- Stephanie Bassos
- Martin Sorrondeguy outside the A.P.O. Building in Pilsen
You can't tell the story of Chicago hardcore and punk without talking about Los Crudos. Initially active from 1991 till '98 and sporadically reunited since 2006, the Pilsen four-piece wielded hardcore's lunging rhythms, ricocheting guitars, and furious battle cries on behalf of the downtrodden and disenfranchised, whether close to home or around the world—they spoke not only to the Latino population in Pilsen and to the broader punk community but also to the poor, people of color, immigrants, and sexual minorities everywhere.
Magnetic front man Martin Sorrondeguy wrote almost all of Los Crudos' confrontational lyrics, and he belted them out in a voice pulsing with heart. He excoriated spineless bureaucrats and tyrannical governments here and in Latin America; he denounced racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and even the homogeneity of the hardcore scene; he railed against poverty, gentrification, and dehumanizing immigration policies. (In 1998, after Los Crudos broke up, Sorrondeguy cofounded self-proclaimed queercore band Limp Wrist, who have a new album in the works.) He sang in Spanish, but not because Spanish speakers were the only people he wanted to reach—onstage he'd often spell out his message in English between songs, and at early shows the band handed out lyric sheets. When Los Crudos released music (on Sorrondeguy's Lengua Armada label), the packaging included English translations of the words.
Los Crudos' music has continued to reverberate since their breakup, and their legacy looms so large that even hyperbole doesn't do it justice. So of course they appear in No Delusions, a long-in-the-works Chicago hardcore documentary by Steven Cergizan, who's been going to shows in town since the early 2000s. To celebrate the film's release, he'll screen it the night of Friday, March 25, at the Siskel Center and the afternoon of Saturday, March 26, at the Beat Kitchen. After the Beat Kitchen screening, Los Crudos headline back-to-back sold-out shows at 6:30 and 10:30 PM.
Screening of No Delusions Fri 3/25, 10 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2600, siskelfilmcenter.org, free, all ages
Screening of No Delusions Sat 3/26, 3 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444, beatkitchen.com, donation suggested, all ages
Los Crudos, MK Ultra, Spine, Tigress Sat 3/26, 6:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, sold out, all ages
Los Crudos, MK Ultra, Udusic, Rash Sat 3/26, 10:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, sold out, 17+
Last year venerable punk zine Maximum Rocknroll released Doble LP Discografia, which compiles all 66 Los Crudos songs on two LPs. It also includes a mass of stapled newsprint so thickly covered in cheap, finger-staining ink that it's less black-and-white and more black-and-gray. Inside the booklet are a couple introductory essays, lyrics in Spanish and English, and dozens of reproduced show flyers. I noticed a couple promoting benefits for the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Boston and Justice for Janitors in D.C., but the ones for Chicago shows piqued my interest—they mention many of the unusual venues where Los Crudos became Los Crudos.
"We didn't want to follow the rock 'n' roll template that existed before us," Sorrondeguy says. "We were trying to create something that was completely independent from the established venues. We thought it was more exciting seeking out places that were basically illegal to do shows at. It was a way of also exploring what the possibilities were. 'Alright, we're gonna try this—we're gonna play in a Laundromat.'" Some spaces only lasted long enough to host a few shows. "It was like, 'Oh, here's this place that has a name—it's gonna last as long as it can last, until the fire marshals come and shut it down or the cops shut it down,'" he says. "Nothing was permanent."
Los Crudos made a point of playing all over Chicagoland, not just in their neighborhood, which helped their music reach different communities—Latinos, white suburban kids, Fireside Bowl regulars, anarchists, even Pilsen residents who didn't otherwise listen to punk. "What was our scene like—it was everything, and so many different kinds of people," Sorrondeguy says. "We were really into sharing what we were about. We weren't into this exclusivity thing—this isn't just for a particular community or type of person. We were like, 'We're Los Crudos, and we want to make alliances with people from all different walks of life.'" The band also exposed their audiences to worthy causes by playing fund-raising shows—benefiting a children's health organization in Chiapas, for instance, or a legal fund for Fred Hampton Jr. "It's like bringing two different worlds at one meeting point and going, 'Hey, this is something that's going on,'" Sorrondeguy says.
