Dead DIY Space: 21st & Kedzie


Some spaces end with a bang, in a blowout, in a trial, with a splash of blood, with a burn-it-down-and-salt-the-earth mentality; others end in a whimper, in a compromise, in an unrenewed lease, in a flurry of cheap spackle and eggshell white paint, in an uphill battle to collect a security deposit, in a passing of the torch, in friendships divided amicably by new experiences and friendships divided angrily over unpaid bills and stolen food. And then some end The Chicago Way, which is a term I just invented for this.

You ever watch a movie about organized crime, it could be prohibition era mobs, crack era gangs, whatever, where some proud, fat cop on the take (you’re already imagining a mustache, right? Of course he has a mustache) strides into some den of iniquity with his chest puffed to remind the top dog in charge, “You’re only here because we allow you to be here” ?

That’s The Chicago Way. It could be the Jersey way or the Vegas way or the Baltimore way, but I invented it so I got dibs. Our mobsters were the best mobsters. Fuck The Wire and fuck Martin Scorsese.

It is sooner than later that any DIY space will start dealing with their local beat cop.

On a stoop in front of the Palzie House in Logan Square, a friend sits with a steaming pot of coffee, which I ask about. “Around this time every show our neighbor over there is going to put in a noise complaint no matter what we’re doing so I like to have this ready to offer the officers.”

Another time, at a flop house in Andersonville unimaginatively named The Place, the cop who regularly shuts down my parties is doing his thing, and stops to let me know, “The alderman knows about this place and what you’re doing here, and you’ve better be on your fucking toes.”

Like all real estate, the most important factor of DIY real estate is that of the Three L’s (“Location. Location. Location.” if I’m being too obtuse). It’s all common sense. You don’t want people to die, you don’t want to be so far in the boonies that no one shows up, but you want to be isolated enough where you won’t piss off your neighbors. You wake too many babies and you’ll be surprised on who turns snitch on you.

The three-story warehouse at the corner of 21st and Kedzie once housed Weiser & Sons, a manufacturer of player pianos right up until the Great Depression wiped out most of the industry, and was apparently the ideal place for a DIY venue as it would go on to host several. Whether the floor was supporting an active half pipe at a hardcore show or a summer festival so crowded it felt more like you were breathing evaporated sweat vapor than air, whether the beams were supporting sexy cenobites raised up by flesh hooks at a gothic rave or anarchist acrobats performing aerials at a black bloc burlesque, the building never wobbled, never wavered. It had “good bones” and, nestled between Little Village and North Lawndale on the southwest side, a block away from the Pink Line, the Cermak bus, and some really choice late night taquerias, the geography was perfect.

Lawndale and Little Village are perfectly lovely working class neighborhoods, but like a lot of neighborhoods in Chicago, they have real issues with crime, and particularly violent crime. Cabs are more likely to hang up on you than pick you up there, and the police tend to operate under a no blood, no foul rule. If they have to respond to something, they come down hard, but they aren’t going to pay a lot of mind to a bunch of anarchist hippies, babyfaced art school kids, alien drag goddesses, blissed out ravers with dilated pupils, or noise weirdos wearing children’s Halloween costumes on a random weekday in April (all of which I’ve seen there at different points). The building’s nearest neighbor is an an imposing looking private motorcycle club with blacked out windows, so there was no one who cared too much about noise.

The rules are different at 21st and Kedzie, because the rules are different in every neighborhood, because Chicago.

An example: The worst fiasco I ever saw happen at a show had nothing to do with the venue or the crowd, just a string of shitty circumstances and one dude’s awful luck. The event was Art War, a multidisciplinary art show whose goal was to fill Treasure Town’s 7000 sq feet with over 100 artists. Performance artists stripped down and spat blood, dancers twirled around each other with handfuls of yarn until they’d become a living cats’ cradle. Hula hoopers and bands and fire spinners and graffiti artists all did their thing. Towards the end of the night, when the crowd had dwindled a bit, a young man ran up the stairs into the space followed by four police officers, in bulky bulletproof vests but otherwise undercover. I don’t know what the guy was expecting to see when he got upstairs but I imagine the scene must’ve been fairly surreal for him, as it soon was for all of us. Before he could talk to anyone the cops had caught up to him, zapped him with a taser that knocked him to the ground shaking, put him in zip cuffs and read him his rights. Soon more police arrived as back up, uniformed this time. They talked to a couple residents and curators, and everyone else kept their distance, and quietly packed up their things. A venue in Rogers Park or Avondale or Bridgeport wouldn’t have survived this but this was the southwest side and this was not even close to shutting down operations.

