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Spirit of '91 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & n West Indiana Avenue sits a dilapidated storefront. There's no commerce here anymore, but its sign remains, reading like a tombstone. Here lies the splintering hulk of the "Cybergate Coffee Caf & eacute;," a relic of dotcom futurism. Since closing, it's become a rotating practice space for a variety of bands and artists, including the Yokohama Hooks.





Inside, the walls are lined with egg foam for acoustics and affixed with technological relics -- an old CD player, the original Game Boy. Stickers depicting the rising sun and the Japanese yen are stuck haphazardly to doors and walls. This is where the band writes, practices and, by the looks of it, occasionally lives. The place feels like a cozy cyberpunk nightmare, rock refugees hollowing out a former geek warren to make music.





Singer Judith Davis sits huddled on an old sofa, chain-smoking menthols through a bemused smile and chatting about her "fat complex." Live, her shrill howl communicates angst and paranoia as well as any lead singer I've heard. The lo-fi production values of the Hooks' recordings, though, spay her voice's femininity, leaving her almost sexless -- a different kind of haunting. Together with simple, sharp drum beats and spry, angular melodies that recall garage rock as much as punk, the Hooks cut a swath of dread that spans generations.





For those doubting how humanity got along before the Internet, though, the band offers a measure of optimism. Everything here is DIY and most of it is analog. Upon entering, guitarist James Hunt offers me a copy of their split 7-inch, which they share with Portland's the Flip Tops. Vinyl only. "We only pressed 1,200 copies," he says, the other three laughing at putting 'only' in front of a number that large. "I'm actually surprised vinyl is still around," remarks drummer Jon Swanstrom. It's kept alive, he thinks, by communities like theirs that still value something as tangible as records and person-to-person relationships.





In the back, behind what must have been the cyber caf & eacute;'s service counter, bassist Doe Hawkes-Roach and Jon tag-team a silk-screening operation. The band is preparing for a tour that will arc across the Midwest to Brooklyn, then head south to Nashville and Memphis. The tour was built the old-fashioned way. "Pat Smick booked a lot of bands last year, and he put us with every one," Doe says offhandedly. "So I just got hold of those guys."





"We're touring because of Doe and her networking skills," says James.





"That's what you get for going to college," concludes Judith, dryly.





The record deal they've just concluded with Chicago's Tic Tac Totally imprint, too, was facilitated by word of mouth. Richland's Artificial Limbs, says James, "just told him about us and we sent him a CD...."





Doe cuts him off: "No, we actually MySpaced him."





"Did we?" James asks, dismayed. "Yeah, I guess we did." The operation running out of the former Cybergate Coffee Caf & eacute;, then, isn't totally pre-Internet. It's about as close as you're bound to get, though, to a streak of Web-less band formation, song writing, tour booking, recording and distributing broken with a single errant MySpace message.





Yokohama Hooks tour kickoff at Mootsy's on Saturday, May 5, at 9 pm. $5. Call 838-1570.
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