Many of the underground venues where Los Crudos played were in Chicago neighborhoods that have gentrified since the 90s—Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Pilsen. Rising rents and redevelopment have often driven out not just DIY venues but also the poor and minority people that Los Crudos considered an important part of their constituency. On the song "Llegan Empujando" ("They Come Pushing") the band make their feelings clear: "Here come the owners of everything, buying buildings and renting at outrageous prices."
Sorrondeguy has spent most of the past 15 years living on the west coast, so he hasn't seen too much of that gentrification up close. A few months ago, though, he settled back in Chicago, and I asked him if he wanted to revisit some of the places where Los Crudos had played in the 90s and see how they'd changed. After combing through a couple binders of old flyers, we hit the road with photographer Stephanie Bassos.
The survey we made is by no means a complete picture. We skipped the former home of the Ruiz Belvis Puerto Rican Cultural Center, where Crudos played a benefit for the Mumia Abu-Jamal legal defense with hip-hop group Stony Island and electronic veteran DJ Heather. That building is on the northwest corner of the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen, and North, and it's currently under construction. And when Sorrondeguy and I flipped through more Los Crudos flyers after our trip, we found the locations of DIY spaces we'd missed before, including one of the six homes of anarchist info shop the Autonomous Zone. For every place we visited, I scraped together a short history with help from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, newspaper archives, and interviews with current and former lessors. Sorrondeguy also added his own commentary, which we've edited for length and clarity.
LAKEVIEWMost of the pins on these maps display a video when clicked, usually of an old show at the space in question.
- Stephanie Bassos
- As part of a huge redevelopment project, a string of buildings that includes Mullen's on Clark will be demolished in the next few months.
3527 N. Clark
Former home of Wrigley Side
Currently Mullen's on Clark
Mullen's on Clark sits in the middle of a huge planned redevelopment called Addison & Clark, which the Chicago City Council approved in 2010. In February, Amalgamated Properties LLC began foreclosure proceedings for a block of lots stretching from 3515 to 3527 N. Clark. A DNAinfo story in March said demolition would begin within two months.
Sorrondeguy: Wrigley Side for a while did shows on and off. I remember Crudos played here with Sludgeworth once. Neurosis played here years ago. Neurosis had a particular crusty punk scent—I remember people going, "What is that smell? Oh my God." They were freaking out. I was laughing 'cause I knew it was the band.
Any place that was willing to allow people to do shows, we were there. So wherever we could have something happen or get the opportunity to see some bands play, we were going to it. This just happened to be one of the spots. It had the sports-bar feel to it, from what I remember. The bar was downstairs, and the upstairs [was] just a small room; it was a good spot to see shows, 'cause the stage was kind of wide and the room was wide. A lot of people could see what was going on.
This building looks the same—they just changed the sign. Growing up in Pilsen, this neighborhood always felt like this to me. I don't sense a tremendous amount of change, 'cause where we lived was so industrial and south-side that this always felt like this to us.
- Stephanie Bassos
- The Fireside's iconic red bowling-pin sign isn't quite visible from this angle, but any Chicago punk of a certain age can picture it perfectly.
2646 W. Fullerton
The Fireside Bowl enjoys an unrivaled legacy among Chicago punks. Jim Lapinski, who took over ownership of the Fireside from his father in 1993, told the Reader in '94 why he opened the bowling alley to all-ages punk shows that year: "Young people just don't bowl." Lapinski's hands-off approach allowed the Fireside to serve as a major epicenter for Chicagoland punk communities until 2004, when a thorough renovation of the lanes cut down the size of the stage and longtime booker Brian Peterson was shown the door. The Fireside has never completely stopped hosting music, but these days it's once again a bowling alley first and foremost—the shows are sporadic and hardly the main attraction.
