December 4, 2023

Young Musicians Are Thriving in The Chicago DIY Scene

By Michael Clark and Meghna Dasgupta

DIY music photo Musician Color performing at Bookclub backed by the greenttea’s tempos. (Photo/Meghna Dasgupta)

Nate Herrera, front man for the band Uglynate, used a “trial and error” approach to getting the band off the ground in the early stages of the post-pandemic music scene.

“It’s trial and error, and you’ve just gotta keep doing it,” he said.

Herrera moved to the city in 2021 to start school at the University of Illinois Chicago. He’s grown up playing instruments, but decided to take music more seriously in high school. After forming the band and competing in a Battle of the Bands hosted by the university, the group was locked in pushing forward in the DIY music space.

Ugly Nate performance at Bookclub on June 14, 2023 / Photo by Meghna Dasgupta

The DIY music scene generally refers to smaller artists who are doing it all themselves, in spaces that aren’t your typical venues. Smaller local bands will often start out by performing at coffee shops, parks, even people’s basements and backyards. This includes writing the music, producing the songs, promoting it, and booking shows.

Accessibility to venues can often be hard for smaller artists. Venues like Bottom Lounge and Subterranean are booked and busy. Other bars around the city often won’t let people under 21 play or attend shows at their venues as well.

Herrera said the bookings are “the freedom to be able to reach out to a space and know that you have like a chance of being able to play there. And, like places like Bookclub are like really easy to get in contact with. And they don’t charge like an insane amount”.

Bookclub is a secret, independent music collective started right after the COVID-19 pandemic. Bookclub is a well-known secret in the Chicago music scene: their Instagram is private and you must Direct Message them for the address. Cam Stacey, co-founder and production manager of Bookclub, said that the venue “came out of necessity”.

“When vaccines rolled out in 2021, we just wanted to get our own space, kind of out of necessity,” he said.

Video: Ugly Nate performing live at bookclub

When talking about the current state of the Chicago music scene, Stacey said, “Chicago is a hotbed for new sounds.” Chicago is the birthplace of many music genres, including house, gospel, urban blues and modern jazz.

“When you think of the establishment venues, they have a particular sound that they’re catering to,” said Stacey, adding that “[Bookclub] tend(s) to get like the misfit, weird stuff, and we’ve become kind of a home for that.”

And it’s not just bands like Uglynate that Bookclub is showcasing at its venue. Stacey shares that for some touring artists, Bookclub is their only option to play for a Chicago crowd.

Stacey adds “Well, I’ll put it this way: More often than not, if we were not to put on a touring artist, they wouldn’t stop in Chicago at all. We’re very much the smallest option open for touring artists.”

What makes these shows even more interesting is that Bookclub gets to pair touring artists with local music artists that have similar sounds.

Some examples of touring artists that have had stops at Bookclub include Bickle and WILLIAM CROOKS.

For the future of the Chicago music scene, Stacey said to look for the independent venue collaborative festival “Tomorrow Never Knows” taking place over five days in January.

As for what’s coming up at Bookclub? “It’s always, always something.”

Musician Color performing at Bookclub backed by the greenttea’s tempos (@greenttea.tempos) /Photo by Meghna Dasgupta

Jacob Martin, bass for the band SCHLUPP, says “there’s a lot of really, really talented people, there’s a lot of super deserving artists out there.” 

Martin met Alex Schlupp, guitar and vocals for the band, at a show where they were both performing their individual acts at the time. Martin had a connection to drummer Rob Fornari and SCHLUPP was formed. Since then the band has gone on to perform at a multitude of DIY shows together, and even getting on the ticket at venues like Schubas and Burlington Bar.

Martin says “it’s just a matter of supporting each other, going to people’s shows, promoting other people’s shows.”

Nicholas Carlson, Senior Lecturer & Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Illinois Chicago, says that young musicians gain self-confidence and transferable skills from music participation.

“First and foremost, music usually provides people with an outlet for expression and creativity.” says Carlson. “That creative outlet is really important for yourself, [and] it also can then translate into, you know, providing the opportunity for someone to connect to a larger community.”

When talking about how the local music scene affects musicians, Carlson says “Because it’s such a large, urban city, there’s a lot of different types of opportunities for varying types of musicians.”

Herrera describes the community as supportive and excited. With peoples’ busy schedules, it can be hard to see friends who are caught up with class or work, so an added bonus for Herrera is that “ it’s just nice to get to see everyone in one place.”

To find more information about Bookclub, visit their Instagram page @bookclubchi

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