When we look at the history of punk rock, people tend to think of the Ramones out of Queens, New York City. Or their minds go to London, where groups like The Sex Pistols and The Clash were spearheading the genre across the pond. Or, perhaps, people think of the secondary wave of punk bands that formed in Los Angeles after Ramones records made it to the West Coast, bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. But, very rarely do people talk about the Midwestern punk scene that emerged not long after this musical genre was born. Specifically, people tend to forget about the emergence of Chicago hardcore, a cultural movement every bit as powerful as what was going on in Los Angeles, New York, and London at the time.
The Chicago hardcore punk movement really took flight in the early 1980s and was led by groups like The Effigies, Articles of Faith, and Tutu & the Pirates (who were arguably the first punk band in Chicago). If you’re interested in learning more about the formative era of Chicago hardcore, there’s a great documentary called You Weren’t There that’s worth a watch. However, from this small, underground hardcore scene grew one of the biggest hotbeds for punk music in the world. And, over the years, Chicago has birthed some of the biggest names in punk music.
So, in this article, we’re going to honor the Windy City by shouting out some of the best punk bands to ever hail from Chicago, some of them past and some of them present. These are 5 Chicago punk bands bringing mayhem to the Midwest (as well as some Spotify/Apple Music recommendations to help beef up your punk playlist).
1. Rise Against
You can’t talk about the best Chicago punk bands without talking about Rise Against. Not only are they the legendary progeny of Chicago, but they’re also one of the most well-known and well-respected punk bands of all time from any city. The band was formed by Joe Principe and Dan Wleklinski in 1999 after the dissolution of their former band (which we’ll talk about next). The band spent the first four years of its existence signed to the independent record label Fat Wreck Chords (headed by Fat Mike, lead vocalist of NOFX). However, their real commercial success came when they signed to Dreamworks and released the 2004 album Siren Song of the Counter Culture.
Rise Against’s music is characterized by prominent, melodic guitar, rapid tempo, and revolutionary lyrics. Like almost every modern punk band, Rise Against have said that they’re heavily influenced by Minor Threat and Black Flag. In fact, in an interview, lead singer Tim McIlrath once said, “We’re emulating Minor Threat and Black Flag. Who knows, maybe if Ian MacKaye was wearing eyeliner, then I would be.”
Songs to Bump:
- Like the Angel
- A Gentlemen’s Coup
- Worth Dying For
- The Dirt Whispered
- Midnight Hands
2. 88 Fingers Louie
About 6 years before Rise Against was formed, in 1993, Joe Principe and Dan Wleklinski formed another iconic punk band called 88 Fingers Louie. This Chicago punk band was headed by frontman Denis Buckley, who had a very loose and casual vocal style, keeping it true to the DIY spirit of the punk genre. 88 Fingers Louie released their first full-length studio album, Behind Bars, in 1995, and it was met with positive critical reception.
Unfortunately, the band was plagued by internal struggles while they were touring. In one account, singer Denis Buckley allegedly even peed on drummer Glenn Porter. So, the band dissolved in late 1996. However, in 1998, 88 Fingers Louie got back together for a short time only to break up due to internal disputes once again. The band’s original drummer Glenn Porter, though, would go on to play in another successful Chicago punk band, which we’ll talk about next.
Songs to Bump:
- 100 Proof
- Outright Lies
- Tomorrow Starts Today
- Run On Home
- Intellectual Lover
3. Alkaline Trio
After the breakup of 88 Fingers Louie, drummer Glenn Porter joined up with singer/guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Rob Doran in 1996 to form Alkaline Trio, which would go on to be one of the most well-known punk bands to ever come out of Chicago. The group released their first single, “Sundials” in 1997, after which Rob Doran was replaced on the bass by Dan Andriano.
The band’s breakout moment was probably the release of their 2001 album From Here to Infirmary, which was their first album to reach above the Billboard Top 200 mark and gross six figures in sales. Alkaline Trio’s musical style is definitely more emo or pop-punk than the other bands mentioned thus far. Matt Skiba’s lyrical and vocal style is sinister and yet somehow playful, and the band’s music is driven by heavily melodic guitar riffs.
Songs to Bump:
- Private Eye
- Mercy Me
- San Francisco
4. Screeching Weasel
Screeching Weasel was formed in 1986 by Ben Weasel and John Jughead (no, those are not their birth names) in the Chicago suburb of Prospect Heights. The band originally went by the name All Night Garage Sale, which isn’t a bad name. However, apparently inspired by a t-shirt featuring a screaming otter, the band changed their name to Screeching Weasel, which is an objectively better name.
In 1987, the band recorded their first studio album (titled Screeching Weasel) in a single night and paid just $200 for studio time. They then released the album through Chicago record label Underdog Records. However, they really began to make a name for themselves when they recorded their second studio album Boogadaboogadaboogada! and performed it as an opener for legendary California punk group Operation Ivy. And, although Screeching Weasel has had quite a few roster shifts and internal disputes through the years, the band still managed to amass a big catalog of hardcore punk music.
Songs to Bump:
- Hey Suburbia
- Cool Kids
- My Brain Hurts
5. The Lawrence Arms
To round out our list, we have to include The Lawrence Arms, one of the best Chicago punk bands of this decade. Although the band was formed in 1999, they released an album as recently as 2020 (titled Skeleton Coast). And, unlike many of the previously mentioned bands, they’ve managed to keep the same roster of Brendan Kelly, Chris McCaughan, and Neil Hennessy for the entire life of the band. Before the formation of The Lawrence Arms, Kelly had been playing in the ska band Slapstick, and McCaughan had been in the band Tricky Dick. The two of them then joined forces in a band called The Broadways, then the duo met Neil Hennessy and formed The Lawrence Arms in 1999.
The band was originally signed to Asian Man Records, under which they released their debut album, A Guided Tour of Chicago, before they ever played a live show. They then released their second album, Ghost Stories, the very next year in 2000. The Lawrence Arms eventually ended up signing to Fat Wreck Chords, which helped push their musical abilities, increase their notoriety, and get them a spot at Warped Tour. Today, The Lawrence Arms are still going strong, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they release another album soon.
Songs to Bump:
- The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City
- The First Eviction Notice
- Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me, God
- Quiet Storm