The next day a Facebook page called Avondale Neighbors appeared, and though it presented itself as a forum for improving the neighborhood, its "About" tab contained little besides invective directed at Animal Kingdom: It's not clear who started the page, but at least one person, Terri Boyce, posted on it repeatedly from a personal account.
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I managed to reach Boyce, or at least someone with her name, after finding a cell-phone number attached to a likely looking bio online. I also found an e-mail address with the user name "boyceterri" attached to a CAPS community complaint made shortly after the July 13 Animal Kingdom show, which alleged "illegal parties which violate noise ordinances, occupancy and safety ordinances for the area. Avondale Neighbors asked residents to take complaints to Deb Mell and the precinct captain, and though the Facebook page vanished after less than a day , that was enough time to put Animal Kingdom on the radar at the alderman's office.
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In the words of Dana Fritz, Mell's chief of staff, "We call it the party house. It's tough to fault passersby for not realizing it, but almost everyone who runs a DIY space like Animal Kingdom sees it as more than just a party house. Such venues usually arise because kids who make music and art want a place where they can work, perform, and grow together, and the network of legitimate venues in Chicago has little room for them—it's so dependent on alcohol sales for cash flow that people under 21 are shut out from most of it. DIY partisans also tend to revile corporate money and influence, which has grown increasingly ubiquitous in the underground-music ecosystem as traditional sources of revenue have dried up—think branded stages, sponsored tours, or Red Bull reps handing out free cans.
DIY venues can also provide safe spaces for women, minorities, the disabled, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups who might be targets of harassment or at least feel unwelcome or unsafe in the mainstream club scene. As a result, most DIY spots double as living spaces, even when they're in warehouse districts rather than residential areas.
Running an underground venue is far from glamorous, but it can make a world of difference to the kids who find them. Nothing and her eventual Animal Kingdom roommates, most of whom are musicians, started looking for a place to rehearse and have shows in spring Though they'd hoped to find a big warehouse or a loft zoned as a live-work space, "no one took us seriously when we approached them," she says.
She fondly recalls biking to Little Village to see Rabble Rabble at Mortville , which closed down in summer It just blew my mind—they would make these art installations and they would redo them, make new things, every three months," she says. It takes a lot of work, motivation, and creativity. Nothing had the necessary motivation when she graduated in , and along with her five roommates, she made Animal Kingdom work. Because it was a single-family house, they had to get creative—they even built a wall in the master bedroom.
Animal Kingdom was cramped, but it had a basement—which Dominican hardcore outfit La Armada had already proved could be a viable place for bands to play. Animal Kingdom quickly grew into a hub for a young faction of Chicago's underground rock scene: They performed as "the Melons" and didn't cover anybody. Admission was technically free, and the "suggested donations" the venue managed to collect always went entirely to the bands "I don't like it when people make a buck off of other peoples' art," Nothing says. Nothing learned to work with a minimal budget, getting advice from White Mystery front woman Alex White.
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She says Halloween was the first big success, after which their shows reliably drew kids or so. Numbers like that can turn a scene into a great incubator, but they can also be detrimental to its future—as a general rule, the more people who show up to a DIY venue, the more likely they are to be a party crowd, not particularly interested in pitching in with the hard work and creating something.
Once a space attracts a certain amount of interest, it's going to disrupt the community around it. After all, when the police turn up to put a stop to a DIY show, that generally means somebody called them. Noise can be especially hard on families with infant children, and nobody likes the mess that seems to follow any large crowd. Some residents worry about what underground venues will do to their property values—which is ironic, since such spaces are often harbingers of gentrification. By and large Nothing and her roommates kept things cordial with Animal Kingdom's neighbors.
They mostly threw shows on weekends, and made sure the place was cleared out at the end of the night; often Nothing would roam the neighborhood picking up trash till three or four in the morning. People who run DIY spaces often do this sort of thing to keep them going—nobody would put up with the drudgery, the loss of privacy, and the ever-present threat of eviction that come with the territory if she didn't care about the communities both inside and outside the venue. In a Washington Post feature earlier this month on Omaha's indie-rock scene, Michael Seman, a senior research associate at the University of North Texas's Center for Economic Development and Research, says he discovered that "music scene participants are civic-minded and often become involved in philanthropic pursuits, run for political office, and seek employment in city departments.
All that said, it can be tough for DIY venues to keep the peace with neighbors who aren't familiar with the culture. And it can be even harder to go legit, as Pure Joy is attempting—Skolnik and her collaborators have had lots of trouble trying to rent a building. Part of the trouble is convincing people that Pure Joy can cover remodeling costs. Financial difficulties and red tape drive DIY organizers underground—and into some disgustingly suboptimal living spaces. All six Animal Kingdom tenants shared a single bathroom; their oven didn't work, the shower had no water pressure, and at one point they lost heat.
Frankel fixed a broken window in his bedroom with Styrofoam and coats.
The basement wasn't in great condition—damp and unventilated, it had low ceilings and a treacherous metal knob jutting up from the floor—but it served Animal Kingdom well for close to two years. Even when he came home I was encouraged to call the staff to make sure things were progressing in the right direction. I am pleased to say Adam has now made a full recovery and is back to his normal sociable self.
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