Jordan Z, La Radio, Brock, Ian Hixxx
WHEN Fri 1/5, 9 PM
WHERE Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago
PRICE $5, $8 after
11 PM, free with MCA First Fridays ticket
When Bottom Lounge closed in October 2005 to make way for the CTA's Brown Line expansion, there was a lot of grumbling about the death of all-ages music in Chicago--the scene still hadn't recovered from the loss of the Fireside Bowl, which had abandoned all-ages shows in 2004 as part of an attempt to make money as an actual bowling alley, and now the club people had hoped would replace it was gone too.
Since then, though, venues new and old have stepped in to fill the vacuum those places left behind. Derron Swan, who runs House Call Entertainment, had already started offering occasional all-ages and 18-and-up shows at the Beat Kitchen by the time Bottom Lounge shut its doors. MP Shows head Brian Peterson, who'd booked both the Fireside and Bottom Lounge, opened South Union Arts, and several promoters--including MP, House Call, and the Empty Bottle--have put on all-ages shows at the Logan Square Auditorium. Schubas began hosting all-ages shows before the Fireside stopped, though obviously it serves a different crowd. And on Wednesday another House Call venue, Subterranean, joined the effort, holding its first all-ages show.
Clubs that will hold all-ages shows are hard to come by. To sell alcohol at shows with underagers in attendance, a venue needs a "Consumption on Premises--Incidental Activity" license, which requires it to provide some attraction other than alcohol. (In Subterranean's case this means the kitchen must be open.) And even for clubs that can secure the right license, all-ages shows may not be a viable proposition. Subterranean has had its license since it began operating as a live-music venue in 1995. But you need extra security to keep kids from sneaking drinks, and then every kid not drinking equals lost revenue at the bar. When your club holds fewer than 400 people and regularly hosts shows that won't draw anywhere near capacity, alcohol sales can save your bottom line.
Larger rooms don't have to sweat this so much, since door money and a cut of the bands' merch sales make up a bigger share of their total. According to House of Blues talent buyer Michael Yerke, his venue--which holds more than 1,000 people--hosts all-ages shows to get in on the ground floor with bands on their way up, many of which have younger crowds. The potential for future sold-out shows with those bands at bigger HOB venues like the Congress Theater is worth the sacrifice. "We don't offset it," Yerke says. "We're trying to build relationships and careers with our artists. Of course there are less liquor sales at a Dashboard Confessional show. Is it tougher at the Beat Kitchen's level, whether to sacrifice a Friday night for an all-ages show? Probably."
Swan also describes all-ages shows as an investment, but he's more interested in building relationships with the kids who might have their first experiences with live music at one of his venues. Ask any legal Chicago punk about the Fireside today and you'll get your proof that Swan's on to something--the stories people tell about it add up to something like a mythology. And contrary to Yerke's assumption, the Beat Kitchen doesn't usually sacrifice its nights for all-ages shows--whenever possible, the club doubles up. "If it's going to be a show where there's nothing but kids," Swan explains, "we will likely book that all-ages show early so we can do a late show to compensate."
But working twice as long to bring in the same amount of cash doesn't make much financial sense either. Swan's decision to add all-ages shows at Subterranean seems to arise at least in part from old-fashioned idealism. He cites the Devotchka gig that House Call booked at the Logan Square Auditorium in December as an example of the type of all-ages show that he believes not only makes new concertgoers but sometimes inspires them to start their own bands. Down the road they might end up playing their own shows at one of Swan's clubs. "Hopefully you get that into them," he says, "and they pick up a guitar, or want to play a violin, or just sing."
Swan insists that all-ages shows at the Subterranean aren't just an experiment. "It's certainly a commitment," he explains. "We have no intention of doing this for a year and seeing how it goes. We're trying to become a more vital part of the music scene." His plan involves moving the Beat Kitchen's punk and emo shows to Subterranean, because the club's already noisy neighborhood will more easily absorb the packs of amped-up kids leaving the concerts. Already on the books are a Paper Chase show January 26 and February gigs from Blitz and the Thermals. If yuppified Wicker Park ends up regularly swarmed by young punks, that might be this nonexperiment's best side effect.
Getting-Down Lessons, $5
When DJ and party promoter Jordan Zawideh came to Chicago from Detroit in 1998, leaving behind the bumping house and techno scene in his old hometown, he started hanging out with what he calls "indie kids, music nerds, artists, and writers"--in other words, people who didn't really know how to get down. "It was hard to get these kids to dance and have a good time," he says. "You'd have to play a loft party where everyone got wasted before they could let go." He wanted to get them out of the Rainbo and onto the floor, and he saw his opportunity in the electroclash boom--it provided an outlet for indie rockers who were open to DJs but hostile to the bottle-service-and-arena-techno scene downtown.
Zawideh, aka Jordan Z, has done plenty of proselytizing for dance music--he and former Chicagoan Tommie Sunshine put together a sporadic night at Red Dog called ElectroSweat and another at Smart Bar called Degeneration, and last year Zawideh booked Sundays at Rednofive. His latest project is New Indie Mafia, a monthly DJ series at Sonotheque with its next installment this Friday. Earlier this year he and Mark Gertz, the prime mover behind Sonotheque's Dark Wave Disco nights, started talking about booking a residency for a couple big out-of-town DJs. "The original idea was for us to have Tommie, Steve Aoki, and a third DJ rotate," he says. But then the Debonair Social Club opened, planting itself squarely in the celebrity-DJ niche, and Zawideh went back to the drawing board, this time with promoter Jillian Valentino, who cohosts the weekly Outdanced series at the Funky Buddha.
The two of them returned to Zawideh's usual approach, focusing on building a crossover audience rather than snagging the sort of DJs who show up in fashion magazines. Since the New Indie Mafia nights began in October, they've hosted Junior Sanchez, James Fucking Friedman, and the Juan Maclean. But a DJ set by the British electro-pop outfit Hot Chip, which Zawideh booked in August, points most clearly to the current series's potential. "I was expecting quirky electro-pop, and then they come in and play B-side vocal disco records that you've never heard of, and then they're talking about Moodymann from Detroit and Theo Parrish," says Zawideh. "For a month or two straight I heard a lot of DJs in Chicago playing [the Hot Chip song] 'Over and Over' over and over. I was even hearing house DJs playing it."
Zawideh and Valentino also plan to add live acts to the mix, with an eye toward persuading dance fans to consider going to see a band a viable option for an evening out--the flip side of the trend that has indie rockers clubbing for real instead of just hitting their usual hangouts on the one night a week they host DJs. "Three or four years ago if you said, 'We're going to go to the Funky Buddha and listen to these two really cool DJs from Wicker Park,' people would say, 'Are you kidding me? A place called Funky Buddha?'" But really, that's not too much weirder than a bunch of house junkies heading out to a night called New Indie Mafia.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.