Fast Hardcore, Fireworks & Police Shutdowns: The Oral History of Chicago Fest

Gordon Solie Motherfuckers (Photo: Al Quint)

There will always be some sort of fascination for me of eras of hardcore that I just missed. All you have are little pieces, and myths passed through internet forums and videos. Recently, when looking through old hardcore flyers, I came across Chicago Fest 2001. It was a gathering I had heard about through podcasts and various people.

Many of the names were familiar and fed my curiosity, trying to imagine a time when Chicago had a premier hardcore festival. Some documentation has filtered into YouTube in recent years, giving a peek into a version of hardcore that feels very different from what I have experienced. Watching Gordon Solie Motherfuckers' set stands out and was notable in being the reason that the fest in 2001 was shut down that year. 

Tracking people down to talk about the fest proved to be difficult. Trying to recall one particular show from two decades ago is difficult. What seems noteworthy to me is just another day for others. But I still felt some urge to try to get some kind of retrospective piece out of the fest. It is by no means complete.

The result of what you’re reading is a couple of people’s recollections of a fest that, while short-lived, is an important note in the history of Chicago hardcore. 

(Shout out to Michael Thorn for putting me in touch with a bunch of folks wouldn’t have happened without him.)

Ken Ramsey (Writer): The internet was pretty nascent in 2000. Chicago Fest put everyone in the same room and under the same roof. People from all over the country could say, “Oh, you’re into this. I’m into this, too. I finally get to see this band; I have been loving that record.” The internet hadn’t totally saturated our lives and these fests were an important extension of the hardcore scene and these local disparate scenes coming together. It was a sort of gathering of the tribes.

What’s Happens Next was carrying the banner of the whole thrash revival. Life’s Halt, too. When both of those bands played, it was an explosive thing. They brought the energy level more than most bands. It wasn’t necessarily about musicianship; it was about energy and streamlining the sound to be pure hardcore punk speed.

Anton Zaleski (founder of Chicago Fest, Get It Away): I did a bunch of shows at the University of Chicago. They had a little club and had funding from the university to put on shows basically. It was hard to find any place to do anything. Fireside Bowl was around, and there were other places. I could bring bands, and they could get paid money.

The university didn’t have much contact with actual bands, but they had the space and funding. I started to put together a wish list of bands that I wanted to see. There were a lot of bands doing cool stuff. The '90s were over, and it was time for a different thing. There was a good mix of the kind of hardcore I grew up liking. 

David Ackerman (Tear It Up, Dead Nation, Planet on a Chain): 2000 featured Dead Nation, Lifes Halt, and What Happens Next. It kind of featured a bunch of the “thrash” stuff that was emerging at that moment. What Happens Next hadn’t played east of California. It was a big deal for everyone to see them live finally. I think it was also a change of the guard.

Felix Havoc (Havoc Records, Code 13): There was a lot of energy building at that time. Fast hardcore was emerging from hibernation and starting to snowball. That a fest was coming together with these new bands was exciting. 

Chicago Fest was one of Code 13’s last gigs. We left for a tour of Asia and Australia, and I think we only played a few gigs after that. Hardcore was starting to change at that time. We came from a crusty/anarcho-punk background in the '80s and '90s. The new kids were evolving from a more Youth Crew or Skate Thrash scene. It felt like Varukers, and us were a bit more like the old guard, while new bands came through with a fresher approach. 

READ MORE: Felix Havoc: The Founder of Havoc Records on His Label, Past Bands + More

Andy Scarpulla (Tear It Up): 2000 was the first time I saw both What Happens Next and Life’s Halt. I was already emailing pen pals with Felix from Life’s Halt. I sent him a demo of my first band, which no one had ever heard of. He was so nice about it.

Jon Arends (Charles Bronson, Fourteen or Fight): Ida Noyes Hall was a cool space. Charles Bronson played there. I had seen a handful of shows there before. It was cool because it had beautiful woodwork and hardwood floors. There were chandeliers. It was an unusual spot to have shows, but it made sense. It was one of the only places available at that time to do something on that scale.

John Caution (Weekend Nachos): It was at some ballroom at the University of Chicago, and at this point in my life, that didn’t seem like a very typical venue for a hardcore show. It added to the experience because I don’t even think about where shows are anymore, but at the time I was intrigued by this show going on inside of a college.

One of the first things I also noticed when I walked in was that there was catering from Soul Vegetarian, and at age 17, veganism was still a fairly new concept to me. I didn’t realize half of the hardcore scene didn’t eat meat. There were also a ton of pamphlets about activist-type shit, police brutality, going vegan, foreign policy issues, class warfare, etc. which, going to shows in the suburbs or at the Fireside Bowl, I had never really seen any shit like that at a show before.

It felt like I was in a different world, and honestly, the vibe I got was pretty elitist and unwelcoming. It was almost like I was being judged from the second I walked in the door by a bunch of people who cared about very serious topics, a few of which I eventually grew to care about myself and others I still do not care about to this day.

When we first walked into the concert area after getting to the show, Limp Wrist was just starting their set, and they were the first band. Martin came out with a giant black rubber dildo and started sucking it and spraying fake cum into the audience as the band started the first song, which did shock me a little bit as a suburban hardcore kid who hadn’t seen anything like that before.