Sorrondeguy: This was the place. We all just started coming here, and Crudos played here a ton of times. There was no stage back then—it was just a space. Then they kind of started building it up. They realized, "OK, we're filling this place up with hundreds of kids a couple nights a week," and all of the sudden it revived their business. Then they went more official—got a stage and did the whole bit. It became the primary venue.
I remember I was on the train in San Francisco and it was packed. Some guy stood in front of me and he put his arm up to hold onto the railing—he had a tattoo, and I just go, "Is that the Fireside Bowl in Chicago?" He had this really beautiful tattoo done of the front of the facade, and he's like, "Yeah, how do you know?" I was like, "I practically lived there."
For us, an underground culture, this was our spot. And it changed, just like anything. I think at some point the real DIY punk bands were like, "We don't want to play here anymore," and we started playing other places. It got harder to get a date, because it was packed up. I think they just didn't want to waste their time with real DIY punk shit—it seemed that way.
The place was a fucking dump, it really was. There was a point where the ceiling was falling out, it was just a dirty-ass rug—it was a fucking dive, but we loved it. That's so typical, for punkers to go, "This place sucks, and I love it. It smells and it's ideal for a punk show." We were drawn to it also because it was a nontraditional space. This was not a club—it was some carpeted hole-in-the-wall bowling alley on the brink of shutting down. We thought, "Perfect. This is beautiful. We need to play here."
- Stephanie Bassos
- The facade of Handlebar, once the third home of the Autonomous Zone
2311 W. North
Former home of the Autonomous Zone
According to former Autonomous Zone member Tony Doyle, the A-Zone was "an activist resource center—a place for different groups to have meetings, put on events, things like that. Some of the political ideas were antiauthoritarian-slash-anarchist." The collective operated from 1993 till 2003, and according to a 2015 zine documenting the collective's history, The A-Zone & a Decade of Anarchy in Chicago, this North Avenue location was its third home, from 1995 till '97. Vegan-friendly restaurant Handlebar, which has a history of bike activism, moved into the space in 2003. "In 13 years it changed so much—there was a vacant lot across the street, not condos," says Handlebar owner Celia Esdale. "There wasn't really much down here."
Sorrondeguy: I didn't even recognize it. I ate here once with a friend on one of my trips back, and I didn't even realize this was the A-Zone. It's so unrecognizable. It was a cool little info shop. They had tons of literature, maybe one or two computers, and a lot of books and zines. I remember playing in here—it was a very energetic show.
This is an era where there was all sorts of scenes going on in this area—you go back to Czar Bar, and there's a whole scene of art-punk stuff that was happening there. We were more on the hardcore thing, but we knew everybody. It was the beginning of the gentrification. I don't think you could get away with doing shows in some of these places anymore.
- Stephanie Bassos
- Sorrondeguy outside the defunct boutique Noir, formerly the first home of the A-Zone
1726 W. Division
Former home of the Autonomous Zone
This storefront on Division was the A-Zone's first home, from October 1993 till summer 1994. "There was a mix of people involved in it, but it's fair to say there was a lot of white faces," Doyle says (he got involved after the A-Zone left the Division location). "There was a concern that if you were gonna set up shop in a neighborhood that's under threat of gentrification, that you're helping that process." Rising rents were a factor in the A-Zone's frequent moves. The boutique Noir opened here in 1998 and closed in early 2015; in fall 2014, developer Steve Lipe paid $2 million for a small lot that includes this property.
Sorrondeguy: This one is the one that Crudos played at [with] the band from the UK, Dirt. They're on the Crass label. Also Hellkrusher. The A-Zone, like I said earlier, were a superactivist political anarchist group. They were huge about gentrification happening. This is probably the most shocking of the shifts that I've witnessed, because this area was really neglected for a long time. I used to teach at a Montessori school down here, and then I worked at a youth agency a few blocks away. It was just a different world.
