Chicago DIY Is Alive & Well: An Afternoon at Scrapyard Fest
Featuring some of Chicago’s best indie bands including Bunny, Dehd, Sports Boyfriend, Clearance, The Predictions, Glyders & more
Photos & words by Katie Ingegneri
Times have become tough for rock n roll house shows in Chicago in the past 2 years since I started this magazine. Logan Square, once the low-key, inexpensive and artistic “hipster” home base for garage rock and punk bands to cut their teeth and find enthusiastic, PBR-swilling supporters (like me), is falling prey to the same moneyed fate as Wicker Park. Increasing gentrification has led to the shut-down of punk houses like Wally’s World and the ex-church space of Young Camelot. Benny of The Symposium has left his Bucktown apartment behind, where I saw my very first house shows of the young, suburban-originating scene around The Orwells. (Apparently it has also since been torn down, which was maybe necessary after what we did to it.) The college kids left that place near DePaul where we used to cram in to see Modern Vices. La Cubierta, the stunningly good rooftop venue in north Logan Square where I first saw Whitney and other excellent shows over the past 2 summers, has also bitten the dust.
Enter: Scrapyard Fest, a DIY extravaganza kicking off summer 2017, and revitalizing me with hope for the scene — and just a mile down the street from my own home in Logan Square to boot. A big, shady backyard with a wide staircase and balcony attached to Alexa Viscius’ second-floor apartment was the ideal setting for a hot (literally and figuratively) Sunday afternoon showcase. I don’t know if the venue has a name yet, but I am praying to the house show gods that more shows happen there this summer. The first floor was the former home of Busy Beaver Button Company, who moved a few blocks away (and made my first Houseshow buttons) and so the downstairs space still seemed vacant. It’s a pretty ideal setup — also next to a chill bar that was cool with their patio patrons enjoying excellent music.
The Viscius sisters, Alexa and Jessica, were the curators of this event. Designers, music video directors (I first saw their names credited with making Jimmy Whispers’ great “I Get Lost In You In The Summertime” video), and founders of the band Bunny, in addition to being Geminis AND twins!!, they put this fabulous party together to celebrate their birthday, and Chicago music, and you know, life in general. We are #blessed.
I got there early to ensure I didn’t get shut out, always a risk with house shows. Despite being in the throes of a cold, I fought through it so as to not miss this great showcase that I had been looking forward to for weeks. (Note to the world: if you ever see me out at a party and I’m not really talking, it’s likely that I am probably ill in some form. What can I say, writers become writers because most of us had to stay inside and play by ourselves because we were constantly sick.) I’d been lamenting how many of the bands I had gotten to know through house shows and interviews over the past few years were all permanently on tour this year, like Whitney, Twin Peaks, The Orwells and The Walters. I’m happy for their touring success but I miss the local shows so much! Scrapyard Fest, however, was so well-curated that it reminded me that my latest favorites, including Dehd, Sports Boyfriend, and Bunny, are still here and still rockin out.
I was excited to catch a bunch of bands that had fallen through the cracks of my local show attendance life (sometimes ya girl gets to shows late or stays outside during set breaks too long), such as Clearance, Cafe Racer and Divino Niño. All gave fantastically upbeat, clean and interesting performances — these bands are definitely not some boring DIY schlubs in a basement (and I have certainly seen some in my day). Clearance had just gotten back from a tour in Brazil!
The always fun Glyders capped off my afternoon before my energy gave out (unfortunately didn’t get a good pic as I was upstairs on the balcony), and The Hecks, another established band I have yet to catch, closed out the evening. Overall, a stellar lineup and showcase of where Chicago indie rock is now. Good work, team. Lemme talk about some of my favorite highlights of the afternoon.
I was glad to see The Predictions again after catching them at Cole’s Bar a few weeks ago, featuring the multi-talented Luke Henry whose music I’ve covered a lot here in the magazine, adding flavor to the rock group via slide guitar and extra percussion. I was struck by their innovations evoking 1960s garage rock and psych in a twisted, modern way. I really want to hear more from them. Check out this tiny clip. I should really take more videos now that I have a real Vimeo account which I made specifically for this article, but should have done like 2 years ago. #DIYmedia
Also, here’s a pic I took that didn’t get everyone in the band in it, cause I’m apparently new at this. But there’s good ol’ Kenny, aka Luke Tokyo Drifter, a mainstay of Logan Square bands and bars.
Scrapyard Fest’s esteemed hostesses came on in the middle of the afternoon as Bunny, a ridiculously good band that I watched from above. Whenever I see them I forget that they’re still pretty new, because they are that fucking good. You would think they’ve been playing forever, because their sound is so pro and assured. Infusing a vintage Velvet Underground style with Widowspeak vibes, they’re fronted by Jessica on guitar and vocals with moody and atmospheric style. Keep your eyes peeled for their recorded tunes cause it’s all gonna be big when it comes out. Trust me. By this point, the backyard was pretty packed.
Sports Boyfriend, aka Eileen Peltier, was a standout, especially as she augmented her laptop and sampler set with guitarist Alex Lukawski, formerly of Chicago riot grrrl rockers Glamour Hotline, providing backup. Having recently blown everyone away at the second night of my Houseshow two-year anniversary party at Cole’s, Eileen is a bonafide star on the rise. The bar next door’s patrons were standing up against the fence to get a better look, snap pictures and dance during her set, which she finished off with a cover of The Carpenters’ classic pop hit “Close To You.” With a beer and cig in hand as she started her set, it’s impossible not to fall for Sports Boyfriend. Listen to her single “Jasmine in the Summer” on Spotify!
Dehd is one of my favorite acts in Chicago these days. I first caught the trio opening for Juan Wauters at The Hideout in early winter 2016, and have been lucky to see them at The Empty Bottle a few times so far this year, where two of the members, Jason Balla and Eric McGrady, also work. They’re one of the most consistently fun, upbeat and interesting rock acts you can hope to see in Chicago today.
An indie supergroup of sorts, Jason is also associated with esteemed indie rockers NE-HI, and Earring, while Emily Kempf is a member of Heavy Dreams and Vail, who recently opened for Of Montreal. The band trades duties on vocals, guitar, bass, and percussion, with enthusiastic, often-dueling lyric lines and an always bouncing beat, which the members all embody on stage. It’s impossible to have a bad time when they play. Emily is also just really cool to look at with her myriad tattoos, pink hair and colorful gem-studded bass! Their music is stunningly complex for a trio, which you can hear in their recorded tracks, such as the “Fire of Love” EP recently released by Nashville’s Infinity Cat Recordings. Check out this clip I got of their set on my very professional Vimeo.
I can say that this Chicago afternoon in the 90+ degree heat, drinking PBR, seeing many familiar and friendly faces from the music scene, and enjoying great music, cured me of my cold, more or less — I have found the cure, and it’s rock n roll. Thanks again to Alexa and Jessica Viscius for hosting this kickass show, please host more!
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