The list below is by no means definitive. I spent most of my 20s on the northwest side of Chicago, so my list reflects that. But lately, I’ve been thinking about all those spaces I spent time in when I was younger. I recently went to a house show in an attic where Sofia Jensen of Free Range used to live. It wasn’t too far from where I lived in Logan Square a year or so ago. I was struck by all the people ten years younger than me I had never encountered before. It made me want to create a list of some spaces that are probably now condos I cannot afford to buy because I am not wealthy enough.
The first part of my series focuses on DIY spaces central to Chicago’s emo revival, which primarily covers 2008 and ends at 2016. It made sense to break up the original idea in this way, as my original article was becoming too big to read in one sitting. There will be additional parts that give more space to all the other punk and indie adjacent scenes that make up Chicago’s DIY scene.
With all these spots, emo wasn’t the only thing booked there. During the early emo revival era (2008–2013), much of what would generally be considered under the umbrella of punk played together. There was much less separation between an emo show and a screamo one. You were bound to see hardcore punk band Raw Nerve play at many of these spaces. And then you had somewhere like Swerp Mansion, which had its own distinct bookings in its short time. Hopefully, after reading this, you can get a better idea of an extremely fertile period for Chicago DIY at large.
Strangelight (2123 N Milwaukee, Logan Square)
In the grand scheme, Strangelight was short-lived. There were about 40 shows, give or take. But it existed as a hub for all things punk. A good portion of its legacy lies within emo, partially because bands like Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, 1994!, and Glocca Morra played there. The cover art of the CSTVT/Into it Over. It. split was taken in Strangelight. But in reality, anything that could be considered punk was playing. It was partially representative of Cloud Mouth, which several people who lived there played in. John Harmon of Cloud Mouth was taking his cues from Dischord Records.
In 2011, Strangelight would stop being a DIY venue. It came alongside Cloud Mouth breaking up, with their final show happening at Treasure Town. The Harmon brothers would leave Chicago separately, marking an end for a period of Chicago DIY. But you can still feel its impact, as anybody you talk to about the venue seems to cherish it despite its relatively short existence.
John Harmon (Cloud Mouth, Jowls): My brother Matt and I moved to Chicago in about 2007. We grew up about two hours southwest of Chicago. We had been playing music in high school already. We moved down to Champaign-Urbana with a band. We were playing down there and figured out it wasn’t for us down there. We moved with one of our bandmates at that time up to Chicago and immediately kept playing in bands. We were playing in Chicago for about a year, taking us into 2008. We couldn’t quite find our community, our spots in the city. We started playing crappy bar venues in the city. There was nothing wrong with those places. We couldn’t really find our places. There were a couple of incidents that made us feel like, “Man, this is what we want to be doing.”
There were venues called The Guesthouse and People Projects. Those were the first two DIY spaces in the city that started feeling more in line with what we were trying to do. Particularly in the Guesthouse, we met the individuals living there. We saw bands like Native and Cougar Den. Things started coalescing a bit. My brother and I were in the midst of starting Cloud Mouth. We were trying to get it going. We met our buddy Zach Weinberg. All of a sudden, we were going to these shows. We had a new band. I would say 2008 was the beginning of what became a very vibrant scene.
I graduated from Depaul University in 2009. At that point, I wanted to do something different. My brother and I were in a practice space somewhere off of Western. We wanted to not only open a venue. I was looking for somewhere to screen-print. We also wanted somewhere to practice. We looked at a handful of venues and finally looked at one of those spaces in Congress Theater where People Projects a generation before had been located. It felt kind of perfect. At some point in 2009, we moved into Strangelight and had a solid two-year run.
We probably did forty shows. It wasn’t a wild amount; we were trying to do two really good shows a month. We definitely had cops roll through on those bigger shows. We were trying to do our best to fly under the radar and respect our neighbors to the best of our abilities. For some of the biggest shows, we were probably jamming 200 people into the basement.