I used to come here in the 80s, and it was a very different area. So when the A-Zone opened, I was sort of surprised. "Oh, wow, it's over here?" I would've never put it together until you pointed this spot out.
[The A-Zone people] were kind of around as Crudos was starting. We knew those kids. We'd see them at shows. It just kind of worked—it all came together. Anything that looked differently, smelled differently, was more appealing to us than the sort of the rock 'n' roll template that was set up before us.
- Stephanie Bassos
- The Czar Bar space has been tragically quiet for years now.
1814 W. Division
Former home of Czar Bar
A 1993 Reader feature described Czar Bar as "the kind of room where punk has always played best—the decor is cheap, the ceiling is low, the beer is cold, and the lights are dim." Bought by Chester Grzybek in 1991, this dive augmented Wicker Park's early-90s mystique as a magnet for cool bands. In 1994 the New York Times listed Czar Bar as one of the neighborhood spots that had made Chicago a hotbed for alternative rock, and queer-focused punk collective Homocore Chicago got its start hosting shows there. Czar Bar closed late in 1994, and though county records show Grzybek has passed the property on to his daughter, it remains boarded up.
Sorrondeguy: I saw the Simple Machines tour here. It was Superchunk, Seaweed . . . I forgot who else was on here. Tsunami? There was this really cool "how to release your own record" zine and stuff. I also saw Nation of Ulysses here. This was where Ian [Svenonius] broke his leg. Homocore Chicago started doing shows here as well—Crudos played one. It was weird, because we generally don't do bars, and they asked us to play. But we really wanted to support Homocore.
Vaginal Creme Davis played here. There was a bunch of stuff going on at the Czar Bar. I know a lot of postpunk stuff was happening here, the more art-punk stuff. Azita [Youssefi] and that whole crew—the Trenchmouth people—they would do stuff.
- Stephanie Bassos
- The old Schlitz tied house at 1801 W. Division, formerly home to No Palace, is now Mac’s Wood Grilled.
1801 W. Division
Former home of No Palace
Currently Mac's Wood Grilled
According to a 2011 report by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, architect Fritz Lang designed this building, formerly a tied house for Schlitz; raised in 1900, it was granted landmark status in 2010. Tom Magee, owner of Mac's Wood Grilled, secured a trustee's deed to the building in 1998—a decision he says was a no-brainer. "You could tell back then the city was coming around," he says. "The turnover in retail has completely changed. Condos are coming in, which isn't bad—I'm not against any of it. Everybody calls it gentrification, but it's just the natural progression of the city."
Sorrondeguy: I remember a few shows—Rorschach played here, we played here. Probably Scissor Girls played here. This was a hot spot—this little strip of a couple blocks on Division, there was a lot happening. It was this lack of permanence—nobody assumed ever that anything was gonna be around for long. Whoever was willing to allow something to happen, it was like, "Go there, that's it, that's the spot right now." "OK, they're closing this one down? We found a spot down the block." "OK, cool."
I don't know what made it a hot spot. Maybe it was because it was a neighborhood in transition. I mean, what makes Pilsen hot right now? Division, we saw it coming a long time ago. Even when I worked down here, you saw these things happening.
The grossest thing is seeing this sports-bar thing. It has zero appeal to me—it's not cultural. Again, I'm really drawn to what has happened where everything's gone so underground. It's in these weird basements and houses and stuff—that's where underground culture needs to survive.
- Stephanie Bassos
- "Esperanza Community Services, it's cool that that's here, versus some fucking sports bar," says Sorrondeguy.
1620 W. Grand
Former home of Isabel's Grand Finale
Currently Esperanza Community Services
Isabel's Grand Finale was a DIY space next to the Dummy Room, a short-lived record store run by Vindictives front man Joey Vindictive. According to Maximum Rocknroll, the store celebrated its opening with an 18-band bill at Isabel's that cost $1. The Queers recorded a live EP at the venue in 1993, which Vindictive released on his label, V.M.L. Records. Today the address houses the adult program and art studio of Esperanza Community Services, a 47-year-old organization that supports people with developmental disabilities.
