The DIY scene in Chicago has always been strong, but Horsegirl – vocalists/guitarists Penelope Lowenstein and Nora Cheng, 18 and 19, and drummer Gigi Reece, 19 – didn’t feel like there was room for young people to be involved while they were growing up.
“[We] weren’t getting heard or acknowledged, and we would not be able to play shows at any of the venues ‘cause we were underage,” says Reece. Together with their friends around the city, the trio created their own alternative youth world, where they share music, zines, art, and other creative passions with each other. “We’ve realized the people who do it best are us and our friends,” says Lowenstein. “We’re kids promoting kids’ work primarily, and we’re able to have a voice.”
Last year, the band spent their final summer before Cheng and Reece left for college together in New York City holed up inside Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio. They emerged with their debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, which is a visceral and electric entry into the post-punk canon.
“We all had this goal to make the album before Nora and I left for college,” says Reece. They’re speaking over Zoom, sprawled on a cozy couch next to their bandmates; the three regularly finish each other’s sentences and mumble inside jokes between each other. “It was an emotional time, but it felt really good.”
Horsegirl have been best friends since high school, where they bonded over their love of bands like Sonic Youth and Television. They started playing music together in 2019, rehearsing and recording in Lowenstein’s basement. Their fresh, wide-eyed spin on the music that influenced them came together straight away, almost freakishly well-developed; they were still all in high school, completing classes over Zoom due to the pandemic, when Matador Records snapped them up.
The songs on Versions of Modern Performance are inscrutable and abstract, both lyrically and musically. One could argue there’s a social media-fed expectation on young bands, particularly young women, to present themselves in their songs and outside them as accessible and relatable. But Horsegirl, who don’t use social media much, are more interested in the real-world experiences that shaped them as people.
“We started this as a live band, just to play with our friends in basements,” says Reece. “All of our experiences as friends and as a band [have been] of the excitement that happens in real life. Like, going to see one of the best shows of your life, and then talking to kids after the show and having this awesome bonding moment of realizing you like all the same music.”
“There’s definitely a feeling of like, we are the people who will be in our 20s soon, and it’s fun to have this feeling of ‘we’re about to all be doing this together’,” Lowenstein sums up. “In an older scene, it’s like, ‘we’ve already done it’, or, ‘oh, the good old days’. But I think there’s something special about being young and feeling the power of being young.”