Interview: Noise artist Jason Soliday on the closing of Enemy

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Earlier this month Enemy hosted its final show, ending a run of nearly seven years for this DIY experimental-music sanctuary. Underground venues tend to shut down as often as new ones pop up—which is to say fairly often—but somehow Enemy stuck around for years, becoming not just a communal space for people with fringe aesthetics but also an integral part of Chicago's music scene.

It's difficult to sum up how important Enemy has been to Jason Soliday, the local noise artist who founded the space in 2005. I talked to him for an hour while working on a piece about Enemy for this week's Three Beats, and it felt like we were just scratching the surface. The same can be said of the e-mail exchange I had with Soliday, during which we pinned down the lineup of the very first Enemy show (Mike Shif­let, Jason Zeh, and Jesse Kudler), went over a short list of names of people important to the loft space, and fact-checked the piece. Soliday poured years of his life into helping organize shows there—and it was also his home.

Soliday had a lot of great things to say about his post-Enemy plans (which include a collaborative project titled The Many Ghosts of Edgar Poe and a soon-to-be-released tape with Omar Gonzales called The One Who Infests Ships) and the future of DIY venues in Chicago, so I decided to publish my entire interview with him. Reading it would make a good warm-up for tonight's "epilogue" show, which includes performances from Jesse Kenas Collins, a duo of Daniel Fandiño and Jason Stein, and a duo of Soliday and Brian Labycz.

Leor Galil: Tell me why you're closing Enemy. Why now?

Jason Soliday: I don't know. It seemed like a good time.

Nobody's shutting us down or anything like that. We could still keep going. It's just, I need a break. I think that's some of it. And I want to work on other things. I've been doing this for, I don't know—seven, seven and a half years, something in that range. Maybe almost eight. I remember what the first show was, but I can't remember when.

What was the first show?

The first show . . . actually, OK, maybe I can't. There were two shows, and I can't remember which one happened first and which one happened second. But one was AIDS Wolf and the other one was Mike Shiflet. . . . I think I played that show, and I can't remember what order they happened in. They were really close together, but those were the first two. I was not good at keeping records in the early days. I think I have every show—I know what every show was after 2006 or '07. The first couple years I was using a different calendar and computer; some of that may have disappeared to time. You guys may have a better record.


Jason Zeh at Enemy in November 2008

What are some of the projects that you're working on?

My first actual solo CD—after years and years of playing—just came out a couple weeks ago. [It's called Nonagon Knives, and it's on the CIP label.]

I'm working on a whole bunch of recording stuff. I'm working on a project with Michael Esposito, he's an EVP researcher—ghost voices. He and I have been playing off and on the last year or so, and he started this project that was with recordings he made at Edgar Allan Poe's home and gravesite. And it's me, Michael, CM von Hausswolff, Mike Harding, Leif Elggren, and Chris Connelly. Right now I'm trying to finish up those recordings because that's supposedly going to be out in the fall at some point.

It's all interpretations. Michael does lots of stuff where he goes out and does his EVP research—he's been doing this for a long time, ten years at least, maybe more—and he gives those recordings to various experimental musicians to make pieces out of. Some of them are more overt, you can hear the voices in them, and some of them can completely turn things inside-out. So all the people I just mentioned are working with the recordings he made at Poe's grave. And then we record it—Chris reading some of Poe's poems here, and I've been using that as source material for things as well. So there's a piece that's a duo between Michael and I that was recorded live here back in February, and I'm reworking that, and I've also been using recordings with Chris to build these little vignettes that are going to tie the pieces together. At least that's the current plan. There's a trio track with Michael, CM von Hausswolff, and Mike Harding that was done at some festival back in November. And then CM von Hausswolff and Harding did another version of that piece, and then Leif's going to have a piece on there as well, and then the piece that Michael and I [did].

So that's the big project that I've been working on for a while, and I think that's going to be on Ash International, which is like a Touch sublabel, so I'm kind of excited about it. At least that's what I've been told the plan is.

I'm going to be recording in September with another new project—and this is just talking about stages—with Michael, Steven Hess, and Andre Foisy from Locrian. I've got a backlog of cassettes that I owe various people.


Boris Hauf and Tony Buck at Enemy in 2008

Not that stuff didn't happen when Enemy was going on, but it's more just, I don't know, changing my focus. It gets really easy when you have a venue in your house to just go, "Oh, I'll do this show at my house." One of the things I want to do is play at other places more, including outside of Chicago, and have the flexibility to do that, where I'm not tied to "Oh, I can't leave town this weekend or this month because I booked a show four months out." I'm just trying to give myself a way to be a little more flexible.

