After Chicago political hardcore powerhouse Racetraitor disbanded in 1999, a fog of legend grew in their wake. Motivated by their frustration at the bilious 2016 presidential campaign cycle and the fury and urgency of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement, the band reemerged with a fiery reunion a couple weeks before the election, but they didn’t have plans for it to be an ongoing thing. The members felt they had moved on to other things, and they had mixed feelings about their old project. “Racetraitor is a band we were proud of, but not an easy one to live in,” front man Mani Mostofi told the Reader’s Kevin Warwick. “It was never a popular band, and about half the people that remember it do so because of how much they hated us.”
Six years later, Racetraitor are still going strong. During the Trump years, they gave us two EPs, and 2018’s 2042 (Good Fight) is a brutal, brilliant album that packs a lot of two-fisted wisdom into its short running time. In 2020 they also organized a massive compilation album with almost 50 artists across multiple underground genres (Shut It Down: Benefit for the Movement for Black Lives) and released a self-titled split EP with Neckbeard Deathcamp, Closet Witch, and Haggathorn. Racetraitor present a fascinating example of what can happen when artists revisit the sound of their younger days with decades of extra maturity and experience—whether that experience is in music or in their personal and professional pursuits in areas such as social work, anti-violence, and human rights. The Racetraitor of 2042 is not the Racetraitor of 1998’s Burn the Idol of the White Messiah in so many ways; the passion is undiluted, but it’s newly informed with labor in the trenches offstage as well as on, and its rage is inflected with seasoned knowledge.
Racetraitor are currently working on a new record. Mostofi tells me by email that it’s a concept album inspired by their lives and travels, and that it will include more diverse instrumentation (including violin, oud, cello, and a Persian lute called a setar) as well as musical and political influences informed by the members’ experiences in various parts of the globe. When the pandemic hit, Racetraitor were nearly done with tracking, and lockdown gave them room to envision the songs in a bigger and more ambitious way. Perhaps they find the band easier to live in now. Racetraitor’s calls to unpack white privilege—one of the things that made them so unpopular in the 90s—are now much more widely accepted and understood in progressive circles (if not always acted upon), and much of their early work seems prescient. Racetraitor are a band with a purpose, and as society’s slide toward open fascism seems to be picking up speed, rather than slowing down, it may be that their time is actually now.
Racetraitor, Si Dios Quiere, Terminal Nation, Midwestlust, Sarin, Fri 5/27, 8 PM, Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland, $15, 17+