DIY: Chicago’s basement scene

While the music and live shows live up to the name, hardcore punk in Chicago is more than meets the eye.

(all photos by Andrew Morrell)

Coke Bust

Coke Bust

The potential energy inside the Alderaan is as tangible as in a lit firecracker when the final act of the night, Washington D.C.’s Coke Bust, takes the stage – or rather, the rug.

Vocalist Nick Tape, wearing track shorts, leggings and tennis shoes, appears ready to run a marathon as he stretches in front of the crowd.

They take their positions.  Tape momentarily bows his head in meditative silence and the band kicks off.

“Straight-fucking-edge!” he suddenly roars as a rallying cry.  The music begins, a torrent of blazing guitar riffs and unrelenting screams comprise its melodies.  Tape throws his body into the crowd and they happily oblige him, tossing the vocalist and each other around the space like rag dolls.

It sounds intimidating, but hardcore punk shows are all in good fun, and contrary to their raw intensity, promote a lifestyle that champions moderation over excess.

Cold Lovers

Cold Lovers


The Alderaan is a music venue, at least in the sense that people can pay to see bands perform there.  It’s really just an apartment, owned by Matt (he declined giving his last name), a DePaul University senior and supporter of the DIY (do-it-yourself) scene in Chicago.

The DIY movement is an outgrowth of the traditional punk ethos that underscores an independent way of doing things.  Coming out of the punk rock scene that began in the mid-1970s, its adherents eschew the traditional routes to success in the music world, like signing to a major label and charging high prices for tickets.  Instead, bands promote themselves through small record labels or none at all, and play their shows in houses owned by those kind and brave enough to host them.

“I think it is not the worst thing to have tons of people in the house,” Matt said.  “I like the idea of not having to wear shoes at a show as well as knowing where the extra bathroom is.”

Matt lives in the Alderaan, but at night he opens his basement door to anyone interested in seeing a variety of bands, sometimes nationally touring groups, perform.  The price of admittance is small (the Coke Bust show was only $7), and the house rules are simple enough: “No drinking/no drugs/no jerks.”

“It just depends on the people which is always a crap shoot,” Matt said, speaking about the variety of people that attend his shows.  “I think most people who are used to going to DIY shows know they should be respectful and do so, it’s usually the new folks who are oblivious.”

Sin Orden

Sin Orden – Matt at back right


It may come as a surprise to the uninformed that many hardcore bands, despite their brazen lyrics and physically intense live shows, are strict followers of the straight edge ethos, which promotes abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Originating out of Washington D.C.’s nascent hardcore scene in the early 1980s, straight edge was a reaction against the hedonistic lifestyles that were promoted by earlier punk rock groups.

The “straight edge” moniker comes from a 46-second song of the same name by D.C. hardcore band Minor Threat.  The lyrics that address the growing movement: “I’m a person just like you/But I’ve got better things to do/Than sit around and fuck my head/Hang out with the living dead.”

This resonated with youth at the time, drawn to the counterculture but simultaneously wanting to fit in, as DePaul student and straight edge adherent Wesley Toledo explains.

“A big reason that kids back in the day wanted to be straight edge was because it was a group that went against the ideals of the more popular group,” said Toledo.

Much of hardcore’s modern fanbase continues to be drawn to straight edge, although no longer for the purpose of fitting in with the hip crowd.

“I don’t see it as a movement, but really just something I choose to do,” said Matt, also straight edge.  “It’s something that helps me make sense of myself.”

“Like most people who are straight edge, I abstain from drugs and alcohol for deeper reasons,” Toledo elaborated.

Coke Bust

Coke Bust


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