A sinewy, grey haired man is sitting on the floor of an old church in Logan Square surrounded by a ring of weird electronics wired together, like a circle of protection cast in a cyberpunk movie about witchcraft. [This movie does not exist but it obviously should]. The boxes are effects pedals wired to effects pedals wired to nothing else. He’s literally playing freak electronic impulses and looping them into an aggressive industrial freakout, pressing buttons and twiddling knobs with a gleeful, maniac look across his face. The man is Dave Purdie, a member of Silver Abuse, one the first punk bands to form in Chicago, an intense, increasingly avant-garde no-wave act profiled in the documentary You Weren’t There. Other members would go on to found Naked Raygun and Big Black; another will die in a motorcycle chase with the cops. Dave Purdie will become Satan 2000. I’ll get back to him and his surroundings in a minute, but I’d like to wax theoretical for a few.
I used to get mad at the label “Scene” (with a capital S) because it felt so self-aggrandizing, even when used in derision, as though one group could define youth culture. There is no homogenous art or music or DIY scene in Chicago; maybe there is in Terra Haute or Peoria or wherever but probably not there either. Punk and rap and dance music and art fracture into a million subgenres defined by fashion, politics and BPM’s, creating a multiverse of scenes that parallel, intersect, mirror and overlap, loosely connected by people and places. Sometimes it seems as if the places didn’t need to be created by the people inside, but existed only to be filled by art. Buddy becomes Happy Dog becomes No Nation in Wicker Park. The Azone becomes peopleprojects becomes Papal Projects in Logan Square. Weiser House becomes Fort Kakalak and Treasure Town and Mortville in Lawndale.
If you want to get mystical about it (and boy howdy do I always) you can point to the plethora of places where art has been created across the entirety of Milwaukee Avenue. Before the dirt road was paved over with wood and then brick and then asphalt, before Jean Baptiste Point DuSable founded the city in the 1780’s, and centuries before Robert de la Salle transliterated the Miami-Illinois (Algonquin) word “shikaakwa” into “Chicagou” in the 1670’s, what is now known as Milwaukee Avenue had been a route of travel for half a dozen societies of Indigenous Americans for generations before. The word Milwaukee translates from Potawamie and Ojibwe Algonquin to “the Good Land”, but we already know that because Alice Cooper says so in Wayne’s World , and Wayne’s World is a rad fucking Chicago rock’n’roll movie.
I’m not trying to invoke the mystical exoticism some people like to place around indigenous cultures but I would like to talk about Ley Lines, the concept that the natural pathways that pre-industrial societies developed around, that were livable, farmable, and walkable, were preordained, formed almost intentionally by the cosmos, a cooperation of the stars, waterways and tectonic plates to guide humans towards places where they could thrive. The land is imbued with the elements of creation, and just as certain land works better for farmers, artists and thinkers are drawn to the places where they thrive as well.
If you don’t want to get mystical, if you want to be completely practical, the city of Chicago was built around the established paths because they existed. It was easier and made more sense. Milwaukee Avenue was developed in a way where working class people could easily get back and forth from their homes on the outskirts to the factories clustered around the center. Chain-migration would mean tight knit immigrant communities would settle, assimilate and disperse, leaving new room for new tight knit immigrant communities, and a revolving door of artists could take advantage of newly emptied homes at working class prices. De-industrialization would empty the factories for underground galleries and practice spaces and communes.There is no mysticism, musicians need environments where they can make noise unencumbered and be heard, artists need room to fabricate and be seen, and thinkers need space that they can afford, because ‘thinker’ isn’t a fucking job. Like finds like. Communities form. Art gets commodified. People move in and the live/work/play spaces become condos and artisinal doughnut shops.
So it’s real world, non-theoretical 2005. A few blocks away from Milwaukee Avenue, I’m in a shuttered Pentecostal church watching Satan 2000 exorcise noise from the air like an aggro Jon Cage surrounded by people eating mushrooms and drinking out of paper bags. Mystically, the church was built to focus and refine people’s concentrated energy into a joyful noise. Practically, it’s a big acoustically-sound building in a pretty cheap part of an up-and-coming neighborhood with its own garage parking space.
The place is Elastic Revolution, but it’s alternately known as 3030, 3030 Revolution, and Elastic Arts. It’s not a rowdy or aggressive space; its primary focus is jazz, and the traditional, uncomfortable, long wooden pews make the space untenable for dancing, no matter how aggressive the music gets when jazz gives way to experimental noise, or how bouncy the music gets when there’s a funky drummer at the helm. Marvin Tate does a series of poetry readings, the Cucaracha Cabaret hosts a monthly puppetry series, there’s an electronic music night and an improvised music night; if you’re a fan of local jazz stalwart Ken Vandermark but you’re not a fan of jazz clubs, you can see a whole fuckova lot of Ken Vandermark in duos and trios and quartets.
Elastic Revolution wasn’t felled by a show that got out of hand, an outraged community, or a tragic accident. It was taken down by a single neighbor who didn’t like the flow of people entering, exiting, and going outside to smoke. After calling the cops out on numerous noise complaints, often resulting in no action, the CPD eventually sent two undercover cops to a show. They determined that the place money taken at the door did not qualify as a donation and that the venue was not eligible for the PPA loophole (that a place can hold events with live sound/performance without a Public Place of Amusement license if they follow a bunch of good neighbor/not-acting-as-a-taxable-business rules) because of zoning reasons, but they didn’t show up in court and, though the Elastic Arts Foundation couldn’t operate the church as a performance space anymore, I don’t think they weren’t punished further.
There’s a happy ending to this one. The Elastic Arts crew became a legit nonprofit, and Alderman Rey Colon helped them find a legit space in the neighborhood, first above the Friendship Chinese restaurant on Milwaukee, and then in a nondescript office complex just west of Kedzie on Diversey, where they’re still operating, and kicking ass today.
DISCLAIMER: DIY Dead spaces is done with little-to-no research, unless I take Adderall and spend a whole day reading about the history of Chicago street paving, but everything else is true as remembered and experienced. Memory is fallible and experiences vary. Names and dates may be completely off. People who I remember fondly may have been total monsters. People who were dickheads to me might have been perfect angels having a very, bad day when we met.