Monday, November 24, 2014

Chaos In Tejas: Revisited

One of the best and most important American hardcore labels of all time is San Francisco's Prank Records. We have Prank Records to thank for beginning the modern relationship between the Japanese hardcore scene and North America. In 1995, Prank records brought in Tokyo's Assfort to the USA to play some shows. This would lead to open the door for many other Japanese bands to come to the USA. In addition to a relationship with Japan, Prank also maintained a strong relationship with the Swedish scene (most notably Avskum and Totalitar) as well as many of the best crust punk / USHC bands of the day. Bands that would feature for Prank would include World Burns To Death, His Hero Is Gone, and Talk Is Poison.

In 1997, Prank Records expanded its scope to host a festival in Atlanta simply called Prank Fest. The fests would come and go and the Prank Fest name would slowly slide into obscurity. In 2004, the fest was revived in Austin, Texas with Timmy Hefner joining the operation. The 2004 edition featured the legendary Japanese act Paintbox along with acts like Born/Dead, Kylesa, and Worn Burns To Death. Prank Fest 2004 was a hit.

In 2005, Timmy booked another festival at the site of Prank Fest 2004. In Austin, at the legendary and now defunct Emo's. The new festival would be called Chaos In Tejas. It would carry on the same spirit of booking that Prank Fest did but not limit itself to the label's roster. The first Chaos In Tejas established two elements of Timmy's booking style that would continue with the festival until its demise in late 2013. First, Timmy had a flair for the unique. He wanted the headliners to be reunions of legends, one-off shows, or gigs that bands came from all the way around the world for. In 2005, the headliners included Swedish d-beat legends Avskum, Finnish d-beat legends Selfish, and USHC legends Deathreat. The standard was set though: when you came to Chaos In Tejas, you knew you would be seeing something special. A lot of hardcore fests in the USA today simply recycle acts, 2006 and 2014 weren't much different, but it doesn't matter. While the other hardcore fests were incestuous and cannibalized each other's lineups, Chaos In Tejas was doing its own thing. The second aspect of Chaos In Tejas was Timmy's desire to always outdo himself. In Chaos' nine years, it expanded from a 23 band fest at one venue to nearly 200 bands spread across 6-7 venues. That was the driving force of Chaos In Tejas: to make it special and do it bigger and better every time.

2006 was my first Chaos In Tejas. The headliners included the forerunners of Texas hardcore The Dicks, Portland garage punk legends Dead Moon, and Chaos In Tejas regular Tragedy (who played six in total). My experience at Chaos 2006 painted a different reality about hardcore than the one I had going into it. Chaos In Tejas was a festival that celebrated hardcore's history as well as its global reach. This compared to modern hardcore which is often without concept for its history and is as grossly oblivious to hardcore outside of the USA as the modern American is of world cultures. Rest assured, your average This Is Hardcore attendee is as hopeless to tell you about Bastards as your average American is about pointing out Baghdad on a map. 

Chaos 2006 was an awakening of sorts for me. I had only been into hardcore for a couple of years before I attended it but I had resolved to make the subculture an academic passion of mine. I wanted to understand it on every level and I realized then that Chaos In Tejas was a place that would help me in this pursuit. When Chaos was still around, one of my cardinal pieces of advice to new hardcore kids was to attend Chaos In Tejas. I told them it didn't matter if they knew the bands or not. I assured them they likely wouldn't know almost all of the bands playing. Just the same, I encouraged them to go, take in the bands, and, more importantly, take in the atmosphere. Attending Chaos In Tejas would make you a better hardcore kid. It wasn't the stagnant booking that many of the other fests featured that simply perpetuated more of what you already knew. Going to Chaos In Tejas was a chance to catch an up and coming act like Infernoh just as much as it was a chance to see a legend like Bastard. Chaos In Tejas was hardcore's past, present, and future from all over the world.

Chaos In Tejas 2006 would also include one of the best shows I've ever seen: Career Suicide / Iron Age / Fucked Up / Look Back And Laugh on the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge (this is an actual bridge over water in public; they would run a generator to power the equipment). The show would start at 2 AM and end by 430. In a subculture like hardcore punk where the prevailing mantra is "Show me something I've never seen before. Show me something I'll never forget. Show me something I'll never see again." Chaos In Tejas never failed to deliver on all counts.

