The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio, Part 3 The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio, Part 3

The Underground is alive and well

The Underground is alive and well

Here’s the third installment in my awkward stumblings into these things called “music” and “being in a band.”

The last time we were at the Bunk warehouse space in Cincinnati, there wasn’t anything in it. It was a massive, decaying, blank box of a room. You know, an empty warehouse. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I gotta say I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that the space had since been hijacked by an anarchist artistic fringe group with a penchant for large-scale installations. A system of naked speakers dangling from the entrance ceiling is blaring audio from late-night TV infomercials. A pile of televisions is set to colored static in one corner. There are some remarkably expansive murals with all of the expected youthful hard-left imagery: a combination of ironic product tag lines, not so ironic call-to-arms slogans, politicians, sex, and general conservative pastiche. Two ten-feet-high skull prints flank the stage. I didn’t have to agree with it to be impressed.

We’re the only band playing tonight. And by that I mean we’re the only one’s with instruments. The only notice I was given about the gig was that we’re opening for these bands that “sort of rap but not really” and have a “super devout cult following.” Only the second bit of information turns out to be true. There were at least fifty people standing around as we set up to play first, each one more ridiculously dressed up than the last. These guys were all about animal masks, those semi-translucent human facemasks with the creepy lipstick, wearing brightly colored drag, painting their faces, and covering themselves in the standard punk patches. Where did these people come from? I’ve lived in this city for twenty years, played in bands for six, and I’d never heard about any of this until tonight.

The center of all this business is this band Realicide. They look about the same age as us, maybe a year or two older, but have apparently been together since early high school, which is a seriously long time in young local band years. They tour relentlessly, go overseas, have their own label, and release their stuff on vinyl alongside DIY prose/poetry booklets written by one of the members. Tonight is the album release show for a side project of sorts called Evolve, and, unbeknownst to us, it’s a big fucking deal. There’s even a potluck next to the merch table consisting of food that was snatched out of Whole Foods’ dumpster before the show. Awesome.

So we set up our shit while some old Adicts plays through the PA. Meanwhile, a guy climbs up a ladder, microphone stand with large-diaphragm condenser microphone in hand, and ties the mic stand off to a pipe running along the 20+ foot ceiling with the god damn mic cable. It’s hilarious and beautiful. We play to some moderate nodding/jumping (at this point I remember that our regular audience is typically twenty-nine years old and immobile), and I’m thankful that we’re “punk” enough to not be devoured by these people. Cuz seriously, as much as I like to think a plain gray hoodie with a white t-shirt and khakis (and Adidas Sambas!) are passably “non-mainstream,” I feel like a goddamned yuppie when everyone else is dressed like a zombie Ronald McDonald (and yes, zombie Ronald McDonald was in attendance.)

This guy that performs as Birth plays after us, at which point the evening actually starts. It’s only that deformed industrial drum machine and distorted screaming that the kids came to see from here on out. Realicide snatched Birth up in Los Angeles while they were on tour, and he’s now giving us a pretty good indication of what we’re in store for the rest of the night. Shirtless, flaccid mohawk, and I swear to God, a thick tear-shaped patch of hair on his forearm, the guy pile drives his body around a pit of similarly headbanging kids while monolithic electronic beats and piercing static spurts painfully out of the speakers. Oh, and screaming. There’s a lot of screaming.

Realicide is basically the same thing, except more spastic, more breakbeat sputtering, more PSA-type samples, and more members (read: more screaming). Shirts are removed, sweat gets dripping, and these people, audience included, are sincerely pissed and losing their shit. Like, I’m actually scared. And I have no idea what they’re saying but can probably make a pretty close educated guess. There’s a moment at the end where the music cuts out and the main vocalist issues a tantrum-like diatribe, it’s subject matter I can barely make out since the vocals are running through a distorted guitar amp (“FOX NEWS!… CAPITALISM!… ROCK BANDS!…) He suddenly drops the microphone and keeps on screaming. A genuinely scary dreadlocked guy in the audience across from me starts yelling in a horribly gnarled accusatory growl along with him. At first, I think he’s directing this hate-bile at me (he isn’t), and I’m sincerely scared for my safety. By this point, I feel like I fall somewhere under their fairly large umbrella of enemies, and I’m seriously worried they’ll somehow find out I went to an expensive private high school and am currently studying to be an accountant.