Leor Galil (Music Writer, Chicago Reader): I moved here (Chicago) in August 2009. I barely went to see any shows during my first quarter of grad school because it was the 9–5 plus homework nonstop. I think it was January or February that I went to Strangelight to see Algernon Cadwallader. I interviewed Peter Helmis for a video story for school and took that video of the band performing that every once in a while will get a YouTube comment like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”
I showed up super early to that Algernon show because I had no orientation for Logan Square. I talked to the Harmon brothers. They were super sweet, and they let me come in because it was super cold in their living space. I dug through their records and chatted with them. They were super welcoming in a really lovely way. Off of that, I was able to talk to them more and ask if they were interested in being the subject of a story. The story came out in June 2010.
It was a really wonderful space to have been a part of and witnessed. Hopefully, it’s something that people get to witness in other spaces. “Here’s a place that welcomed me in when I didn’t know anywhere else to go, and the only connection was this band I heard, and I tracked down their Myspace to see when they were performing in town.”
Evan Weiss (Into it. Over It., Pet Symmetry): That basement was big. It was right below the Congress Theater. Where the Congress Theater is, there are all these storefronts. It was the storefront to the right. You’d enter from the side of the Congress Theater and head into the basement. It really felt like it would have held 300 people. That might be my romanticized memory of it. They did so many good shows in that basement. It was such a good space because it was wide open, and Matt and John Harmon ran an awesome club. They really took it seriously. It felt like you were in a real venue.
Strangelight, to me, was the best house show venue I’ve ever been in. It still felt clean. It was run well. It was never too hot. It was really well-curated. It was an easy commute. They paid everyone fairly. They never took money for the house, even though they should have. They did great art upstairs because John was a screen printer. They would print all these awesome posters for the shows they were doing. It felt so special and so unique. They were taking DIY to such good, serious places. They weren’t over-serious; they were definitely silly. If you were a band and you were touring, and you saw that room, it didn’t feel DIY, even though it very much was. It felt pro for being a basement. It was better than Ronnys, and that was a real venue. They knew what they were doing. They played in bands. They knew what it was like to tour. They knew how shitty it could be and went out of their way to make it comfortable. Anyone who ever played there had nothing but good things to say.
Geoff Schott (The Please and Thank Yous): We played with Snowing at Strangelight. They stayed at Summer Camp. They had an off day, and we went to the beach together. We played Strangelight the next day. That summer, I had an issue where I was puking every time I went to sing. We were playing a show every week, so I had to deal with it. I got a garbage can on stage, put it in the back corner, and puked while playing.
There were three spaces in Strangelight. There was the alley, the main floor, and the basement. There was this wicked head clearance to get in. You had to duck under the opening. There was a dank, crappy, unfinished basement that was decently long and pretty narrow. I never hung out in the house; maybe some people would gather in the kitchen. You were either in the basement or the alley.
Treasure Town (2106 S Kedzie, 2nd Floor, Little Village)
Treasure Town was housed in what felt like a bit of a collective since it was in the same building as Casa Donde and Mortville. Chicago’s Underground called it the biggest DIY venue in the city in 2010. “The place is so large that it doubles as a skate park, roller rink, and has even hosted full-blown, over-the-top 90s style raves (I went, it was terrifying).” According to the article, some people from Suffix, a local screamo band, lived there. Some notable shows there include Grown Ups’ record release show for More Songs and CSTVT’s two-year anniversary show, which seems like a ridiculous thing to say. You’d also get more indie-leaning stuff like Ty Segal as well. In 2012, Treasure Town and other venues in the building would close, leading to a huge loss for the scene. It would result in people on Facebook frantically trying to figure out somewhere else to host bands at the time.
David Anthony (Music Journalist, Freelancer, Former Clarity): The Grown Ups record release show was there (Treasure Town). It was basically a festival. Every Chicago emo band that was big and would end up becoming big played… I think that was the first show I went to there; It might have been something else. Treasure Town was an abandoned multi-floor warehouse/factory vibe. I remember coming up the stairs, and they were crumbling. There were holes on the floor and electric conduits hanging from the ceiling. It was really sketchy in terms of it felt like you could fall through the floor at any point. It was kind of in an area where there wasn’t much going on, and I know a lot of people would be like, “Oh, I don’t feel comfortable parking down there.”
