When John Harrington talks about the history of his rap-rock band Midwest Avengers, he doesn't just talk about the membership of the on-stage players. He talks about all the people who have rolled in his crew, which has its roots in good-natured, party-starting teenaged hooliganism before the band coalesced into one of the area's first to hybridize the aggression of punk and metal and the lyricism of hip-hop.
Harrington, an emcee who performs as BC, has been the group's longest-running member; his brother James Coleman, who emcees as So'n'So, joined in 1996. Harrington figures that more than 50 players have performed in the band in its 27 years, and at least triple that number of friends, fans and family have supported the band.
"Our crew is like a family — it's everybody, our families and people we grew up with," Harrington says. "It's not just a band, it's our crew. We take trips, we go bowling, we do barbecues, we throw parties.
"Five guys can't keep a band going for 27 years," he continues.
It was in that spirit that Harrington and his crew recently threw the Midwest Avengers Gala, a celebration at the Sheldon Concert Hall that had the look and feel of a movie premiere rather than a hip-hop show.
"We're big on just creating opportunities for us. We don't get a lot of opportunities because people forget about us," he says. "Let's create our own opportunities — let's take our friends and fans and moms and dads and cousins and do a ball."
The band even donned black-tie attire and posed in front of a Harrington-constructed backdrop, fitting for paparazzi flashbulbs. It was a thoroughly grownup affair, but Harrington says that the DIY undercurrent speaks to the difficulty that the Midwest Avengers historically had in bridging two divided musical cultures.
"All the black people were like, 'It's cool, but we don't get down with that heavy metal white-boy stuff,'" Harrington says of the band's early reception. "We'd go play rock shows and they'd say, 'The band was cool, but we don't get down with that rap stuff.'"
The current generation's musical pantheism — as well as hip-hop's ascendency — makes the Avengers' sound more in step, Harrington says.
"Now, every white kid has heard rap. Every black kid has heard rock and metal and punk. The new generation doesn't even blink; everybody is listening to everything. Luckily, the fad came back around and caught us."
All of the lineup changes have kept the sound of the group fluid, but Harrington credits brothers Mason and Joe Caratachea, both guitarists, for moving the band toward R&B and Latin-inspired rhythm.
"Our crew has always been real diverse, multi-genre and multi-color, but this is the first time the band hasn't had a caucasian in the group," he notes. "That representation has always been part of our band from day one. 'Oh, you got a white boy in the band!' Yeah, he's fam, and he's dope as fuck — you got a problem with it?"
If listeners have a problem with the Midwest Avengers and its hard-to-pin-down sound, it's no skin off Harrington's back. It's a good bet that he and his crew will continue making music, throwing parties and carving out its own space well past its 30th anniversary. It's an ethos that has never wavered.
"If you don't like what everyone else is doing, do your own thing," Harrington says.
Midwest Avengers plays Atomic Cowboy's Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22. See our complete guide to ShowcaseSTL for more information.