Sorrondeguy: The area definitely has been gentrified, but there wasn't much around here. We're seeing the opposite than closer to Wicker Park. Esperanza Community Services, it's cool that that's here, versus some fucking sports bar. The Dummy Room was here—Joey Vindictive opened up a record store. They were doing shows here; Born Against played here, Warzone played here, Crudos played here. They did the infamous Isabel's Grand Finale show, which got shut down early—Screeching Weasel was supposed to play.
Anything that those guys were involved with at that time—those guys meaning Joey Vindictive or even Ben Weasel—was all moving away from the preexisting clubs and scene. The bigger stuff was taking a more business-y mainstream approach to running spaces, which we definitely were not interested in. The established older scene was being put under the microscope by people like Ben Weasel, and he was hypercritical of [promoter] Sean Duffy and Last Rites productions. At one point there was a lot of tension between those two worlds. But it was just nice to see that, instead of complaining, people were actually doing something or creating that alternative. So when this space happened, we were all about it.
At the beginning it definitely felt like, "Oh, wow, this is really awesome, this kind of punk-run business." For a lot of us it made us feel like it was possible.
- Stephanie Bassos
- Los Crudos used to practice in the basement of the building that now houses Cultura in Pilsen.
1900 S. Carpenter
Former home of Calles y Sueños
Currently Cultura in Pilsen
Calles y Sueños Chicago project coordinator Christina Obregón says the activist arts organization was born out of "a need to talk about the real history and current events of what was happening throughout Latin America." Original Chicago organizer Jose David sought out a space where he'd be free to showcase art that pushed boundaries, and he landed at the building on 19th and Carpenter in 1995. "There was more of a working-class community, and those were the people that we wanted to target," Obregón says. "That's who our audience is; that's who our public is." Calles y Sueños moved out of the building in the early 2000s, then returned in 2011—but only for a little more than two years. "The gentrification was too rapidly growing—we noticed a lot of people in our audience that were coming were not the people that we had really wanted to target," Obregón says.
Sorrondeguy: This place was probably the most important gallery space, arts space, that we had in the neighborhood. They did exhibits here that were really challenging and pushed a lot of boundaries in terms of gender, sexuality, a lot of stuff. There was a poster exhibit, and it was all these posters related to HIV and AIDS. They did a show here called Cabaret Rojo, where Crudos performed with a drag queen. They did really cool film screenings and poetry readings. They had a speakeasy in the basement. Crudos used to practice in the basement. I lived upstairs—four bedrooms, two bathrooms, for $390 a month. You can't get that rent anymore.
This was a part of our existence. In the documentary, we hang the banner out of that window. [Editor's note: The banner read, in Spanish, "The arms and energy of the workers give life to the world. Times of rage, action, and struggle."] We got in trouble once 'cause we wheat pasted this large poster of [Subcomandante] Marcos from the Zapatistas giving the middle finger.
We were taking action and being vocal about being unhappy with the way the city [government] neglected Pilsen, and then all of the sudden things were changing. My issue was, "OK, gentrification's gonna happen all over the place, but fuck you for ignoring us for so long." We didn't count—we weren't worthy of having fixed streets, fixed sidewalks. Neglected schools . . . there was so much neglect in this area. There were places in certain sections that just felt bombed out and ignored. It's like, "Why? Why is that happening?" And it just felt like a big fuck-you to the city for treating communities like this—and our community—like shit. That's what Crudos was about; we were the fuck-you from around here.
I think we were successful in the sense that it brought a lot of other young people to go, "Hey, I'm also frustrated, and I'm not alone in this." Other people are frustrated too. And they're creating music and art. Even though the community's changing and the neighborhood's changing, people need to know that you should be vocal about what's happening and you should demand what everybody else demands in more affluent neighborhoods.
I feel really connected to this neighborhood. Every other neighborhood we went to, I was coming from somewhere else to play. This is home, and this is where I feel like we made our greatest impact—this is where it mattered the most. This is where people connected most.
