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Pisces'and Punk Rock Warlords: The Midwest Hardcore Renaissance and the 9 Bands You Need to Hear

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Graphic by Rob Lucchesi


There is strange magic afoot out in the Midwest. Windows are rattling, babies are smoking two packs a day-- an alarming statistic for Ohioans when you compare it to their average pack-a-day Columbus infant-- the ground is concaving and swallowing golf courses whole and from the fiery pits of hardcore hell rise live houses to take their place. Not even the Modern Baseball house can provide a safe haven for the havoc on the horizon.


The Midwest has always been an uncharted parallel universe of musical mysteries, the first of which being how in the hell does a band from California qualify as Midwest Emo (I'm talking about you Mom Jeans). But in the recent years, the punkest and hardcorest of the Midwesterners have managed to navigate their way through a treacherous sea of algorithms to somehow to make it into my feed.


Now I'm not technically from the Midwest, the majority of my extended family still lives in Indiana and I've still got cousins out in Ohio, so if there's anyone here on our lovely staff that could be qualified to bring these wonderful bands to you, it's definitely not me-- I'm slanderous by nature. In any case, punk and hardcore are as Midwestern as they are Californian or New York-ian... if that's a word. During the great punk revolution in the late 80's and 90's, many of the bands we commonly associate with the genre were from Illinois. The Chicago punk scene was exploding and churning out all the essential components of your dad's CD collection; Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Dillinger Four, who would become blueprint artists for the post-punk genre but would still become swathed in the NYC punk cloth.

But it was actually Negative Approach in Detroit, Michigan in the early 80's that initially casted the spell in the Midwest. Negative Approach is still considered one of the pioneering bands that brought hardcore to the region. The story goes that John Brannon and Pete Zelewski, NA's singer and bassist respectively, decided to form a band after seeing Black Flag and Necros show. The original lineup consisted of Brannon and Zelewski, Rob McCulloch on guitar, and Zuheir Fakhoury on drums. Zelewski would later leave NA to start his own band, The Allied, and be replaced by McCulloch's brother Graham. Fakhoury would also later be replaced by Chris "Opie" Moore. But during the four-piece's short stint of activity, Negative Approach appeared on the 7-inch Process of Elimination compilation LP for Touch and Go Records in 1981, their debut self-titled 7-inch in 1982 and Tied Down in 1983, both of which are considered formative and undeniable hardcore classics, before their split the same year.



But that was 40 years ago, the future is now, and hardcore in the midwest is still shaking walls and cracking skulls and the 414 is leading the pack by a mile. Milwaukee is home to the next generation of hard rock history. The bands in this city are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be in hardcore, punk, and postpunk and just what the genres are capable of producing. Wisconsin has become the breeding ground and grand central station for chaotic minds, unstable drummers, and future supreme leaders of the DIY scene, and their chokehold on the sound has only grown stronger in Chicago, and is making it's way out to Ohio and parts of Iowa. Our power grows stronger everyday!


Sympathetic to the cause? Restlessly curious? Shaking and sobbing in anticipation? Downright ADHD-ridden and need a good two-step in your life? These are the 10 bands leading the movement that you need to hear right this second.


1. The Scummies

Have you ever looked at a band and known from that second that this is what they're meant to do? Like they've just always had that mean mug about 'em? That's The Scummies. The Rock Falls trio is most eloquently described in their Instagram bio as "Smalltown Midwest Weirdo Punk". Made up of drummer Rowland Smelly, bassist Alex Anger, and guitarist Michael Segneri, The Scummies are on an agnostic crusade to make you question everything around you and set off your 80 year-old neighbor's pace maker. Sitting very uncomfortably between the traditional punk sound and new-age dumpster fire rock, The Scummies have the potential to become movement leaders or repeat arsonists. Maybe both.

(Photo by Victoria Marie, @victoriamariephotos)


2. Doublespeak

These guys are the total package, a roidhead's wet dream. Spinal Tap loud and Masayoshi Takanaka proficient, Doublespeak is a broken nose and a straightjacket waiting to happen. Talk about a band with one of the most creative approaches to hardcore, these guys don't have an unoriginal bone in their body. Their sound is dynamic and just plain refreshing, and in a genre overrun by copycats and stencilers, these guys aren't trying to sound like anyone but themselves Doublespeak is Ethan Mulliken, a.k.a Ethan Nunofya on lead vocals, Adam West (yes, the real Batman, go look) on guitar, Keondre Randle on bass and backing vocals, and Lance Furseth on drums. Unfortunately, Doublespeak is set to play their last set together at High Noon Saloon on 12/30/23; the venue that started it all.



