In late August, veteran Chicago house DJ and organizer Craig Loftis launched a GoFundMe to try to save the Great Lakes Elks Lodge in Washington Park from closure. Loftis says the building is more than 100 years old, and that the Elks have occupied it for 86 years. He also runs an underground house club called the Lodge on its second floor.
A century is a long time, and the wear and tear on the building has recently brought it unwanted government attention. “Due to a myriad of minor licensing and structural issues, it has become a lightning rod for city interference with our operations, and threatening our various existence,” Loftis wrote in his GoFundMe appeal.
Loftis began booking house-music events at the Elks Lodge at 5108 S. Prairie around eight years ago. “I’ve been an Elk myself for over 14 years,” he says. “I just started to combine my being an Elk with my history in house music.” Loftis, 60, says his history in house goes back to when he was 15 and became a member of the Warehouse. As he got more involved in the scene, Frankie Knuckles became a mentor—and so did Warehouse founder Robert Williams. “He and Frankie were the ones who taught me how to decorate,” Loftis says.
In 2015, Loftis brought an idea to his fellow Elks. “We had a ballroom that we were not utilizing, upstairs, on our second floor,” he says. “So I talked the brothers into allowing me to host my house-music events.” Because Elks Lodges are open only to Elks or to guests of Elks, Loftis launched Loftwerk Productions to manage the guests at his events. Everyone who’s signed up for a membership through the company—currently around 1,800 people, he says—is technically his guest at the lodge.
“We’ve hosted some of the largest names in house music,” Loftis says. His bookings have included heavy hitters such as Ron Trent, Alan King of the Chosen Few, and Ron Carroll.
Loftis says the trouble began two years ago, when a city inspector tried to examine part of the building that the Elks had closed off with a gate. The inspector noticed a decrepit column where a staircase used to be, Loftis recalls, and issued a violation. “The city has had me in court for the last year and a half,” he says. Chicago building permit and inspection records note a violation from 2021 issued because personnel couldn’t gain access for an annual inspection.
Loftis says fixing the broken column will cost between 30 and 50 thousand dollars. “I thought I could handle it myself,” he says. “But I had to hire an attorney. Because we weren’t able to get that fixed right away, [the city has] petitioned for receivership.” Loftis fears the building could be foreclosed upon if he doesn’t raise enough money to make repairs—those fixes are necessary to get the city to drop its petition. The shutdown of Washington Park house-music spot the Post in March would make the closure of the Lodge a second major blow to the south side’s house-music community.
“We will lose the last underground house-music establishment in the city of Chicago on the south side,” Loftis says. He’s due back in court on Thursday, September 14, to fight for more time.
In 2020, Elastic Arts devised an international collaboration called Elastic Aural, partnering with Mexico City groups Harmonipan, Festival Aural, and Rhizomes Films as well as with the No Idea Festival from Austin, Texas. With help from MacArthur Foundation grants, these partners have brought together all-star lineups from the improvised-music scenes of Chicago and Mexico City to compose, rehearse, and perform in both cities.
The Chicago contingent—Isaiah Collier, Katie Ernst, Ben LaMar Gay, Paul Giallorenzo, Lia Kohl, and Elastic executive director Adam Zanolini—played with their Mexican counterparts in March 2020, but the Mexicans artists’ trip here ran afoul of the pandemic. The collaborators never dropped the thread, though, and this week those performances will finally happen: there will be concerts at Elastic on Thursday, September 14, and Friday, September 15, then a third at Pilsen’s National Museum of Mexican Art on Saturday, September 16. Joining the same six locals is a crew of Mexican improvisers: saxophonist Remi Álvarez, double bassist Arturo Báez, tenor saxophonist Alfonso Muñoz, percussionist Gustavo Nandayapa, and cellist Natalia Perez. According to Elastic Arts assistant director Ben Billington, the musicians “are preparing compositions for the Friday event here at our space, but Thursday (at Elastic) and Saturday at the National Museum of Mexican Art are both going to be new groupings—all improvisation.”
These days terrestrial radio is stuffed with buttoned-down computer-controlled playlists and toxic conservative call-in shows, but if you happened to be surfing the dial in Chicago in the 1980s, you might’ve stumbled on a revolution in free-form sound. From 1984 till 1990, WZRD 88.3 FM, the student-run station of Northeastern Illinois University, broadcast a series of “Voidwatches.” These live events, which could last six hours or more and involve a dozen or more musicians (as well as nonmusicians and bystanders), combined a bewildering array of audio sources. A collective of WZRD staff and friends played songs or found sounds from the station’s music library, along with political speeches, film audio, and archived broadcasts; their output, compiled from the various radio studios they took over, would be layered with patched-in remote feeds from elsewhere on campus and live sounds made by traditional rock gear and non-instruments such as power tools, fireworks, and scrap metal. Frequent participants included Bill Meehan and Dave Purdie of weirdo punks Silver Abuse, collage artist James Koehnline, and several members of early local noise group Burden of Friendship, among them Bob St. Clair, Doug Brown, Mark Giangrande, and founder Scott Marshall. Marshall also had a label called Panic Records & Tapes, whose catalog includes several recordings of the resulting racket.
Some of those recordings will soon be reissued by Seattle-based label No Part of It, run by former Chicagoan and Blood Rhythms bandleader Arvo Zylo. Their sound mixes the postmodern avant-garde compositions of John Cage and David Tudor with the noise splatter of Einstürzende Neubauten, and they should appeal to anyone who’s ever wanted to set up six turntables and listen to every known genre of music, very loudly, all at once. On Saturday, October 1, No Part of It will drop Watching the Void: A Smattering of Panic Records & Tapes, which includes several Voidwatch excerpts alongside tracks by various subgroups of the Panic collective. It’s available as a Bandcamp download and a four-panel digipak CD. Here’s hoping it inspires future generations of noiseniks to abuse radio studios and industrial equipment in pursuit of the ultimate cacophony.
Watching the Void includes tracks by Burden of Friendship, Little Dougie, and Research Defense Squad.
For a few months now, Gossip Wolf has been stuck on a series of assured new singles from Helicopter Leaves, the solo project of Beach Bunny bassist Anthony Vaccaro. He describes the one-minute “Cindy Jumps” as “one of the oldest songs I’ve recorded” and adds that it’s “almost a form of therapy” to have “this and so many other songs out in the world for people to digest.” Last month Vaccaro finally dropped his project’s debut full-length, Get Stuck In, where he plays, records, and mixes everything himself. If you like the hooky lo-fi jams of 1990s Sebadoh and Guided by Voices, you should dig the shaggy, bouncing grooves of these 13 tunes. They’re available digitally and on CD via Bandcamp.
Anthony Vaccaro recorded Helicopter Leaves’ Get Stuck In between 2020 and 2022.