When Joanna Brown and Mark Freitas booked Toronto's infamous queer punk band Fifth Column at the now-defunct Czar Bar in November of 1992, they had no idea they were embarking on a long-term project. As Brown concedes, "A big reason we started doing it was just to entertain ourselves. I just wanted to go somewhere where I could be with a bunch of queers and still listen to punk rock."
Three years later, however, Brown and Freitas are still at it. The group they founded, Homocore Chicago, brings lots of different-sounding bands to the city, all of which either include gay members or address issues of interest to the gay community.
The pair met back in 1991 at Randolph Street Gallery during the SPEW festival, a queer zine convention that they claim galvanized the underground queer community. A year later the opportunity to present the Fifth Column show arose, and they acted on it. Freitas in particular had been interested in putting on a queer punk night in a gay bar.
"It gets really tiring listening to the same music every time you go out to a gay bar," he says. "I actually like house music when it's the old underground shit, but the stuff they play now is boring and commercial."
Following the successful debut of Homocore Chicago--the term "homocore" was cooked up in the legendary Toronto queer zine J.D.s, published by filmmakers G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce--they presented a couple of nights featuring various deejays, but their audience kept pressing for live bands. They complied with the local hardcore band No Empathy, and a pattern of booking aggressive live music began.
Since then Homocore Chicago has presented dozens of shows each year, including England's Huggy Bear, notorious Riot Grrrl progenitors Bikini Kill, bluesy indie rockers Come, gentle bossa nova-indie pop songstress Lois, confrontational post-no-wave squawk rockers God Is My Co-Pilot, poppy fag-rock jokers Pansy Division, seven-foot-tall drag queen Vaginal Creme Davis, and boisterous butch-dyke rockers Tribe 8. Since leaving the Czar Bar, Homocore Chicago has continued to book shows at a number of alternative venues, such as the Fireside Bowl and the Empty Bottle, typically choosing a venue on the basis of the band's needs. Bikini Kill, for example, insist on playing all-ages shows, which means no bars for them.
Homocore Chicago's reputation has grown beyond the city limits. Detroit and Minneapolis now have Homocore organizations, and San Francisco has Q-TIPS (Queers Together in Punkness). Last year Homocore Chicago went to New York City, booking several nights in Manhattan clubs.
As the crowds have grown, so has the number of straight patrons. "I love for cool straight people to come as long as they're willing to respect the fact that there are going to be people flirting, making out, or that a gay person might mistake them for a lesbian or gay man and might flirt with them. If they can't deal with that, they shouldn't be here," Freitas says. "It essentially becomes a gay bar for one night, and it's fine for straight people to go to gay bars as long as they realize that the rules aren't quite the same."
Queercore '95, Homocore Chicago's biggest event yet, will take place this weekend. The first of what promises to be an annual get-together, it features an underground queer zine and record festival--a chance for publishers and record labels to hawk their wares and network with interested parties--and two nights of live music.
The zine and record festival, organized with the help of Quimby's Queer Store, is free and takes place Saturday between 1 and 5 PM at the Hook Torture Gallery, 1136 N. Milwaukee. The all-ages Team Dresch show, with God Is My Co-Pilot, Glen Meadmore, Room 13, and Heterocide, begins at 7 PM at the Fireside Bowl, 2648 W. Fullerton. Sunday's concert, the reunion of Pedro, Muriel and Esther, a combo featuring Meadmore and Vaginal Creme Davis, takes place at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. Robespierre and several other bands open. Preceding the show is a $5 buffet served next door at Bite at 7 PM. Advance tickets are recommended, and are available at Quimby's, 1328 N. Damen (342-0919), and Ajax Records, 2156 W. Chicago (772-4783). For more information call the Homocore Chicago hotline at 384-6437.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.