On May 14, 2011, I was one of 100 or so people who squeezed into the tiny basement performance space in the back of Logan Square DIY venue Summer Camp. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder, and condensation from the low-hanging pipes dripped on us—or onto the floor, where it mixed with sweat, rainwater tracked in from the downpour outside, and God knows what else to make treacherous slick spots. As the four bands on the bill—Brighter Arrows, Raw Nerve, Cloud Mouth, and Grown Ups—tore through their sets, the room grew progressively hotter and nastier.
I'd been to a handful of shows there since the previous summer, and the scene felt the same as it ever had—except that this was the venue's final blowout. DIY spaces come and go so quickly that Summer Camp, which started hosting shows in late 2008, was considered an underground punk fixture—and the guys who ran it had decided not to let it disappear undocumented. In addition to the usual $5 door donation, showgoers could chip in an extra $5 to reserve a copy of a live seven-inch with one song from each of the night's sets. Full disclosure: I threw in the whole ten bucks.
Next month, nearly a year later, the Summer Camp: Final Show package finally comes out. There's not just a live audio recording but also a DVD of the whole concert. For now the four-song seven-inch is available only to people who paid for it last May, plus members of the bands and former Summer Camp residents, but all 30 songs have been online for free download since March 7 at summercampchi.bandcamp.com. The DVD is online for preorder (it's $5 too) and will soon hit the shelves of a record store near you.
Summer Camp started when six guys moved into a four-bedroom house in August 2008—they made "bedrooms" out of some other spaces too. Not everyone had moved in thinking they'd host shows, but the idea appealed to Harrison Hickok, a Michigan transplant who runs the label Kid Sister Everything. "I got to a couple shows and saw how easy it was to do it and what I did and didn't like and met a couple other people who felt the same way," he says. "It was really easy to be like, 'Five dollars, no drinking, and give all the money to the touring bands, live in a slop bucket for four years.' It'll be worth it."
In the fall Hickok and his roommates opened their basement to bands. "Harrison did a lot right off the bat, and just in general throughout our stay there was just a driving force," says Wade Rodgers, a videographer who was fairly new to the DIY scene when he became part of the original Summer Camp crew. Everyone at the house helped out: booking bands, taking door money, making flyers.
They planned on two shows a month, though it sometimes turned out to be three, one, or none; Hickok estimates they hosted almost 50 all told. The groups that played were "punk" in the broadest sense—they included renowned DIY groups like cultishy beloved Italian screamo band Raein, New Jersey sludge punks Fight Amp, and upbeat Pennsylvania indie-rock act Slingshot Dakota.
"They've had like international screamo bands play in their basement, like 200 disgusting sweaty noodles packed down there and like freaking out over this very obscure, stupid band from Italy or wherever else those bands exist," says Raw Nerve guitarist Ryan Lowry. He's not into screamo, obviously, but Summer Camp became an integral part of the local DIY scene in part by serving that niche. "I can't see that happening at any other DIY venue in the city as of right now," Lowry says. "The people that are running them don't give a shit about that."
Within six months the word about Summer Camp had spread so far that Hickok says he was getting up to 20 show requests a week from bands all over the country. "I ended up booking a lot of the shows that I did out of it being easier to just say yes, have the show, and move on than actually wanting to do it," he says. "That's not why I want to do anything."
Summer Camp had a bit of a revolving door—Hickok figures 16 residents and plenty of couch surfers passed through over the years. The house itself was in disrepair, and their landlord was unresponsive. Last February, when the final seven tenants decided to move out, they were dealing with heat outages, peeling ceilings, and water leaking into their rooms.
Hickok got the idea to record Summer Camp's final show from Dance of Days, a 2001 book about D.C.'s punk scene—the specific inspiration was a 1987 show at the Wilson Center (Fugazi's first gig) to raise money for a benefit compilation called State of the Union, which doubled as a sort of scene snapshot.
The Summer Camp folks had their hands full the night of the final show. Kris Di Benedetto, a housemate who runs Chicago label Ice Age Records, recorded the audio using his Dell computer, two overhead mikes, and close mikes for all the amps and drums—some of which he'd had to buy new at Guitar Center for the occasion. ("We spent like $300 on sound stuff and then brought it back like a week later," he says.) Rodgers camped out near the action and recorded video with a Canon EOS 5D digital SLR. Hickok sold screen-printed posters commemorating the show. Others took turns collecting money and the addresses of the 80 or so fans who wanted the seven-inch. "God knows who actually got to watch it that lived at the house," Hickok says.
Only two bands accepted any door money, and they took just enough to top off a gas tank—the others let Summer Camp keep everything, which meant the space had about $800 to work with. That was more than enough to press 200 seven-inches, screen print the sleeves, make record inserts, ship the vinyl, and pay for part of the first 100 copies of the DVD—which at the very least will let the housemates finally see the concert. The DVD is more comprehensive than The Last Mopery Show, a 36-minute disc Victor Spatafora released last year to commemorate the curtain-closing fiesta at that DIY space: Rodgers says it's two and a half hours long, with full sets from every band and galleries of show flyers and photos from throughout Summer Camp's history. The credits will include thank-yous to everyone who paid $10 for the package.
"I wanted everybody to feel like it wasn't like 'Oh yeah, Summer Camp put this out,'" Hickok says. "It's like 'I put this out,' that's all. . . . It's like a Kickstarter, except it's not a joke."
For Hickok and his old roommates, it's not a matter of who deserves credit for what role in the scene—it's a matter of keeping the scene alive. "The real thing that we wanted since we started Summer Camp, since we were interested in music at all on this level, was that we just wanted people to keep doing new things," he says. "If this record makes people find a new band or start a new house, then it's paid for itself far more than the amount of effort that went into it for us."