I dug their set and, at the time, did not know much about Los Crudos and, therefore, didn’t know they shared the same vocalist. I just knew that Limp Wrist was very gay and had a lot of songs about being gay. It was notably the first time I ever heard the classic songs “I Love Hardcore Boys, I Love Boys Hardcore” and “This Ain’t No Cross On My Hand,” which were awesome to see live.

Chicago Fest 2001

David Ackerman: Us (Tear It Up) and Down In Flames were in a rental van together. Our van broke, so we had to get another from the rental company. From my recollection, we got there on day one, and I think The Degenerics were on stage. We loaded the Down In Flames gear, and as soon as The Degenerics were done, Down In Flames played. Then Tear It Up played. I can’t even remember who played last. We got there super late. New Jersey to Chicago is like a 12-hour drive, and we got a late start. 

The next day, Gordon Solie is what I remember. I remember this dude Fabio from Spain hanging on the chandelier. The powers that be of the venue flipped out. When 9 Shocks and Gordon Solie came through they would usually do one after the other. I went down the street to make a phone call, and I was walking to the venue. Felix Havok was walking towards me, handing me all this money, and we were immediately arrested. He got charged with something.

It immediately became clear I had no idea what was going on. I got cuffed and taken to the police station. Both of our stories matched, and they let me go. Tear It Up did not try to find whatever the night show was. We were in West Virginia the next day. I think we slept somewhere in the Chicago suburbs and drove the 8 hours to the next show.

Andy Scarpulla: The first time I saw Gordon Solie was on the way home from the first Chicago Fest. A friend and I rode out with the band Kill The Man Who Questions. We didn’t even know those guys. We just hitched a ride. They were like, “We have a show in Cleveland the day after Chicago Fest on Easter Sunday.” Me and a bunch of my friends took part in what I think was one of the original “Let’s just grab a bunch of shit from outside and throw it.” There was definitely a lot of that already happening.

Jon Arends: Chicago loved Tony Erba back then and showed up for him. We heard what would happen at Gordon Solie's shows in Cleveland. When Gordon Solie or 9 Shocks came, people always went a little extra crazy for them. Their shows were always wilder than regular shows. It was at least the fourth time Gordon Solie played Chicago. I saw them a couple of times at The Odum, which isn’t around anymore.

There was a buzz around the room that it would be crazy when Gordon Solie played. “Oh, there’s going to be fireworks,” and there were fireworks. All of a sudden, someone is swinging from a chandelier, and it’s over. I understand it’s like a hardcore show, and it’s crazy, and people are responding to that energy.

At the same time, this is a really old and beautiful room. Someone put down a deposit on this room. Someone has to deal with the consequences of these actions. I don’t blame the university for shutting it down. I’m not super mad about the behavior, but it kind of ruined everyone’s fun. It wasn’t super wild before Gordon Solie; that’s the thing. People turned it up because of them.

Tony Erba (Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Face Value, 9 Shocks Terror): We called it (Chicago Fest 2001) Wednesday. I think we were on the road. I didn’t know Anton too well. He had the hot hand at the moment promoting shows in Chicago. I would have no idea who he was if he walked past me now. He wanted both bands to play. It made sense to do a package deal. Half the guys in one band were in the other.

I specifically told him to put Gordon Solie Motherfuckers on last. For whatever reason, he didn’t. I didn’t think it was all that bad. It (fireworks) was like popcorn. It sounds loud and makes a lot of noise. There was nothing there in terms of real damage. Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe shit did get fucked up. 9 Shocks didn’t get a chance to play, so I was like, “You’re paying both bands.” I had guys in the other band who came to Chicago for nothing.

READ MORE: Face Value: Singer Tony Erba on the Story Behind 1991's The Price of Maturity Album

Anton Zaleski: It was a pretty seminal hardcore moment for me. I don’t care that it got shut down. I feel bad for the bands that didn’t get to play. They still got paid. We moved the show to another space. That got shut down real quick before I even got there because I was trying to get the money to pay the bands. My girlfriend at the time mouthed off to the cops, and she got arrested. I knew something was going to happen.

If you look at the video, I’m stage diving in the first ten seconds of GSMF playing. I knew what I was getting myself into. I guess it was kind of dumb not to have a contingency plan.

Al Quint (Suburban Voice): My friends and I decided to get something to eat (after Gordon Solie) and found out the show had been shut down. Felix Havoc was arrested for disorderly conduct. There was a window, and he said fuck you, pigs and jumped out of it. We found out the show got moved and said, let’s go. A bunch of us piled into two vans and piled down to South Chicago. We got there, and we were like, “This does not look like a great neighborhood.” We walked over to the flower shop, and it had just been shut down.

Felix Havoc: The security shut down the fest after GSMF. I got into a screaming match with one of the security guards. I remember calling him a “rent-a-cop.” People were milling around outside. I ran out and tried to incite the crowd to riot. I was really disappointed in the response and went back inside, determined to fight a one-man war on authority.