It was so big that it could do huge shows. It was in the middle of nowhere, so a band playing loud music at 2 a.m. didn’t matter. Over the years, they did fix it up quite a bit. By the end, there’s a stage and kind of arty lights and installations. They were really putting the effort in to make it good and make it a nice place to go. From what I recall, the way that Treasure Town died was in 2012, when Chicago hosted the G8 Summit. From what I heard, there were a lot of sweeps of buildings, trying to crack down on anything they thought was a terrorist plot. They found all these people squatting and illegally living in this warehouse and kicked everyone out.
Josh Snader (CSTVT, Sea of Shit, Tower of Rome): Treasure Town, at one point in time, was an extremely comfortable and semi-clean punk spot. It was almost like a squat, but they had it worked out with the landlord that they got the place for super cheap. They had maybe ten people living there. It was so big and spread out that people wouldn’t be bothered by anybody. And they had that huge open spot where they would do shows. Near the end, it got really grody. They were hosting super weird harsh noise shows there involving performance art with rotten meat and shit. It wouldn’t get necessarily well cleaned up enough for it to be okay. It seemed to fall apart, kind of.
Marcus Nuccio (Ratboys, Pet Symmetry, What Gives): The Please and Thank You’s played there before it was Treasure Town. It was called Wiser House. Before Treasure Town, these crust punk and ska kids lived there. I think that the band Evil Empire lived there. It had been a mattress factory [before it was a venue]. There was mattress garbage everywhere back then. When it became Treasure Town, it had been a little bit more cleaned up. Mortville was upstairs, and Casa Donde was downstairs. It was more functioning as an art space/DIY space. There were installations everywhere. I remember Treasure Town had these skate ramps, and I would bring my skateboard to shows and skate there. That place was pretty lawless — definitely a party zone.
Evan Weiss (Into It Over It, Pet Symmetry): I was going to go to Europe with Grown Ups. As a tour kickoff, the record release show for More Songs was at Treasure Town. It was my very first time there. It was in the hood in Garfield Park. Everything about it felt like chaos. They lived in this giant warehouse, and on multiple floors, multiple things were happening. People would go between floors. Eric from Lautrec didn’t have a wall. It was dirty and grungy and drug-riddled. It was the opposite of the other houses trying to do something safe, trying to do something inclusive that wasn’t going to get shut down. Treasure Town was the antithesis of that. I can respect it in a lot of ways; I love chaos. I appreciated the dangerousness of it, but if you’re a band wanting to play a show, it was not the ideal space.
Geoff Schott (The Please and Thank Yous): Before Treasure Town, it was called The Wiser House. On the main entrance of the building, there was a door frame that said Wiser. It was more of an anarchist squat. There was this rap group called Agents of Change, and they were the ones that organized all that. When they were there, they had people living in tents around the main floor upstairs.
Steph Maldonado (Lord Snow): I have mixed feelings [on Treasure Town]. Back in the day, I was coming from Indiana. We had very few house shows, and if there were, it was a very cliquish, close-knit group of friends. Coming to a bigger spot in the city, it was insane, and they were getting pretty well-known bands. Near the end of its time, it was more like a party spot, and there were more initiatives to bring in art shows and directly bring in Columbia kids, which kind of tainted the atmosphere. From the stories of way back to when it started, it was really community [oriented] and mostly focused on the music.
Summer Camp (Logan Square, 2847 N Kedzie)
Without knowing it, I had been to Summer Camp before. It was years later when, in classic house show fashion, the name had changed to Margaritaville. Summer Camp is also notable because it came before several other venues on this list, predating Strangelight and Treasure Town. Harrison Hickok of Kid Sister Everything lived there, along with Kris Di Benedetto of Parrenhesia, Boilerman, and Ice Age Records. In 2011, Summer Camp would end, commemorating its demise with a last-show DVD and a 7-inch featuring Grown Ups, Cloud Mouth, and Raw Nerve.
