Dave Hofer preserves suburban punk’s past with DuPage County Hardcore


The cover of a late-90s Authority Abuse compilation, one of many recordings archived on DuPage County Hardcore's Bandcamp page
  • The cover of a late-90s Authority Abuse compilation, one of many recordings archived on DuPage County Hardcore's Bandcamp page
In April 2013, author Dave Hofer (who's also a buyer for Reckless Records and played in the Chicago Thrash Ensemble) launched a Bandcamp page called DuPage County Hardcore that's dedicated to archiving bygone punk bands from his old stomping grounds. Since then he's dug up and uploaded for posterity a growing trove of old cassette demos, seven-inches, and CDs from barely remembered grind bands, long-forgotten punk crews, and even some groups you've probably heard of—among them Spitalfield, the pop-punk band fronted by Downwrite cofounder Mark Rose. Everything at DuPage County Hardcore is unavailable elsewhere (as best as Hofer can tell) and free to download. The collection demonstrates the fascinatingly broad range of the sounds that burbled up from a specific section of Chicago's suburban punk scene in the mid-90s. I was quite taken by goofy, swashbuckling accordion-and-drums duo Herc., who hardly fit with the pop punk and aggressive hardcore that dominate the page.

A few weeks ago, after a quiet summer, Hofer resumed uploading material to the Bandcamp page at a steady clip—including a 1998 demo by pop-punk crossover stars the Plain White T's. I reached out to him to find out more about the DuPage County Hardcore project.

Leor Galil: What was the impetus for DuPage County Hardcore? When did you decide to do it?

Dave Hofer: I was working at Punk Planet when that was still around, and that was also my greatest freelance-writing period. When I would do phoners or go meet somebody for an interview, I'd just have a big brick recorder that'd use regular cassettes. Flash-forward ten years or something, and I was like, "Man, I've got this big thing of tapes that I will never listen to again, but I feel bad just kind of throwing them in the garbage. So what should I do with these things?" I was talking to a friend of mine, mister sound-engineer-knowledge guy, and he was just like, "Oh yeah, you should just convert them. This is what you need to do to be able to record it through your PC and blah blah blah." I started throwing these old interview tapes on, letting them roll, and just making one giant MP3 of them. I would just cut the tape and toss it—you know, a little clutter reduction.

Then I was just kinda looking at this tape case that I had all these old interviews in, and I was like, "Man, we don't have our car anymore—when we did, it still had a tape deck, and I would jam these old tapes in there." Now we have a tape deck at home. I don't really listen to these, but I feel like I could do something with them. Then I just had to brainstorm, like, "I should do the same thing I'm doing with these old interviews, except break up the tracks and just put 'em up on Bandcamp so people could download 'em." The idea at first was just, "Well, I'm friends with basically all of the people that might be interested, on Facebook, so I could just post it up there." If somebody is missing their old band's demo or something, they could go and download it. It just kinda went from there.
You mentioned you had this stuff lying around. When did you start collecting these CDs, records, and cassettes from the punk scene? What was your entry into the scene?

Basically the concept of the page, if you want to call it that—I think it started with, "OK, I've got all these tapes of my old crappy bands, some less crappy than others." Tape deteriorates, so a lot of the first shit I put up there was that, and then pretty much everything else on there is friends' bands, or friends of friends' bands, that I know would be OK with it. This is all stuff that I was just buying as it was coming out, or being given, because it's the area that I grew up in. So I just kept these records and tapes over the years. It's not like I went back and was like, "This is an era I’m specifically interested in." It was just stuff that I accumulated over the years.

What is it like going back and uploading this music to the Web?

Sometimes embarrassing! But the other idea is that it's a warts-and-all kind of thing. Back then, we always had somebody that had a four-track, so basically any stupid band idea that we came up with, we would write songs and record them. Some of these things, it was just youthful exuberance. It may not be very good, but again, I don't want to just exclude stuff because it's potentially embarrassing for me personally. It still has merit, I think, or might have more merit to somebody else.

The other thing is, aside from the personal stuff, when we would still ride around listening to tapes, there are several from there that I think really stand the test of time. If somebody's searching grindcore on Bandcamp, maybe they'll find one of these things and it'll blow their mind.

What's held up?

Two releases from the same band come to mind now, which is this band Landmine. They're like a hardcore kinda grind band from the area. They started off as silly eighth-graders that we were friends with when we were in high school—we just knew them through being around—but as they went on, they just got way more serious, way more intense, better musicians. There's one tape up there that's these two demo recordings that they did; I listened to that tape all the fucking time, so I was happy to be like, "OK, now I can preserve this thing and the tape didn't break when I tried to do this." And they also put out a seven-inch that I think came out after they even broke up, which is a really good gem.
The Killing Tree stuff, that's probably one of the things that's been the most downloaded, which is the post-Baxter, pre-Rise Against band. It's one of those things that I thought might be borderline, like, "Oh, maybe somebody still has these somewhere or is trying to sell them." I would look it up, and if it wasn't anywhere on the Internet that I could find, I would just consider it fair game. Killing Tree had three CDs that are all very good—they seem to have been pretty big locally, but I don't know how much in the grand scheme of things.