2007 was one of my favorite years of the festival. Headliners included contemporary (if you want to call them that) British oi greats Hard Skin, Belgium's The Kids (punk legends on their first and only USA show ever), and reunited Cleveland hardcore legends Gordon Solie Motherfuckers. The show would also feature bands that are today both acclaimed (Sex/Vid while Iron Age and Mind Eraser opened shows, put that in perspective) and bands that are criminally underrated (Complications, Peligro Social, Drop Out). Eyehategod would drop because of legal trouble and would be replaced by crust punk heroes Dropdead.

I remember when Gordon Solie Motherfuckers was announced that the reaction was ecstatic. This was a band that had earned a reputation for having some of the most violent shows ever. Bands like No Justice and Haymaker would take cues from Gordon Solie Motherfuckers on how to act out. I had no idea what to expect going into their set but I knew I wanted to be involved. This show would also be a week after I turned 21.

Before Gordon Solie Motherfuckers played, my friend and I went to my car and drank a six pack of Lone Star beer, half a flask of hot Jager, and in between every belt of Jager, I ate a hydrocodone (six total). Walking back to Emo's, I could feel it all start to take effect. I stepped foot into Emo's and looked at my friend and said "I can't a feel a thing". His eyes dropped and he gave me a look that told me he knew I was about to do something really stupid.

Gordon Solie Motherfuckers started playing and the room exploded. I can't tell you everything that happened during that set. There's what I remember, what I've seen on a DVD that my friend Sikander filmed, and what I've heard happened. So let me try to recount it all. There was a pinata loaded with ground coffee that exploded on the crowd. A bag of flour burst over the crowd. Almost every trash can in Emo's was converted into a missile (including some launched at GSMF drummer Wedge; there had to be someone by him to keep his kit from falling over). At one point, one of Tony Erba's friends charged him, mounted him and laid down a ground-and-pound that would have made an MMA champion proud. Erba was bloodied for most of the set because of it. A member of Iron Age took the TV from the Emo's green room and threw it off the stage. Someone stole a box 7"s from someone's distro and threw them into the crowd where people would use them as frisbees (I was told some of the records were worth up to 50 dollars). To open the set Erba took out an industrial-sized chain and whipped the crowd with it. My friend Mark took the chain to the face and had to get stitches and staples for it. He's told me the shirt he wore that night still has all the blood on it. Because GSMF was a pro wrestling themed band, kids were throwing down dropkicks into the front of the crowd instead of stage dives. A member of Repercussions would later find that chain and turn it on the pit causing everyone to clear out. I've never seen a crowd clear out as quickly as when that chain was brandished by the Repercussions member.

As for me? As soon as the set started I grabbed a trash can, tossed it, and started throwing punches every which way. In between songs, I would pick up empty beer cans and throw them at people's heads (something that would become a regular thing for me when I was out of sorts at shows) while screaming at people. At one point, some burly crust punk charged me up in the pit because I was acting a fool only to have three of my straight edge friends get in between us and usher me away. This part is on the DVD and you can see my face entirely when I'm confronted. My brain was completely off and my face is blank. Eventually I went searching for more weapons. I would find a folding chair, the remains of the TV that was thrown off the stage, and more trash cans. My friends Sean and Zack have separately told me that I wore the look of a madman that night. I'm not even trying to dress that up, they used the word "madman".

I've heard that the floor of Emo's became the most treacherous part of the GSMF show. Because of the thrown drinks, flour, and coffee that had amassed on the floor, the floor had turned into a pool of black sludge. It was what was hidden that sludge that made the show dangerous. Emo's served glass bottles. Those empty bottles were discarded in the trash cans. The trash cans that would be overturned and emptied during the show. Because of this, that pool of sludge was loaded with broken glass you couldn't see. I know of at least two people who fell and had their hands sliced up by it.

As it stands, the Gordon Solie Motherfuckers set is one of the best live music experiences of my life. It captured everything that hardcore punk should be and why we get into it. Chaotic, violent, unpredictable, and unique. I've been to hundreds of shows since that GSMF set and nothing has come close to what happened that night in Emo's. Anyone who was there will tell you their version of what happened. Imagine Kennedy's assassination without the Zapruder film and that's the Gordon Solie Motherfuckers set at Chaos In Tejas 2007.

2008 was the crossroads year for Chaos In Tejas. It would be the last time Chaos operated under its traditional three nights, all at Emo's format. The headliners were Austin psych rock legends Roky Erickson & The Explosives, beloved Minnesota pop punk act Dilligner Four, and Chicago Latino hardcore gods Los Crudos. Also featured were the Chaos staples of a Japanese band and a Cleveland band. For 2008, Japan was represented by Crude while Cleveland was represented by Inmates.