It may be time to find a new place. It isn't something that I've ruled out—that at some point I might find a new space and start doing shows again. It's something that has been important to me—I mean, this has been a big part of my life for seven-plus years, so I'm not necessarily completely stopping. I just need to take a break, start over. Maybe figure out some new things and see where that goes.

I think with Enemy we did a lot of things right, and probably made as many mistakes as we did things right. But hopefully the things we did right outweighed all the other stuff. But hopefully I've learned some things from that. I'd say "when" is probably a more honest answer than "if" I start another venue-type place. There are some things I want to do differently, but the overall goal is still the same, which is to have a space that isn't completely a party venue.

I think that's partially why we survived for so long; for me, the music was the most important thing. It's always a good feeling when a band tells you this was the best show on tour, and hopefully we did that more times than not. That was really my goal, because, I mean, I've done the DIY tours—a lot of them—and played in basements, slept on dirty floors, and all that stuff like everybody else. One of the things with Enemy was—as best we could with what we had—to make a space that was a little bit better than that, that was comfortable but was somewhere in between.

I think there's still a place for this, and I'd love to see more spaces that would be the in-between, between something that's more formal, like Lampo—I don't know if formal is the right word for having shows, but maybe they're a little bit more serious—and the other end of the spectrum, which would be like the Treasure Town kind of shows or spaces like that, which there are a lot of because they're fun and people have a good time.

There needs to be a middle ground, and that's what Enemy tried to be, and that's probably what I'll employ in the future. There's a lot of folks that don't have huge draws, that aren't big names like Lampo would bring in or something like that, that still deserve an audience, that also aren't really right for the big blowout everybody-gets-wasted parties. It's still music that's meant for more focused listening—not that everything we did here was ever focused listening. We had our share of shows that were just—maybe not full-on parties, but were more of a good time than necessarily listening. But I hope there was a balance.


Justice Yeldham at Enemy in March 2008

There was a bit of, I don't want to say formality, but did you have grants to do stuff with Enemy or—

No, no. We never had any grants. Everything we did here was out of our own pockets. I mean we were total a DIY space.

But yeah, it was always just a pass-the-hat type of deal. It worked pretty well. I always tried to keep it cheap, you know, ten bucks or under. Most of our shows were, "Hey, can you give five bucks," and people are generally pretty good about that. It went to the bands, and a little bit to fix up the space now and then—some soundproofing and things like that, some minimal soundproofing. But no, no grants.

For a little while Enemy was a not-for-profit, but we didn't seem to really gain anything from it. That may be equal parts of not pursuing it as well as we could have, but on the scale that we were working it doesn't really make that much of a difference. Once you're tax exempt and you want to go to the full, legit route, which I may do the next time around . . .

It would be interesting to do it that way, but the stuff I wanted to put on, I never wanted to have to worry about living off of it. Everybody that was involved with the space, we all had other jobs, other things going on. That sort of funded whatever we did here in minimal amounts, because that somehow feel like compromise if you have to live off this; all of a sudden you have to make decisions on what you book and things like that based on money—paying the bills and paying the employees—and there aren't many employees. There's me, my roommates, the friends who were willing to help out, and the community.


Headboggle at Enemy in December 2011

Like most spaces, I lucked into this; I was unemployed at the time and I needed cheaper rent fast. Eric [Leonardson]—my one roommate who has a studio space here; he's been in this space for 20 some-years—he had an opening and he needed somebody to pay the rent, and it just worked out. The first thing you do—you're a musician who plays live and plays lots of small shows and you end up in a space like this—the first thing you do is you're like, "Yeah, I'm going to have shows."

It also helped that my good friend Rob Ray, who used to run Deadtech over on Fullerton, he had been kind of the home from about '98 or '99 till when Enemy started, about five years—late 90s, early 2000s—he was kind of the home for a lot of experimental shows, including a lot of shows I did. He had originally set out to be a gallery for like art and tech kind of stuff, and sound art sometimes falls into that, but I don't think he ever really planned to be this sound-art space. When we found out he was interested, a lot of people that were doing like experimental electronic music and stuff like that—me and a few others—kind of took over for a while. So when I got in this space, the first thing Rob did was go, "Here, take the PA—I want to go back to being a gallery. You do the shows now."

So a lot of the stuff that we were originally doing there got moved over here. I'm still using Rob's PA combined with some speakers of Eric's and stuff like that—kind of amazed the thing still sounds as good as it does. You're talking, I don't know, 14 years of a good chunk of the noise shows in Chicago came through that PA, and it's held up pretty well.

