I am a Chaos in Tejas novice. After following the fest for what feels like millennia I decided it was time to get my butt down to Austin and see what the madness is. As no stranger to Austin (at least, during SXSW), I thought I was prepared. Chaos, it turns out, is an entirely different ballgame.
It’s also of note that I went to Chaos on my lonesome – hopped on a plane and stayed with a friend’s friend’s friend, a guy named Johnny Kickass who kept telling me to read some book on how to become a billionaire, as well as a tiny Chihuahua named Lola and a dude who spent most nights sleeping in a bathtub.
When I first got into town, I decided it would be best to acquaint myself with the Austin-based photographer I was going to work with. Logically, we hiked up to the cafe/bar Spiderhouse, spilt three pitchers of Lonestar© (America the beautiful) and quickly became close friends. Shaina Bracamontes also told me she had a partner in crime – Liz Lopacki – who could act as our videographer. And thus the Impose Babe Squad was born (loving dubbed so because we were three women in our early 20s covering a punk fest. It may be 2012, but that shit never happens. Seriously.)
When I sat down to write a recap of one of the most intense weeks of my life, I realized it was going to be nearly impossible to outline every incredible thing I witnessed without, well, outlining the damn thing. Though the following time stamps might not be completely accurate, the stories are real.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 30
10:47 p.m.: After hearing from 12XU/Matador Records man Gerard Cosloy about a pre-Chaos bash, Shania and I made our way down to Chain Drive – an off-the-beaten path gay metal bar which proved to be as completely awesome as it sounds. The bathroom was one giant room with two toilets. I made a lot of friends.
11:57 p.m.: When local hardcore act Women in Prison finally did take the stage (or rather, the farthest corner of the bar) they were immediately met with chaos. The already uncomfortably warm room rose in temperature about 15 degrees – mostly the result of a crowd surfer falling at an unfortunate angle, crushing the industrial fan we were all relying on.
12:01 a.m.: Approximately .03 seconds into Women in Prison’s third song, someone chucked a trash can at my head. It was empty; the beer bottle that followed was not.
THURSDAY, MAY 31
5:58 p.m.: Arrive two minutes early for Big Freedia’s Azz Shakin’ Dance Class at Beerland. No one is present. The bartender feels guilty and passes me a free Lonestar©.
6:32 p.m.: Big Freedia appears concerned with the modest size of the crowd.
7:07 p.m.: As what I imagine all good dance lessons begin with, Freedia stretched her students – toe touches, the whole shebang. Probably the only time anyone will ever see couples with matching Man is the Bastard tattoos shake their azz. Freedia commanded the crowd, causing the shyest of punks to transform into azz shaking machines in the span of 20 minutes. By the end of the set, kids were using the bar and its poles, booths, the wall, the stage, even people standing next to them – anything they could get their hands on to bounce, twerk, and shake that azz.
9:31 p.m.: At possibly the most punktual set of the entire festival, Ted Leo took the stage at Mohawk Outside alongside his Pharmacists. It seems that to many of the attendees, Leo is unfamiliar, but his ideological successes sit comfortably here – politically, he is right at home. There seems to be an invisible division between those present for Leo’s set and the crusts waiting for the Mob’s performance to follow, and the difference is marked in a dramatic change in wardrobe; the T-shirt rainbow ends somewhere around 10:00 p.m.
10:11 p.m. “We love being in America!” wasn’t exactly what I expected to be the first words out of first generation English punk legends The Mob frontman Mark Wilson, but it was certainly the popular sentiment of the evening. Within seconds of the opening number, kids were jumping from the tiered levels of Mohawk onto monitors and, inevitably, on the heads of the poor folk in the front row (interestingly enough, primarily women – girls to the front is a real thing!) The band’s encore ended with “Another Day, Another Death”, their best-known number, which confronts Thatcher’s England and economic and political turmoil. Though the current state of hardcore seems more occupied with the social, the topic of being fucked over was nothing short of resounding.
11:42 p.m. Racing to (and completely missing) Warrior Kids’ set at the “new Emo’s”, Emo’s East on the other side of town, I caught the Belltones instead. Try as they might, they couldn’t manage to beat the venue's vacuous nature. Sometimes, ambience is key.