Another standout performance from this fest came in the way of Tragedy. Tragedy's Chaos 2006 performance was criticized by many because the band appeared listless and uninterested. In 2006 they were touring on the release Nerve Damage, which in recent years has gotten more love than when it came out, so the lion's share of the songs in 2006 were off that album. In the build-up to Chaos 2008, my friends and I joked about what Tragedy could to make up for 2006. The first thing we said was "they should open with Conflicting Ideas" and sure enough, when they were about to start, before even a note had been hit, Todd Burdette grabs a mic and screams "CONFLICTING IDEAS" and the set took off. It was a set that was almost exclusively Vengeance / EP / Tragedy songs. The crowd was ready for it too. I don't know if it was because Tragedy played earlier in the night or what, but to this day, I've never seen a crowd go off that hard for Tragedy.

The memorable after show was Inmates in a garage. When I say garage, I mean a body shop. There was equipment and all kinds of auto-related fluids. Most notably, someone moshed with a bottle of antifreeze. There were hundreds of punks packed into the room with fireworks going off and kids grabbing most everything that wasn't bolted down and either taking it or throwing it. Inmates got three songs (including a wild Chaos UK cover) in before the show was shut down around 300 AM. That's how Chaos In Tejas 2008 ended.

Chaos In Tejas 2009 was only the second time I would miss the fest. It was very hard on me as Timmy had outdone himself bringing in oi gods Cock Sparrer, crust punk gods Amebix, New Orleans metal legends Eyehategod, and Burning Spirits legends Judgement as headliners. I use terms like "gods", "legends", and "heroes" a lot to describe the bands that played Chaos In Tejas and it might sound like I'm being hyperbolic or biased, but that isn't the case at all. That was what Chaos In Tejas was all about. It wasn't about the middle of the road acts. It was about bands that commanded cult followings or bands that helped to innovate their genre in some way or bands with a pedigree. Chaos In Tejas was the kumite of hardcore punk. An invitational for the best in the world and the greatest of all time. That was the point.

Chaos 2009 was also the first year the fest switched to a four day format and spread the action out across different venues.

I got to see Bolt Thrower in the small room at Sonar for Maryland Death Fest 2009 in lieu of Chaos 2009. It was a pretty amazing experience. Guess what? I still wish I had gotten to see Judgement. Only show absence that actively haunts me to this day.

Chaos In Tejas 2010 was Timmy's ultimate upping of the ante. The headliners were Bastard, Poison Idea, Crow, Inquisition, and Rorschach. These bands need no introduction. That was the stratosphere of Chaos In Tejas had reached. You didn't need to wonder anymore who was getting booked. You just knew it was going to be something special and that you needed to be there. In Bastard, you had arguably the greatest band of its generation in Japan playing a one night only reunion show in the USA.

I can't describe what the Bastard set was like without doing it a disservice, but I'll try anyway. It was easily the greatest hardcore punk performance I've ever seen. I touched it on when I did the post on Bastard, but I'll explain again for anyone who hasn't read that. They opened with "Tragic Insane" and that intro with a crowd who had waited their entire subculture lives to hear Bastard was surreal. Beginning with Koba's bass drum and into Iizawa's bass line coming in, the entire crowd started to move, either by moshing or anxiously shifting. By the time the feedback came in on Zigyaku's guitar, the entire crowd stopped moving. Their eyes became locked on the stage waiting for Tokurow to let out one of his cries. As soon as the intro ended, the room became unglued.

You hear about shows where no one stays still? Most of the time that's sensationalized bullshit to make the show sound cooler than it was. I can honestly tell you that everybody in the room at Emo's was moving during Bastard. Stage dives everywhere, kids moshing, slam dancing, or just pushing each other around. I said this in the Bastard post, but Bastard knew this was foreign territory and they came to Emo's to conquer it. Their performance was reflective of an invading army, rather than that of a live band. The crowd, having waited a lifetime to see Bastard and thinking they'd never get to see them, stepped up to show to Bastard they were ready for it. The result was the best show I have ever been to.

On the other side of this was Saturday headliner, Poison Idea. I could discuss how bad their performance was, but the simple fact is I walked out halfway through. I didn't listen to Poison Idea for a year after the performance because the memory of the Chaos show was that depressing. Judging from this, you can make a pretty educated guess about what happened. Jerry A was too fucked up to play. The set started with him standing too far from the mic making his vocals inaudible. The set cleared the room out. Hundreds of people walked out. It was a tragic sight. Everybody was excited to see Poison Idea that night and watching their heroes look the way they did painted a mortal face on the bands playing Chaos (ironic, given the fact that one of the members of Bastard had cheated death only days earlier). The laws of the universe dictate balance. It was only fitting then that one of the worst shows I'd ever see would come the night after the best show I had ever seen.

