You Weren’t There – A History Of Chicago Punk 1977-1984


Filmmakers Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman explore the early days of the Chicago punk scene. Joe takes some time to talk about the documentary, hardcore and “the kids.”

Interview by Damon Locks

Can you tell me a little about your histories in the Chicago punk scene and why you felt it was important to document the birth of the scene?

I became aware of punk in general through my older sister around 1977-78 and she’s the one who gave me the Effigies Haunted Town EP in 1981. It really was a revelation because before then, Chicago had many new wave/power pop bands, but very few punk bands. I started going to Wax Trax Records around 1979 and I would pickup records and fanzines there but due to my age (born in 1969) I wasn’t able to go to shows until late 83. Chris is from Toledo, Ohio so she was tied in with that Necros scene. As far as why we wanted to document the scene, I just felt that the Chicago Punk scene was very different than it’s counterparts on the coasts. It was pretty much like being stuck on an island and that fostered a loose knit coalition of like-minded people who very into this bizarre (at the time) form of music. There was also no chance of any kind of success, so you could do whatever you wanted musically.

How & why did you choose the time frame focused on in the film?

1977-1984 really represents the “golden” era of Punk and Hardcore. It was still fresh and constantly evolving. After that era, you could see “punk” bands on MTV, and the majors started getting their tentacles in there.

Which of the Chicago bands had the biggest influence on your participation in the Chicago punk scene?

The Effigies, Naked Raygun, Strike Under, Articles Of Faith, Negative Element, ROTA, etc. Naked Raygun shows were so unbelievably fun back then. As a little kid going these shows, I would always go and talk to the bands and they couldn’t have been nicer. Even people who had reputations as being assholes like Steve Albini, ROTA, etc. were in fact, super friendly and personable.

As first time filmmakers, was the technology of making a film a huge hurdle for you?

It wasn’t too bad. Chris has a background in design so she knows her way around a Mac and me being a musician and  “recording enthusiast” helped. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with things like Final Cut and a decent quality camera these days. I probably wouldn’t have attempted this project with the old school methods. It would have been too expensive and difficult.

We are in a period of time where there has been a fair amount of recollecting images, thoughts and music from the era of the burgeoning American punk scene. Given the immediacy of the punk sentiment at its inception do you think there is any contradiction in ideology to collect, document, re-package and make fetishes of the elements of punk?

I don’t think so. People collected punk pretty much from its inception. It was a music scene after all, albeit one that had cultural and sometimes political implications. I think it’s important to document these movements because they are a snapshot of a certain time. To me, the punk movement in the context of the era is just as important as the music was.

At the end of the film, several of the band people remark on their feelings of punk music today. How do you feel about what is punk music today?

This is a difficult one for me to answer. I still play in a hardcore group called Regress and have many friends who still play in hardcore/punk bands. I will say that the most disappointing aspect of the punk scene today is how conservative it is. People forget that in the early 80’s you could have groups as different as Flipper, the Minutemen, Discharge, and the Misfits on the same bill. Today, those bands would all have their own “genre” and only play with groups exactly like them. And you really can’t re-capture the excitement of something new. Even the shows I first went to as late as 83, there was still an electricity in the air because kids were so excited to be there. Kids today seem bored and depressed. We were bored and depressed too, but punk and hardcore was our sanctuary and escape. We didn’t just want it…we needed it.

Given the inherent difficulties of making a film using your own money, time and elbow grease…will you make another?

I’m definitely pursuing film but I doubt I’ll do another documentary. It is a shitload of work! This one was close to my heart so it was worth it.

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