12:37 p.m.: The room seemed to triple in size and intensity by the time the unstoppable Oi! legends Cockney Rejects took to the stage. Experiencing them live felt nothing like watching a punk band in the traditional sense – their set was professional, maybe even glossy, without feeling fabricated or phony. They fed off the incredible positive energy of what felt like the largest gathering of skins in the 21st century. (A gentlemen in a Fred Perry polo offered me and few others around shots of whiskey under the premise of “Here’s to good times and bad ideas!”)
3:11 a.m.: Japanese band Forward opened the official Chaos after party over an hour after the scheduled show. Anxious and teeming with tension, the crowd joined the band in flashing two fingers in the air, later explained to me as meaning “you dropped two on us, we’ll drop two on you.”
The first time I went to Broken Neck was in 2010. At that time, there was no stage, no bathroom, and a giant pit in the ground filled with drunk crusties. Festival organizer Timmy Hefner assured me that though the venue has gotten its act together, it was in no way an “adult house.” This time around, a stage with appropriate lighting had been built. Not disappointing at all, and by the end of the night, the ground was littered with just the right amount of beer cans. Punk’s not dead.
FRIDAY, JUNE 1
9:02 p.m.: Every once in a while, a band operates under a specific ideology that begets an aesthetic which is attractive and open to those looking for something to belong to. For No Tolerance, this means operating under genre term without associating with its apparent limitations. Other than referencing their favorite bands playing the fest (“Shout out to Hounds of Hate. What? I only talk about bands I like.”) there was little banter at the Club De Ville gig other than the opening, “We’re No Tolerance. Boston. Straight Edge.” Clear, simple, and honest, No Tolerance perform because they have to, with a supplemented spirituality in their raw earthiness. That’s more than one could say about most bands.
10:03 p.m.: Without conjecturing too much, Wiccans at Beerland was one of the best sets I saw all Chaos. I was anxious at the set up when the bar, much like the Big Freedia performance, was vacant. As soon as the band began, it seemed like kids climbed in from some weird hidden space, engaging in the band’s complicated hardcore. As stated in our fest preview Wiccans create hardcore by non-hardcore kids with an ear for live show quality. It was pristine.
11:20 p.m.: A few years prior, Cheer Up Charlie’s was known as Miss Bea’s, a non-fenced-in food- and beer-truck haven for the latest in up and coming independent music. Generations before Vivian Girls and JEFF the Brotherhood became the indie rock darlings that they are now, the bands played here for a small but quality crowd. Fast forwarding to the present day: Chelsea Wolfe took the stage in a timely manner, moments after Wierd Records act Martial Canterel. Visually, Chelsea was stimulating, as she always is. But what was happening off stage was nothing short of disorienting. Chelsea picks up a guitar and dominates the percussion of this band, shredding with a level of distortion that is fun to listen to, hard to experience. There was cheering, but it was from an unfamiliar place.
12:45 a.m.: The No Age equation is minimal at best. Set up a million monitors so as to deafen everyone within a fifty-foot radius and still draw a crowd near. Surround yourself in massive Marshall twin stacks. Sit near the stage edge. Play late, but not too late. Repeat.
3:03 a.m.: Night two of the scheduled after party. Reality Crisis, the phenomenal Japanese band, started an hour after they were scheduled. On the last of their only two U.S. tour dates, the band changed vocalists and ran around the entirety of the giant warehouse space, completely taking control over the room with the aggression of some giant primordial being.
4:07 a.m.: Hoax, finding themselves with the challenge of following an act like Reality Crisis, used their set as a springboard. Since the last time I saw Hoax (a month ago) the band has completely tightened up. Even their visual aesthetic seemed more realized – there wasn’t a moment that felt like you weren’t watching a show. Frontman Jesse constantly berated the front row with the might of his combat boot, kicking friends in the jaw and smashing faces in a way that had the audience begging for more.
SATURDAY, JUNE 2
3:30 p.m.: For a band with the sort of reputation of Boston Strangler, it’s hard to facilitate and, more importantly, sustain and entertain a certain level of performance. The show was early in the afternoon, and regardless of the uncomfortable heat, it was balls to the wall crowded, causing the already uncomfortably warm room to boil. During “Outcast,” I saw a few punks knock each other out – disappointing for them, entertaining for us. It’s 4 p.m.
