An Intro To Chicago Emo Revival: Revisited
I honestly didn’t think anyone would care when I first decided to take on this project over a year ago. I told myself I would be happy if I could get 50 people to click on an article. This was at least half true; All I wanted to do was answer a simple question: who was the first emo revival band in Chicago? Thankfully I was able to call on the emo expert David Anthony, who was one of many sources who helped add shape and depth to my writing on Chicago’s emo scene. He supplied me with two bands that would start this journey. They were Black Print and Blonde Alibi, two bands with little to no online footprint. My initial reaction to hearing both was a bit of shock. These were far from the twinkly sound that I came to forever associate with the revival. They were instead much closer to the gruff punk of Small Brown Bike and Hot Water Music. It fucked with a narrative I held as fact, namely that these were bands that were strictly part of a pop-punk lineage.
The initial research I did later didn’t give me a definitive answer either. That pre-revival era was truly a hodgepodge without a defined arc. There was some post-rock, screamo, and 90s indebted emo. A band like Oh, My God Elephant didn’t have like-minded bands pulling from the Kinsella brothers and instead played with whoever they could find. These three separate pockets would begin to converge a bit to create what we would call midwest emo. But there was no one originator because genres don’t really follow narrative convention. Trying to find a definitive start to the revival was missing the point. This stuff is always happening, with its own rises and falls. There are booms and stagnations as I found when reaching into certain segments of time.
To my surprise, people seemed to dig or get something out of what I was writing. That response ignited what I would call a feral two months of trying to document a scene that has such a rich history. There’s so much I wasn’t able to dig into and would only really work if I had the length of a book to go a little deeper. And the momentum never really seemed to let up, ending with my last post on April 19th of last year.
Almost immediately upon publication of the final edition things had changed. To my surprise people really took to one artist I included only because of a conversation I had with the Chicago Reader music writer Leor Galil. I asked him if there were any bands I should include and in passing, he mentioned snow ellet. Right after our conversation, I put on suburban indie rock star. My first reaction wasn’t obsessed but rather just a passing “this is good” remark. I particularly took to the “to some I’m genius” but it wasn’t something I expected that I’d return to often. But my reaction didn’t matter because clearly, people had been thirsting for an artist like snow ellet. Thanks to a network of online tastemakers like Keegan Bradford and The Alternative, I got to witness something I never thought I’d be responsible for starting. It’s still something that I have trouble believing.
And even though I’m proud of what I wrote, I do have some regrets about some parts of the series. I try not to tinker on my work too much so some of the bands didn’t receive the care they deserved. There were even some very close calls of bands I should have included but decided not to. I wanted to alleviate some of those mistakes and add a couple of bands to the series here. Below are four bands to add to the canon of Chicago emo.
Bottom Bracket comes from the thriving scene of Springfield and only moved to Chicago recently. It’s a welcome addition to the scene right now. For as thriving as it is right now, we are missing the traditional midwest emo style right now. And Bottom Bracket fills that need, sounding extremely familiar to the trained ear. A review on Punktastic makes a Tiny Moving Parts comparison but Bottom Bracket is thankfully way less cringy. “Failures”, the opening song on their 2020 record starts off with a noodly guitar line before the vocals begin. Their newest EP A Figure In Armor, which just came out in February is a step forward, offering the most refined take on emo yet for Bottom Bracket.
Colossal comes from the ashes of 90s Chicago punk. There are a lot of familiar players here, including Rob Kellenberger of Slapstick and Neil Hennesey of the Lawrence Arms. Instead of playing the type of energetic punk music they were well known for, it is much closer to classical midwestern emo. There are mathy guitar lines and even horns interspersed throughout their discography. A Punknews review of their debut record even makes a note of it, saying, “Sure, Mike Kinsella beat them to the punch combining jazz-tone guitars weaving intricate lines with trumpet over top, but now Colossal have perfected the sound and are making it rock harder.”
To many, Droughts is just the other band on the William Bonney split. It’s a fate that many others before have unfortunately been saddled with but that only tells a piece of Drought’s story. While many of their contemporaries have broken up or become inactive, Droughts have never really gone away. You can still see them play the occasional show from time to time, most recently opening for a Kittyhawk reunion in early 2020. This continued activity may be why they aren’t canonized in the same way as their peers. When you never go away people never have a chance to miss you and create a legend around the band.
Native seems to be lost to time, only to be remembered by those that were around while they were active. For a brief moment in time, they were on equal footing to La Dispute. Their debut record Wrestling Moves even got a middling review on Pitchfork in 2010, way before this kind of music started to get major coverage. But like a lot of bands of this time, they would break up just as this style of post-hardcore was cresting. Singer Bobby Markos would ultimately find a wider audience a few years later when he formed Cloakroom with fellow emo musician Doyle Martin of Grown Ups.
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