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In Chicago's indie rock scene, teens reign


FRIKO: (Singing) We're either too old, too bold or stupid to move. I guess we're caught on the wrong side of the shoe again.


For fans of indie rock, Chicago's long been known as a hotbed for that kind of music, with bands like Tortoise and Wilco calling the city home. Now, there's a new generation of indie rockers in Chicago. And here's the thing. A lot of them are teenagers.

LEOR GALIL: The indie rock scene that we're talking about is youth oriented. They are primarily interested in music that existed before they were born, a lot of those bands that broke up before they were born.

RASCOE: That's Leor Galil. He's a music journalist for the Chicago Reader. He's been covering these bands with names like Lifeguard, Friko, Post Office Winter, Dwaal Troupe and Horsegirl for the past couple of years.

GALIL: A lot of the bands met through after school programs in Chicago. An important point in time for all these bands was the summer of 2019. Old Town School of Folk Music throws an annual street festival. And there was a teen open mic best of performance. And that's where a lot of these musicians met, and that's where this sense of community really grew.


GALIL: All the bands involved in this loose collective of musicians have different ideas of what indie rock sounds like and how they want to express themselves. They're all guitar-based. They all have musicians who play drums and bass and traditional rock instrumentation. But Horsegirl, for example, has, like, a dream pop style. And there's like a nice dark undercurrent that really feels inviting and mysterious. And a lot of their songs have beautifully cross-stitched vocals that make the music that they're playing feel huge and open.


HORSEGIRL: (Singing) Billy, if I went, ahh, ahh. Billy, if I went...

RASCOE: Galil says Horsegirl is one of the scene's most successful bands.

GALIL: Horsegirl is a trio made up of Nora Cheng, who plays guitar and sings, Penelope Lowenstein, who sings and also plays guitar, and drummer Gigi Reece. All of them went to School of Rock. That is one of the ways that has bound them together. They also went to DIY shows, which is, you know, one of the few places that young people in Chicago who are interested in seeing live music can actually experience live music. And Nora and Penelope started trading, you know, voice memos of singing. And they bonded in a way that teenagers usually do, which is to share their creative interests.

RASCOE: They formed before two of the members went to college, thinking the band would eventually break up, but they ended up getting a record deal.


RASCOE: There are obstacles for musicians in the scene, too. A lot of these bands are too young to perform in traditional venues with 21-and-up age limits.

GALIL: I think there is a slow change to allow young people to see, you know, rock music in clubs, in part because of the people in the scene. The clubs need to make money, and alcohol is such a driver for incomes for clubs. So I don't see that changing overnight. But the fact that young people are starting to get a lot of attention in this scene playing indie rock - it will hopefully allow for more clubs to be a little more open-minded when it comes to booking all-ages shows.

RASCOE: Still, a few bands like Horsegirl and Lifeguard are on tour now, playing all-ages shows across the country. Some shows have already sold out.


POST OFFICE WINTER: (Singing) ...By your bedside, just to fight off your...

RASCOE: That was Leor Galil. He's a music journalist at the Chicago Reader.


POST OFFICE WINTER: (Singing) Trains and buses, boats and airplanes... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Danny Hensel