The Weiser & Sons building had hosted the aforementioned Treasure Town, as well as the co-op space Weiser House, as well as a rave space also named Weiser House, the punk space Fort Kakalak, and the punk (but more garage and psychedelic-y punk) space Casa Donde. They didn’t get shut down for noise violations.

The building had hosted the performance art/anti-art festival Garbage World and the music/anti-music festival Bitchpork, where Lightning Bolt hinted they’d be playing a secret set (as Turd Thrower) during their set at the actual Pitchfork Music Fest and enough people to fill a smaller venue would migrate to flee the claustrophobic heat. They didn’t get shut down for capacity issues or ticket sales.

The building had hosted Mortville, which would transform itself into large interactive installations like an indoor Summertime scene made of wood and cardboard and papier-mâché, replete with a to-scale ice cream truck selling PBR, a heat-lamp beach vignette, and a playground with a giant teeter-totter and jungle gym, and then threw noise bands in the middle of it. They didn’t get shut down for liquor sales or operating without a public place of amusement license.

There wasn’t a bang, or a tragedy, but the spaces didn’t whimper and age out a natural death either. They were shut down.

Leading up to the 2012 NATO Summit, there was a sweep. Our city is famous for riots, police misconduct, segregation, income disparity. In other words, there’s always a fuse ready to be lit, and any protest can get out of hand. Let the police do what they want and you’ve got the 1968 Democratic Convention: a police riot, “the whole world is watching”, and 30 years before a major political convention spends money in Chicago. Reign the police in a little and you’ve got the 2003 Iraq War protest: it’s hardly a blip on the news, but you still have to pay out 11 million in police misconduct and wrongful arrest settlements to hippies. So the feds, working with the local police, working with new mayor Rahm Emanuel, went after potential agitators in part by limiting where they could stay. [Google “The NATO 5” if you want to see an actual factual, not-paranoid punk case of local cops going deep cover as agents provacateur]. In one weekend, Chicago’s most active DIY spaces were gone, including the three then operating at 21st and Kedzie. A friend who was living at a still-active co-op house on the West Side said his landlord was contacted, but defended the residents instead of evicting them, saying, “Ah, they’re a good bunch of kids. I’ll make sure they keep it down.”

So while several laws are broken, none of the rules were. It’s hell on semantics but laws aren’t the same thing as rules in Chicago. Laws only matter when they need to, but the rules, as negotiated, always matter. Imagine a fat, proud cop with a puffed out chest striding in to your home–maybe he’s chomping a cigar, definitely he’s got a mustache– he tells you, “Look I know you didn’t break the rules before, but the rules had to change, and we changed ’em.”

That’s what happened. The house always wins. I’m mixing my metaphors and I don’t even care. That’s The Chicago Way.

Epilogue: Remember that guy who got tasered at Treasure town? There’s more. What I learned later on is that he’d been mugged earlier in the evening and someone had called it in. He matched the description of his own muggers, and when the undercover cops saw him running home, gave chase. Not realizing they were cops and afraid he was about to get jumped again, he ran harder, ducking into the factory when he saw light, an open door, some kind of party. He thought he’d be safe in a crowd but only ended up with an audience watching him receive the punishment meant for the people who’d attacked him earlier. Just a weird case of mistaken identity, like a twisted, sadistic version of an I Love Lucy plot. Just a horrible, fucked up day for him and I hope he was able to sue the city, or has won the Lotto, or just karmically come up since.

Post-script: I have no idea what was happening in that warehouse between the 1930’s and 2008 but older party people have told me they think they’ve been to “tons of shit back in the day” but have fuzzy recollections because of “drugs”. Don’t do too many drugs if you want to be an archivist and don’t try to archive the world of parties if you don’t have patience. Chicago’s underground has been flourishing since that low point in 2012 before the peaceful and lame (and lamely peaceful) NATO summit, with several new venues formed by former residents of the Weiser & Sons warehouse, but these things run on a cycle, so enjoy the good times while you can before the hammer comes down again. We just lost a good one in Young Camelot. ALSO, you can now lease a space in the Weiser & Sons warehouse for $13,000 to 25,000 a month. I don’t know regular realty like I do diy realty but that seems like a (really big) (fucking) ripoff.

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SBS Presents A Bake Sale Benefit for Desiree at Bric-a-Brac


Do you ever wish there was a day kind of like Record Store Day, but where you could buy delicious baked goods instead?

“I love buying an overpriced 180 gram reissue of something I could stream off Spotify,” you think, “just so the four months that all the smaller record labels’ LPs were delayed by a major company’s pointless huge print run won’t be in vain. But, like, I can’t *eat* rare crimson vinyl, bro. And I’m hungry.”

