Smile Politely

Art versus noise

Last Friday and Saturday nights, I attended Bitchpork music festival in Little Village, Chicago. No, you didn’t read incorrectly; Bitchpork claims itself a musical reaction to Pitchfork Music Festival, which is going on the same weekend at the same time.

The Space

The festival took place in Mortville, an art warehouse centered on a rough stretch of street on the city’s southwest side. The space is similar to that of a punk house in the late 80’s. The walls are slathered in brightly colored graffiti depicting everything from cuss words and crude drawings of nude women, to gorgeous, bizarre works produced by local artists. Furthermore, the warehouse is shamelessly filthy, littered with crushed aluminum beer cans and cigarette butts, reeking of stale beer and sweat.

On the other hand, Mortville, despite its derelict state, also attempts to express something of a higher, more artistic mind. The second floor is comprised of a half-dozen or so theatrical sets, or “installations,” including a sculpted Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz) dangling from a noose inside a dim, wooden closet, and a paper maché model of Mount Rushmore, Abe Lincoln’s beard in two, thick dreads. Finally, the warehouse holds three stages on which over 60 experimental bands played from six in the evening until two in the morning Friday through Sunday.

The Music

The set time given to each band was somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. That is to say, performances were oddly short. Furthermore, when one band finished, another band began playing almost immediately on another stage. This structure provided the festival a manic undertone, as people dashed from one stage to another, constantly immersed in diverse arrays of sound. 

One of the more notable performances was by Chicago-based band Mayor Daley. The band has three members, Kelly Carr on guitar and vocals, Dewayne Slightweight on bass and Paul Erschen on drums. The resulting sound was sludgy and violently distorted, the sound of dogs fighting over raw meat in an alley. The crowd moshed aggressively on muddy, slippery floors, and the heat in the room, although nearly unbearable, added to the intensity of the set.

Another note-worthy performance was by Missouri based band Warhammer 48K.  Their music was primarily based in punk, but, as their name promises, it delivers an extra wallop to the cranium with screeching guitars and thick, ugly bass lines. Ironically enough, Pitchfork magazine gave these guys a reputable 7.1 rating for their second album, An Ethereal Oracle. Maybe they thought they deserved better, which is why they put on such a hard-hitting show at Bitchpork, leaving the crowd exhausted, overheated, and chanting for more after their 45 minute set.  

Other Performances

While Bitchpork featured mainly musical performances, it also featured other forms of art, including a short play entitled The Queen of Mortville.”Admittedly, it was difficult following the storyline of play, as the majority of what was said came from a pre-recorded voiceover that was run through so many effect pedals that it was nearly impossible to decipher. The acting, however, kept the play interesting. For example, there were various scenes in which the male lead (?) sprawled himself over a table so as to be whipped by a female character wearing a tight, black, leather outfit. The most memorable moment, however, was the play’s final scene in which the female characters got completely naked and wrestled with the rest of the cast on the floor, all the while hurling spaghetti into the audience and at each other.

One of the more endearing aspects about Bitchpork was that anyone was allowed to perform so long as they could find space and an audience. For example, in the alleyway outside Mortville a woman torched two devil sticks without warning, forcing those around her to form a circle and watch her impromptu fire dance.

Personal Reactions

There is something endearing about having a bunch of twenty-somethings in a warehouse fucking around with sound until the wee hours of the morning, but on some level, I feel there had to be a line drawn on who was allowed to perform music and who was not. Not in the sense that any of it was too bizarre, but in the sense that not everyone performing knew how to play their instrument.

I had the chance to speak to many of the performing artists, and I was surprised to find that a good handful of those whom I spoke to had been playing their respective instruments for no more than a month. Now, maybe I’m old fashioned, but shouldn’t those who are granted stage time at a relatively well- attended festival have some grasp as to what they want to express artistically? I mean, if someone, or a group of people, get up on stage and make noise for 20 minutes (which is what a good number of the acts were) without any sense of what is being accomplished, aren’t they somewhat dampening the validity of those who perform with a greater knowledge of their instrument and the sounds it is able to produce? 

I feel true experimental music stems from a deep well of knowledge of one’s instrument, and it is the conscious manipulation and deployment of that knowledge that leads to breaking new ground in sound. Anyone can make noise and call it art, but ultimately, I feel those who are conscious of their sonic decisions are truly expressing something individual in nature, are truly expressing self.

Overall, I felt Bitchpork contained a good smattering of both those who made noise and called it art, and those who were truly breaking ground in the music world. I feel if those running Bitchpork limited its lineup and spent more time picking and choosing its artists, the music performed, and the big “Fuck You!” it’s attempting to send the established indie scene would hold greater value.  

Related Articles