Awkward lighting cast deep shadows over a scummy mattress and limp old sad-eyed animal costume attached to the wall, a homemade Cabbage Patch Kid hanging from the ceiling, rows of chewed-up cowboy hats. A tangled beaded curtain framed a dark hallway that led to a short flight of concrete stairs descending out into the darkness. And beyond that: trash-filled muddy moats around large islands of gravel, one of them occupied by an old moving truck, inside of which was a dance party.

It was the last bash ever at the Humboldt Park storefront live/work/play space Camp Gay. After four years their landlord isn’t renewing their lease, say the five dudes who live/work/play there, because he wants to turn the first floor into a proper storefront with a proper store.

Now, it’s sad to see one alternative space close its doors, but it’s downright alarming to see half a dozen go down at once. Buddy, Diamonds, Foundation Gallery, and Alterspace have all recently either folded or threatened to. The kids at Wicker Park’s Hey Cadets! were evicted after their first event, though they’ve since taken over Diamonds’ old digs. And a few Fridays ago Texas Ballroom was raided by a couple dozen police before their show, advertised as “a multimedia war between good and evil,” had even begun. Police told residents that they’d read about it in the Sun-Times, where Jackie Harvey-like columnist Chris Whitehead wrote about it after being handed a flyer by a “young man” at an el stop: “I haven’t been there, don’t know anything about it, but the young man says he plays bass and dances like Prince and James Brown, which alone ought to be worth the price of admission.”

But I digress. By midnight last Saturday, Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor and the in-house bands Lazer Crystal and Voltage had all set up in different corners of Camp Gay’s storefront and were playing round-robin style, a song at a time. The place was so packed that I was standing in Lazer Crystal’s performing area, straddling a faux philodendron in a wicker basket. I’m not a huge fan of any of the bands individually, but the sound of the three of them switching off was almost holy, an ecstatic mix of The Wall, “Steppin’ Out,” something you’d hear in a church on the south side, and emo.

I let my hair fall over my face and my hips do the talkin’. Some personal space invader behind me was pressing his warm 40 of Cobra between my shoulder blades so hard I thought it might break. Then he reached forward and pressed the cartilage flaps covering my ear canals in and out, making that conch shell/vacuum sound. I didn’t mind because, honestly, that’s one of my favorite ways to listen to music.

About an hour into it, Parts & Labor hit a churning chorus, the cue for the other two bands to join in. A carnival-prize-size pink Care Bear came from out of nowhere and people threw it around like a crowd surfer. When Lazer Crystal’s drummer, who’d been wearing a face-covering felt jersey decorated with stuffed eyeballs, started to flag because he was too hot, partygoers descended like vultures on his kit. The cymbals ended up here, the toms over there, leaving him with just his kick and snare. Outside, Mahjongg’s Hunter Husar was DJing out of the truck while a handful of people danced in, on top of, and near it.

When he first moved into the space in the fall of 2001, says Todd Bailey, who’s been there the longest of the five, “it was a bigger nest than it is now.” A hippie jam band used to live there, and before that Redmoon Theater used to practice there.

“We always wanted to have a performance space,” says Bailey, though “at first we tried too hard.” Initial events included Bailey hanging naked from the ceiling by his ankles and Cassette Jockey (a tape-deck DJ contest) nights organized by his roommate Paul B. Davis (who’s since moved to England). But they soon realized that “if you could have a really short, painfully artsy event people would come see something totally legitimate. And if you could get that out of the way people would feel good about having a dance party afterward. That way, it wasn’t a totally boring event that people could take or leave.”

They’re looking to move the whole enterprise to another space, possibly in Garfield Park, but not immediately. “Living in a space like this is hard, and usually run by people who are younger,” says Bailey, who’s all of 27. “It was a wonderful experiment. I don’t mind leaving some stuff to the next generation.”

I know I should be over it by now, but every time I hear Wednesday referred to as “hump day” I giggle. If you do too, there’s a party at Big Horse Lounge for you. Every Wednesday for the past month and a half, the Wicker Park taco stand has turned its back room over to a bumpin’ disco party.

My friend Joe stumbled upon it a few weeks ago and had such a good time he asked another friend to make flyers for the next one, even though neither one of them had anything to do with the event officially. Joe loved the DJ so much he gave him a DJ name–Paris Loves Paris–but the friend who made the flyer wanted to name him DissKo. So they put both names on there, along with the guy’s real name, Cesario Huerta. They dubbed the night Do Your Body a Favor, after the line in Annie Hall where Annie’s friends are trying to persuade Alvy to try cocaine.

Two Wednesdays ago about a hundred people showed up, dressed all shiny and glamorous, and Huerta outdid himself: the longest diva howls into outer space I’ve ever heard, glorious xylophone solos, horn trills from heaven. We danced until our heads were wet and the place reeked of BO. I went from the floor back to the bar dizzy, like I’d been on a cruise ship for weeks. I was feeling my way around in the inky darkness when wham–what felt like a million-watt violet strobe sucker punched me. I’m seasick thinking about it even now, but it was a black eye I was happy to get.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mireya Acierto.