When the MC on the second night of Chickfactor zine’s For the Love of Pop 20th anniversary show admitted to being, “A zip code fetishists who sent concealed pocket money to mysterious post offices boxes in hopes that weeks, sometimes months, later news from the outside world in the form of zines and records would return to my mysterious post office box,” I shared a knowing look with the group of ladies I had come to the show with. We could relate. We all met each other through the post and once referred to ourselves as the “Zine Girl Army.”
Chickfator was, at times, infuriatingly snobby and unabashedly self referential. The editors, Gail O’Hara and Pam Berry, had impeccable taste in independent and underground pop music. The magazine was mostly a showcase of the editors friends and they referred to them by their first name and the name of their project, for example “Gail Chickfator.” In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I loved to read it for a window into a world of indie musicians, both ladies and dudes, that interacted and partied and frankly, existed, somewhere outside of my small town, teenaged life. My friend Alex used to get so annoyed at Chickfactor’s inflated tone of self-importance he would rant ad nauseam on about it, but of course, couldn’t wait until the next issue came out. Chickfactor, and other zines like it, set the tone and the scene for today’s music blogs and helped paved the way for the explosion of indie pop bands like The Pains for Being Pure at Heart hitting it big time.
No matter how you felt about it, Chickfactor had a magnetism and a draw larger than the publication itself. Twenty years later they were able to pull off a three-night extravaganza in two cities featuring bands who I thought had long since broke up with no chance of reunion. Lois, Small Factory, and Black Tambourine. And the Aislers Set! A favorite band from the moment I heard them in 1998 until they stopped playing so frequently, perhaps circa 2004? Since my head has been in the sand about music since about 2008, I relied on Dominick to give me a hot tip about the reunion and bought tickets the minute they went on sale.
The Chickfactor shows were like a class reunion of people I actually wanted to see. It was a reunion of those of us poured our hearts out in letters and cassette tapes and sent them to each other. Laster some of those friends became my everyday friends (and still are) and close neighbors. Seeing people I used to see at shows was almost as exciting as the music itself. Perhaps most awesome, Marissa “Red Hooded Sweatshirt” came down from Boston to join Laura “The Other Ramona,” Keight “Pink Tea,” Yumi “External Text” and me (Eleanor “Indulgence”) for pre-Aislers Set tacos. We all used to go to shows together in Boston and attend zine events around the northeast over ten years ago. When we sat down to eat tacos Laura turned to Marissa and said, “I haven’t seen you in 11 years!”
My friend Kirsten “Lightening Bug” surprised me by flying into Chicago. We staked out space by the front of the stage for Black Tambourine and the next night, for Aislers Set. She reminded me that she had visited me in NYC in 2002 to see the Aislers Set in Williasmburg when I said something to the effect of, “This neighborhood is just getting really gentrified” to explain it to her. “It’s our 10 year Aislers Set reunion!” she announced.
The reunited bands full of energy and sparkle and sounded as fresh as they did ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. Lois performed with Peter from Heavenly and Molly Neuman and played “Strumpet,” which I quoted on my senior page in the yearbook.
My heart raced as she sang, “I laugh too much, I talk too loud, people stare at me when I’m in a crowd, you say I walk around like I own the whole place, but I do, but anyone else can have it all too, just walk around the town like you own it.” I turned to my friend Amelia, who also went to my high school, “This was on my senior page!” I whispered. She smiled, “I know.”
Black Tambourine were revelatory. So many bands now are playing washed out, reverbed out, noisy music with bitter sweet vocals (ahem, my band might do this too), but Black Tambourine helped start that sound. Hearing them alive made all those who cite them as a reference seem pale in comparison.
Small Factory also rocked out with upbeat disappointment and plenty of jagged, self effacing lyrics. They played one my favorite song, singing the chorus loud and heartfelt, “I’m not giving up, I’m not giving up on nothing, I still believe in nothing, just not so much in love.” To hear these words ring out over buzzing guitars and a sea of people left me feeling like if I’m still here, still listening to this music and still loving it as much as ever, I must have done something right in my life.
The second night British folk singer Bridget St. John entranced me with her ethereal yet earthy songs, but the real highlight for me was The Aislers Set, who played at the very end of the night. My friends and I staked out space in the front of the stage and refused to move. “We’re doing this 90’s style!” Constance announced, meaning, we’re staking our claim and not moving, just like we used to do as younger music fans. It was worth it. To have no frustratingly tall people between us and Linton and watch every strum of her 12 string guitar was better than I could have even dared to hope for.
I love the Aislers Set. Their songs are catchy and poppy, and Linton’s lyrics are like stories that you tell someone about the small thoughts you have everyday that somehow add up to a profound reflection on your life. Her imagery always makes me soar, “The queen of every rooftop,” is one line I love. Their sound is big – big guitars, big pounding drums, big layers and harmonies, but still delicate and jangly.
As I soaked in their songs I realized a significant portoin of my life from about age 18 to 23 was spent listening to the Aislers Set. When they played “Mary’s Song,” with its wistful start and bass line that comes in like a tug on your heart strings tears came to my eyes. In away, I thought, my dreams from the time I listened to these records on repeat have come true, but I still feel the same wistfulness and longing that this song so perfectly captures.
When the Aislers Set took the stage an audience member cried out, “It’s been too long!” Indeed, it has been. My life has been missing the Aislers Set.
I don’t know if there will ever be a new issue of Chickfactor, but if there is I will surely read it. I am grateful for the community I know and got to re-experience at the shows thanks to zines and 90’s indie rock. I’m grateful that creative people who make music and help make my world so great are in my city and I don’t have to wait for their letters in my mailbox. I’m grateful the rise of social media has made keeping tabs on a wider scene so much easier. But the Chickfactor shows also demonstrated how much was built during those days of zip code fetishism. As Lois sang, “I make a scene, I read about my scene in a magazine.” She then added, “I’m glad that for me at that time it was magazines because Tumblr just doesn’t have the same ring to it.”