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Swerp Mansion Brings The Rock But Skips The Booze

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 5, 2013 4:00PM

For independent, underground punk and rock fans in Chicago, Swerp Mansion in Humboldt Park is the new mecca — a spacious residential loft with a surprising punk rock past and a bright future for local and touring musicians. The five guys who inhabit the loft organize the shows and operate Swerp Records (a record label also run out of the apartment), but this isn’t the first time the space has hosted music enthusiasts.

“We walked in and the walls were covered in posters and there was this giant record company logo on the wall,” recalls J. Matthew Nix, 24, one of Swerp Mansion’s permanent residents, about his first time seeing the loft. Coincidentally, this address was once the Lucky Gator Loft which Nix describes as “one of the big punk rock lofts in Chicago” during its prime.

Yes, “punk rock lofts” are a thing. For bands who can’t snag a booking at the Empty Bottle or the Beat Kitchen yet or simply don’t want to, house shows are a tradition almost as old as punk music itself and its consequential subgenres. Swerp Mansion is not an official venue as it makes no profits. Five dollar donations at the shows for admittance go straight to touring bands’ food and gas budgets. Aside from the homier location, you’ll also notice another stark difference from traditional club shows if you show up to a concert at Swerp: there’s no drinking here.

Reminiscent of the early 1980s straightedge hardcore music days, Swerp Mansion operates on a strict no drinking, no drugs policy and discourages rowdiness. However, Nix says the policy isn’t so much a moral statement as it is safe thinking.

“It’s an odd cocktail of reasons why but a lot of it’s based in safety and a lot of it’s based in responsibility,” Nix explains. “If this got shut down for something like [drinking or rowdiness] I would be devastated and we’ve got a big pile of shows coming up. We’ve got a U.K. band that’s going to be playing here and staying here and if we had to call them and say ‘We got shut down’....I’m just not going to do that.”

Still, despite a sober status amidst a city of free flowing booze, Swerp’s seen a successful first few months of operation with shows peaking at three hundred people. Perhaps another reason for this success is the Mansion’s coincidental good timing. In May, days after Swerp’s residents had signed their lease on the loft, Chicago’s former big name punk loft Treasure Town was shut down. Treasure Town’s resident booking expert and member of Swerp Records band My Dad Dave Collis, 20, began ushering the defunct venue’s shows and crowd the Mansion’s way. Soon enough he was manning the majority of show bookings for Swerp Mansion.

“It just happened over and over again to the point that I was doing it so much and Nix was so busy with other stuff that he had zero time to deal with people emailing him asking for shows,” said Collis. “He just put my email on the website.”

To keep the loft from getting “overrun” the residents of Swerp Mansion have opted not to publicize the exact location of their space. However, if you would like to attend a show just email for the address.