Their set ends with the beat-fiddler/secondary-screamer saying, “Please stay for Evolved. I mean, if you’ve got a job in the morning—well, first of all, why?—just, like, call in sick. Or if you’ve got class in the morning—again, like, why?—just skip or something.” These guys are dead serious. They live this. Their message is their music is their lives. And as tempting as it is to completely dismiss it altogether, there’s something really admirable about passion like that. Then to stand back and just take it all in: the art, the audience, the music, and realize that they fucking built this thing from the ground up? I’ll say it again; I didn’t have to agree with it to be impressed.

The next band starts to set up, and we get the hell out of there.

9 Responses about “The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio, Part 3”

  • Robert says:

    I hope you know that nobody in that place would ever want to fight you or be upset if you have a different background – that’s the whole idea – getting together regardless. It’s aggressive – I mean you’ve heard of “punk” right? That’s what’s up – but it’s urgent, not about violence, there’s a huge different, so I hope you noticed this. Seeya around.


    PS. if you wanted to see something REALLY wild, by my standards I mean, it was at the end of the show… I can’t even begin to explain – it was truly bizarre and massive haha

    oh yeah, thanks too, it is interesting to see your perspective on all this!

  • Squeri says:

    oh no, i totally understand what punk is, and all that. and i wouldn’t say i actually felt threatened; i mostly just felt very out of place and uncomfortable. i’ve just sort of been entrenched in the whole collegiate/career-oriented thing for so long that it was a bit of a shock to my system. but seriously, i love shit like that and it was one of the most engaging and exciting live experiences of my life.

  • Anonymous says:

    it was a halloween show, hence the costumes.

  • Robert says:

    well we were happy to have ya in the mix! the warehouse is closed at this point but the team is scouting for a new and better spot. I think everybody would gladly welcome you back – and the events vary widely – not geared towards any 1 sound or look, just anything real and d.i.y. based generally…

  • Ben says:

    It’s obvious to me that genuine passion is an endangered thing. I know what you’re talking about in this article. When you run into something that pure there’s something really mesmerizing about it all.
    It’s truly powerful to be near someone who possess the sheer balls to dedicate their entire essence to an ideal. There’s a visceral attraction to the lifestyle of a person so totally engulfed in something that there is no plan B, no compromise, and none asked for.
    Being in the presence of such unwavering zeal can make 99.99% of the population immediately insecure. Almost all people are born, feed, and dead without ever finding anything that they can place their unwavering trust in.
    No matter how you look at it for those people who buy in, it’s the ultimate prize for the ultimate risk. Complete victory or Greek levels of tragic failure; anything in between is unacceptable.

  • Squeri says:

    @ Robert
    Man, I really hope you find a place to keep that going, cuz Bunk was one of my favorite places to play. For what it’s worth, that was our third time playing there, but the first two were incredibly more conventional in comparison.

    Basically, Ben summed up how I felt about the whole experience perfectly.

    Also, I somehow failed to connect the costumes and such to Halloween. The show was a week before, so I wasn’t even thinking about it at the time. But yeah, makes more sense now.

  • bunk says:

    cool to hear a fresh perspective. i thought you guys killed it that night, i really like where weakness is going musically. and as you kinda said, every show is mass different- we tried to cover every genre at least once. it is funny (and i feel kinda bad) when someone comes out to a show without knowing what theyre getting into and leaves super salty caus it wasnt like the hip hop show or whatever the weekend before. i really do like working with realicide and friends, they rock the diy game harder and more professionally than anyone i know. but ima def holla atcha guys again in the future, keep it up

  • Robert says:

    that statement about passion is really overwhelming in and of itself! well-worded!

    but on a more practical note, Ben F. who was the joker/ronald with the USA cape – yeah it was a costume party but if he could just rock that style on the daily maybe we’d really be going to a new frontier! shit was legitimately freaky haha

  • lrv says:

    by the way the food came from the trader joe’s dumpster, not whole foods, they sadly use trash compactors.