With the end of the ‘70s opened a little-known chapter in the history of American music: noise rock solidified into a formal movement. Though the genre can arguably be traced back to late-’60s Japanese psych-jammers Les Rallizes DÃ©nudÃ©s, it was in the United States that noise rock found its true womb. In the spring of 1978, the New York label Antilles Records released a compilation album that would begin a decades-long legacy of noisy punks, who, in proper futurist form, destroyed all pre-established notions of punk and hardcore composition and charged forward into a dissonant and entirely un-probed beyond. And, unlike the originally metro-centric punk and hardcore movements, noise rock fielded most of its initial architects from previously untapped parts of the country, with a few notable exceptions.
With this new development, the Midwest rose to occupy a vital position within the development of noise rock. Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile Records, based out of Chicago and Minneapolis respectively, were largely responsible for establishing an audience for most of the key players in the scene, such as Big Black, Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers, Boredoms, and Melvins.
Currently, Chicago remains one of noise rock’s most important cities, with many informal show spaces and an ever-vibrant cast of bands. What’s more, the South Side (namely, Pilsen) has come to play a pivotal role within the greater Chicago scene, by harboring many of said venues.
Despite the relative fertility of Chicago’s noise rock scene, making it as a band is as frustrating in the Windy City as it is nearly everywhere else. I recently caught up with Ed Bornstein, a recent Iowan emigrant, whose band T’bone negotiates the fraught space between classic noise-rock modalities and more traditional punk (think Minutemen meets Shellac, with a dash of Fugazi here, a smattering of Big Black there). Bornstein briefly discussed his experience trying to make a name for T’bone in a city whose ties to noisy music are strong, yet whose current trends for “independent music” (as they are in most of the country) are more or less dictated by Pitchfork.
Chicago Weekly: So, having recently moved here, what are the most noticeable differences between Chicago and Iowa in terms of the scene and shows you’ve booked?
Ed Bornstein: There are so, so many more bands, and it’s been tricky to become involved in the scene. There are a lot of people looking out for themselves. But, on the other hand, it was super easy–only two months after moving here–to book shows at places like the Mopery or Ronny’s There’s definitely a really nice and welcoming community. I guess the main thing that we’ve had to deal with is realizing that it’s all about who you know and what connections you can put together.
CW: It sounds like moving to Chicago has emphasized the business side of things, or showed how difficult it is trying to get your name out there and your music distributed.
EB: Yeah, it’s been a lot more work than I was prepared for or realized. I mean, writing songs and taking time to practice is one thing, and then you’ve got to spend all this time on the Internet or going to shows, trying to talk to people and promote yourself. And because everybody in this town is trying to do that, and there are so many people here, it’s easy to get lost. Especially when you’re making music that isn’t necessarily the trendiest thing on the block. It’s been frustrating, and tricky, and hard, but I feel good that we’re still making music in Chicago, and that we haven’t had to leave because we couldn’t get jobs.
Though the members of T’bone have had to retool their understanding of the extent to which they have to network and work their connections, they are quite active. Rather than attempting to fight their way into the Pilsen crowd, they have opted to establish a presence in Hyde Park, in addition to bolstering their Logan Square efforts. They will be playing a basement show in early December and performing live on WHPK 88.5 FM shortly thereafter. Regardless of fame and hype, T’bone has been following in the tradition of excellent Chicago weirdness–keep an ear out for these guys.