Saying Farewell: The Keep's Last Show
Written by Emily Okonsky
Why would you need security and licenses when you’ve got passionate musicians and a gang of hardcore bike messengers?
Last Friday June 17th, one of the most quintessential DIY venues in Chicago, The Keep, hosted its last show. The Keep has been around for a few years now, but with new tenants coming in and out, the space has a whole new meaning from when it first started out.
Think of The Keep as Chicago’s grunge version of an all-inclusive resort, but for music. Instead of crêpe buffets and swimming pools, The Keep provides the atmosphere for a perfect concert with a huge space, cheap bar and admission, couches, and even an angsty cat to hang out with. There doesn’t seem to be a known reason for naming the space “The Keep” but there seems to be speculation that it has something to do with the edgy biker tenants that appear discreetly throughout the night and keep their bikes in the basement.
Beside all the luxurious amenities, The Keep’s character seems to come from its supportive and creative community.
The venue only recently started to become more involved as a part of the underground music community in Chicago. With the original tenants gone, in the past couple months The Keep went from only about one event per month to constantly hosting shows. The space transformed to meet its potential as new residents worked to create their own vision for the Keep.
Friday’s farewell show began with brother band Party Crashing Bears, sparking the atmosphere with their passionate punk sound. And strikingly enough, the dirty emotional music urged a collective warmth and engaging feel throughout the venue. As the event kicked off, I recognized a sort of resemblance to high school basement shows, but more refined. Here was a kind of innocent joy that came from the band, and the environment felt friendly and intimate despite the giant venue space.
Justin Thomas is a vocalist and guitar player for Party Crashing Bears, but also started living in The Keep a few months ago. Thomas saw the potential worth of the space, and with the help of other new tenants, started to transform the party space into a creative utopia. Thomas spoke to the cycle of constant change in the Chicago DIY scene, and explained how just getting a hold of one of the many promising spaces that appear around Chicago doesn’t necessarily lead to a great venue. It isn’t about who gets to live in a DIY, it’s about who wants to work to create what they want.
“Yeah this whole wall just doesn’t have electricity,” Thomas noted as he listed the other compromises one has to make in order to keep up with living in a DIY space.
Aside from the constant cleaning and responsibilities, living in The Keep helped him to become more involved in the DIY community. For someone who just wants to party with cool bands for a while, this might not seem like a good enough reason to live in a venue. For Thomas, someone who is passionate about music and writing as a part of his life, it’s worth it.
Even struggling to get in and out of the “bathroom” (a toilet surrounded by broken appliances) without being crushed by the door that was definitely not hinged, while also avoiding the edgy, biting cat, one can’t help but appreciate the environment.
Friends of The Keep, the band Skinface, played some informal low-fi as the night grew more alive. There was no need to be cautious in this setting. The crowd at The Keep wasn’t full of judgy hipsters trying to get drunk off of expensive beers to pass time during an opening act. The people there were just friends coming together to support local artists. Given that atmosphere, Skinface openly played around with their sound to please the crowd’s energy and keep the night going.
More people showed and more empty cans of PBR scattered the floor.
Third in the lineup, Little Yellow Dog (LYD), took the stage (or rather, the floor) of The Keep for their last but definitely not first time. LYD’s singer/songwriter Dakota Buyka has been a resident of The Keep the past five months, helping to get the space more involved in the DIY scene. He expressed his admiration for The Keep’s role in providing more access to Chicago’s music community. For him and the other involved residents, maintaining a DIY allows them to constantly meet like-minded people to collaborate with in the music community.
After his last performance at The Keep, Buyka acknowledged the importance of dedicated underground venues for allowing people to explore Chicago’s music scene. Most people are less hesitant to pay the suggested $5 to see a local band than to drop $20 to get moderately drunk on overpriced beer at a stingy venue.
It seemed almost bittersweet to attend the show knowing that it was The Keep’s last event. Fortunately, this is Chicago and The Keep is not the only underground venue around.
Friends of The Keep, The Voluptuals, continued to rouse the audience toward the end of the show. Spencer Klein and Matt Davis of The Voluptuals are two of seven people that live in The Observatory, what they consider a “sister DIY” to The Keep. The Observatory is another venue with enough space to feel like a real concert with all the freedoms of a house show. For Klein and Davis, living in the scene keeps them busy with the various events they host, keeping them involved in the same community they support.
The Keep’s last show only proved that there's no need to dwell on losing a great DIY, as it is something that’s bound to happen. Although the venue might have been temporary, it did its part in the music community by connecting like-minded creatives and hosting their artistic freedom.
The Keep said its final goodbye with a performance from Chicago favorite, White Mystery. The night ended almost like a celebration of the Chicago DIY cycle of change.
Contact Emily by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos courtesy of Megan Stringer, unless stated otherwise