But yeah, I kind of lucked into it. One of the things I set out to do was to have a space that was somewhere between the sort of totally haphazard, anything-goes, we'll-book-anything kind of spaces, which were around at the time, which were great. I think there's a place for those too—Buddy and Nervous Center, I guess those were the two big ones at the time. But to do something that was a little more curated and that was always a flexible thing too, as to how curated it was.

In general, everything that we booked at Enemy was something that I liked or something that Brent [Gutzeit] liked, or one of my other roommates, or Ryan [Dunn]. There was always that element, and there were some shows that I did that somebody else brought them to me and I went, "OK, I trust you, we'll do that." For the most part, that was always the gauge, was something that I thought was worth showing people, trying to put on really good-quality shows on a DIY-space budget, do something interesting, and make a home and build a community for weird stuff.

It worked out really well. Like, half the shows I've forgotten. And I sit here remembering or somebody reminds me—talking to people the last few weeks about what's happened—and I'll remember another show, and I'm like, "Oh yeah, holy shit. I got to have Peter Brötzmann play at my house. I have Z'ev play at my house." As a musician and as a fan of lots of music and things like that, that's still pretty fucking cool.


Cowards at Enemy in October 2009

The number of things that we got to do over the years has been really great, and way exceeded what I ever expected to do. I didn't know what I was doing; it was more, "Hey, I've got this space, I've got to use it." All these other people have let me play in their houses over the years and things like that, and it's only right that I do the same thing.

It's been pretty cool. It's weird, I don't think it's fully settled in, and I still go back in forth; is this the right decision? Is this the right thing? I'm pretty sure it's the right decision for me right now. Like I said, and like I told other good friends and stuff, I'm probably not done. There's still a need for it, and I hope that it always happens.

I mean, we've gone through another wave of spaces closing down and everybody does the "Oh, no, the scene in Chicago's dying. There's no spaces, blah blah blah." Everything's ending and now I'm ending this too. I'm choosing to do it, not being forced to. I've seen that cycle happen four, five times now in 17 years of living in Chicago. New spaces open up. Hopefully Enemy inspires people to open up some similar kinds of things.
I don't know how long this break will last, but it's time for a change. I think change is good and we'll see what comes of that. I think there will be some good things.

This has sort of exceeded your initial expectations.

Yeah; what's the average lifespan for a space like this. A year? Two years? Outside of us, Heaven, and I guess Elastic sort of counts, too—Heaven and Elastic I think went the more formal route, and we have always sort of been a little more informal. But yeah, I didn't expect us to last seven years. I expected it to not last the first week.

What was the official week and you kicked things off?

It would have been—I might have to look. It was August of, I believe it was August of 2004 [actually 2005]. I'd have to check. I can check and see if I can confirm that for you, but it was August.

It was brutally hot in here. This place is always uncomfortable in the summers. For a while we'd be like, "Oh, we're taking the summer off," and then someone would come along with some good show and we'd be like, "Well, if everybody's miserable, then we might as well just do it." That was the first thing I'd say: "OK, you know it's going to be really uncomfortable in here, everybody's going to be miserable." Most people are like, "Yeah, let's do it anyways." So I think I gave up taking summers off.

The show with [Mike] Shiflet and all those guys was so hot in here that night that everybody slept out on the back deck. It was like what it was last week—it was like 100-something degrees in here. It was easier to sleep outside and get woken up every 45 minutes by the train than it was to sleep in this place.

The first show we did was packed, and I didn't expect that either. I actually didn't know who AIDS Wolf was at the time. I can't remember what the deal was, but it was either the show has booked somewhere else, and it ended up it couldn't happen there, or it was a last-minute thing—someone was passing through and they were looking for another show—something like that. I don't even remember who played on that bill besides AIDS Wolf; I really don't remember. I remember there were a lot of people in here—it was really hot—and kind of having that, "Oh shit, what did I get myself into." But at the same time it was really great.


Perispirit at Enemy in June 2010

And how did the final show go?

It was really good. It was an interesting turnout. There were a lot of people that I don't think I've ever seen here, and that was one of the nice things about most of the shows we did. It was always a mix; there were a lot of regulars and there were also always new people, which is really cool to me. Most of the music I play is music that I always chose to put on; it's obviously something of an acquired taste for people. It's not stuff that has a huge audience or sometimes not really any audience. But stuff that I still think is important and needs a home.


