For many people in the Midwest the basement is a storage space: summer gardening equipment, items that can’t be sold on eBay now but might be worth $33 down the road, suitcases, and other miscellaneous junk. It’s a place that usually smells bad, is damp, and houses too many spider webs. However, there’s also another more interesting use for basements in Chicago. Basements are one of the most important do-it-yourself (DIY) all-ages spaces for punk shows in the city. We study these spaces and other sites of underground music in the first-year program course Underground Music Culture in Chicago.
I have taught this Explore Chicago class for the past six years. Punk and Hip Hop are the two central music cultures studied in this class, but over the years we have also learned about dubstep and grime, disco and house, chill out and ska.
Students study the history of bohemian culture, connections between historical radical art movements and contemporary underground music, and learn about underground cultural production and consumption in urban environments. Guest speakers include members of punk bands, alternative radio show hosts, rappers, music promoters, beatmakers, and record label owners. Our class field studies introduce students to the world of fanzines and public art. Most students who enroll in the class begin without knowledge of underground music; they tend to think that the underground refers to musicians playing at the Jackson Street El station. However, as the term progresses, they begin to understand that there are a variety of important creative cultural practices in Chicago that fly below the mainstream radar.
In the end, the Underground Music Culture course highlights important connections between DePaul’s urban social justice mission and the cultural politics of Chicago’s underground music scenes. My hope is that when the students complete the course they will think more critically about the politics of culture, understand the power of creative community, and develop some basic fieldwork skills. But I also secretly hope that when they enter a dark, damp basement they see a space where punk bands could play shows, rappers could spit rhymes, DJs could learn to mix, and beatmakers could develop cutting-edge sounds and then go about transforming that space from a collection of cobwebs and unused gas cans to one that is a space where underground music thrives.
is a professor in the Communication Studies program. Professor Makagon's teaching and research interests are in urban communication, ethnography, cultural studies, documentary and community.
The Chicago Quarter, part of the university's First-Year Program, offers introductory courses that reflect the central goals of the larger Liberal Studies Program at DePaul. Its objectives include: developing reflectiveness and value consciousness; fostering ethical reasoning and critical and creative thinking; and incorporating a multicultural perspective.
Visit the Liberal Studies website
for more information on Chicago Quarter, Explore Chicago and Discover Chicago classes for first-year students.