A giant earwig jabs her pincers toward the three members of Lifeguard in a loud, snapping motion. Singer-bassist Asher Case, 17, turns away and shudders at the sound. “Oh, this one’s fucked,” says singer-guitarist Kai Slater, 18, surveying the five-foot-long animatronic insect who’s protecting 30 eggs sprawled around her. Drummer Isaac Lowenstein, 16, takes the disgusted cue and steers the group towards a massive spider who bobs one leg up and down. Everyone stands still for a while to marvel at its size, and then Case reaches out with one finger to touch it, E.T.-style.

The trio is making their way through Underground Adventure, a decades-old exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Growing up, each one of them endured countless school trips here, turning them into unwitting tour guides on this rainy June afternoon.

“One of my most traumatic memories was here,” says Case. They go on to recount a time in first grade when they were separated from the rest of their class on a school trip and retreated to the safety of an oversized cicada shell with another stranded friend. “I remember thinking, Well, this is the end, and we’re dead.” For old time’s sake, Case curls up inside a shell again, hugging their knees to fit.

Lifeguard cozy up with an oversized spider at Chicagos Field Museum of Natural History

Lifeguard cozy up with an oversized spider at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

Photo by Nina Corcoran

Case’s memory isn’t as old as it might sound: Lifeguard already have one album, a few EPs, and two 7″ singles to their name, but none of them have even graduated high school yet. “What’s beautiful is that we had no goals when forming Lifeguard,” says Slater. “We just wanted to play with each other and have fun.”

In the style of Fugazi’s 13 Songs, the band recently released their new EP, Dressed in Trenches, alongside their 2022 Crowd Can Talk EP as their debut for longtime indie rock standard-bearer Matador. Lead single “17-18 Lovesong” is a pent-up burst of melodic angst and perfectly timed build-ups, and the same holds true for the six-minute-long “​​Ten Canisters (OFB),” which thrashes its way through distortion and gnarled guitar solos. Across both EPs, the band’s post-hardcore song structures, experimental indulgences, and fleeting post-punk hooks explode into the scruffy cacophony that has turned them into one of their city’s must-see young live bands.

Born and raised in Chicago, the group met the way kids do: by equal parts fate, luck, and a shared interest in something no one else cared about. While attending a local music camp during their middle-school years, Case, whose father has played in indie rock groups including Disappears, the Ponys, and FACS, spotted Lowenstein in a Tortoise shirt. Ecstatic to see another pre-teen who was into the heady post-rock locals, Case introduced themselves, and the two became fast friends.

Inspired by his older sister Penelope starting her own band, Horsegirl, Lowenstein began jamming with Case as a drum-and-bass duo under the name Lifeguard in 2019. Slater, who caught Lowenstein’s attention while playing in the folk-pop quartet Dwaal Troupe, joined shortly afterwards. Following in the footsteps of goth icons Bauhaus, who Case credits as helping them “discover that other people were sad too,” Lifeguard covered Brian Eno’s jittery 1974 track “Third Uncle,” thus locking in their musical compatibility and jumpstarting the songwriting sessions that spawned their debut EP, In Silence, at the turn of 2020. They gravitated towards a brooding, unpredictable blend of post-hardcore and art rock, earning comparisons to Unwound and Fugazi in the process.

Teenage PostPunks Lifeguard Are Living the DIY Dream
Photo by Mariana Belaval

At the museum, real termites light up in a nest, an enormous mole cricket crawls out of a wall, and fungi sprouts from a ledge. As Lifeguard stand before a dead root the size of a tree trunk covered in gnarly webs and rotund beetles, their creative wheels start spinning, as they always seem to be. “This is a triumph of the DIY,” declares Slater. “Let’s play a show right here,” Lowenstein proposes. “We’re constantly searching for places to play.” They start mocking up a stage layout amid the grime and bugs.

These teenagers already have plenty of experience reimagining what defines a live space—a necessity since the majority of the low-capacity locations perfect for a rising band like Lifeguard are 21-plus, if not bars outright. Over the past year, they’ve played gigs in a gift shop, an elementary school, a bike store, and a barn-turned-banquet hall. All that ingenuity paid off in December 2022 when they combined forces with fellow local acts Friko and Cafe Racer to book the 1,100-capacity Metro, one of Chicago’s most storied rock venues.

Lowenstein describes a thriving basement DIY scene among the city’s high schoolers that came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19. In that sudden silence, he and his bandmates felt the need to step up and rekindle a sense of community. They started forming a close-knit, ever-expanding collective alongside Horsegirl dubbed Hallogallo, complete with showcases featuring bands like Post Office Winter and Flower Grease that they booked themselves. It’s a wholesome utopia that shows what kids can create when given time, space, and support. “If it’s a young band and it sounds cool and it’s from Chicago, then that’s what this is for,” says Slater. “It feels like everyone involved is really desperate to make music—like it’s not a choice, but their natural role.”

A key part of fostering this community was developing a way to communicate during the strictest part of the pandemic, so the collective turned to zines. Hallogallo is Slater’s love letter to discovering DIY and experimental music of the past and present. Independently produced by hand, the zine has nine editions so far, each more charming and in-depth than the last. Interviews with artists like Michael Rother of Neu! and Chicago experimentalist Circuit Des Yeux are sandwiched between mutual aid listings, collages, and oddball quotes billed as inspiration. In one issue, Slater named every album Lifeguard listened to on a recent tour, from Lungfish to Boards of Canada to Star Wars soundtracks. “DEAR YOUTH SCENE! SMOKING TOBACCO IS NOT HOT,” reads a full-page spread. A mission statement is stamped on the back in all caps: “YOUTH REVOLUTION NOW.”

With rain falling down in thick sheets outside the museum, Slater offers to drive everyone to Eleven City Diner for lunch. In the car, the trio start swapping opinions on recent releases in their pocket of Chicago’s music scene. Too humble to mention their own solo projects, they each sneak in compliments about the other’s new work: Slater writes 1960s-style jangle pop songs that sound like lost classics as Sharp Pins, Lowenstein’s obsession with Autechre and synth experimentation takes shape as Donkey Basketball, and Case is working on an as-yet-unnamed project inspired by Patsy Cline and Townes Van Zandt. At the diner, they order like kids with fast metabolisms do: chocolate milkshakes, strawberry cheesecake, pastrami sandwiches and patty melts with the works.

Lifeguard juggle so much as a band and as individuals that it’s hard to imagine how their schedules function—that is, until you remember how high school time is its own type of magic, where hours feel like days that stretch on endlessly. This summer is the first where Lifeguard say they feel properly busy. But even with a bigger label and an upcoming month-long tour across the country, they don’t seem to feel any pressure. They’re just excited to further immerse themselves in the world of music that they love so much. They look to fellow Chicagoans Wilco as the ideal model, where they get to keep making records, rest between tours, and take band life as it comes. “If we get old and boring, like in our late 20s, then that’s it,” Slater says without irony or edge, finishing the last bites of his cheesecake. “Maybe I won’t be in this band in the future, but I’ll still be thinking about all of our friends,” Case adds assuredly.

Perhaps that peace of mind comes from the fact that Lifeguard have already proven to be influential on a local and international level. A youth collective in Portugal reached out to say they were directly inspired by the band’s Chicago scene when starting their own groups, and Slater interviewed them for the next issue of the Hallogallo zine. And at a Lifeguard show last year, a 9-year-old kid named Henry hung up fliers seeking members for his own band; listed as influences were Fugazi, Horsegirl, and Lifeguard. The band is still a little stunned just thinking about it. Shaking their head in disbelief, Case says, “It was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Source: pitchfork.com

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