Vegan goodies and positive vibes will abound Saturday, February 6th when the long-suffering owners of the only collectible toy shop and record store that’s basically an all ages venue allow Store Brand Soda to present a unique line-up of flavors both musical and nutritional.

Glamour Hotline: Chicago’s sassiest, sweetest, spookiest three piece trading off songs about girl love and kickflips in sing-songs and screams.

BLOOM: Energetic power pop bass keeps a propulsive rhythm under dreamy, pretty vocals. Blossom with Bloom.

Sam Vicari: Wants to be your boyfriend. Power pop songs that will get you right in the feels.

Swimsuim Addition: Dark, pessimistic pop. Punk rock dressed up in kinderwhore babydoll dresses and a nasty lipstick smirk.

The best thing about this bake sale is that it’s an act of community support for our friend Desiree, who finally has access to gender affirming care she needs. Not to get too heavy, but as fucking weirdo rock-n-roll miscreants with our own identities and intersectional oppressions, we have to stick together. Anyway, it’s not even going to be hard to part with your cash (or credit! we have a Square reader!) for this amazing lineup of snacks:

PIZZA PUFFS: Baked mini-calzones. Available vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore’s delight.

CUPCAKES: Featuring candied Meyer lemon peel sent from a friend in Oakland, where things besides resentment grow in winter.

COOKIES: I make these vegan chewy ginger ones, and other people will bring tons more probably.

There will be even more, I’m sure. For $20, you can fill up a brown paper lunch sack with whatever items you want. Hello, pizza puffs for every meal for the next week and cookies at midnight!

Benefit Bake Sale for Desiree
Glamour Hotline, Bloom, Sam Vicari, Swimsuit Addition
Bric-a-Brac Records & Collectibles, 3156 W Diversey Ave
Sat, February 6, 3 pm / Free / AA / BYOB

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Creepers, Rumors, and Due Process in Punk

A friend DMed me a link to a Facebook post a few days ago.

Kimya Dawson had made a public post about shit she saw going down for years in the scene in Olympia. Bands getting ripped off by a beloved label, allegedly to the tune of half a million dollars, with several commenters also alluding to creepiness toward young women at shows and parties on the part of the label’s head. All of this bad behavior had been ignored by the scene for years, with people going as far as to ostracize anyone who had pointed it out publicly.

(Teenage Hotdog is doing an excellent investigative piece on this, which I encourage you to read. I’ve linked the most recent post.)

Now Kimya and her friends were making these secrets public. Or at least trying to. In response, my friends and I passed the post around via direct message, debating whether we should still go to the guy’s show at a DIY space next week.

You may notice I’ve named the victim of financial wrongdoing here, but I haven’t named the alleged perpetrator. This wasn’t an intentional move, and it’s illustrative of some internal fuckery in how we process accusations: tacitly, unconsciously, we are willing to give famous (“indie famous”/”local famous”/”I went to high school with him and he seemed so nice”) men the benefit of the doubt in every accusation of wrongdoing.

So we say:

Calvin Johnson–I fucking love Beat Happening–is playing a show on Saturday, rolling with a trunkful of K Records merch and god I wish I wasn’t so broke right now. Hey, did you hear what Kimya said about him? Do you think it’s true?

If he had less cred, if he hadn’t done things that we valued, would this be the story? Or would it be more like:

I heard that Calvin Johnson owes people money, is a real dick about it, and has maybe been using his cred to creep on young girls. I know he makes good records, but dude kinda sounds like a toxic force in the Olympia punk scene. And we don’t even know the money for the records he sells is going to the bands. That’s fucked up.

When someone has stature, we flip from “jeez, it sounds like a pain in the ass to do business with him, is that what I want?” to some Law & Order version of due process: we have to hear both sides and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the rumors are true.

This is you right now, reading this.

Safe Spaces v. Due Process

Complicating things further, the DIY space he’s playing endeavors to be a safe space, designated by the Feminist Action Support Network as a place where “oppressive or harmful behavior is not welcome.” They state: “oppressive behavior includes any action that perpetuates racism, misogyny, heterosexism, transphobia and other systemic oppressions through antagonism, silencing, intimidation, or coercion.”

Setting aside the more troubling rumors for a second, one doesn’t exactly have to be a feminist scholar argue that a label run by a man not paying artists their fair due in a timely manner, especially artists who belong to historically disadvantaged groups, is oppressive behavior. And if this guy has other accusations piled on top of that, it’s not unreasonable to assume he might not be the best fit to play a feminist safe space.