- Stephanie Bassos
- The A.P.O. Building, where Los Crudos played their “last” show in 1998
1438 W. 18th St.
Sorrondeguy's 1999 documentary short on Latino punk, Beyond the Screams, includes a clip of Los Crudos performing "That's Right We're That Spic Band!" at their final show, which was at the A.P.O. Building. Completed in the late 1890s, the five-story building has served the many populations to call Pilsen home in the decades since—according to a 2003 Reader feature, Stuart Dybek grew up in a cold-water flat above its 1438 W. 18th entrance. The A.P.O. Building has provided a home to many Pilsen artists, and currently hosts the gallery Casa de la Cultura Carlos Cortez: Mestizarte.
Sorrondeguy: We played years ago up on the fifth floor. Our very last show, in '98—that was the first time that we called it quits—was here. We also did stuff with neighborhood folksingers and different artists. What's amazing about this space, it's still the same kind of space that it always was.
This is where it started—not necessarily this space, but the neighborhood. [The final show] could've been in any location, but we really loved that a lot of the printmakers and artists—they were people we knew, friends of ours, and we're like, "It has to be in the neighborhood." We did two sets at the Fireside, and then we did the last show here.
We had to do stuff in the neighborhood. That was crucial to us. This was always a part of the fabric of what was the band and what punk was for us: coming from this neighborhood, all this kind of coming together, all this creative energy, with all these different artists and musicians and everything. A lot of the people around here, they weren't punks per se, [but] their ideas and their politics—it all went hand in hand with what Crudos was doing.
When I look back at that video [from the final show], I get a little choked up about it, 'cause it was a very intense moment and very symbolic for us to do that show here. There were people who had been following us since day one, so there was this really intense connectiveness. It's nice to look back at it just go, "You know, I still feel connected."
- Stephanie Bassos
- Casa Aztlan has vacated this spot at 1831 S. Racine for a building a few blocks west.
1831 S. Racine
Former home of Casa Aztlan
Casa Aztlan director Carlos Arango says that decades ago, "There was no organization to serve the Mexican community that was moving into Pilsen." Founded in 1970, Casa Aztlan tried to fill that void; for decades the community center at 1831 S. Racine provided youth and after-school programs, citizenship classes and INS case assistance, and a home for Pilsen's broad arts communities. The paintings on the outside of the building speak to the vibrancy of Pilsen's historical muralist movement, though Casa Aztlan moved elsewhere three years ago. According to a 2013 Sun-Times article, the property fell into foreclosure in summer 2012, and the following year a developer won it at a judicial auction for $293,000. Casa Aztlan is now at the corner of 18th and Blue Island.
Sorrondeguy: This is where the very first punk show in Pilsen happened. We put that on in the late 80s. Pre-Pegboy played here—the Bhopal Stiffs. And Generation Waste—members became Screeching Weasel later, and Sludgeworth. The Ozzfish Experience, who then also went on to be part of Screeching Weasel. I was the one who put this together, along with a couple artists—one of them had a studio here.
We were given the opportunity a few times to actually play here. One of the directors hated what we were doing and said we would never be able to play here again. This is not a regular venue; it's a cultural space. They do a lot of youth and after-school stuff, summer programs, all that.
Punk was just so outside of the norm here. They had the space, and they wanted to do a benefit; we were able to organize this benefit. I brought in the bands and everything, and we raised some funds for the art program. It brought out kids who I didn't know liked punk around here, and all of the sudden we made these connections. Initially the gangbangers were a little freaked-out—they were walking by with bats and kind of intimidated. Close to 300 people came out. When you get hundreds of strangers coming around, people are going, "What the hell is this?"
That people were willing to allow it to happen was a huge deal. It made us realize that there was possibility to do stuff that was crossing the cultural barriers. You have the whole underground punk thing mixing with already existing cultural stuff that was happening. It made us realize that we can do things together here. We could help each other out—do the music stuff, but also raise money for things and support each other. v