There's a tape that I put up recently by this band called Herc., where it's like drums, accordion, and vocals. They were just guys from this band Herbal Flesh Tea, and it's very conceptual and bizarre. And again, they were very talented musicians, so it's not just some hack songs—it's like a whole idea behind it.

What does uploading all these recordings reminded you of? Of what that scene was and what that scene meant to you?

I wouldn't trade it for the world, obviously. There's probably similar things that happened all over the place, but I think growing up in close proximity to Chicago—and Chicago and the surrounding area just having a very fruitful music scene, when it comes to punk and hardcore—there were just a lot of good influences going around.

Some of the people that came out of that are kind of noteworthy, like I was saying—the Rise Against guys, they're from the northwest suburbs. That band Spitalfield—they were an active touring band. I guess I just feel lucky to have been a part of it. An outsider may look at it and be, like, "Be a part of what?" But when you're living it, and getting to play, and play with and see cool bands . . . gosh, I don't really know how to answer that. I mean, obviously it's a very sentimental thing.
It's sentimental, but you're not looking at this through rose-colored glasses.

There was a lot of legitimately good stuff. I could definitely point out some things, like, "Well, this was maybe not so hot." But there were some good musicians. It just seemed like everybody would come to everybody's shows, and as we got older and people started to be able to drive, then we made friends with people from neighboring suburbs, like Elmhurst and Villa Park. Then I joined a band with guys from Rolling Meadows and Arlington Heights, and we started going to shows up there—and you kind of discover what they've got going on.

That's why that Bandcamp page is so scattershot, where it's like, "OK, DuPage County Hardcore," which started as a joke. But the bands on there, a lot of it is DuPage-centric. But then, when people started getting a little bit older and started branching out and meeting people from their little microscenes—then you start acquiring those demos and those comps and those CD-Rs. And that's all stuff that I held onto. So the name is a bit of a misnomer, but it's all basically just the northwest and western suburbs.

You mention the name is kind of a joke.

Yeah, one of the big bands for that scene was that band the Undesirables—they were the ones that really inspired a bunch of us to have our shit together. That was kind of a funny thing, because their bass player, Ryan—we went to the same high school, which was Glenbard South in Glen Ellyn. But the other three guys in that band all went to Benet, which is a private school. That was one thing where it's like, "OK, we had this one guy that's our connection to these other guys and all of their friends," and they were the first ones that would, like, pool their money. They were the first ones to put out a seven-inch. Then Quincy Shanks put out their seven-inch, and they would go and tour. They really had their shit together. It was at one of their first shows where somebody just very flippantly said "DuPage County hardcore."
It just kind of stuck as a joke, because "New York hardcore" or whatever—they were like, "Well, we're DuPage County hardcore," just as a wink-and-a-smile kind of thing. It was kind of weird seeing some of the kids, like the Landmine kids—they were in eighth grade or freshmen in high school when we were all juniors and seniors—and they just kind of took that and ran with it. We had a name for all the eighth-grade kids: we would just call them the DuPage youth crew, 'cause a lot of them were very into straightedge and Gorilla Biscuits and our bands and whatever. Then later on, some of these kids would form bands, and that would be printed on their tape—DuPage County hardcore. It was actually a thing that somebody knew about in another city. It just kind of stuck and was a funny thing, so that's why I named it that.

What made the DuPage scene or even the northwest suburban scene distinct?

I've thought about this before, when we were like, "DuPage County hardcore, this is our thing that we’ve got going on in all of our bands, and blah blah blah." But then you think about it, and you're like, "OK, well, I have an older sister who was my gateway to what would be considered good music, quote-unquote." She's six years older than me, grew up in the same area, and you look back—there were guys doing Shakefork Records. You look back at your Gauge records or your Ivy League records, and they all have Elmhurst and Wheaton addresses. It's like, "OK, we're obviously not the only ones, we were just that version of it for that era."

