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.
— Daniel Makagon
Daniel Makagon 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.
For more information, visit Professor Makagon's faculty page or his faculty website.
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
Visit the First-Year Program website for more information on Chicago Quarter, Explore Chicago and Discover Chicago classes for first-year students.