So long, and good luck


May 26, 2006


For the last five years, the Chicago Blackout has celebrated the release of the most recent issue of Horizontal Action, the lovably grungy, endearingly raunchy fanzine that started the festival to celebrate the lovably grungy, endearingly raunchy sounds championed in its pages.

Chicago Blackout 2006 is the biggest of these events yet, but this year there's a difference: Horizontal Action's co-creators and editors, Todd Novak and Brett Cross, have decided to call it quits as publishers, at least in the print world.

"We're taking a break indefinitely," Novak says, and it's a loss that fans of the underground rock press will feel deeply.

Novak and Cross published the first issue of Horizontal Action as a photocopied, 81/2-by-11-inch fold-over digest in the summer of 1997. The name was hardly subtle and the mag was never pretty, but subtlety and slickness weren't the goals.

"We always thought it was better to magnify the unappealing aesthetic of the music and make that the appealing part of the magazine, because no one else really went for that angle," Novak says. "We figured we'd mix sex and rock 'n' roll -- which always went together, anyway -- and we'd cover the adult film industry and the music."

In the beginning, the magazine's founders wrote everything themselves, using pseudonyms such as Todd Killings (Novak), Uncle Ted (Cross) and Larry Loudmouth (the adult film correspondent).

"We'd make up all these ridiculous names -- the list goes on and on," Novak says. "We tried to make it seem like there were a lot more people working for the mag than there really were, but it was really just us at first."

The interviews were especially entertaining.

"We'd ask the adult actors and actresses questions about music and interview the bands about the sex side of it," Novak says. "We figured that would be a good crossover, and it ended up making for some pretty funny interviews."

Of course, like Chicago's pioneering Hugh Hefner, the publishers inevitably took some knocks for being politically incorrect.

"Some people didn't get the joke, but there were many more who did get it," Novak says. "We have plenty of friends who are girls who ended up writing for the magazine, and they understood completely what we were going for. It was pretty thinly veiled, our tongue-in-cheek attitude about it all, but some people didn't really read it and just overreacted to what they thought it was."

Others loved each increasingly ambitious issue, and over the course of the 15 that Novak and Cross published, Horizontal Action grew to attract a healthy ad base and national distribution in the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan. The Blackout was started in 2001 at the Beat Kitchen as a release party for the magazine's seventh issue. It moved to Subterranean in 2003 and to the Empty Bottle in 2004 and 2005, and grew to attract hundreds of fans, some of whom traveled from across the country and overseas.

"We always tried to have the new issue done around the time of the Blackout, so this will be the first year without a new magazine," Novak says. "But we are starting a new Web site, so hopefully it will be a way to make everybody aware of that."

Novak envisions as the ultimate resource on the Web for listings of live music anywhere in the country.

"It's going to be kind of like the way craigslist works, where you select what city you're in and all the venues will pop up with all the links to all the sites and what's going on that day," Novak says. "Say, for example, next week you're going to be in San Francisco and you want to see a show -- it will take care of that and also have a couple of features to read each week, plus photos. There's really nothing like that at the moment that covers everything, and we're not going to box ourselves into a specific rock 'n' roll-only type of thing."

Think not, then, of Chicago Blackout 2006 as a way to mourn Horizontal Action but as a chance to wish its founders well in their new endeavor, as well as reveling in a weekend of very loud music. The festival kicked off at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, on Wednesday and Thursday, but it reaches a fever pitch starting at 8 tonight and Saturday.

Tonight's lineup features the Seattle band Dead Moon, featuring Fred Cole of '60s cult heroes Lollipop Shoppe; the Texas group Mirrors, led by Greg Ashley of the Gris Gris; Mullens, another Texas band that played at the first Blackout and recently reunited; Mind Control, a French Canadian group that plays '70s-style punk; Dutch Masters, a Memphis band led by Eric Oblivion from the Oblivions, and Chicago rockers the Krunchies.

Saturday's lineup is topped by the Oblivions, who haven't played in Chicago in nearly a decade, and who will be augmented by Quintron for the occasion. Also bringing the rock: the Persuaders from New Orleans; Demon's Claws, who are gearing up for a new album on the In the Red label; the Massachusetts band the Tampoffs, who claim the be the first rockers ever to inspire a tribute album before actually issuing a disc of their own; LiveFastDie, whose debut was much lauded by Horizontal Action, and Chicago fuzzmeisters CoCoComa. This show is reportedly sold out, so call before heading out, or visit



In addition to astounding rock fans with the wide variety of scooters that are available, the annual Mod Chicago bash always has some musical surprises in store, and this year it is really delivering by hosting a reunion of New Jersey's Mod Fun, one of the best though least-heralded members of the mid-'80s East Coast garage revival that also produced the Fleshtones, the Fuzztones, the Vipers and the Chesterfield Kings.

In their original incarnation, the then-teenage trio released two strong albums and several great singles and EPs; those can be difficult to find these days, but in 2004 the Get Hip label issued a killer 20-track anthology that rounds up much of the group's best music, which ranges from exuberant R&B-laced early Who mod jams to delightfully trippy psychedelic pop, mirroring the journey taken by the band's heroes, English cult legends the Creation.

Mod Fun performs at Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln, on a free-admission bill that also features Jodie Artichoke, Ty Jesso, DJ Grover and Kris & Crystal starting at 9 p.m. Thursday. Call (773) 472-2771. The mod festivities continue on June 2 with a dance party at Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago, starting at 9 p.m. ($10), and a multiband bill on June 3 at the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee, with performers including Go Gorostiza, Ben Nickel, Thomas Jamt Roass, Tony "the Tyger" Sanchez and Dr. Scott, among others, also at 9 p.m. ($10). Visit for a full list of events.