Marcus Nuccio (Ratboys, Pet Symmetry, What Gives): I was friends with Kris Di Benedetto. He was in this band called Parrhesia, and he ran a label called Ice Age Records alongside Harrison Hickock, who also lived at Summer Camp. I met Kris really young. I think I was 16. He recorded The Please and Thank Yous EP in his basement because he was doing recording stuff. When he moved into the city, he moved into Summer Camp. He would invite me and Geoff from The Please and Thank Yous to shows. He was my connection with that house. I would go to shows there to see Grown Ups, Cloud Mouth, and Lion of The North. Eventually, they had a room open up, and I moved in.
When I lived at Summer Camp, it was the last year it was around. Punks had already lived in it for a couple of years. When I lived there, there were seven of us. I shared a room; I think my rent was 150 dollars. I loved it; I was nineteen. Kris worked at Noodles and Company and would steal pasta every day so that I would eat pasta every day. It was all of us hanging out and throwing shows. We practiced in the basement, too. I was in design school at Columbia College, so I did a lot of printmaking in the basement. Harrison had a whole screen-printing thing in the basement. It was an amazing place to live to make art.
I think Summer Camp was the first iteration. They were the first art kids to move in. The first group of kids was three years before me. They were all Columbia College students. They booked some of the Columbia artsy indie bands. They started throwing more punk shows because Harrison lived there. It was just people Harrison knew from touring. Harrison was in Lion of The North. In the later years, they started booking more hardcore shows. Raw Nerve played there. But really, it was whatever we wanted.
Evan Weiss (Into It Over It, Pet Symmetry): I played one of the very first shows there. I played a show there with Your Best Friend. When I played there, a lot of people had just moved in. A lot of folks who lived there during that show did not end up living there very long. I played in the upstairs living room. It must have been 2008 or 2009 because it was the first or second Into It. Over It. show I played in Chicago.
What made Summer Camp cool was that it was drug and alcohol-free for a long time, at least at the beginning. They were really passionate that it was going to be a long-lasting space and one that wasn’t going to be fucked with by police. They got big bands in that room. They could have been doing more than playing house shows. When Raeinis and La Quiete played there, that was a huge show. All these bands came up in that room. They could have been playing clubs, but they were playing houses instead. It was a really magical space and a magical time. Prior to Strangelight and Treasure Town popping up, that was the thing we did every weekend. “What’s going on at Sumer Camp? We’ll just go.” It didn’t matter who was playing.
Harrison Hickok and Kris Di Benedetto wound up taking over at some point. They ran a tight ship. Not in an aggressive way. They wanted it to feel and be legit. Even though it was as punk as it was, and it smelled a certain way, they wanted to build an excellent community space. And they did.
John Harmon (Cloud Mouth, Jowls): You could say that Summer Camp and Strangelight had pretty parallel mentalities. Both in terms of the kind of shows we gravitated towards and the mindset behind just trying to foster community. I can’t tell you how many early friendships were probably fostered at Summer Camp. Summer Camp was tiny, but some of the shows just felt like they were huge. It is kind of a similar situation [to Strangelight] where you come in around the back, and they have a little concrete backyard patio, and you go straight into the basement. Right off the bat, there’s a little bathroom. Harrison’s got a super gnarly, little DIY screen printing setup. He’d screen-print in the little back nook. I later played in a band with Harrison in a short-lived project called Lovesick, and I would go over there and practice all the time. And It was only when people weren’t in there that it hit you how tiny the basement was. Some of those shows were packed; those walls would be sweaty.
Erik Hunter Czaja (Dowsing, Pet Symmetry): It was like any punk house. You had all the characters. You had different people who came in and had different energies that worked together. It was a whole different energy of “Hey, I know you live in the basement room, but today it’s going to be really loud, and you might not want to be in there. We’re going to use your room as a storage closet.” I’m assuming the person on the floor got a discount because they were on the tile floor in the basement and had to deal with the emotional pain of giving up their space for a show. I think that was part of the love and the grind of that house, understanding it’s going to be noisy here once or twice a week.
Jim Gies (Boilerman, Rash): I knew Harrison Hickok; I think he was in the first group living there. By the time Boilerman started, Kris Di Benedetto lived there. It was a pretty heavily rotating cast of roommates. The thing that stood out the most the first time I went there was how extremely small it was. It was smaller than was reasonable to have a show. The basement was laid out so that it is not super conducive to shows. It had a very skinny pathway. The actual show space was not very big. It was long and skinny. When hardcore bands played there, people weren’t sure how to mosh because there was little room to go back and forth.