But in the nature of due process, the folks who booked the show reached out to Calvin after the opening band Plus Sign saw Kimya’s post and dropped off the show. The Pinky Swear team released the following thoughtful, measured statement:

We at Pinky Swear have decided that we will be hosting this show. This decision was reached after much thought and discussion in regards to Kimya’s post and the comments that followed.

We made Calvin aware of what has been said of himself and K on facebook and felt that this conversation was missing his voice. With his permission to post here, Calvin says: “We do owe Kimya some back royalties and have a payment plan in place. She has expressed some dissatisfaction; it and we offered to renegotiate but have heard nothing back from her since.”

We take no sides in the situation and recognize that financial harm was done to Kimya. However, both Kimya (in the comments of her post) and Calvin state that there is a process of accountability/repayment in place at this time. It sounds like it is not perfect, but is being addressed and commitments have been made. Of course we empower folks who have questions for Calvin to (respectfully) bring them up in-person at the show if they choose.

In approaching this decision we looked to the feelings, writing, and actions of fellow community members. We take the responsibility of running a safer space very seriously and our obligations to our friends and community here are of the greatest importance to us. The primary wrong expressed by Kimya was financial, however, we do recognize that there were a range of accusations expressed on Kimya’s thread and have given those consideration as well. At this time and to our best knowledge we do not feel that it would be a threat to the safety of attendees to host this show.

Some folks have brought up the role of Feminist Action Support Network in influencing the decision to host or not host this show (as a FASN designated Pistachio Level Space). It should be made clear that this particular situation/resolution is not in the scope of FASN, which is an organization that works to address sexual and gendered violence in Chicago. We made this decision as an autonomous venue, however this decision is not being made in spite of or without the principles of the wonderful work that FASN does. We will have FASN Support Liaisons present at the show.

Thank you for your patience and of course, the conversation is always open–reach out privately or post below.

So Pinky Swear did their due diligence, heard both sides, decided the payment plan Calvin had offered Kimya (after legal action was threatened, to the exclusion of other artists affected) constituted an accountability process, and that the other rumors expressed in the comments did not rise above rumors. [Note: Kimya has clarified that this payment plan only covers a fraction of the artists owed money–she chose to speak out because other people continue to be ripped off.] While frustrating, this is a respectable show of impartiality in the face of a difficult question. They know it’s ambiguous and they left the conversation open. They’re obviously really good people struggling with a really tough issue. But does that make a space safe?

As far as an outside observer can tell, everything troubling has now been addressed and there’s no wrongdoing to worry about. It’s easy to assume that because you’re not hearing about something, it isn’t happening.

Kimya Dawson shouldn’t have to fight to get paid for her work.

Rumors v. Accountability

2015-16 seems to be the time for brave women and trans* and non-binary people to speak out against harassment, assault, financial wrongdoing, and more of the bullshit they face trying to exist in a music scene that is dominated by men who feel entitled based on their success. We praise oppressed people for coming forward with their stories and effecting change, but usually the moment we finally listen and believe comes only after years of vague rumors, whispered warnings, and DMed links to FB posts.

So those of us weighing the decision to go to the show on Saturday are left wondering: Is Calvin a missing stair or just a guy who got overwhelmed by success, picked up some haters, and is trying his best to do what’s right? Despite the handful of recent, high-profile gains we’ve made in believing marginalized people who speak out, we still live in a culture that goes out of its way to protect famous men at the expense of everyone.

This hyperextended benefit of the doubt does a disservice to marginalized people trying to chill at a show that’s supposed to be fun in a space that’s supposed to have their backs. It does a disservice to fans who want to know whether the person whose art we’re buying is engaged in ethical behavior. It’s not even really helping the people who do shitty things, as we enable them to toss out their humanity and help feed their belief that their actions are beyond reproach. Instead of members of the community calling them in the first time we see messed up behavior, they’re given permission keep operating in the same garbage ways for years. Eventually, they either sort it out on their own or (more likely) there’s no option left but to call them out and cut them out of our lives when their victims finally come forward en masse. Nobody wins in that scenario, but it’s the one we keep repeating.

By giving our heroes a pass on problematic behavior because we like their work, we’re creating unsafe spaces, feeding a culture of silence, incentivizing further bad behavior, and denying the possibility of accountability and growth in our communities. Can you imagine anything less punk rock?

The Art v. The Artist

This dilemma is by no means unusual in DIY scenes. Jes Skolnik pointed out on Twitter yesterday:

As Jes says, it is easier to believe that someone simply engaged in the capitalistic end of music is a bad guy. When it comes to someone who makes art that you love and helps promote artists that you love, it’s harder to believe they could do good work but also do bad things. We identify with their work and their taste, so we want to give them a pass.

