Blood Ties: Estranged fans of extreme music assemble for Bridgeport festival

“It does surprise me,” says Mark Solotroff, “how within genres of music that are underground, confrontational, and aggressive, people can still be closed-minded to other underground, aggressive, dark music.” The Chicago musician and scene veteran hits upon an all-too-common contradiction in musical subcultures, which preach nonconformity while erecting their own rigid aesthetic expectations. Matchitehew Assembly, a two-day festival featuring a range of acoustically vicious performers that “encompass the spectrum of dark sound,” breaks down boundaries by uniting diverse patrons of extreme music under the Co-Prosperity Sphere’s roof.

About two-thirds of Machitehew’s performers fit somewhere in the cosmology of black metal, clad in corpse paint and T-shirts printed with band names stylized to illegibility; on the other side of the spectrum are big names in the international noise scene, including Sword Heaven, Hive Mind, and Air Conditioning. Bands will travel to Bridgeport from as far away as Hungary, and a considerable out-of-town crowd is expected.

Mark Solotroff has been involved with Chicago’s experimental music community since the ‘80s, and his band Bloodyminded, which fits more neatly into the noise category, co-headlines one of Matchitehew’s two nights. He also runs the local label Bloodlust and provided Jacquelyn Kilmer, Nicole Chambers, and other organizers with support and contacts as the festival came together. He describes the Assembly as the outgrowth of a planned Chicago show for California headbangers Bone Awl. Because of the different tastes of individuals involved in setting up the show, he says, Matchitehew ended up being split, quite organically, between two normally separate spheres of the extreme music underground.

Though, as Solotroff points out, “there has always been cross-pollination between the two worlds,” and “it’s all high-energy, extreme, aggressive-sounding music,” there is a clear divide between black metal and harsh noise. While metal goes for the throat with its trademark Cookie Monster vocals and its gore-draped lyrical offerings to horned gods, noise represents a more calculated attack on listeners’ ears, as its craftsmen manipulate analog equipment and reroute electrical signals, often shunning traditional rock instruments, in order to generate their concussive sounds. Noise’s lineage ties it to canonized artists like Cage, Xenakis, and La Monte Young, while black metal’s obvious heroes are Gilles de Rais and Vlad the Impaler. For his part, Solotroff got involved in Chicago’s early noise scene while studying painting and printmaking at the School of the Art Institute. Nonetheless, Bloodyminded’s lyrical subject matter includes morbid contemplations of serial murder and venom-spitting social critiques. Solotroff’s Bloodlust label has also released music by metal-inspired bands like Dead World and fellow Matchitehew performers Locrian.

Black metal, whose truly cult-like audience has attained the status of an urban legend thanks to some real life church burnings and cannibalism cases in Scandinavia, has donned a more thoughtful mantel in recent years and gained mainstream critical attention, with groups like Locrian and Menace Ruine appearing in wide-circulation magazines like The Wire. Style practitioners keep to the characteristically raw four-track recordings and gloomy obsessions, but younger artists layer slow, deep guitar drones to create an eerily unsettling atmosphere that might give listeners chills, but won’t boil the blood, as one expects from death metal, grindcore, and other brutal-minded subgenres.

Solotroff points out that although Matchitehew’s artists can be divided into two musical tribes, each of the festival’s performers has its own ear-abusing idiom: “There are a lot of different themes going on, even within the noise bands that [will be] there–Bloodyminded, Sword Heaven, Air Conditioning, and Hive Mind. We’re all drawing from the same well of histories, interests, and influences. On the surface, there’s that darker aesthetic, but content matter-wise and sound-wise, there couldn’t be four more different bands. That’s four bands that sound so different, from dark ambient, to guitar noise, to almost Swans-like dirge with Sword Heaven, to us being more extreme electronics.” There’s a similar variety to the metal bands, whose inspirations range from ‘90s shoegazing to crust punk and at times even revel in a kind of sadistic beauty. Metal and noise fans can expect to have their expectations denied and exceeded at Matchitehew. But perhaps it’s simply best to check all expectations at the door.
Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan Ave. June 5-6. Friday-Saturday, 5pm. $25 each day/$40 both days.