Gnarnia was distinctive compared to all the other places on this list in that it wasn’t a loft; It wasn’t a basement; It was a garage. You could still fit a good amount of people in there. Since Erik Hunter Czaja of Dowsing lived there, it would be a place to see many of the burgeoning emo on Count Your Lucky Stars. In 2013, Modern Baseball would play the garage, and Kittyhawk was one of the openers. You Blew It would play an impromptu set in Chicago on an off-day of their tour with Coheed and Cambria. Gnarnia served as an intermediary for emo as it was slowly transitioning from basements to venues.
The last show I know of at Gnarnia was the release show for Dowsing’s album Okay in 2016. Gnarnia would shift in the coming years, having names like Suplex City and then Teal Nebula, which is what it is now called. But now, it leans more folk punk and acoustic, and shows are hosted in a nearby park instead of in the garage. With winter coming, they will slowly transition back to hosting shows in the garage for the first time in four years. I was lucky enough to perform a few times when it was Teal Nebula and felt welcomed by host Davey Dynamite, and I could feel a sense of community they helped foster in its new incarnation.
Erik Hunter Czaja (Dowsing, Pet Symmetry): I was always going to Summer Camp for Dowsing practice. I was just like, “Why don’t we just get a house we can practice at and live at.” We found this house by Hot Dougs. I said, “It’s perfect; we have to move here.” I coerced them into allowing us to move there, and in the back of my head, being like, “We can have band practice here.” At first, it became a place to do Dowsing practice, then Pet Symmetry and Kittyhawk practice. Mikey Crotty, who was in Dowsing, had a studio in the basement like all the other punks did, like Kris at Summer Camp. He recorded Droughts and Kittyhawk. It was really fun. We all did our own thing. The only rule about Gnarnia was that there were no drugs or alcohol allowed. We did not want anyone to get in any trouble. We wanted it to be a space where parents and their kids could be. If people didn’t have five dollars, they could still come in. I would still ask them for something. I was just trying to build a community space for people to go to and still feel safe. There were enough places to go that had alcohol. I was drinking and doing stuff but not at the shows, not producing that atmosphere.
Marcus Nuccio (Ratboys, Pet Symmetry, What Gives): I lived at Gnarnia from its inception. I lived there for two years. Me and Erik from Dowsing found it. We were looking to find a place to do shows. We had a couple of other roommates with us. It was just some house for rent, and we started doing shows in the garage. We did a lot of shows in that garage. Modern Baseball’s first show in Chicago was at our house. Waxahatchee played in the backyard. Code Orange played there.
Evan Weiss (Into It Over It, Pet Symmetry): Gnarnia was a garage. We had our first Pet Symmetry band practice in that garage. I knew it as a practice space before I knew it as a venue. Erik ran shows in New Jersey. He ran a house in New Brunswick. The way he met Marcus Nuccio was that he had booked The Please and Thank Yous before he moved to Chicago. One of the reasons Erik moved to Chicago was because he hit it off with Geoff Schott and Marcus. Gnarnia was another really good creative hub. It was a different energy than Strangelight and Summer Camp, which felt almost too cool. Gnarina was much more friendly and outgoing. They did a lot of shows, where I’m not sure how many people went. Pet Symmetry played there once. We formed that band in that house. Without Gnarnia, I don’t know if that band would have begun the way that it did. We did a lot of creative things in that space. I think it was where we all learned to be adults.
Mark Jaeschke (Kittyhawk, Joie De Vivre): Gnarnia was the first place I went to where I got to know the people who were living there. Erik Czaja, Marcus Nuccio, Nick Schmidt, and Gooey lived there. Chris Dertz lived there for a bit. The first time I went to Gnarnia was a 4th of July party, and I didn’t know anyone. I had met Marcus at Strangelight because I had recognized him through LastFm. I asked are you “skatedrum90”? I’m therewasatime and I want to be your friend.” We became friends, and he invited me to a party. That party oddly changed my life. It was where I met everyone. I met Erik Czaja there, and we became friends. Everyone at those Gnarnia shows knew each other. It was a small garage and a small backyard. You had time to have community and meet everyone. You always hung out with the bands that were playing. I don’t think you were allowed into the house. Everyone was in the backyard, and it was cramped. The garage was so much fun.
