Lost Legion is an Oi! group featuring musicians who have also played in such bands as Fuerza Bruta, Warrior Tribes, and Primitive Teeth. Their vocalist is Ian Wise, a longtime champion for punk music who has done everything from doing a zine (Our Way of Life) to running a label to putting on shows in his homebase of Chicago.
With Lost Legion releasing a record called Behind the Concrete Veil soon via Mendeku Diskak (check out Freddy Alva's excellent Record Label Profile), I thought it would be a great time to chat with Ian. I'm definitely not well-versed on the Oi! scene, so I also wanted to see how he felt about its rising popularity, especially here in the States.
First off, what’s your take on the popularity of Oi!/street punk rising throughout the US in these last couple of years. What have you noticed about that and how has it impacted what Lost Legion has been doing?
I’m into it. There are records coming out right now that are so much better than what was coming out when I was a kid. The skinhead style goes periods of being cool in a more mainstream sense every few years, and I feel like whenever that happens there’s a flux of new folks getting into it. That’s happening right now, just bigger. Bands like If you’re new to oi and hearing Burden, Béton Armé, Cuero, and Civilian then of course you’re going to dig deeper.
I understand why some people aren’t happy with it. I imagine some people feel like our secrets have been stolen and the aspects that insulated the scene are gone. We’ve lost a lot of control over something a lot of people rightly feel ownership over. But we live in the Internet Age, so the whole world is like that now. It’s not just our little underground scenes. You gotta’ accept that times are different now.
When I started Foreign Legion Records, it was really hard to get anyone to care about new Oi! music in North America, especially anything that wasn’t into the basic polka-beat hardcore style of Oi! or really melodic pop-punk that had been the main focus here for so long. Seeing the particular niche of Oi! and hardcore that I pushed get this popular is honestly a little validating for me. I shoulda have waited five years to start the label [laughs].
I’ve noticed that Lost Legion has been playing on live bills with bands of a variety of styles (hardcore, goth, etc.). Is that something you guys consciously set out to do, or does it come more organically?
We just play with our friends, bands we like, and bands that like us. To me, it all falls under the same vague punk umbrella culturally and musically, and it doesn’t feel weird to play with bands that aren’t coming from the exact same set of influences. Mixed bills are pretty normal in the Midwest. We played with Claimed Choice and Old Salt in Milwaukee, and the opening band was Jinskie, who do jangly garage/power pop. They were probably the most fun to watch that night.
I booked Claimed Choice the next night in Chicago with Fuerza Bruta and a thrashy hardcore band called Coronary, who are tight and heavy. A perfect compliment to Fuerza Bruta if you ask me. If you’re charging $15 for a show you should try to put together three really good bands instead of three bands that fit together just because they dress the same. I think it helps bring in different crowds, which helps us pay touring bands better and knock down arbitrary social divisions.
Yeah, I love mixed bills myself. I grew up in the '90s hardcore scene when that seemed more common.
Most of the mixed bills have fallen into our lap. Off With Their Heads and Bollweevils were playing Chicago and a band called Nervous Passenger were supposed to open, but had to drop because one of them got COVID. Stephan from Nervous Passenger was playing bass with us, so when they had to cancel we ended up on the bill because it was just the easiest way to fill a spot the day before the show.
It was a crowd we wouldn’t normally have played to, but it was fun for us and some people seemed into it. Also, the first couple Off With Theirs Heads records sound more like oi than some bands that dress like Joe Hawkins.
Soft Kill reached out to ask us to do a few dates with them, which was a rad opportunity we didn’t want to turn down. Tobias from Soft Kill is originally from the southside Chicago punk scene, so the bill makes sense to us even if it doesn’t to people outside of our little social circle.
We also played with Exedo, a post-punk band from Chicago, because they’re our friends. Christine from Exedo did vocals on our cover of “Tonite” on the Bridging Electricity EP.
Tell me a bit about the track “Silhouettes in Blue Light” since I know that one carries a lot of lyrical weight to it.
I had a draft of the lyrics written back around 2017 for a 7” we were supposed to do on Hardware Records that we just never finished. It was about an unarmed kid that had been basically assassinated by Chicago cops in a neighborhood called Englewood. Obviously things didn’t get any better after 2017.
During the riots in 2020 the park in our neighborhood served as a home base for riot cops in the southwest side, but the local set of the Latin Kings were the ones actually guarding our homes and businesses here and doing community outreach to calm down the situations.
Chicago cops all move to a couple different neighborhoods and have developed their own little communities. Cops here also tend to raise their kids to be cops, meaning they are getting raised by several generations of police that breed a mentality of animosity to communities outside their own.
The song is less about an isolated killing and more about the mindset they were raised with by their family, and having that racist family to support their shitty decisions and attitudes.
You also had a track on the Stronger Than Before compilation back last fall called "Dressed Up Like A Warrior” that I know meant a lot to you.
That song is about Proud Boys and MAGA folks who think they’re fighting for liberation. The kind of people that claim to be pro America and pro working class but literally sided with the Russian propaganda machines and billionaires who don’t care if the working people who prop them up die or go to prison.
Last December, I was reading about the trials of the Jan 6th protesters, and reading their quotes where it became so clear that some of them weren’t living in reality. Anything from Barricade/Castillo hit me up about being the comp and I wrote the song that night about the quotes I’d been reading.
From where you’re standing, how’s the Chicago punk scene doing? Is it too segregated between styles? Are there enough new bands coming up?
Chicago is cool right now. Things were pretty bleak for a while because COVID essentially killed the scene. A whole new group of people started bands and tried booking shows who hadn’t even met the older crowd, so the scene felt really fragmented. But things seem to be coming together and lots of cool bands are popping up. Things are a lot less segregated by style and neighborhood like they had been for a long time.
Chicago, Milwaukee, and Northwest Indiana all try to work together in a positive way to keep things going. There are a couple labels, Upset Condition, Unlawful Assembly, and Open Palm, that are releasing good new music from the area. Jesse from Splatter Pattern, Kyle from Fuerza Bruta, Zac Thomas from NWI DIY, and me all cooperate to organize shows. Matt from Nailwall Records has also been working on cool, big shows.
Conservative Military Image and Buggin blowing up has certainly helped bring a lot of attention to the scene locally, and Adam from CMI is really good at his using his platform to support smaller bands. Chicago is in a rare moment where everyone seems to be getting along and supporting each other. We’ll see how long it lasts, but for now I’m just enjoying it.
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