrenching sound. Its songs often address everyday outrages. “So Many Bags,” for instance, is an intense anthem whose anxious, quivering bass line sounds like the end of the world, but which is about, Carrie says, “how there are too many fucking plastic bags and you can stop it,” as she describes this everyday nuisance that could easily be avoided. The members of Cacaw are not afraid to express their moral frustration with topics that are no longer novel and hip–Anya cites animal cruelty and environmental concerns as topics that fuel the pent up rage behind her songwriting. “I can’t yell at people in person,” she says, “so I do it through song.” But the petite singer’s looks are by no means as rough-edged as her music, and it’s always a surprise when a torrent of frenetic rage begins pouring out the moment she gets behind the microphone.

This explosive energy requires you to be in the room with the band, and Cacaw’s members all prefer performing to recording (although Anya says she gets severe stage fright). They have yet to put out a record, but have an EP scheduled for release on local label Permanent Records before the end of the year. Very much a part of the Chicago scene, Cacaw emerges out of the city’s long-standing tradition of producing abrasive noise rock. Big Black helped invent the genre in the 1980s, Jesus Lizard refined it in the ’90s, and Skin Graft Records took things to freakish new heights towards the end of the millennium. So what is it about Chicago that makes people want to make such agonized music? Perhaps it’s the anonymity of living in an urban environment, or the racial and class divide of the city, or the fact that huge stretches of the city are nothing but vacant industrial wastelands. “Life sucks, then you die,” says Carrie. “The winter is harsh, and it’s not a laid-back kind of town.” All the members agree. Chicago is a cold city, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to start a fire.
Electric Company in French, 1318 W. Cermak. November 6. Thursday, 8 pm. $5