Cupcake has written about the problems involved in separating the art from the artist. In this case, it’s particularly hard to ignore wrongdoing and just keep going to shows and buying records, since the issues are literally his behavior at shows and what he does with money from record sales. But because the full extent of what the artist has done is unknown, we perform this weird mental math: is x thing bad enough to never buy his records again?

If this were a perfect world, I’d have some truth bomb to drop at the end of this piece that would better settle the question: an outspoken victim or a compelling origin story for the rumors, one where amends have been made and it wasn’t as bad as all that. But it isn’t a perfect world. And we don’t know the whole truth. As Teenage Hotdog said, it’s hard to investigate vibes. As they continue digging and soliciting comment, we might get a definitive answer, or at least a large enough collection of stories that the “dun dun” sound finally plays.

But we may also have to live with the uncertainty and decide how we feel: do we trust our hero is a good person because he likes the things we like? Or do we by default believe that someone who is called a creep is probably a creep? How do we navigate rumors when safety is at stake?

Cupcake has made some important suggestions for ways we can work to spruce up this garbage world and make safer spaces, but many of the implementations so far have focused on instances where the situation is clear. We can run it through our internal court of law and spit out a clear verdict and an appropriate response. But does that still leave us potentially complicit in more ambiguous cases? What is our obligation when we just don’t know the whole story?

Do we go to the show on Saturday?

Do we keep buying K Records?

Do we pass the story along?

[Editor’s note: this post was updated to better clarify the financial issues between K and assorted artists. Please check Kimya’s post and Teenage Hotdog’s article for fuller details.]

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Monthly Agenda: January 2016: New Year, Same Ole Shit

I know it’s really tempting to spend the next three months curled like a cat around a space heater, but if no one fills venues with wet boots and cigarette-scented wool coats the punk rock fairies die. With no applause to sustain them or flying beer droplets to keep them nourished, there’s no belief in rock-n-roll to keep their twinkling lights from dimming.

Here’s my recommendations of some shows to see in January that will keep the magic alive.

The Glyders, Bingers, Soft Candy
Kind of one of those inoffensive 1960s influenced soft and fuzzy-furry rock kind of bills, should be fun.
East Room, 2354 N Milwaukee
Wed, January 6, 9pm / free / 21+

The Malskys, Not For You, Glamour Hotline, Thanks For Coming
I’ve never been to this venue but I’ve previously expressed my love for earnest, unpolished spooky cool band Glamour Hotline and their vulnerable compositions about girl-on-girl admiration and skater rats.
Sat, January 16, 8pm / $5 donation / byob

Negative Scanner, Walking Bicycles, Beat Drun Juel
Donna of Beat Drun Juel’s focused intensity is what takes their sound past a grungy 90s alt-rock sound into howling aggression. She’s a force of nature; I think I saw a picture of her from Ian’s Party this past weekend playing her guitar with garden shears?
The Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave
Wed, January 20, 9pm / 21+ / $5

Protomartyr, Amanda X, Negative Scanner
This was rescheduled after a member of Protomartyr experienced a family emergency, so if you were holding tickets, make sure this is on your calendar. Protomartyr is the perfect post punk to decend into the throes of a bummer with.
Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln Ave
Sun, January 24, 8pm / $15, 18+

Sleep, Bongripper
Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St
Tue, January 26 / 21+ / 17+ / $25 / $30

Sleep, Bongripper
Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St
Wed, January 27 / 17+ / $25 / $30

Two nights of doom. Play “who’s vaping weed” on the sidewalk outside between bands.

Chicago Psych Fest VII
I don’t have a ton of knowledge about the more wooly and trippy and noodlier parts of weirdo guitar music, but if you enjoy it, head on over to The Hideout’s website to find out more about the line up of this Chicago tradition.
The Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia Ave
Thu, January 28 through Sat, Jan 30th / 21+ / $10 one night / $25 fest pass

Ne-Hi, Clearance, Dim
This is on my birthday, and you know I ain’t fuck with that Drynuary shit. If the birthday bad bitch deigns to make an appearance please buy them shots.
The Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave
Fri, January 29, 9pm / 21+ / $10

Absolutely Not, Le Tour, Velocicoptor, Strawberry Jacuzzi
Look at all these much loved locals playing a major venue like The Metro together! Cool.
Metro, 3730 N Clark St
Sat, January 30, 8pm $10 Adv. – $12 Day Of / 18+

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