Whoever said roaming alleys was a bad idea has never been to People Projects. If you wander around behindbuildings long enough, you’re bound to find some pretty weird stuff. And if one of those alleys happens to be the back of an art gallery at 2129 North Milwaukee Avenue on a Saturday night, you’ll find a group of black-clad grindcore/punk fans waiting for a show to start. With a beer in everyone’s hand, it’s hard to believe that the real world, with real cops, exists just feet away. Here, an art space has been renovated into an underground venue, aptly titled People Projects.
Or at least that’s how it used to be, until about a month ago, when they decided to shut down. After starting the project in 2006, it had a good two-year run of hosting punk/grindcore shows, open to anyone who had $5 in their pocket and was savvy enough to hear about the scene. Robby Komen, one of the founding members of the project, explains, “The reason we started it was due to the lack of show spaces at the time in that area, and we just wanted to take matters into our own hands because no one else was really doing anything and we were sick of it.”
And it truly is an experience unlike any other. Upon entry, you head immediately down a steep flight of creaky stairs and just before a low hanging pipe that even the shortest person has to duck under is a hand-made sign scrawled on the wall that reads: no smoke no glass no hippies.
In the basement, paper snowflakes suspended from supports and pipes vibrate from the heavy bass rhythm of the band playing. A single empty couch clings to the right wall and above it scrawled in black ink stands a lone statement that so adequately sums up the attitudes of everyone present: socially inept.
Meanwhile a mosh pit has formed and a small boy is crowd-surfing, bumping his head on the ceiling every other beat. And a young woman is head-banging to her heart’s content, a string of Christmas lights hanging around her shoulder, with a satchel attached in a mock purse.
Unfortunately, the scene itself was what doomed People Projects. The unapologetic boozing and overall party-like feel of the place forced the owners to call it quits. “I love putting on shows and all but having to put up with such crappy living conditions wasn’t worth it for a third year. Two was plenty,” Komen says. “I had to deal with a lot of assholes and eventually became really irritated with it. People would treat it as a party house to hang out at rather than a place for shows.”
The venue had been corrupted, turning the house that was meant to serve as an art/music mecca for Chicago kids into a beer-soaked haven for rats and cockroaches. It all became too much: leaky ceilings, bedrooms with no windows and bathrooms with smells that even Febreze couldn’t handle.
But before all this, there was a dream. One that even the founders didn’t believe would become a reality. “In all honesty we never thought we’d make it past two shows without getting shut down, but somehow managed to go through our entire existence with no major trouble. We achieved our goal and did what we wanted to do, so in the end I wasn’t very sad at all.”
While there aren’t any plans for the future, People Projects itself has given hope of success to other small underground venues. “I was proud that we accomplished what we wanted to do the fullest extent in offering up a completely DIY show space/art gallery to give to the punk scene,” Komen adds. “It was a great thing while it lasted and hopefully it will inspire others in the Chicago punk scene to stay motivated and contribute something of their own to the community.”
And although those punk fans are now stranded, consider People Projects’ parting words: “Don’t be bummed it’s over, be stoked it happened.”
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