“Then CDs came and everything had fucking 70 minutes of music on it,” says Phillips. “That is way, way, way too much.”
Over the past ten years, the Repos have consistently produced a manic style of hardcore punk that sounds, at first listen, on the verge of spinning out of control. But it never does. The vocals maintain a concise, growling articulation and the bass and guitar keep pace with the machine-gun rate of the drums. Listening to them is like being the passenger in a car that’s traveling at an ungodly speed: You look out the window, but nothing registers because the passing vehicles are blurs. You catch a glimpse of a city’s burning skyline before careening into the median. Then you return to the road and repeat the process.
“Bands used to play for the longest fucking time. I mean, hardcore bands would play for an hour,” Phillips says. “An hour. That is just too much. And I mean playing. This is before bands used to talk a lot between songs.
“I was just like, ‘Man, fuck this.’”
When the band was founded in Chicago, in the early 2000s — the members found each other through shared interests in punk rock, skateboarding and occasional delinquency — Phillips made sure that they played short sets. Ten songs, and 10 songs only.
“Doesn’t matter if the songs are a minute long,” he says. “Then the show will be 10 minutes long.”
They follow a similar mantra for their records: Full albums are 16 songs, generally clocking in at around that many minutes. But the band (which also currently includes Aaron Aspinwall on vocals, Craig Seeman on drums and Andrew Hinton on bass) is confident that listeners won’t feel cheated by short sets or short recordings. “Go watch a hardcore band play for an hour,” says Phillips. “It sucks.”
This week, the band makes its Pittsburgh debut at Skull Fest, with a set on Aug. 20 at Cattivo, in Lawrenceville. This is the easternmost the band has traversed for a performance; its previous longest voyage was to Cleveland, in September.
None of the members of the Repos are professional musicians by trade, and each has a career unrelated to the band. And while most of them live in Chicago, Aspinwall resides in Grand Rapids, Mich. Recording music remotely isn’t too challenging a task, thanks to modern technology; playing shows is a bit more difficult. The band can manage several dates a year — a few in Chicago and a couple outside of it.
Despite plenty of requests to play punk festivals and opening spots for touring acts, Phillips said they have to turn down a lot of shows. Which of course makes tracking down their records extra important. The Repos’ latest album, Poser, was released in April on the label Youth Attack and sold out in a day. The album can be purchased digitally on their Bandcamp, and copies of physical LPs will be available at the show and on Youth Attack’s website.
Regardless, the band’s Pittsburgh show is not to be missed. “We don’t play a lot. We’re not going to start playing a lot,” says Phillips. “So, if you want to see the Repos, this is it. Maybe this will be the last time we play. Who knows. Every time could be the last time.”