Photos by Leap Photography and Glegoz Photography
Some of the folks you'll see at this weekend's Toastamania, including members of Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre, Death of Self, and XEUTHANIZEDX
For three years, Chicago thrash band Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre
have been booking DIY shows that combine sets from up-and-coming local metal, hardcore, and punk bands with body-slamming, table-trashing brawls. On Saturday, October 28, at a Pilsen DIY venue whose name I can't share here ("Ask a punk," as they say), TTCM present the 11th installment in their Toastamania series, named in tribute to the WrestleMania ladder matches that helped inspire it. Sometimes they actually do use a ladder, but they're just as likely to whomp one another with foil steam-table pans, bust up hollow-core doors, or dive through folding tables. Somebody in TTCM might wear the championship belt, basically daring a challenger to remove it somehow, but sometimes the band will just throw it into the crowd and set off a free-for-all.
At Toastamania: Halloween Havok, Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre will face off against six bands. TTCM are the current reigning Toastamania champs, and in fact have never lost a match. Usually they make a "rival" of the main support act (that's the second-to-last band, in layman's terms) by concocting a feud—in the past it's often been Chicago thrash outfit Reign, and to sharpen fans' anticipation for this show TTCM have been beefing for months with west-suburban punks Death of Self. Once the mayhem starts, though, anybody can jump into the fray. At the space that's hosted Toastamania for the past couple years, the matches can even work their way into the yard outside. There are no formal rules, except that you lose when all the members of your band either give up or get pinned.
Reign isn't on the bill this time, so Halloween Havok's six challengers are Death of Self, Evil Warning (Chicago power metal), Info Wars (TTCM's grindcore side project), XEUTHANIZEDX (local hardcore), Uglybones (likewise), and Carnivora (Witch City metal from Salem, Massachusetts). The event also includes a costume contest, face painting, a jack-o'-lantern pageant, and a skateboard-trick competition on the venue's new half-pipe. It's Halloween fun for the whole family—as long as your family doesn't have a problem with gruesome grindcore, horrifying hardcore, and passed-out punks who pregamed too hard on PBR.
The first Toastamania was held in January 2014, just six months after Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre formed, at Mike's Luv 'N' Music in Summit, Illinois. After the show's small lineup of local metal bands drew a crowd of more than 60, the promoter decided to try his luck again in the spring. On that second attempt, he struck out, and TTCM decided to take booking and promoting into their own hands. The third Toastamania show—the first to be run entirely by the band—was at Little Village DIY spot Jurassic Park in June 2014. It ran from 3 PM to 1:30 AM and drew more than 150 people.
"After that show, people were like, 'When is this going to keep happening?'" says TTCM vocalist Josh Kandich, aka Macho Frost. "The entire inside room was packed wall-to-wall. So we were like, all right, let's try it again. And every time we've done it, it's gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. It's out of control now."
Everyone in Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre is a huge wrestling fan. "When Toast first started, we had a plastic wrestling belt. We would make the crowd wrestle for it, and whoever won it got to keep it," says Kandich. "We thought it'd be cool if you won the belt, it'd be your responsibility to bring it back [to the next show]. But people stopped doing that. They'd show up, but they wouldn't bring the belt, and I'd have to drive them back to their house [to get it]."
Josh "Macho Frost" Kandich of Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre
In 2015, TTCM got some tips from their drummer at the time, whose dad had been a wrestler in the 90s. Newly confident that they could pull off a few spectacular moves without injuring themselves (well, spectacular for a DIY hardcore show), they introduced the pro-wrestling element to Toastamania. Attendance skyrocketed.
"It was the coolest thing, because we'd be playing a set and nobody cared," says TTCM guitarist Jordan Miller, aka the Fresh Prince of Long Hair. "But then they'd hear Josh say 'Get the table!' and everyone from outside now comes in to watch Josh jump off a ladder and through a table. Nobody had ever seen anything like that at a show before."
Later in 2015, TTCM engineered their first big rivalry. They booked a show at DIY spot Mount Happy with Reign and Minneapolis hardcore band No Skin. When Reign played their song "New World Order," they riffed on TTCM's wrestling-belt gimmick by wearing one that said "NWO." Without warning, TTCM ripped the NWO belt off in the middle of Reign's set and broke it in half. As every WrestleMania fan knows, the best matches have great backstories, and that's exactly what TTCM began at Mount Happy: an ongoing story (albeit a largely fictional one) that could fuel grudges and drama for years to come. In keeping with pro-wrestling tradition, TTCM often cut promo videos where they trash talk their opponents and set up face-offs at future Toastamanias—and on the Facebook pages where those videos appear, fans get into the spirit too, piling on the ridiculous verbal abuse.
"We started this 'feud' with them," says Kandich. "Afterwards, we said, 'Hey dudes, we're sorry, we were just fucking around.' But they said 'No, let's work with this!'"
Reign and TTCM have commanded the spotlight at many subsequent Toastamania shows, battling each other in crazed matches that almost always involve band members getting thrown through tables and doors. TTCM have also wrestled touring bands, and the most recent Toastamania, at Reggie's Rock Club, involved a chaotic match that drew in members of almost every band on the lineup. At Halloween Havok, TTCM will kick off the wrestling by squaring off against Death of Self.
To create a reason for the rivalry, Death of Self recently "broke into" Kandich's car (he'd given them the keys) and stole the Toastamania belt. They got it on video too, and used the footage to create an excellent promo—the first time the members of another band have countered TTCM's videos with productions of their own. Though Death of Self have never played a Toastamania show, guitarist and front man Nick Feltes and drummer Joe Ott have each attended a few—they know how they're supposed to work.
"The last few Toastamanias, people are starting to stage dive," Feltes says. "There's crowd surfing and the shows are getting crazier and crazier. I think a lot of the bands are more willing to put on crazier shows now."
Death of Self plan to play material from their forthcoming album, Look Elsewhere
, because they're pretty sure the Halloween Havok crowd won't have heard it before. This will also be the first Toastamania for XEUTHANIZEDX, whose rowdy crowds have earned them a certain notoriety already—I know of three people who've broken their noses during the band's sets, whether in the pit or via an accidentally collision with somebody's headstock. Evil Warning and Info Wars will make their live debuts at this show, and Carnivora is returning to Chicago for the first time since this past spring.
Other than TTCM, the only Toastamania veterans on the lineup are Uglybones. "The first time we played, it was rough," says Uglybones guitarist Filip Knaszak. "We didn't really know too many bands there, and it seemed like we didn't fit in as much with the thrash scene. We had some people walk out on us. But the last [Toastamania] we played was fucking killer. There was a good variety of punk and thrash bands, so we felt more at home."
XEUTHANIZEDX vocalist Sally
Toastamania began as a series of metal shows in small bars, but it's expanded since moving onto the DIY circuit. Now it generally features seven or eight bands from a wider range of genres: not just metal but also punk, hardcore, rock, and even ska. Its current home, which shall remain unnamed, holds around 300 if you count the folks outside in the yard.
"In the recent years, it's been one of the best shows we've played," says Uglybones bassist Viaj Crum. "Texas Toast does an awesome job with these shows, and it's cool to see so many people from so many different musical backgrounds come out and have a good time."
With a little digging online, you can probably find out where and when this Saturday's show is happening. Will Death of Self live up to their name and end up obliterated? Will the thrash kings of trash talk finally meet their match? Or will one another worthy contender make a grab at the championship belt? To find out, you'll have to witness the hardcore headlocks and punk-rock pile drivers at Toastamania: Halloween Havok for yourself.