A couple weeks ago, when I spoke with director Steven Cergizan about his documentary on Chicago hardcore, No Delusions, he told me that what motivated him to make it was the desire "to contribute something to the scene." Cergizan didn't start going to local hardcore shows till the early 2000s, but his desire to give back connects him to the young musicians in the 1980s who planted the seeds for the jumbled, expansive, multigenerational community he explores in No Delusions. The film premieres tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center and tomorrow at the Beat Kitchen, where Los Crudos close out the festivities with two sold-out shows. (Front man Martin Sorrondeguy appears on the cover of this week's Reader as part of my feature on Los Crudos, the defunct venues they played in the 90s, and Chicago's gentrified present.) Los Crudos and openers MK Ultra are among the dozens of acts to appear in No Delusions, which Cergizan began working on in 2010—interviewing scene veterans, compiling archival performance footage, and collecting old photos and zines.
Cergizan tackles the mountain of information he's amassed with authority. No Delusions opens on Chicago's punk scene in the late 80s. At the time, young punks often traveled to Lakeview to take in shows at Metro or Medusa's, a teen club better known as a dance-scene staple, but they grew frustrated with their limited options. They were tired of getting roughed up by bouncers and paying high ticket prices, and some interviewees complain that touring bands had begun to skip Chicago because the city had gotten a bad reputation at the hands of a small group of promoters who allegedly screwed them over. A small coalition of punks emerged to claim their own stake, and the hardcore scene Cergizan focuses on grew out of this turmoil, initially taking refuge from the city in the western suburbs.
Durty Nellie's and McGregor's hosted touring punk bands in Palatine and Elmhurst, but the important space for local hardcore acts was Club Blitz, a DIY venue in the Westmont home of Tony Brummel. Prior to founding Victory Records in 1989, Brummel fronted a couple bands—Only the Strong and Even Score—that helped prove to other young people that homegrown hardcore was possible. The late-80s scene was a hodgepodge of kids who wouldn't necessarily have formed the groups they did except that there were so few people around playing hardcore, and as a result, Brummel's shadow looms large in the history that No Delusions retells. The film is missing Brummel's voice, unfortunately—the only other person whose absence is so conspicuous is MP Presents founder Brian Peterson, the notoriously publicity-shy talent buyer who helped transform the Fireside into a magnet for underground punk in the 90s. Cergizan works around these gaps, using first-person interviews and live footage to give viewers a sense of how Brummel commanded the stage—and the scene's attention.
Cergizan frames the ensuing growth of Chicago's hardcore scene as a microcosm of the larger story of hardcore—it evolved quickly, splintered, and rebuilt in just a handful of years. Few of the bands in Chicago's initial glut made much of a dent regionally or nationally, but Cergizan displays an archivist's commitment to grant at least a moment in his film to many of the community's players from that era—musicians, zine makers, show organizers. These dedicated people helped the scene stay self-sustaining even when it began to ebb, and No Delusions also shows how important the existence of that scene was in a place where it'd been so difficult for punks to find stable places to have shows.
Inspiration within the hardcore community usually came from seeing other people do something for themselves that you didn't know was possible. In the early 90s, Chicago welcomed one of its most vital punk acts, Los Crudos, whose incendiary performances and heartfelt politics moved other locals to fight for their own causes. MK Ultra grew out of the precedent set by Los Crudos, and together they helped work a seismic change on the scene. Powerviolence outfit Charles Bronson entered the picture in 1994, pushing local hardcore in a new direction—even more faster and more volatile, albeit less political—though their influence was more noticeably felt after their demise in '97. Any of these three bands could support a documentary all by itself, and Cergizan gives each one plenty of screen time, illuminating the members' personalities while continuing to propel his film forward.
Elsewhere Cergizan clearly struggles with the task of representing everyone and everything in the scene that he believes is important. No Delusions already feels long by the middle of its 105 minutes, just because it juggles so many narrative threads and intra-scene conflicts—inevitable among politically passionate artists whose bands were nonetheless dominated by white male faces. The film speeds through the 2000s, though viewers without a vested interest in hardcore might feel fatigued by the time they reach the quick summary of Fall Out Boy's rocketlike rise. The film's density can make No Delusions seem like a marathon, but it also underlines how vast a world Chicago hardcore is, and what a long life it has ahead of it.
Tonight's free screening of No Delusions at the Siskel Center starts at 10 PM. Tomorrow's Beat Kitchen screening begins at 3 PM, and donations at the door are encouraged. Cergizan is self-distributing the documentary too, and if you're interested in a DVD of No Delusions, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. DVDs are $13 postage paid in the U.S., and each copy comes with a 40-page zine.