Startless (Blake Edwards and Jason Zeh) at Enemy in February 2011

That's one of the nice things that I've seen change over the last decade; I still remember all the shows where I knew everybody in the room. All the shows that were me, the guys in TV Pow, Philip von Zweck, and three or four others, and that was the entire audience for a lot of shows. That really changed over the years, and that's always nice. Even at the last show, half the people here, I'm like, "I have no idea who these people are. I don't think I've ever seen them before." Then my friends Adam [Strom] and Laurie [Felker] were here, and they were at that AIDS Wolf show; that was kind of cool for me, to have friends here that were at that very first or second show we ever did, and also came out for the last one.

There was a good audience. I was pretty happy about that. I was talking to Twig and Carly from Nautical [Almanac]—I don't think they had that great of a tour, and I got the impression that were pretty happy with the show we put on. That in and of itself is really enough for me. Like I said before, if the bands are telling me that it's the best show of the tour, or one of the best shows of their tour, and they leave here feeling good about what they did, and people came out and were excited about it, then I accomplished everything I set out to do. So that was great. It was a fun show, it was an interesting mix of bands.

It seemed like a good one. July 4, it's a holiday. Nautical was in that group of bands that probably played some of the first shows that I saw when I moved in Chicago in '95, '96—I forget when I first saw them. That was cool, too, to have some Chicagoans—well, original Chicagoans who are now from Baltimore—come back and play the space. That was pretty cool.


Jooklo Duo with Bill Nace at Enemy in June 2011

We sort of touched upon this a lot: How do you feel Enemy fit into the local music scene?

That's a hard one. It feels immodest to, you know. . . . Can we leave it at other people have told me it was important? I mean it obviously was really important to me. Outside of my own music, this place has been me for seven-plus years—this is what I've done. I'm really attached to it, and obviously it was a big deal to me. I think it was important. A lot of people have told me, "Yeah, the first show I saw in Chicago was at your house."

My bias was always towards experimental music, and probably a lot of people when they think of Enemy, they think of the noise scene and stuff like that, although that wasn't the only thing we did. I still remember in the early days, or even now, but I still remember you'd talk to one person who was in the noise scene, and they'd be like, "Oh, Enemy's where all the academic shows happen." And you'd talk to the guys who were the academic guys or the more electroacoustic improv folks, and they'd be like, "Oh, that's where the noise shows happen." Which is kind of like, yeah, they both happen because I like both things. And I like free jazz and occasionally we get a rock show, even though we're not set up to do rock shows, because I like a lot of rock music. So that was really cool, and I hope one of the things that came across was that there was some crossover between all those scenes.

That's something that's still really important to me, because when I was introduced to this kind of music, it was an evolution. As far as the Chicago scene and that in the mid-late 90s, there was a lot more—there's still crossover between the different scenes, but they all have gotten a lot larger, so it's not quite the same—but I remember there were a lot more bills where, like, the noisy electronic guys were on the same bills as the free improvs—Michael Zerang and Fred Lonberg-Holm and people like that, free jazz and experimental electronics and noise and all that. We were all sort of like the various fringes and the scenes were—to me, they're still all interrelated, and I tried to make Enemy sort of home for all those things.


The Brothers Peeesseye and Shawn Hansen at Enemy in October 2009

One of the things that was always important to me is, like, you do some really loud noisy harsh show, and the people that came out to that are also the people that came out to the free-jazz show. Sometimes we had bills where both things were on the same bill, and hopefully expose people to all those different facets and things, and while those things are very different, there's also lots of similarities between them and crossover. I hope—I don't know, I want there to be, well, not just a bunch of folks just like me—but that kind of eclecticism I think is really important, and not just this ghettoization or whatever happens with a lot of scenes, where it's, "Oh, I only listen to harsh noise," or "I only listen to hardcore." That just seems so uninteresting to me, when there's so much more going on and stuff that bounces between all those things is really like the most interesting stuff.

It's hard to judge something that you're so tied to and involved in, but I guess that I think we did good. There's probably some people out there that tell you that I did a shitty job of some things, and maybe I did, but I don't know. Hopefully there's more that's saying the opposite. I don't know—let somebody write the history, right, if it gets written. I think it's been good overall.


Jason Soliday, Camilla Ha, Pisspisspissmoanmoanmoan, and Thymme Jones at Enemy in May 2012

Stuff's never really done, you know—underground scenes are constantly evolving, no one's going away. I'm still around, Ryan's still around, everyone that's been involved. Ryan, [Brian] Labycz—who still books stuff downstairs, at Myopic, and all those other places—who was also as involved with Enemy as a lot of other people. None of that's going away. All that "scene is going to die" crap is all bullshit, it's just people not liking change. There will be new spaces. We'll see—I may even be involved in one. Just not for a little while.

It would be really hard to really quit. I'm not stopping—I'm doing music, and it's got to happen somewhere.

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