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Feature Thu Oct 28 2010
[This piece was submitted by freelance journalist Leor Galil.]
The music industry is dying, and Ice Age Records founder Kris Di Benedetto couldn't care less. For the 20-year-old Do It Yourself record label head and musician, the well publicized issues affecting many an established record label exists in an entirely different universe.
"The people that don't buy music aren't in my audience," Di Benedetto said. "In the DIY punk scene, people will support bands." Di Benedetto is a DIY punk through and through. The tattoo below his collarbone reads "FLEX YOUR HEAD," which happens to be the title of a popular '80s DIY hardcore punk compilation that features one of Di Benedetto's favorite tunes: Minor Threat's cover of Wire's "12XU." Di Benedetto (pictured below, at home) lives with six people in a Logan Square house dubbed Summer Camp: Every so often, the housemates turn their basement into a venue for small touring bands eager to perform in Chicago. Di Benedetto also plays bass in Parrhesia, a heavy, aggressive punk band he's been a part of since December 2007.
Of course, Di Benedetto isn't simply regurgitating DIY style for the sake of fashion or cool points. His passionate dedication to the local punk community grew from his upbringing in Glenview. "In eighth grade, my sister sat me down and played Alkaline Trio, and took me to shows at the Fireside Bowl," Di Benedetto said. Though the Logan Square bowling alley shuttered its doors to all-ages concerts in 2004 — that is, until recently — Di Benedetto's interest in punk continued to grow.
In 2007, he decided to give managing a DIY record label a try with Death to Boyle! Records. But, being without a job or car made it difficult for Di Benedetto to do much of anything. "That kind of evaporated," he said. It wasn't long before Di Benedetto would try it again. Several months after graduating from Glenbrook South High School in June 2008, he found something that stuck. On November 14 of that year, Di Benedetto released Parrhesia's first demo on the newly minted Ice Age Records.
In almost two years, Ice Age has released 10 albums, with one more on the way this fall. Alongside Parrhesia's catalogue, Di Benedetto has produced music by pop-punk inflected emo outfit The Please & Thank Yous, complex post-punk trio Cloud Mouth, and Indiana-based post-hardcore group Native, who performed at this year's Wicker Park Fest.
When it comes to selecting what bands to partner with, Di Benedetto usually lets the musicians make the decision. "Generally, my friends come to me and say, 'Hey, can we record sometime?'" he said. Di Benedetto records almost every band in Summer Camp's living room: With its high ceilings and wooden floors, it's the perfect space for recording music. He uses a digital 16-track studio, which is run through his Dell computer, to record the music. The albums are released on cassette and vinyl, two forms Di Benedetto adores. He works with the bands to determine how they want to handle the releases, a process those who've worked with him have enjoyed. "Working with Kris was a total pleasure," said Nick Wakim, singer and guitarist for caustic emo quartet Castevet, in an e-mail. "He and I pretty much completed the process side by side. We decided together how many tapes to release, and picked a smaller number to correlate with the idea of a 'tour pressing.'" Ice Age released 60 cassette versions of Castevet's The Echo & The Light, which the band re-released on Tiny Engines in June.
Though the work behind a record is collaborative, Di Benedetto is the one fronting the money needed to produce an album. For Cloud Mouth's forthcoming release, That Ghost Is Always With Me, Di Benedetto fronted the $1,700 needed to pay for the vinyl, as well as the $1,300 for the album artwork and packaging. It may not seem like a lot of money, but for a guy who used to wait tables at a D'Agostino's Pizzeria in Park Ridge (Di Benedetto now works at a Logan Square vegan restaurant, Life on Mars), it adds up: Di Benedetto maxed out his credit card paying for the new Cloud Mouth record, which was well worth the monetary loss. "Putting out the vinyl is, like, the best thing in the world," he said. "You can't bootleg your own [vinyl] record."
Di Benedetto leaves it to the bands to sell their music while on tour, and recoups all the money from sales until he breaks even, at which point he and the bands split the money evenly. (Di Benedetto also recently launched an Ice Age Records Bandcamp page, where listeners can pay what they want for almost every album.) It's a system others actually revere. "I think we both take a band-centric approach to running our label — always having the band's best interests in mind while operating," said Ryan Durkin, who created the local punk record label Hewhocorrupts Inc., in an e-mail. Hewhocorrupts is working with Ice Age to digitally release the new Cloud Mouth record. "This definitely makes working together on a release much easier because there's less focus on the label's interest and more on combining efforts to see that the band we both enjoy is supported to the fullest of our abilities."
Helping musicians do what they love is what drives Di Benedetto to put so much time and effort into Ice Age. For him, the label is about the simple pleasures in life. "I just want to make music and have fun," he said. "I don't want to be a superstar and make money off it. It feels right to me here."
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information.
Leor Galil is a freelance journalist: His work has been featured in The A.V. Club, Bostonist, The Boston Phoenix, The Chicago Reader, Newcity, PopMatters, Rock Sound, True/Slant, The Washington City Paper and Wired's Underwire blog. You can visit his website at leorgalil.com.