I think I felt that if I took a stand and fought, my example would inspire the punks, and we would rise up together and overthrow the establishment. However, more cops and security were showing up, so I realized it was me against the whole fucking system.

I think I threw a chair through a window, just blindly raging, and took off out the back door. There were cops waiting for me, and I was apprehended. I was kept overnight, and Michelle and Corey bailed me out. I think I posted for bail for $500 and was given a court date. I never went to it. 

READ MORE: One of My Biggest Influences: Tony Erba (9 Shocks Terror, Face Value, H100s, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers) on Evel Knievel

Suburban Voice #45

Chicago Fest 2.5 (2002)

"The first weekend of the month, I went out to Chicago with my pal/SV compatriot Pat Lynch for Chicago Fest 2.5 and made a pretty decent time of it, catching two other shows and getting in the requisite record shopping, sightseeing, and indulging in some genuine Chicago pizza, although I’m convinced there’s still better deep dish to be found next time I visit. 

"Back to Fireside Bowl for the actual fest itself and much more packed than the day before with people coming in from around the country and overseas and, in addition to the music, there was a mini-mall of distros attracting attention, as well. Not as much to get excited about as last year but there was still a lot to blow your cash on, espcially with Felix Havoc in the house.

"Speaking of Felix, he informed me that the show the day before was one of the best he’d ever seen, which made me feel like a sap for missing it. Especially since this show didn’t feature Nine Shocks Terror or Tear It Up. Still, hard to be disappointed with a lineup that included Vitamin X, Amdi Peterson’s Arme, Caustic Christ, Def Choice and Reaccion."

—Al Quint, taken from Suburban Voice review

Chicago Fest 2005

From @thebestpunkflyers

Jon Arends: It was Fourteen or Fight’s final performance. I don’t remember people going off. I remember thinking our band didn’t perform as well as we would have wanted for our last show. Chicago had moved over from Cleveland worship to Toronto worship.

Fucked Up was phenomenal in those years. They had a bunch of singles and a CD called Epics in Minutes, which collected them all. I listened to that so much, and I loved all of those songs. I probably talk about Fucked Up during this time the way people talk about the Bad Brains in 1982. They made such an impression on me.

Felix Havoc: Almost no one knew Fucked Up yet, they maybe had one 7" out, but they were fantastic. I remember telling Anton I thought he needed bigger name bands as headliners, and his response was, “No, these bands are all going to be big in the next few years,” and he was right.  

Andy Scarpulla: I think Forward to Death missed Friday. We played Saturday and stayed for the Sunday show. There is nothing that stands out like the 2000 and 2001 Chicago Fest sets. Nothing at the 2005 Chicago Fest felt as urgent as the years before.

Al Quint: The Repos’ whole set was 10 minutes and blew everyone else away that day. That might have been the show for Municipal Waste, where there was a raft going over that crowd. Sunday was at a little garage. It was a smaller space. In terms of the type of people in the bands, it was a lot more diverse in 2005. It seemed to have a slightly wider range of bands.

John Caution: Weekend Nachos was not even close to getting popular in Chicago at this time. At the time of Chicago Fest 2005, we had only been a band for a few months, and people hated us. They didn’t even hate us in an angry way; they either ignored us or laughed at us because we weren’t good yet, and we also just fucked around a lot.

I was genuinely angry and wanted to give off the vibe of a brutal, pissed-off power violence band, but I just think we came across like a big joke, and we got zero respect from anybody. I don’t think we gave any respect either, though. The second we started our set, I smashed the mic down onto the stage, and it cracked in half. I remember Anton saying, “You owe me $100 for that mic” after our set, and I told him I’d pay him for it, but I never did, and he never really asked me about it again.

Our guitarist had a family trip he decided to go on at the last minute, so we didn’t even play as a full band — Just bass, drums, and vocals. It sounded awful, and we played terribly. Overall, I think we contributed nothing worthwhile to the show.

The cool thing about Chicago Fest was that it specifically catered to people who were into the faster, noisier, more underground side of hardcore. Hardcore, to me, when I first learned about it, was all Victory Records type shit, mostly crappy metalcore that anyone can agree sucks ass. But to have a fest that brought together punk rock-influenced hardcore, fast, thrashy shit.

There wasn’t really anything like that in Chicago at the time. So, for it to even exist for a few years during the peak years of that revival, it was awesome for that reason.

READ MORE: Do You Remember These Parody Hardcore Bands?

Anton Zaleski: I was done with doing shows in general. It was a lot of work. It just runs its course when you’re not making any money off it and just doing it to do it. It’s not something that holds the same weight anymore. I just got burnt out. It was a lot of work between the booking, the flyers, the setting up, everything.

It was the main thing I did for a couple of years. It was one of the biggest events of my life. To me, we were just having fun. It was more of being in that moment and seeing the bands I wanted to see. 

Why did I quit? It’s not one thing—the drama, the work, and just not feeling it anymore. You can’t just keep going through the motions. I think one of the things that is nice is when something has a beginning and an end.

The nice thing about Chicago Fest is that it was a few years in time. I never gave any thought to it that “this is going to be something people are going to be thinking about in 25 years.” 


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