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The Chicago band Twin Coast is programming New Static Revival Now at Schubas.

Siblings Kira (left) and Reid Isbell of the band Twin Coast are helping power a growing do-it-yourself, teen-driven music scene in Chicago. They created a mini festival at Schubas this week around it.

Photo courtesy of Kira Isbell; photoillustration by Mendy Kong/WBEZ

Chicago’s all-ages rock scene is catching fire, led by bands like Twin Coast

The city’s teen-driven, underground scene is so prolific there’s now a festival dedicated to it.

The notion that “rock is dead” isn’t true in Chicago, where an underground surge of bands barely out of high school is suddenly active throughout the city and suburbs.

The sibling duo Twin Coast is adding to the growing do-it-yourself, teen-driven scene and creating a mini festival around it. New Static! Revival Now, a five-band bill at Schubas on Thursday, capitalizes on the excitement of the underground scene that is “full of really young, innovative people,” drummer Kira Isbell, 22, said. (Schubas is also the site of a daylong fair on independent musicmaking on June 23, hosted by CHIRP Radio.)

She said Thursday’s festival fills a much-needed gap in Chicago for young musicians who either feel alienated from the greater music scene or have nothing in common with it at all.

Kira and Reid Isbell of Twin Coast

Chicago band Twin Coast began releasing songs on Bandcamp in 2023 and quickly gained an opening slot for indie rock veterans Luna at Lincoln Hall.

Courtesy of Kira Isbell

Kira and her brother, Reid Isbell, launched the festival last year after recognizing a peer group that was interested in classic rock from the past — the psychedelic era of the 1960s all the way through the alternative era of the 1990s — but subverting it with their own ideas and impulses.

Sharing the bill with Twin Coast is the jangle-pop band Sharp Pins, noise rockers TV Buddha, punk trio Uniflora and techno project Donkey Basketball. (Two of the bands, Donkey Basketball and Sharp Pins, are side projects from members of Lifeguard, an indie-punk trio signed to famed New York label Matador, home to Pavement and Queens of the Stone Age).

Kira said the festival is her way to “take a picture of a scene” that remains small but is steadily growing in influence. She and Reid, for example, weren’t even in a band in 2022 when they saw Lifeguard play the Extraordinarium, a now-shuttered novelty shop on the border of Avondale and Logan Square. “It was the loudest show I have ever heard in my entire life. You could see the windows shaking,” she said. The siblings formed Twin Coast the following year.

Chicago band TV Buddha.jpg

Chicago noise rock band TV Buddha is among the bands headlining the New Static! Revival Now festival at Schubas.

Courtesy of TV Buddha

“I just love when a band really pushes themselves and does something different … when you go to a show and you see people doing something you don’t expect,” she said. When it comes to Thursday’s festival at Schubas, “the bands that we have on the lineup are doing what they genuinely want to do. They are doing it for themselves and not for the audience.”

The resurgence of interest in indie rock came partially from the pandemic, said Cam Stacey, a musician who co-founded Bookclub, an underground venue in Lake View that regularly showcases teenage bands unable to get booked in clubs that sell liquor. Twin Coast has already played a trio of shows at Bookclub, which operates out of a commercial space.

“There’s a whole generation of kids who discovered and started making music,” during the pandemic, when there were no live shows, Stacey said. “When the pandemic cooled down and shows became relatively safe again, these kids didn’t have anywhere to go. Many of them don’t even know where to start. So we did a good job filling that gap.”

Bookclub opened June 2021 and the room is small — capacity tops at 70 people. Yet Stacey, 28, said alternative venues like his help young bands learn in a safe space. “It’s important for artists, especially beginning artists, to feel safe making mistakes in the real world and to be able to have the support to come back from that as quickly as possible, and that’s what we do.”

Twin Coast hit the ground running last summer by releasing singles via Bandcamp and playing shows throughout the city, including an opening slot for indie rock veterans Luna at Lincoln Hall. The duo released a cassette EP in April. The siblings grew up in Mount Prospect to parents in the medical field but who had expansive musical tastes: Velvet Underground, the Cramps and the Grateful Dead. In 2008 they took Kira and Reid to Lollapalooza, where the toddlers witnessed Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine.

“I remember being so wowed seeing people performing live, and also seeing such a large crowd of people watching and really caring about what they were doing,” Kira said.

Years later, Reid started guitar lessons and began playing in high school bands and open mic nights at the Old Town School of Folk Music specially designed for teenagers. Kira took up drums. When it came time to perform, the siblings decided to keep Twin Coast to the two of them, initially because it was easiest and because they shared identical sensibilities.

“We both know what sounds good,” Reid, 18, said. “We’re not trying to blend our two different musical tastes together; we already have the same tastes.”

“We’ve always been super close as siblings and best friends. It was a no-brainer,” Kira said.

Twin Coast operates out of the shoegaze mold established by bands like My Bloody Valentine all the way up to Sonic Youth, but they also have a strong sense of improvisation that takes them into unexpected directions. Reid’s fragile, almost wobbly, lead vocals contrast the sheets of guitar effects and droning ambiance he incorporates against his sister’s off-kilter drumming. Watching them live is like teetering at the end of a cliff, not knowing which direction they’ll yank the listener toward.

For Reid, the sound is appealing because of the “aggression behind it all.” Besides admiring the thick guitar rock of the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, his ultimate touchstone is the Velvet Underground because the group experimented within strict song structures.

“You could obviously tell they had no boundaries. It’s crazy, because in the context of today, their music doesn’t sound as weird as it did when it was coming out, but he clearly invented all of that,” he said.

Kira said she and Reid are drawn more to “the roots of rock” than what the pop charts. “We’re also drawn to innovation. So we have always tried to strive for something different than what’s going on right now,” she said. They both became drawn to noise rock because “it’s really emotional in a way that a clean guitar and loud vocals isn’t.”

Like many of their postpunk influences, Twin Coast is strictly a do-it-yourself operation. They book their own shows, screenprint their own T-shirts, record, mix and master their own music. This month Reid even launched his own zine, Static Revival, that covers underground Chicago culture. Control is important: “No matter what happens with the band, I want to have 100% of my foot in everything,” Kira said.

This fall, when Reid enters his first year at DePaul University, he’ll move in with his sister in Lincoln Park. She is currently enrolled in DePaul’s law school. The band’s future is simple, Kira said: “To keep creating and being part of a scene I really care about and have grown to love. Most important is just having fun and keep doing what we want to do.”

If you go: New Static! Revival Now is Thursday at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets are $15. The show is ages 18 and up. The CHIRP Radio Chicago Independents Day Market will feature live music, a local label showcase and panel discussions – including one on young musicians – on June 23 at Schubas. Admission is $18.

Mark Guarino is a journalist based in Chicago and the author of Country & Midwestern: Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival.

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