While many shuffled their way to Union Park to see a wide array of indie rock for the Pitchfork Music Festival, a much smaller fest called The Rumble was happening just across the street. It is a much humbler operation, serving a particular audience that wants aggressive dance music. Culturally, the two fests are far apart. I doubt you had anyone starting a fight at MJ Lendermen because someone was moshing a little too hard. Most bands that play The Rumble would be lucky to play at 1 pm at any major fest. 2023 proved to be a big year for The Rumble. An Instagram post noted they doubled their attendance as they moved outside of Cobra Lounge, a venue essential for hardcore in Chicago. It is a venue I have become so familiar with that the doorperson no longer asks for my ID.
I arrived about ten minutes before the first band on day one of The Rumble. I wanted to soak up as much music as possible. Turquoise was first and fulfilled a necessary requirement for any hardcore fest: alt-rock made by people from the scene. The reaction was muted, which is to be expected. Turquoise only had a small amount of music out and hadn’t played many local shows. World I Hate followed and represented the official start of The Rumble. You couldn’t describe their music as anything else but hardcore. Their brand of hardcore punk is a potent blend, approximating the sound of a dog barking at many points. People have compared them to stuff like Weekend Nachos and Think I Care.
One of my favorite sets of the weekend came next in Spaced. I saw them at a toy store last year that did a few shows and thought they were great. I honestly think Spaced has a chance to crossover to a broader audience. Someone attending Pitchfork could find themselves dancing to “Prove You Wrong.” The newest songs are even more pop-forward, veering between genuine choruses and sections you can dance hard to. Once Spaced ended, I had an instant twinge of regret for not dancing during any song. But it has been years since I’ve gotten on the dance floor, so I was not quite ready.
There was a lull in the day for me. I got into hardcore through punk, so the more arm-swinging metallic hardcore is not my thing, but it does make up a healthy chunk of any modern hardcore festival. I checked a couple of Missing Link songs and had a decent time with them. Even the most middling hardcore can be fun to watch with the right crowd interaction. But after a couple of songs, I went back inside to rest my legs. I will see Missing Link in a few weeks at This Is Hardcore, so missing some of the set wasn’t a big deal. My biggest takeaway is I could see Missing Link playing later in the day if they return to The Rumble. They play a style of hardcore that people seem to be interested in right now. It’s ignorant fight music and doesn’t aspire to be anything more.
After the metallic hardcore rock block, we had Restraining Order. They were a big reason why I decided to even go on both days. They play a style of hardcore that I love. It’s fast, stompy, and, most of all, melodic. It’s 80s hardcore in the way I like to hear it but modernized a bit. Once Restraining Order started, I quickly decided that I could not experience them with my arms crossed. I participated in a little side-to-side action, throwing my whole weight into people 100 pounds lighter. I sang along during “What Will You Do” as well. I did not stagedive, but I saw a couple of failed attempts where people hit concrete because of the horseshoe. Though it was still early in the fest, I knew no one could top Restraining Order’s set for me.
The last set I saw for day one was The Killer. For those not from Chicago, The Killer is an institution in Chicago hardcore. Any local band that tries to right heavy hardcore is indebted to them. If you were at The Rumble, you got to see proof of it, with many members of other bands moshing hard as fuck for them. I had only seen The Killer once before, and they did not disappoint me on my second watch. The response from the crowd met the band. Someone even jumped off the stage speakers and onto the concrete. I could not have asked for anything more from an audience watching The Killer. I ended up leaving before the Cro-Mags started playing. You can take some hardcore credibility away from me; I don’t care. I wanted to get home and relax after a very long day.
I made sure to fully prepare for a full day of activities for day two. It would be a full day of activities, with the first band starting at 12:30.I loaded up with food at Cafe Central in West Town, scarfing down a jibarito and yellow rice as fast as possible. I got to Cobra Lounge just in time to catch Dayz Lost. I heard the name bouncing around and saw some people wearing their shirts at gigs. It is typical metallic hardcore, but it sets the tone for the day. Big Laugh quickly followed and was the reason I came early. I enjoyed their record from this year. It is my preferred hardcore style, and Big Laugh pulls it off well. I do wish they got a better response than they did, but that is to be expected this early in the day.
