Fortified Walls BY TANYA NIKOLIC
I’m guilty. Divisions exist everywhere, but there was always one place that promised an end to the segregation. It was in old, gutted basements and cold garages, in auto shops and restaurants, run down warehouses and abandoned factories. It was in countercultures and subcultures. It was in the underground punk scene - Chicago’s D.I.Y. Everyone was a unique and seemingly unfitting piece to some puzzle we could never figure out, but we all got along alright. Straight edge, drug lords, vegans, omnivores, metal, punk, ska, grind, death, black and anything in between was fine. These were arbitrary dividing lines people would identify with on the “outside” in order to set themselves apart from their peers. But under the illumination of shotty lightbulbs and in the center of raging vortices deemed circle pits, people were just people - mohawks or not. Washing in the waves of a live set, no one counted your pins or classified your patches. It was all about the raw, unadulterated experiencing of life. And it was all for the taking. “Come vent your frustrations,” flyers would whisper on the walls of record stores and bulletin boards, “you’re not alone.” As a young and dumb kid, this was my Ritalin. It was my opium, my everything! Never before had I felt so comfortable being myself around a bunch of strangers. Nothing was personal, nothing was permanent. Unfortunately, that very same transience held true even for the fix. Eventually things got “complicated” and labels turned vice for some. I’m guilty. When all these former strangers became regulars and best friends sects started to form and an internal hierarchy was born. The worthlessness of useless identifiers was masked by a sense of pride and arrogance. The “us vs. them” became “us vs. us.” Abortion, immigration, your ethics, my morals, militarization, inebriation (just to name a few) became red flags for people. Maybe it was the result of finally finding something to believe in, or being fooled into following something that “believed in you,” fighting for something to prove. Maybe it was just a part of growing up. Whatever it was, walls were built between the forming tribes and people were ostracised. We had successfully recreated the outside and were now subject to a microcosmic prison embedded in the belly of the beast.
The once United Scene was becoming a series of sovereign states with bully bouncer ideals limiting access to any given few based on pre-established alliances. What’s worse is that the police started catching wind of shows and shutting them down. Even thugs muscled punks into closing up their underground clubs. It was now “us vs. us vs. them!” No way could we win lost in the mix, but who were ‘we’ anyway? We were fluid beings embracing the true nature of reality. We were dynamic, self-proclaimed deities serving our duty to the Universe. We were young and dumb and guilty, but we were ourselves. We were real. The self-destruction that fell upon us was a result of the complete and utter freedom granted to us through the underground. The overwhelming openness of the infinite made us face the abyss and out of fear we created all these false boundaries. Still, the scene lives on. The process of becoming is a bumpy road, but the trials and errors of all who tread it help pave the various parts and obstacles that lead to our fortified walls. And walls, like the scene and everything else that ever was, is or will be, are subject to entropy and will inevitably collapse and eventually be rebuilt only to collapse and be rebuilt, collapse, rebuilt, etc... The cycle is the message, the message is the key and the key is breaking free. Do your “time,” take what you need, but leave enough in better condition for who’s next to come.
Coming into Chicago’s D.I.Y. punk scene, I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing as though I only went to shows in larger venues where everyone was i.d’ed and patted down as they walked into the door. I grew up liking some punk, larger, more well known bands such as Rancid, NOFX, Black Flag, etc. But as I got into high school I was more inclined towards metal, eventually leading to a manifestation of mainly death and black metal. I met a few “punks” at Lane Tech high school and was handed fliers almost on a weekly basis but due to my strict parents, punk time, which usually meant 10PM through the early hours of morning was too far out of my curfew. At about 17 I could finally stay out late and sneak in past my parents which lead to my first D.I.Y. show. I was familiar with a few faces because of school, but I quickly made new friends and felt very welcomed. The bands I saw play was something I had never experienced before. And it wasn’t just punk…I was introduced to grindcore, hardcore, and power violence. It was raw, fast and out of control. People of all ages were drinking, socializing and getting really into the music. It was angry and fierce, just the outlet I needed for my teenage angst. One could say metal gave me that satisfaction as well, and don’t get me wrong, I didn’t forget about it, but this energy felt different, it was more powerful and authentic. I felt a strong sense of community and love from Chicago’s D.I.Y. scene and it attracted me so greatly that I began to document it photographically. I began shooting as many shows as I possibly could with a 35mm camera, which eventually ranged into digital, point and shoot and some video footage. I wanted to better understand this scene and try to capture the realness it presented to me as a young observer. These were the people I spent most of my time with and had felt that our experience here was exhilarating. The endless devotion, love and support for the music was something I had never felt from any other community. Bands toured from all over the U.S. and in some cases from overseas. The D.I.Y. aspect was something I was so grateful to be introduced to as it opened my eyes and ears into a whole new group of people and way of life. As I continued to photograph throughout the years a lot had changed. Many people came and left while drama formed between these new sects that were being established, but I held onto the many memories and friendships we had created. I recently began to photograph portraits of some of the people who attend/book these shows. By completely isolating my subjects I hoped to celebrate our individuality and challenge the stereotypes that are sometimes associated with this counter culture. I hoped not to glorify the scene but also to not bog it down by showing the good, bad, and the ugly...