Logan Mounts (Swim Into Sound, Loyalty Snob): I was a Tumblr kid. I had listened to some 90s emo, but I didn’t know what was happening currently. I saw a photo that said The World is a Beautiful Place, and I am No Longer Afraid to Die. As someone who was roughly sixteen and had just learned what depression was, and I had it, I was all in. I’m a very obsessive music person. I just started going down rabbit holes. Dads, Everyone Everywhere, and The World Is were the first three. I think somewhere in that domino led me to Count Your Lucky Stars Record and listen to Dowsing and Annabel. I believe my first show at Gnarnia was Dowsing, Joie De Vivre, and Bow and Spear. That was my first time seeing a DIY show ever. I didn’t know what that was about. I became friends with Erik [of Dowsing] and went to as many shows as I could there.
Swerp Mansion (3950 W Grand, Humboldt Park)
The space would be important not only for emo but also for the label Swerp Records that the space would be associated with. They would release early material by Nnamdi and Ratboys. Sweep was more of a loft space than a basement. It was where The World Is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, played in 2013. The official start date for Swerp is a bit murky, but it seemed to coalesce around 2012 when Nnamdi and his brother Alfred moved from their hometown of Lansing to Chicago. At the time, they ran a DIY venue in their parents’ house called Nnamdi’s Pancake House, which was instrumental to the Suburban South Side punk scene. But with their move into 3950 W Grand, the space would change from Lucky Gator Loft to Swerp Mansion. Though the length of time Swerp threw shows only lasted a bit, it still seemed to make quite an impact. In 2013, it would stop due to cop trouble. But it seems from reading this Chicago Reader piece that people were still living in the space, so it wasn’t an eviction.
David Anthony (Music Journalist, Former Clarity): It felt really eclectic because of the people involved. Nnamdi lived there. He has such diverse tastes. It felt like it was really open to a lot of things. A lot of spaces obviously reflect the taste of the people running them. With Swerp, it felt a little more open. I felt like you could see a lot of different stuff. Swerp was a record label at the time. They would push some local stuff but also international stuff like Johnny Foreigner. It felt like it was trying to do something in the classic DIY sense. I think that was what made it so unique. The World Is would play, but Raw Nerve could play, and it wouldn’t be weird. It kind of took all comers. I think that’s a cool thing. That’s what the Swerp scene really embodied.
Julia Steiner (Ratboys): Before I lived in Chicago, Swerp Mansion was the biggest one [DIY venue]. That was a really formative place for Ratboys. It was a lot of friends from Dave and Sean’s hometown. That was kind of my first introduction to playing in Chicago. It was such a unique space because they had a big projector set up in the back. We would go up on the roof after the shows. It was a little bit off the beaten path still. It’s pretty far west in Humboldt Park. I didn’t know that part of town super well, so it felt kind of exciting. The one show I remember the most is when all of the bands that were on Swerp at the time played a show together. Our drummer was late; Nnamdi had to fill in on drums.
Glenn Curran (Sooper Records, New Diet, Man Without a Head): Nnamdi lived there with his brother and some other people. I played one of the last shows there; I can’t remember if it was The New Diet or Longface. That was where I met a lot of the people I work with now who work with Nnamdi, Sen Morimoto, and Kaina.
Phrat Farm (4333 N Tripp Avenue, Old Irving Park)
Of all of the DIY venues I’ve mentioned, Phrat Farm may be the most lost to time. The footprint of its existence on the internet now is minimal. I was able to find one YouTube channel that had some footage of bands playing there. I couldn’t even find a defunct Myspace page to try to uncover via The Wayback Machine. I only discovered Phrat Farm because I was looking through Cloud Mouth’s Blogspot page, and it seemed like they played there a lot. But after talking to some people, Phrat Farm was important. Someone from Lautrec lived there, a band that is under-discussed but important for Chicago emo at the turn of the 2010s. Phrat Farm is also interesting because it is in an area that isn’t known for its thriving house venue scene. I imagine it would be a little more of a journey than just going to one of the places in Wicker Park or Logan Square.
