For nearly five years, I lived smack-dab in the center of the live music capital of the world. Austin gave me a lot of things - a radio gig, a passion for independent music and most importantly, an outlet to project my love for Chicago’s garage rock. As a radio DJ, I obsessed over Chicago’s local bands every week on my Monday night show. Twin Peaks, Modern Vices, The Walters, The Symposium — when I wasn’t blasting them over the airwaves, I had them on my headphones as I walked to class each day. I couldn’t wait to graduate and head to Chicago to work in music, hopefully crossing paths with the boys who’d soundtracked the bulk of my college years.
Following my honeymoon phase, I began to see the cracks in the scene’s facade. Somehow, I’d overlooked the fact that the popular bands I loved were comprised entirely of white men. Surrounded by overwhelmingly talented artists of all races and genders, I wondered how these men so often outshone other stars within the scene. How could audiences overlook the luscious lyricisms of Loona Dae? The rallying antifascist fury of Mykele Deville? The melanin-infused soliloquies of Me’Chelle Renee? Slowly but surely, the giants of the scene I once loved inadvertently became the antagonists. Never mind laws “prohibiting” discrimination — too often, I watched the bands I loved for years pick supporting acts that mirrored their own compositions. Wavves took The Orwells on tour. The Orwells took Twin Peaks on tour. Twin Peaks took Modern Vices took The Walters took Summer Salt. And so it goes.
I watched as all the five-piece white-boy garage outfits I’d have loved a year before began to bleed together and bleed together until finally, I saw nothing.
As my former aural oasis blurred before me, I didn’t cry. I didn’t mourn. Rather, I realized that my home, Charm School, put me in a perfect position to take direct action.
Charm School is a DIY venue in Chicago formed from the ashes of the now-defunct Dollhouse DIY. Like Dollhouse, we prioritize booking of femme-identifying musicians and artists living at the intersections of marginalized identities — but unlike Dollhouse, we don’t assert ourselves as experts in our niche. As America’s public education system crumbles and racial tensions build faster than Trump’s wall ever could, our space has become more than just a venue, It’s a learning facility.
Rather than just booking diverse acts, we’ve also got to be vocal about our actions. We’ve got to educate our audience on why we do what we do. But most importantly - we’ve got to take accountability for missteps we as white folks make in the process. The essence of Charm School’s existence is that we are always learning, and it’s okay to be wrong sometimes so long as we listen, learn, and better ourselves in turn.
As such, my dedication to the cause isn’t perfect. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t host Post Animal on Halloween and enjoy every second of it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still absolutely love the boy bands that drove me to Chicago in the first place. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not trying to branch out, and I’d be lying if I didn’t end this anecdote with an opportunity for you guys to do the same.
Here, I’ve compiled a short playlist of artists whose music and stories I love — some of them have performed at Charm School, but all of them tell stories worth hearing. This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a solid place to start.
Consider this your homework. Class dismissed.