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Airiel: Shoegaze was always meant to be loud
By Lisa Balde | Beep Staff Writer
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Published: 8/24/2007 12:33 AM

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Warning: Listening to Airiel's live show requires earplugs. Correction: It begs for them. (Fret not, fellow front-row show nerds, this South 'burbs quartet could penetrate ear-stuffed tin foil if they had to.)

About those earplugs … If I'd followed my own advice, the ringing might've stopped the next morning. Passing the pickle jar of free plugs on Airiel's merch table a year ago, I applauded their seeming socially conscious gesture. "Way to fight for healthy hearing," I thought. "Good for them." It didn't hit me until after the band's wall of moving, swirling shoegaze engulfed the room: They weren't trying to promote general health so much as save me from the canal slaying that was about to occur. (Note: All forms of ear protection were gone by song No. 2.)

"We've always kind of felt, for a long time now, that when you play a live show you want people to know they're at a live show," bassist/lyricist Cory Osborne says. "You don't want people talking over you or falling asleep. You can go to a symphony for that type of thing. It's still supposed to be a rock show."

There's no disputing Airiel's live showmanship. These seasoned rock connoisseurs somehow manage to step up their roaring shoegaze experience with fittingly gushing graphics (thanks to local video artist Arturo Valle) and an overall energy demonstrating their exhaustive cohesion. The final result kind of feels like jumping into the deep end of a hotel swimming pool after soaking in the warm confines of a hot tub. The rush of cold is deafening, almost monumentally so. And just when the transition starts to ache, you've given yourself over to it anyway, and you suddenly wonder why the switch wasn't made sooner.

"We're loud," Osborne says. "A lot of us wear earplugs when we play. I don't."

"I don't," guitarist Chris De Brizzio chimes in.

"John and Jeremy do," he decides, thinking of Airiel's drummer John Rungger and band founder and vocalist Jeremy Wrenn. "There are some high frequencies that get going at a pretty good volume; it's pretty standard for people to give us about an eight-foot cushion.

"We supply the earplugs because (of) a show in Minneapolis where they sold them at the bar. About midway through the show, we looked up and there's a big sign on the back bar that said, 'We've sold out of earplugs.'æ"

To be clear, it isn't just the "loud" that gets audiences' attention. After all, any amateur guitar-pedal collector can create a wall of sound. But -- and perhaps ironically so -- Airiel makes "loud" sound delicate. Their ethereal intentions are clear throughout the band's long-awaited first full-length album, "The Battle of Sealand," which ultimately proves that technical, edgy rhythms don't need to be filtered through genre requirements to sound effective. That said, Airiel might be Chicago's gold standard for shoegaze, a genre that's shown its face more often these days, even if it's via some bands that don't quite do it justice.

Oh, and for the record, here's one of Osborne's definitions for "shoegaze": "A psychedelic rock (sound) combined with the dance beats of the '80s House-slash-rave scene typified by swirling guitars and stoned people who looked at their shoes a lot." Not bad. Bump it up 15 years, add a healthy dose of celestial pop and a few big swirls, and you've got yourself a buzzworthy, local shoegaze band.

"The Battle of Sealand," officially due out Wednesday at Airiel's CD release show at the Empty Bottle, bookends a series of Eps, which later formed their "Winks and Kisses" box set. Osborne and De Brizzio admit "Sealand" was a few years coming and that the disc probably wouldn't have materialized this soon without support from Chicago's Julius Moriarty, who owns Highwheel Records with Walking Bicycles bandmate Jocelyn Summers. According to De Brizzio, talks about Airiel's involvement with the indie label began because of both parties' mutual interest to record the album. Turns out more than a few people had anticipated the disc -- even German electro-wunderkind Ulrich Schnauss.

The story goes that about two years ago, immediately after his set with electronic duo M83, Schnauss left the venue to catch the last part of Airiel's show down the street. He showed up in time for a few songs -- sporting an Airiel T-shirt no less.

"He actually caught the last couple of songs of the set," Osborne says, "and we all went out with him -- well, everybody except for me -- and hung out with him the next day, and he expressed some interest in doing something (with the band)."

Two years later, Airiel sent one of the tracks from their then-forthcoming album to Schnauss in hopes of collaboration. The remix master that he is, Schnauss turned around the song within 24 hours, just before Airiel's mastering deadline and during his own creation of "Goodbye," released June 25. "Sugar Crystals" is credited to him on track four.

"He Germanized it," Osborne says in his best accent, smiling. "He was very gracious in loaning us his time and his effort."

Validating though it is to feature an Ulrich Schnauss remix on the album, Airiel seems to have always found a way to communicate their pop-gaze notions without much assistance. Although the band went through a few structure changes since Wrenn started the outfit with a drum kit in Indiana 10 years ago, their current four-piece lineup feels poised for a solid road ahead. The album release precedes their Midwest tour in support of the CD, including a set with Schnauss himself Sept. 28 in Minneapolis. "Sealand" releases in Japan later this year, though we're pretty sure the volume will show up before the sound.

"My mentality about why we play so loud is to get that one person," De Brizzio says. "The whole Chicago music scene has to do with smoking and drinking. But if you basically punish that dude, he's going to tell someone."