Then Dropdead took the stage. For a genre that is nowhere near its infancy (though largely young, perhaps well into its late adolescence), Dropdead is ‘classic’ grind. And they delivered. Within a few seconds of their performance, crowd members were using the monitor as a play-thing, flinging their bodies into impossible contortions. Of all of the shows at Chaos, this was one of the most full frontal punk shows.
7:45 p.m.: RØSENKØPF live is much like RØSENKØPF on record. Dark with necessary sexuality, their appreciative performance felt like a welcomed brush with sensitivity, especially when front man Soren Roi stopped to thank the crowd after every loud, abrasive and improbably danceable number.
9:16 p.m.: After battling visa issues for what seemed like forever, Royal Headache made it to their first U.S. show at Chaos for what was probably the best dressed crowd of the week. Regardless of the thunderous sound of the adjacent Deviated Instinct show next door at Mohawk that bled through, the set created a large pit in the dim, cavernous lighting of Club de Ville, proving that regardless of genre, if you fucking love a band, they will have you moving.
11:32 p.m.: After racing over to the Parish to catch Pop. 1280, front guy Caleb March grabbed our videographer’s leg and hoisted her between his thighs (see photo in above slideshow). After the set, March approached me and said, “I prefer shows with a few more confident people in the front. Then I can dry hump ten people in the front row instead of just your people with cameras.” – truly only a thing Pop. 1280 could declare.
12:15 a.m. If there’s one thing at which Xeno & Oaklander succeed, it’s providing consistent quality. Their set was as active as it was nonviolent (a welcome change from the rest of the punk at Chaos.)
1:03 a.m. ICEAGE will never disappoint. Though the sound was lacking, the Danes dominated. (Please note the critical bias that ICEAGE’s New Brigade was my favorite record of 2011, this was my eighth time seeing them live, etc. etc.)
3:08 a.m. The last of the after party series, and largely the most violent: Crazy Spirit's frontman chewed beers and spit the shards in the audience. I am still unsure how he was able to do that without cutting himself.
SUNDAY, JUNE 3
6:32 p.m.: The Impose Babe Squad befriend the Mohawk’s stage manager and slip into lifelong bro status. Not only did he ask to take a picture with us, but he gave us free beer and water, allowed us to maneuver all over the stage, requested that we exchange information and allowed us ultimate freedom. There were tons of journos and press people much more qualified than I to stand there, but the dude said, “The fact of the matter is, if you’re friendly and polite, you should be able to do whatever you want.” They don’t make ‘em like that in New York.
8:02 p.m.: Ceremony played relatively early at what will inevitably go down as my favorite show of the year. Unfortunate that the crowd seems more engaged in their older stuff than the new but that in no way reflects the quality of the band. They shouted their adolescent aims of “I’ve got problems, I’m a fucked up kid” and moments, later, a matured, “We have to give up the things we love sometimes.” Regardless of anyone’s personal reaction with the band, time and time again, Ceremony facilitate a certain level of connection that few others do, and even fewer can maintain.
9:07 p.m.: There is nothing delicate about ICEAGE. Their music performs in the intimate realm of aggressive sexuality operating not on a physical level but a bodily one. Their set at Mohawk was no exception – if you were watching closely enough, you slipped inside of it.
9:43 p.m.: Playing for over an hour, the highly anticipated Moss Icon reunion show was nothing short of impressive. What Moss Icon’s stage presence lacked in movement and physicality was made up for in their droning bass and harsh, audible aggression. To put it another way: I have never seen such an inactive band create an immediate, intimate response. Nothing fell flat. They commanded.
Reunion shows are often met with disappointment; the band didn’t treat their material as a piece of some glorified past, but as archival material delivered in the present. This is Moss Icon’s cross to bear, and they do so with great pride, which is largely why they are met with such intense positivity. Though the band’s reissue was recent, it appears as no time has passed since 1991.
2:00 a.m.: After the performance the Impose Babe Squad somehow managed to talk Moss Icon into going to White Horse, a bluegrass bar specializing in two-step dance lessons. To keep the rest of the story fairly PG, we didn’t learn to dance, but instead chugged beers into the wee hours of the morning and then decided to go swimming in a private living quarters. And thus concluded the best festival I have ever been to. Chaos reigned.