Episode 100 of ASPFSP! Thanks to everyone who has supported and pushed us. This is quite a milestone and we're proud of everything we have done so far and we are looking to many more great episodes in the future. Stay tuned and enjoy!
I’m walking west on Fullerton before deciding that the rain isn’t worth it and hail a cab. It’s January in Chicago–the rain should be a welcome surprise–but I’m tired and a bit late and still a little hungover from the night before. I step into the cab and say “Fullerton and Western, please.”
The cabby takes a look back at me, his brown middle eastern face furrowed into a sort of dad-knows-best smile, and says “You’re going to Quenchers?”
He laughs. He clearly knows something I don’t but I’m slowly figuring it out. He saw my leather jacket and immediately knew I was going to X hipster rat-hole in Bucktown (that’s Quenchers Saloon), where of which I’ve never been but it already feels like I’m being treated like a regular before even walking in. I’m in this cab because I’m on my way to a gathering/festival called Art Against Hate (it is January 20th), at Quenchers, within which 4 bands/artists have convened to, well, I’m not exactly sure. I mean I have an idea, given the title of the show and the nature of the events over the past 12 months that might potentially render my friendly cabby a second class citizen. The purpose of this journey is to uncover the motives and goals of the event from its creator, Neil Bhandari, of Swearwords (the headlining act).
I exit the cab and enter Quenchers Saloon, where a surlier-than-his-age-should-allow bouncer scans my ID. He let’s me pass, and I enter the building. It’s about 8:15 PM in Chicago in January, and despite the lighting fixtures, it feels like it is darker inside the bar than out. The walls are green, dim, and wooden–the floors the same except they are the color of spilt bourbon. As I approach the bar, I am greeted by a couple of old friends–the gang from Beauty School, a feature on one of our earlier episodes this past Fall. They are participating in the festival as well, and Max, the guitarist, leads me into the stage room to introduce me to Neil. I grab a drink (they have Pabst bottles here for $2.50), we grab a seat stage right, and below is an annotated/paraphrased version of our conversation.
Dylan (ASPFSP): So, Neil, we both know why we are here and what this event is in response to. When did the planning begin?
Neil (Swearwords): The night of November 8th. Literally less than an hour after the results were clear.
ASPFSP: Tell me about that.
Neil: We just knew we had to do something, anything. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, and we weren’t expecting this or prepared to digest this. We were hurting for our friends, who were women, who were minorities, people who look like me who should feel safe in this country. We’re allocating all proceeds to Black Lives Matter Chicago as well as the ACLU.
ASPFSP: How did you decide who would play?
Neil: I mean, the sets here are way more diverse than a typical indie show. We wanted to focus on a diversifying the kinds of artists, because that’s the kind of spirit we are trying to maintain. That’s the purpose of this whole thing. We’ve got Beauty School, you know them, who have the kind of traditional indie guitar vibe we do, but then we have Bryan Douglas, a Spanish guitarist, and Lamar Jordan, a spoken word MC. That’s not typical.
ASPFSP: Is this a protest, or a celebration?
Neil: I’m not sure. I think it’s something in between. We are psised off, but we are here together to make sure people know we won’t just go away. We are protesting but at the same time celebrating who we are through something we all love–art, music.
Neil had to run, the show was already 20 or so minutes behind, but here are a few gems from the stage that night:
“Everything is political.”
“I’m angry, you’re angry, so let’s all be angry together.”
Bryan Douglas takes the stage for his first song (his set was sensational). “This song has no words, but is, perhaps appropriately, entitled ‘Watership Down.’”
Lamar Jordan (River Jordan): “I just came here to share my music and not talk that much, is that alright?”
“You gotta make eggs to break an omelette.” I don’t know exactly what this means but I really liked it and wrote it down.
What I experienced tonight reinforced my perception of the power of art. Here we all were, upset, many fresh from the Women’s March but still on their feet, still dancing, and still smiling, enjoying perhaps humankind’s most powerful vehicle together, art. Maybe I’m being overly hopeful, but perhaps this new era in America will bring us our own version of The Smiths. Great art comes from unboring, struggling societies, and one thing the next four years promise to be is un-boring.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Great Good Fine Ok prior to their show at the Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago. For those of you who don’t know, they are a rising indie/dance electro outfit, whose following has been growing exponentially in the past 3 years.
The Pilsen neighborhood has been a focal point for creative urban development in Chicago over the past few years. Otherwise known as gentrification–yeah, I don’t care, I’m a hipster and it benefits me directly. It’s a lot like Wicker Park, but way more Mexican. The Thalia Hall was built in the late 1800’s, with the express purpose of being a center within which the members of the Bohemian community could gather, revel, and dance. It is here where I will be meeting with Jon and Luke of Great Good Fine Ok.
I’m in a cab taking me from the Loop to Pilsen, sipping on some bourbon and listening to some funk. As it pulls up to the theater, I’m enthralled by the amount of murals in the area. Portraits of beautiful hispanic landscapes surround me, weaving thick strokes of red, yellow, and orange to construct sunrises and sunsets no doubt crafted in the image of the homeland.
I text the band manager to let him know I’m there–he’s been telling me to hurry up–and am escorted by a large bouncer backstage to the green room, an ancient, woody smelling clinic of a space. I say clinic because there are packets of Emergen-C and Nyquil all over the place–apparently the opening act is very ill and the bouncer, a big black bowling ball of a bloke, tells me to wash my hands (a lot) before he leaves.
Jon rises immediately when I get there, sporting a white t-shirt, silver chain, and jovial smile. His hand reaches out to shake mine, before moving into another room to gather Luke, the other principal member of GGFO. When no one is looking, I pour a little whiskey on my hands to keep them clean. Luke is more subdued–he’s bearded, quiet, but friendly. I feel like every band is like this–the charismatic front man seems to always works with a quietly talented supporting cast. We sit down and chat for the interview–they couldn’t have been more gracious–before taking the stage. As I leave the green room, Jon shakes my hand again and says “You ready to dance? I better see you out there dancing up front.” I lie and nod my head, before finding a nice corner near stage left to brood, drink, write, and briefly attempt to catch the eye of some blonde bespectacled female near the end of the bar.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with GGFO prior to chatting with them (you can find the mentioned interview on our podcast), and honestly was not that crazy about their music. I mean I liked it, otherwise I would not have requested an interview, but it just didn’t seem to be my style. All of that fell away as soon as they took the stage.
I had read about their energetic live shows prior to the interview, per my research, but something about Jon taking the stage with his electric, light up shoes, fluorescent jacket, and bottomless appetite to dance was way too compelling to not be enthralling. It was so absurd, similar to the neighborhood I was in, to not be enjoyed. You know those artists that actually sound better live than they do in the studio? This is them–except, the principal difference is that they don’t just sound better, they feel better, the lights, the dancing, the energy–it all came together to create a whole creative and artistic experience that was physically, emotionally, and spiritually visceral. Which is what great art is supposed to do. I did, in fact, end up busting a move or two. I hate myself for writing that, but it happened, and the next time I see GGFO, it will happen again. Jon asked me that question not to be friendly or funny, but because he actually cares–he wants their fans to be engaged on that level, and that authentic desire to connect with the crowd is why they are able to establish that connection so effectively.