The hardcore band Sick Fix’s last show was a disaster.
On Feb. 16, the group was booked along with four other bands at Hole in the Sky, an Eckington group house and show space that’s become a fixture of the local punk circuit. Toward the end of Sick Fix’s set, police showed up, and when the house’s residents couldn’t produce a Certificate of Occupancy or show they had a second fire exit, the bands and around 100 fans dispersed.
“I felt personally guilty when we got caught and had to shut down the show,” says Jaime Leclerc, 26, who lives at Hole in the Sky. “Those poor bands and those poor fans had to come pay for the show and then leave. I was like, ‘We really should have gotten our shit together before now.’”
But Lerclerc was surprised by the turn of events: Hole in the Sky had been putting on shows—with punk and hardcore bands, mostly, but also indie rock and experimental music—for 10 months before it was busted by the Metropolitan Police Department. Leclerc and her roommates don’t know why it finally happened. Maybe it was bad luck: There was an unrelated arrest in their alley on Feb. 16. Or maybe it had something to do with fact that four days earlier and just two blocks away, another impromptu music venue was quashed hours before it even opened for its first show.
Caveyard was to host a show featuring the groups T.O.B., T.E., and four other acts, but nearby residents called the police and fire marshal, who shut it down by citing—you guessed it—no Certificate of Occupancy and insufficient fire exits.
So why did the punks last longer than the go-go bands?
The fact that Hole in the Sky promoted its shows primarily through punk and hardcore websites while Caveyard put racy posters all over Eckington probably had something to do with it, says Leclerc. And certainly, go-go shows are seen as conduits for violence, unfairly or not.
Racism might have played a role in the debacle, says Hole in the Sky resident Garrett Underwood, 21. “Go-go is still seen as a threat to some sort of establishment or order maybe, and punk is a fashion,” he says.
Before Feb. 16, police had shown up at Hole in the Sky twice, but left both times without incident. “Until now, the police have been largely positive about us,” adds Leclerc. “It was weird. People were like, ‘Oh you’re cleaning up the neighborhood.’”
Underwood observes that the perception of go-go fans as dangerous and punks as harmless (or even helpful) is probably a function of punk fans being mostly white and go-go fans being mostly black. That discrepancy is especially stark in light of punk’s anti-establishment ethos. “I think go-go has this huge youth movement behind it and has a lot of energy,” says Hole in the Sky resident Lucas Severn, 20. “It has this really grassroots power even though they aren’t sitting out there saying, ‘We are going to smash capitalism,’” like some punks might say.
One thing punk and go-go bands have in common, however, is a tendency to host events in venues that may not be quite legitimate, and Eckington has adaptable space in spades. On 5th Street NE, near the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metrorail station, a wedge of auto-repair shops and cab depots abut increasingly pricey fixer-uppers. “We are a weird industrial block embedded in a neighborhood, so it’s ideal for us,” says Leclerc. “Otherwise we’d be way out on New York Avenue, next to club Love.”
But what’s good for music venues isn’t necessarily good for the neighborhood, says Eckington resident and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Tim Clark. “Our community is turning that corner between violent crimes to become a more safe, stable community,” he says. “I don’t think go-go is what our community needs at this time. We need stable retail and to attract people to our community who want to build lives.”
So when Caveyard posters—claiming go-go shows would take place “each and every Saturday”—began turning up in the neighborhood, Clark was concerned. Neighborhood e-mail message boards lit up with parents criticizing the poster, which depicted a woman in a bikini licking a lollipop and dubbed the event, “She Taste Like Candy.” Spurred by constituents’ outrage, Clark paid a visit to the warehouse and met with representatives from the group Pep Rally for Peace in the Streets, who, he says, attempted to assuage the commissioner’s concerns.
“The occupants of the building explained to me that the event was to raise revenue for the work they were doing with inner-city youth,” Clark says.
Gary Clark (no relation to Tim Clark), the head of Pep Rally for Peace in the Streets, denies sponsoring the event. One of the bands listed on the flyer—T.E., for Tru Expressionz—also denied any connection to the event. Their manager, who identified herself only as “Ms. Shannon,” says lots of go-go flyers claim Tru Expressionz is performing. “Most of the time they do it to build up customers,” she says. (The other alleged Caveyard organizers and performers did not return phone calls and e-mails for comment.)
Though Gary Clark claims not to know about the Caveyard event, Pep Rally for Peace in the Streets does stage concerts to attract teens to educational events, such as black history programs. “We use the go-go groups, the younger go-go groups, to bring in the attention of the youth,” he says. “We have to have a way of getting them involved, getting them to see the positiveness. It’s a win-win situation,” he says, adding that it’s unfortunate that many people associate go-go music with violence. “Music doesn’t cause shootings. It’s a positive force.”
Eckington resident Steve Campbell, 59, agrees. “We have too many vacant buildings. Let’s turn these places into something liveable, and give young people something to do. We really don’t have too much for young people to do around here,” he says.
Currently, teens in Eckington travel to Virginia or Maryland for their nightlife, says Tiara Stone, 19. “Most of my friends are in college, but it’d be nice to have somewhere nearby to go to when they come home.”
Stone and her friends may soon have their wish—assuming they don’t mind hanging out with the mostly white Hole in the Sky crowd. While the Caveyard organizers seem to have disappeared, Hole in the Sky is going legit.
The house’s residents, all renters, installed an iron staircase from the roof to function as a second fire exit, and they’ve applied for a Certificate of Occupancy. They’re also painting, building a rooftop garden, and investing in a backline so bands don’t have to bring their own drum sets and amplifiers.
“We are doing all these things to not just re-open and be the same dingy Hole in the Sky, but re-open with a new face…and be a legit art space,” says Leclerc.
To fund the renovations, Hole in the Sky aims to raise about $5,000. They launched a website, holeintheskydc.org, to collect funds, and are applying for non-profit status. This has rankled some members of the punk community. The first response to Leclerc’s donation request on the D.C. Hardcore message board was “Get a job.”
“A lot of people are in denial that something like Hole in the Sky needs money, but it just does in order to be sustainable,” Leclerc says. “I don’t want it to be a capitalist venture. I just want it to be sustainable and not just scraping by.”
Leclerc also hopes that by going legit and ending all shows at 11 p.m., the group will garner neighborhood support. Tim Clark, however, reserves judgment.
“If they comply with D.C.’s laws, I support it. But if there are numerous venues coming in at the same time, that changes the atmosphere of the neighborhood; that creates a club or a party culture,” he says. “If they are just popping up, it creates a real hassle for the community and the MPD as well.”