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  • Nathan Weakley

Four Hours at Subterranean

Last week, I got to go to a hardcore/death metal show at Subterranean in Wicker Park. It was a marathon sludgefest– seven bands, four and a half hours in total. I’ll tell you about the most memorable sets. But, before I get into that, let me put in a good word for the venue. 


Chicago’s loaded with nice little spots for live music, but none of them are as dear to me as Subterranean. It’s a building with three floors, two stages and a balcony, all of it wood-paneled, colorful and storied. In places where wild, moving crowds can’t reach, Sub-t is adorned with beautiful things; two chandeliers, a massive papier mâché sculpture, ornate glass lights, and many other little artworks. There's free water, places to sit and to stand, places to dance, places to rest, and anything else you need. And the location couldn't be better, just around the corner from the Damen Blue Line station.


At around 7:00 PM, the show started strong with deathcore outfit Bird Law. I recognized the name from posters that had been scattered around West 18th a couple months ago, but their music was unfamiliar. Bird Law was a perfect opening act. Their set was brutal, crushing, and short.


Downstairs crowd as Bird Law took the stage


The show was planned so that both floors could be used alternately. So, while one band was wrapping up their set, the next one would be getting ready. When each band ended, the crowd took flight instantly to the very narrow staircase that would lead them to the music. For some, it was a race to get to the front of the stage, but I’d always rather hang around on the edges of the mosh pit, joining in when I feel like it. It’s more fun that way.


The second band of the night, however, stayed clear of the stage entirely. I’m talking about Chicago harsh noise duo BLACKWATER SNIPER, who played their frantic, jarring set from within the crowd, dressed in full ghillie suits, spitting and screaming into microphones that mangled their voices into something unrecognizably human before it could reach the PA System. The sound they make is music by a very loose definition of the word. It’s mostly percussive gunshot noises and screams. I laughed, I cried– in short, I was thrilled from start to finish. Check out BLACKWATER SNIPER.


BLACKWATER SNIPER


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If you’ve never been to a hardcore show, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. I know that the music might not be your style, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a great time– if nothing else, a way to see people behaving in a way that you might never have seen publicly. I promise, none of it is as violent or scary as it seems. Most of the people there are very friendly between songs. And, if you don’t like getting pushed around, you can stay out of the pit and watch from a distance. But, if there's a violence to all of it, it's a constructive kind. Catharsis can be good, especially in a group setting. I think that all of us carry around some anger and anxiety in our day-to-day lives, and music can be a wonderful way to work through that. It can be cleansing, and if you give it a shot, you may well leave the show with a greater appreciation for the musical style.


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Another of the night’s standouts was the black metal band Knoll. Surrounded by ornate stage decoration, they played a funeral grind set that was equal parts scorching and gloomy. Their vocalist was something to behold. When I say that he chewed the scenery, I don’t intend to speak figuratively– in between six-to-seven-minute bouts of incredible, versatile vocal performances, he bent down and began to gnaw features of the band’s soundboard with his teeth. Who could ask for more? Knoll, I’ve got to say, was also technically brilliant; their sound was unique and gothic and moving, and I loved every second of it. 


Knoll


When headliner Frail Body took the stage, most of us had already been there for almost four hours. I, at least, was feeling very tired and sickly. But the second they started playing, the hellish and emotionally raw screamo that poured from the speakers was enough to get everybody moving again. My brain felt like ice cream being shoveled out of my head with a warm scoop. It was the day they released their new album, Artificial Bouquet, and they played through the record in its entirety. It was, by all measures, one of the best live performances I’ve seen. The harshness of the sound didn’t stifle the beautiful guitar melodies, the passion of the vocals. The studio album is incredible, too. 


Frail Body


All in all, this was one of the best shows I've ever been to. A reminder that hardcore at Sub-t is never to be missed. Maybe I'll see you there next time.

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