(Photo via @doublespeak on Instagram)



3. SCAM LIKELY

SCAM LIKELY is truly the jack of at least two trades. Maybe more, I'm not sure. But they're masters been made without a doubt, muddling together all the best of the punk-emo-garage sounds you could hear reverberating off a wet basement floor. SCAM LIKELY has found success in all corners of Milwaukee, breaking up the concrete in their own DIY space, Washroom, and have since found themselves on the 2023 Riot Fest After Party playbill with nowhere else to go but up. Leaders of the latest postpunk apocalypse, SCAM LIKELY is lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Charlee Grider, resident vest and lead guitar, Ducky, the bass demigod, Thierry Diatta, and bigfoot himself, Cary Dean Elger, on drums.



(Photo by LEAHDOTCOM, @leah.c0m)


4. The 1-800s

These guys are just classic, yknow? Crude and rude as hell, they don't take themselves too seriously, and they're totally having sex with your mom. It's all about the Chicago feeling with The 1-800s, all speed and distorted twang, no funny business, just in the business of being funny. Textbook punks, man, these guys are so rad, everyone better have an eye on these guys quick before they get too big to talk to or they start banging your mom. The 1-800s are Chris on bass and vocals, Antonio on rhythm and vocals, Louie on the 6-string lead, and Mikey on the kit.



(Photo by Madison Rease, @reasephotography)


5. HeadWar

If BROCKHAMPTON is the best boyband since One Direction, then HeadWar is by far the heaviest. They don't write bios, they write songs, you see, so good luck finding any actual information about this three-piece havoc machine. I only wish there was more video of these guys online. Their studio recordings are absolutely amazing, but their live video are just unholy good. There are very few upstart bands that I can confidently say sound better live than in the booth. HeadWar is Dalton Aerts on guitar and vocals, Sam Tisue on Drums, and Kyle Eith on the bass.



(Photo by Madison Rease, @reasephotography)


6. Bathhouse Kill Squad

We are gathered here today to mourn what will be the loss of the definitive diamond in the Midwestern rough, a flagship name at the Washroom, the punks among punks in a sea full of skunks, the four murderers were meant to be on stage together. I was lucky enough to hear the good word that is the Kill Squad when "Bigfoot Baby" from their self-titled first record ran straight through my Spotify algorithm into one of my most played songs last year. Bathhouse Kill Squad will sadly be playing their last show together at Strange Lagrange hosted by the Greenhouse, marking the end of an era and the band's first steps on their respective journeys. Bathhouse Kill Squad will always be Frankie at lead vocals, Chase on the lead guitar, Brett, a.k.a Betsy, a.k.a Bretsy, Bread, Brit, Brettina, Brettanial on the bass (also, congrats to Chase and

Betsy on their engagement), and Ethan keeping the time.



(Photos by Zack B, @zacdonbfoto)


7. Scarlet Demore

Pioneering the "tits out crycore" genre, Scarlet Demore have carried the emo torch proudly since their formation in 2017. If you just bought your first Paramore shirt from the bargain rack at Hot Topic or still fantasize about what emo pop punk could've become if Brendan Urie hadn't halted the momentum, then you will find comfort in knowing that Scarlet Demore is taking the sound to greater heights than a Fall Out Boy contractual hiatus album could ever accomplish. Scarlet Demora is lead vocalist Cat, lead guitarist Alex, bassist G, rhythm guitarist Joel, and drummer Angelo.



(Flyer by @oldsmokeyjoe)



8. Pure Intention

Chicago's self-crowned "#1 Punk Rock Trio", the boys of Pure Intention are the living tribunal of the state of punk rock today. They're wailing, bloodcurdling, Old-Skool wearing S.O.B's, they just might be the reason your child woke up in eyeliner and tight leather pants this morning. They're an all-nonsense type of band, with an 18 Drive pedal pedal board, with the best shitty live album a streaming subscription can buy. Pure Intention is The Vez on the mic and guitar, Joe Oes on bass and vocals, and the Buzzsaw Boy Wonder, John Bogusz, on the drums.



(Cover art by Jess, @siameseclippings)


9. SAWAMURA NO HITTER


Listening to SAWAMURA NO HITTER is like subjecting yourself to a 10 hour long YouTube video of 17 blenders full of cheese graters and sporks spinning all at once but in an oddly comforting and melodic way. It's haunting but in the same way Emily Dickinson is, like you're not quite on the same page but somewhere in there, deep down you get it. Black metal is an ever expanding genre, and this silly little girl band from Chicago are, as they so politely put it, "not palatable but very nice."



(Photo via @sawamuranohitter on Instagram)




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Too many bands, so little time? We've got you covered.


Check out the official Tonitruale "Pisces' and Punk Warlords" Accompanying Playlist !



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Rob Lucchesi


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