Josh Snader (CSTVT, Sea of Shit, Tower of Rome): Phrat Farm was run by a handful of people that ran Treasure Town. When they moved out of Phrat Farm, they moved into Treasure Town. Phrat Farm was one of many houses that these people had that they did shows at. Shows there would just turn into massive parties afterward. Most of the time, people were pretty cool to each other. Really cool up-and-coming bands would play there.
Marcus Nuccio (Ratboys, Pet Symmetry, What Gives): Phrat Farm was up in Irving Park. It was on Tripp Avenue. It was a big house that a bunch of kids rented. The singer of Suffix, Ann Lacy, lived there. It was your classic Chicago house. It had a smallish basement. It was kind of a little different because it was a party house as opposed to the no-drinking spaces. I saw La Dispute and Comadre there. I saw Hewhocorrupts down there… It’s worth noting that all the kids in Phrat Farm moved from California together. It’s this group of California transplants.
Moving Castle (2769 West Henry Court, Logan Square 3317 N Kedzie, Avondale)
If you’ve watched the music video for Dowsing’s song Amateur Cartography, you’ve seen the inside of one of the locations for Moving Castle. It would span two locations, one in Logan Square and another in Avondale. It stopped doing shows around 2012. A new group of people would move into the second location, changing the name to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Ramona (Lived at Moving Castle): We were in the process of moving into the house around 2009. That was when I and a couple of other people had agreed that we wanted to live in a house that also had shows. And then we probably had our first show in 2010. And the thing was that none of us were in bands. That’s the main way people contribute to a scene. And we’re like, “None of us can do that. What we would like to give back is just having a space.”
A neighbor had these solar lights in his front yard. And people had tripped over them or maybe kicked them over. And we had contact with him. And he would always call and complain whenever we had shows. It boiled over immediately. He just couldn’t stand it. He told us, “Oh, I know underage drinking is going on. I could tell the cops about it.” We just backed down completely. It’s not worth it. Living next to someone who hates your guts is stressful enough for all of us. So we just let it go and just moved.
We found a house that was less than ideal. The bedrooms were too small. We just had to settle for it because the show space was right. It was just a finished basement, so it had tile floors. Everyone had to go through our kitchen, past all of our bedrooms, to get into the space. A lot of basements are really damp. This one was especially damp. By the second band [of a show], the floor was slick and slippery, with condensation running down the walls. It just felt like it wasn’t sustainable.
Marcus Nuccio (Ratboys, Pet Symmetry): The Moving Castle was two different houses. The first one was right behind Ronny’s, which is now a taco place. They did shows in their living rooms. They were more folk punk/emo adjacent but would book anything. That house moved to Kedzie, right across the street from Revolution Brewing. When it was on Kedize, it was a little later. That was 2012, 2013. They were getting Waxhatchee, The World is to play.
Geoff Schott (The Please and Thank Yous): At the first location, we played a show with RVIVR in the living room. It was very sweaty. I soaked through my shirt. By the time RVIVR played, the whole living room was full, so everyone was sweating their ass off. Matty Jo Canino sold me a shirt because I was so sweaty. When they moved up to Avondale, it was mostly the same people. So I think they lived in Logan Square for a year, then found a new house and did shows for two years there.
Erik Hunter Czaja (Dowsing, Pet Symmetry): Moving Castle is where the music video for Amateur Cartography was shot. It was in the basement of Moving Castle. Gooey from Dowsing lived there. Moving Castle is where Evan Weiss came up to me and asked me if I would start Pet Symmetry with him.
Jim Gies (Boilerman, Rash): It was right by Ronnys and Panchos, which became Township. It was in between two venues that were only blocks away. They did shows in their living room. Boilerman may have played our second show there. We played there with RVIVR once. The same group moved to a house on Kedzie near Revolution Brewing. Many of those people moved out, and a new group moved in and did shows by the name Sodom and Gomorrah. I feel like Boilerman had a lot in common with Moving Castle. They were more into melodic stuff. It wasn’t a house where primarily hardcore or screamo bands played. The fact that RVIVR played there is pretty telling.