I took a break for the following two bands and hung out with friends for a little bit. I had another eight hours of the festival to go to, and I was planning to go to a pitchfork aftershow. After a break, I went back outside to see Ozone. I had seen them two years ago at a New Morality Zine showcase when shows returned. Ozone reminds me of 2000s hardcore in a good way. They even made this connection apparent, covering No Warning once. The strongest compliment I could give Ozone’s set was that it got me unsuccessfully moving in the pit with one drink in my hand. I even saw Nick Acosta of NMZ dance to Ozone, which is always one of my favorite parts of seeing him at a show.
At this point in day two, we were slowly reaching a rock block that gave no room for breaks. But before that, we had another two-band section of ignorant metallic hardcore. The influences for Domain are what you would expect from someone playing this kind of aggressive music, ranging from Merauder to Kickback. I enjoyed myself relatively during the Domain set. I felt the same way during Buried Dreams. They were a last-minute addition because Zulu dropped. It didn’t inspire a super strong response out of me, but I never was annoyed or felt the need to go back inside to kill time. That is not the strongest compliment, but I can be particular with what I want with metallic hardcore.
Now we were at the meat of day two. Fugitive was up, and it felt right that rain was pouring throughout their set. But unlike Pitchfork, The Rumble kept on going. It wasn’t raining hard enough, so it was annoying to be outside. Fugitive’s set was a nice respite from all the mosh metal played earlier in the day. It is closer to “down-the-middle” metal. Fugitive got the first genuine circle pit going for the entire weekend. The funniest part of the set had to be people trying to dance like it was mosh metal and then quickly moving off to the side when a thrashy guitar solo came instead of a breakdown.
After that, we were back in the hardcore punk lane with Raw Brigade. They have become a hardcore festival favorite and get a good response every time I see them. The Rumble set was no different, with people jumping on top of each other during singalongs and two-stepping at all the right moments. You can’t ask for much more. We quickly went back to metal with Dead Heat. I was close to the stage, and part of me regretted that. On the crossover continuum, Dead Heat is more hardcore than metal. And I felt that in the response firsthand. The singer of Domain made direct contact with my arm, and another person in a Freedom shirt whacked me on the nose during a side-to-side part. I didn’t care; it is part of the agreement if you are going to be near the stage when a hardcore band is playing, you may get hit.
We were beginning to enter the end of the night. After the violence of Dead Heat, Militarie Gun was a welcome respite. Ian Shelton would try to get people to come closer every few songs, saying, “We have no mosh parts; we’re not a scary band.” People mostly responded by pogoing, stage diving, and singing along at all the right times. After the raucous fun of MG, I went inside to eat way too much food. I had to miss Take Offense, unfortunately. I finished my food just in time to see most of End It, who have quickly become a favorite of mine. It was raining once again, but it did not matter. I got into the pit a little bit during the One Way Track songs and had a great time. I desperately need a whole record from End It now.
I only watched a few 200 Stab Wounds songs. I had seen them in December with Undeath and had no strong feelings after watching them. It was good to see them in the context of a hardcore audience instead of a death metal one. But I was just waiting for the headliner, Killing Time. It had been over fifteen years since they’d played Chicago, so this event was important. For me, Killing Time is a bucket-list band to see. Brightside is one of my favorite hardcore records of the 80s and one of the best things to come out of New York. Killing Time’s set did not disappoint; they sounded as tight as any of the younger bands that played.
Though it would have been smart to go home, I immediately went to Empty Bottle for the Soul Glo/MSPAINT show. I got up too close for the opener, Stress Positions, a local hardcore punk band I enjoy. It was nice to finally see them play to the right audience, with people responding enthusiastically. I tried to mosh while holding my Killing Time shirt, but it kept falling off my shoulder. Eventually, I just put it over my other shirt, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Then came MSPAINT. Though I’ve seen them many times, this was the first time they made sense. Feeling the kick drum pound against my chest was the best way to experience them. It was loud and fun as hell. The highlight of the set had to be watching Ian Shelton of Militarie Gun singing along to every song and singing his feature (“Delete It”). I decided to go home after that. I was exhausted and needed to sleep for an entire week.
Little fests like The Rumble are the kind of things that keep me still invested in music after all these years. They leave you with a euphoric glee that is hard to reach as you age. It makes me want to work on making music or doing something creative the next day. That’s all I can ask for from any hardcore fest.