The two different area codes, that was the other joke, 'cause it was like 630, and then we have our friends that are all the 847 bands. And all of us were super into fast stuff—Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, who I was never super into 'cause I was always more into metal stuff. The fast, thrashy kind of stuff, and then eventually grind bands like Charles Bronson—we played with them a handful of times, and really looked up to those guys too. Then you make friends with all these guys from Arlington Heights, and they were the first people that I knew that were into Hatebreed, Earth Crisis, and the chuggy, slower hardcore stuff. So then you'd have these two things merging. Like, "Oh, I met these guys, and they played me Dying Fetus for the first time." And then I'd go back with my friends and we'd start a band—like on that Bandcamp, you can listen to this band Oroku Saki. It's like, "Oh, OK, now we're hearing this kind of slow, chuggy hardcore—let's start this slow, riffy band with death-metal vocals, just because it's a new thing we heard and now we have to put our own spin on it."
There was a lot of weird melding going on. But again, that's just kids maturing and expanding their horizons. No sucker MC amateurs though. I don't know if that makes it distinct, but those were the differences between the two areas that were very obvious at the time. I don't know why they were more into, like, Earth Crisis and we were more into Minor Threat—that would be a whole sociological study you would have to do. And obviously, you have your south side of Chicago guys that are completely different than both of them.

You mentioned earlier the proximity to Chicago. What was your relationship—or your community's relationship—to what was happening in the city?

Well, going to the Fireside constantly. I met people that eventually played in a band with this guy Scott Thomson, aka Scott Harmless, who did the label Harmless Records—that was a local label that put out some cool stuff, in particular the Mushuganas' Dropout Girl seven-inch, which is one of the all-time best Chicago punk records in my opinion. He was a city kid, born and raised, so when we were in a band together and got to be friends, eventually it's like, "Man I am so jealous that you could take the bus at 15 and go to the Fireside." We would have to get a license and then drive there, or find somebody that could go to shows there all the time. Then you'd see other local bands opening up for whoever you were going to see, and then you meet people that way.

And then of course meeting Brian Peterson, who booked the Fireside, and being like, "Hey, we've got this band." That was the other thing with the Undesirables—they were the first band from our scene that played the Fireside, and I remember what a huge fucking deal that was. This is a funny little anecdote: The first show that they ever played at the Fireside was opening for or maybe even playing after Hot Water Music, way before they blew up. I remember we went to that show and saw Hot Water Music and were like, "Hoo boy." Then they came back, and my old band and Baxter opened for them, and again, nobody was there, and then they broke up and got huge after that.
You'd just start meeting people from the city and their bands, and I played in this band Authority Abuse, and the guys in that band were just more connected to dudes from the south side. It's like, "Now I find myself playing a show in Pilsen with Sin Orden." Or we played with Los Crudos, and, "Wow, they have their whole thing going on here too." It's just more to love. The cornucopia spilleth over.

At what point did you move on, in your own way?

Well, if you were to put a time frame on the things that are up there, it would be your very vague mid-90s to basically college. People grow up, move away, and pretty much that's it. Age getting in the way of things. I don't know a better way to put it, but our whole main crew graduated in '97 and '98 from high school, and you have people going down to Champaign, some friends moving to New York, and then bands break up.

I moved to the city, and I think back on that era or that point in my life—I was working full-time, going to school probably full-time, playing in three bands 'cause they all had to be different. Then when I moved downtown for the first time, it was like, "OK, we're selling my car because I'm not gonna need it." And I quit all of those bands, it was like a total no-hard-feelings thing, but I was like, "Guys, look, I need to get out of my parents' house, I'm not gonna have a car, and we practice out here—it's just not gonna be feasible."

I was playing in local bands basically up until the early 2000s or something, and then I quit all those bands. But then once I got settled in the city it's like, "OK, I've got the itch again." And then playing in another band that's not really tied to the Bandcamp page at all—it's just my personal thing—I picked it back up. And some other people did too; that's why there is some more contemporary stuff on there. It just happens to be made by some of the same people.
Given that you're revisiting this in what sounds like a fairly natural way, just going through all this old stuff, and given that you've been doing it for a little while, what's guiding you now? How much time do you put into uploading this stuff and organizing it?

I put a lot of time into it, but as far as what guides me? I tried to think: If I were to consider it being completed, which it's not, how close would I be? And I can't even answer that question, 'cause, like, "Oh, I forgot I had this seven-inch." It’s pretty scattershot. The stuff doesn't go up there in any order. I just looked at the tape case and was like, "OK, none of these are up there, I'll just pull these out and put them up."

It does take a while, but it's one of these labors of love. If you want to get fuckin' philosophical about it, it's one of these things where you always hear, like, "Oh, David Bowie died, but his music will live on and continue to inspire people for generations to come. It's so meaningful." And it's like, "OK, well, you know, maybe in fucking 400 years or something some kid is gonna hear the Landmine seven-inch and be like, 'I wanna start a band.'" It may sound completely farfetched, but to me even the worst stuff that's on the page, it can have merit. Well, it does have merit—it might have more meaning to somebody else, or it might strike somebody in a different way than it does me. But there's no reason that this shit shouldn't be preserved right alongside everything else that mass culture deems to be some hugely inspirational and significant thing. That's just how I see music. It should just be fuckin' out there. It has merit.

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