Metaphysics (Lincoln Square, Lawrence & Western)
Metaphysics captures the spirit of the DIY that exists among people when they first move to Chicago. Almost immediately after attending some of his first DIY shows in Chicago, Mark Jaeschke decided to turn his apartment into a place for shows. The first post on their Facebook page laid out some ground rules, including “no douchebags” and “acoustic-only sets.” It lasted about three years, with the last show happening in July 2013. Like many of these spaces, everyone moving out marked the end of Metaphysics. It partially dovetails with what was happening with emo in Chicago if you closely examine many of the DIY venues mentioned in this article. A lot of spaces that were central to Chicago emo in the early 2010s were stopping. It would then be up to the next generation of college transplants to continue the long-lasting tradition of throwing shows in their apartment.
Mark Jaeschke (Kittyhawk, Joie De Vivre): We mostly did acoustic shows. Ratboys played there a bunch. It started as just our friends playing, and then we met Ratboys and the South Suburbs crew. At the time, Ratboys had only put out their EP. Joie De Vivre played there before I was in Joie. Sometimes, bands would play a rock show and then play Meta the next day if they had a gap in their tour schedule. We always did things where we would pass the bucket around. On a good night, we would get 200 or 300 bucks. We did well because people were generous.
It was a two-flat building. Below us was our lovely landlord. He was a nice guy. He loved it when we had shows. He was very supportive. You’d walk in, and people would play by the bay windows. My bedroom was right there, and Evan Loritsch’s was there. We had people in the whole living room area, usually sitting down… We weren’t a dry space. It definitely felt very friendly. We weren’t the cool punk gatekeepers. There would be kids coming in from the suburbs, and we’d welcome them.
The Juicer (1238 N Noble Street, Noble Square)
Matt Walsh (Lived at The Juicer): I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I was going to shows outside and in Philly. I moved to Chicago for school in the fall of 2009. Immediately, I was trying to get into the scene. I’m not a musician. I was just showing up in those spaces and proceeded to move into The Juicer in the fall of 2010.
It was a group of sophomores in college. I had found a group of people who were not particularly interested in shows and DIY the same way I was, but they were down to do it. I moved in with the full intention of booking and setting up shows there. We were young. We also didn’t want drinking or drugs in the space. And I tried to tap into that community. It’s very cliquey; it took a long time for people to be like, “Oh, we could do shows here. The people here are legit.” It was a lot of trying to talk people into playing a show at this house they had never heard of.
Arbys (Rogers Park)
As someone who went to school at the same college as one of the founders of Arbys (house show space, not restaurant), Rogers Park and Loyola University aren’t known for their thriving music scene. I once saw MDC at Red Line Tap. Sometimes, our college radio show would book something cool like Negative Scanner at our student center. Mostly, I found myself traveling to the northwest side for music. But for about a year, Tim Curley of Churchkey would host shows in his basement. Though there were various punk acts, it would serve as the next hub for emo as it was in a new phase in 2013 and beyond. There was no big blowup that led to the demise of Arbys. Curley was moving to the city’s south side, transferring to UIC at the time. My friends moved into the house afterward, but no shows were there. It was just another party house for me to soundtrack the drunken parts of my early adulthood.
Friendzone (Wicker Park/Humboldt)
Somewhat quickly after the demise of Arby’s comes the demise of Friendzone. Tim Curley would live here, but I cannot fully confirm that fact because I could not schedule an interview with him. Unlike the previous space, Friendzone was in a better location for the northwest punk scene. I could not pinpoint an exact address, but according to some interviews, it was at the border where Wicker Park and Humboldt Park meet. Thanks to the YouTube page Puddle Splashers, the space has plenty of documentation, including a Best Wishes and Glocca Morra set. In 2015, Friendzone would end, and Churchkey would break up the following year.
If you want to see where these venues are located on a map, I made one for your pleasure.