Chaos 2011 was the most ambitious yet. The amount of bands playing was double in size from 2010. Additionally, it was the most diverse to date. While other fests would have flavors utilizing other genres, 2011 would showcase multiple genres prominently. This included metal, hardcore punk, crust punk, pop punk, indie, and modern hardcore. In effect, Chaos 2011 was four small fests operating with each other. The outlay of the venues had expanded to include Emo's (both inside and outside), the Mohawk, and Red 7 as well as other smaller venues.

The headliners included US death metal legends Autopsy, youth crew legends Youth of Today, Finnish metal greats Hooded Menace, UK82 legends Doom and 90s hardcore greats Unbroken. By now the fest needed no introduction. It was an institution. What I was saying in 2007-2008 about people going regardless of prior knowledge of lineups was now the rule. You had to go to Chaos In Tejas. It was quietly becoming the SXSW of the subculture. If you were initiated, it was a convention of sorts where you would see dear friends from all over the world at.

Chaos 2012 was another banner year for the festival. By now the festival had hit a stride and the question became "what legends / icons can we get now?" For 2012, Timmy brought in Flying Nun Records / indie rock icons The Clean from New Zealand. Also playing were anarcho-punk legends The Mob and Antisect. He also expanded to bring in a NYHC flavor bringing together the Breakdown 87 Demo line-up together as well as The Abused. Also featured were legendary and acclaimed doom acts Church of Misery, Winter, and Saint Vitus. USHC was well represented with Tear It Up as well as black metal with Absu. Chaos 2012 was more of the same while upping the ante just a little bit more.

Do you notice that the write ups about the fest are getting smaller? Because by now, everything that could be said about Chaos In Tejas, had already been said. What happens to a festival whose legend has matched that of the bands playing it? People around the world knew what Chaos was. It had become a destination. The joke about it being the "SXSW of the subculture" was not a joke anymore. In a lot of ways, it was beautiful how far it had come. In some other ways, the scope of the fest and the bar that Timmy had been raising for himself for years had begun to take a toll. The 2013 edition featured Japanese hardcore legends Framtid, powerviolence gods Infest, British death metal legends Bolt Thrower, Finnish hardcore legends Terveet Kadet, US heavy metal legends Manilla Road, and Cleveland hardcore legends Integrity. 

The below poster doesn't do the fest line up justice. There were nearly 200 bands that played the 2013 edition. Everything from Japanese black metal greats Abigail to cult rapper Lil Ugly Mane. 

Timmy Hefner once told me in 2008, "I'll stop doing Chaos In Tejas when I don't think I can outdo myself anymore". The 2013 edition of Chaos ended with Infest. It had Framtid play two shows. It had Bolt Thrower in a room with a thousand people and no barricade. Where do you go from there?

While I was watching Infest on Sunday, it dawned on me that this really was it. It wouldn't be until months later that Timmy would announce the end of the fest. But for those of us who had been there for years and watched the fest grow into what it was, we knew back in that hangar while Infest tore through their set that it was over.

Chaos In Tejas is the most important festival in hardcore punk history. It was unique, it had flair, it had intelligence, and above all else, it had growth. It wasn't ever the same lineups. Timmy had an aversion to booking the same bands repeatedly. Chaos' audience grew with the fest. A person who went to the fest when they were 15 to see Tragedy would be coming to the fest to see Merchandise by the time they were 21. 

Chaos In Tejas was conscious of growth. Not just of the audience, but of its own as well. The fest continued to reward its audiences for their diverse and nuanced musical taste every year. There will never be another festival that will come close to Chaos because as corny as this sounds, Chaos In Tejas was in the business of making subculture dreams come true every year. When Timmy ended Chaos In Tejas in late 2013, it was him closing the book and moving on. He had done everything he had hoped to accomplish and couldn't outdo himself anymore. Rather than book a recycled lineup or downgrade the fest's quality, he just ended it. Above all of the lineups, amazing shows, and world class booking, it was Timmy's respectable refusal to compromise that made Chaos In Tejas so admirable.


1 comment:

  1. Booking one show is stressful enough, I can't imagine wrangling a fest like Chaos!!!
    I was fortunate enough to have worked at Emo's for 7 of the 9 fests, so not only did I get to see great bands I got paid as well, ha,ha. Hats off to Timmy, who still books killer shows, just on a slightly smaller scale.