Street Sects and Fire-Toolz Set it off: A Night of Fire at the Subterranean

By: George Chili and DJ Erik

Fire-Toolz is perplexing, indefinable, and brutally creative. One of many creative outlets of Angel Marcloid, Fire-Toolz has had a unique ability to present a breathtaking live experience in a very digital and electronic music soundscape. Her latest album, Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) is a stunning synthesis of vaporwave, smooth jazz, black metal, experimental electronica, PROG, and pretty much every other genre that is worth listening to. In combining so many influences, Fire-Toolz produces an unreplicatable and thoroughly new sound.

You will not hear any music that sounds like Fire-Toolz, and her concerts never fail to stupify. At the Subterranean on Thursday, things looked bleak for a minute. Angel was fully set up and ready to perform when it seemed like her laptop was malfunctioning. Always the deft electronicist, though, she could be seen unscrewing her Macbook, fiddling with chips and wires, and just when it seemed like the computer was kaput, it burst back to life!

​The song “Mailto-spasm@swamp.god_subject=Mind-Body Parallels” opened the set just as it opened the Field Whispers album, and at that moment we knew everything was good. The bouncy drums, the lush synths, the beautiful shrieks, and Angel’s live shredding guitar kicked off a stunning set. The visuals projected next to her were a trippy collage of psychedelic entropy, vintage vibes, cute cats, and honestly should be seen to be fully experienced. You can get a taste from her music videos, but a warning, once you start, they are hard to stop watching.

What I love about Fire-Toolz shows is they always drive forward. They are changing and evolving, and there is never a second where the audience was not fully transported into Angel’s world. The harsh scattered audio of “Clear Light” was entrancing, and the chugging guitar and otherworldly synths of “She Was Me, My Name Was Surrounded” made me feel like a peacock in a purple dream-world that only gets high on jazz. 

Angel in Chicago at its most cutting edge and Fire-Toolz shows are not ones to be missed if you like music or everything else nice in the world. After her set, it was time for the headliner of the evening: Street Sects.

Since their first album, “End Position” was released in 2016, Street Sects has grown to become one of my absolute favorite bands working today. Vocalist Leo Ashline and Producer Shaun Ringsmuth’s ear-searing combination of industrial, hardcore, and sample-based music has remained consistently addictive and electrifying with every new release. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to see them for a second time this year at the Subterranean.  

You won’t find another live performance today like the one Street Sects puts on. The entire room is first filled with so much fog that you can’t see more than 3 feet in front of you. Throw in seizure inducing strobe lights, Leo Ashline’s rabid and menacing stage presence, maybe a chainsaw if you’re lucky, and you’ve got the perfect environment for some of the most vicious industrial music out there today. 

All of the music is created by Ringsmuth with extra input from Ashline, and every second of it is incredibly sharp, detailed, and harrowing in the best possible way. The last time I saw the band in October they mostly played songs from their 2018 album, “The Kicking Mule,” which brought more elements of post punk into the fray, with a heavier emphasis on the more melodic side of Ashline’s vocals. This time around, the setlist was an assortment of the best tracks across their entire discography.

The group opened with the final track off their first album, “If This Is What Passes For Living,” which has some of my favorite lyrics of any of their songs, because the haunting atmosphere and loss of hope that this song conveys was the perfect way to suck the audience into their world. They followed that up with “Total Immunity,” which is one of the best tracks from their EP “Rat Jacket”. The show also featured both songs from Part IV of the bands “Gentrification” series. Which in my opinion, contain some of their best works. 

“Suspended from Gallery Rails” was released just a few weeks ago along with a music video for “If Life Is a Gift, It’s In Very Poor Taste”. The other single from that project “Tomorrow Is A Trap” set off the crowd with its driving thrashy beat and manic vocals. Ashline is as in your face as the music he sings to during many of these songs. He can either be seen as a shadowy figure in the fog or he can be screaming two inches in front of you. The height of the action for me was my favorite song from their first album “Collared, Kept” a disturbing and violent depiction of the side effects of drug addiction. The heavy beat and crushingly shrill sound effects just hit like truck in the absolute best way. 

The show came to a head when another flashing light on the ceiling went off, which we quickly realized meant that the band had set off the smoke alarm. Everyone just cheered and started moshing after that, it was awesome. No other way to describe it. Unfortunately, it was the last song of the evening. Ashline announced that the venue said we had to evacuate the building, quickly apologized, and sank behind the wall of smoke. Sure, that was a bit disappointing but after the brilliant sound and fury that the band packed into 25 short minutes, I was just euphoric. 

I had a short conversation with Shaun Ringsmuth outside after everyone had evacuated, and he said that the alarm going off was a totally common occurrence back when the band played a lot of smaller venues. In fact, the exact same thing happened the last time they played the Subterranean. I also got to talk to him about the production aspects of the group and it’s clear just how much care and detail goes into every track. 

For instance, we talked about some of the movie samples that go into the songs like conversations from film noir and even gunshots from No Country For Old Men. My friends and I thanked him for an amazing show and went home. Street Sects is masterful at packing a grand experience into such a short time frame, with most of their shows lasting only about 30 minutes. But in those 30 minutes, you get thrown into the most amazingly cathartic tornado of bright lights and cacophony that you can experience live.

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