Smile Politely

Hardcore dreams with Thotcrime, Dreamwell, and meth.

A guitarist with long, curly blonde hair, wearing a black tank top, is intensely focused on their instrument. Another band member, in dark clothing, bends over a microphone, engaging deeply with the performance. The audience, seen from behind, displays varied hairstyles and casual attire, suggesting a diverse crowd. The atmosphere is charged with the energy of a live rock performance.
Alejandra I.O. Pires

When I’m asked what my favorite music genres are, I’m often hard-pressed to answer. How can I express my vast love of music and my eclectic taste in a succinct, one-sentence response? But one genre that I’ve reliably loved for decades is metal. As a genre, metal encompasses vast musical differences, as evidenced in its countless subgenres. But at its core it allows us to have an escape, a release, a sense of ecstasy. As I grow ever older, I sometimes wonder if I still have the energy to endure the kind of relentless onslaught of an evening of extreme metal noise. But when I saw that meth., Dreamwell, and Thotcrime would be playing here, at our very own local venue, The Space, I decided to venture forth.

These three bands encompass multiple genres, but all of them are decisively extreme, purposely abrasive, and loud. As I entered the venue, treated myself to a drink, and found a perch with a clear view of the stage, the night began to unfold. Thotcrime was first on stage. Their sound mixed heavy drums and loud, aggressive guitar with electronic beats and synth sounds, emblematic of the cybergrind genre. This mix of paradoxical sounds intrigued me, and I was looking forward to seeing how they sounded live. Their set was fast, energetic, and relentless. Lead singer Hayleyy Sparxx brought a disarming and awkwardly charming presence to the stage, alternating vocals from clean singing to intense screeching. While I’m not extensively familiar with this genre as a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed their set, and they warmed up the crowd really well. Their last song, as Sparxx mentioned, was “almost entirely a dance track,” with live vocals alongside techno dance rhythms. Champaign-Urbana has the privilege of calling Thotcrime a local band, and I’ll absolutely be keeping an eye on them for future shows. This band brings something unique and interesting to a local scene dominated by cis-het white men and their guitars.

The next band on the roster was Rhode Island’s Dreamwell. Self-identifying as a screamo band, their sound mixes distinctly melodic and intricate guitar playing with anguished screams and cries, creating a highly emotive sound. This sound is prominent on their most recent album, In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You, which builds a sonic dreamscape evocative of both poetry and nightmares. While this musical and thematic density is an intrinsic part of their playing, the band also knows how to rile up a crowd, have fun, and not take themselves too seriously. Early on during their set, singer KZ Staska brought up the decadent dinner they’d just enjoyed at Olive Garden, saying they were “so full and sleepy,” then proceeded to scream into the mic for 45 minutes. Of the three bands playing, I was least familiar with Dreamwell’s oeuvre, but by the end of the night, they stood out as my favorite of them all. Their albums have already made it into my regular rotation, and I’m glad I got to see them play in such an intimate venue.

The venue is intimate, featuring vibrant murals and a political banner that reads, "I resent the term 'normalize.' Don't wait for permission from the man. Let your freak flag fly." A four-member band performs energetically on stage, engaging with the audience. One band member, central to the scene, sports a hoodie and plays a black bass guitar. A vocalist, possibly a woman based on attire, wears a black outfit and uses a microphone. Another guitarist, with a beard, wears a casual shirt and plays an electric guitar. The drummer in the background, partially obscured, contributes to the dynamic scene.
Alejandra I.O. Pires

As Dreamwell wrapped up, I prepared myself for the aural onslaught of meth., hailing from Chicago. Sometimes described as metalcore, other times described as noise rock, meth. is a band defined by how loud and uncompromising they can be. A recent article from Treble describes their sound as downright confrontational. Even the members of Dreamwell, who were playing their last of sixteen shows with meth., alluded to their harsh, even painful sound. Their set started and ended with no frills. I was especially drawn to Andrew Smith’s expert drumming, which resonated clearly amidst a sea of heavy feedback and screeching. A signature of meth.’s live shows is prolonging their song “You Are Home,” which comes out to less than three minutes in the recording. However, when they play it live, as they did during this show, it can go on for much longer. The band leaves guitarists Zack Farrer and Michael McDonald on stage alone to do their thing, amping up the feedback and creating a merciless, pounding wall of noise. It’s a show of intensity that can be hard to muster. I’ve only experienced one other instance like this before, almost a decade ago when I saw the doom metal band Windhand play. At the time, I was blown away by the continual, therapeutic release of the noise. Experiencing such a phenomenon once again was divine, but not something I think I could handle more than once or twice per decade.

The overall atmosphere of the night was one of camaraderie, the type that’s often found at metal shows. We’re all part of the same tribe, after all. All this, laced in politics — Sparxx ended the Thotcrime set with a call of support for a Free Palestine, for example — and enveloped in a distinct queerness. Dreamwell noted on an Instagram post from Trans Day of Visibility: “Heavy music is a place for aggression and catharsis; at our shows this is meant exclusively for people that are trans, people of color, disabled, or otherwise left behind and fucked over by the powers that be.” This sentiment was palpable, and I’m glad I got to experience it.

Three musicians: a guitarist in the foreground wearing a black t-shirt and dark jeans, another guitarist in a grey t-shirt, and a vocalist moving dynamically across the stage. The venue's lighting casts soft glows and shadows, enhancing the gritty aesthetic typical of rock concerts. The audience is not visible in this shot, focusing attention solely on the performers' interaction and the ambiance of the venue.
Alejandra I.O. Pires

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