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Neo - Helter Skelter - Chicago, IL (USA)

I recently had the pleasure of going to Chicago for the Cold Waves: Jamie Duffy Memorial Show. Well... Maybe pleasure isn't the right word. Sadly, Jamie passed away recently, and (at least for me) unexpectedly. He is someone that I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to when he came to Boston as DJ Acucrack (apologies on spelling). Jamie was a kind soul that will be truly missed. But, it was great to be able to attend the Cold Waves: Jamie Duffy Memorial Show. The community really rallied together to help put on a great concert, and ease some of the financial burden on his family. I am proud to be a very small part of that. That's not what this review is about, though. Others will write a better review of that event than I could possibly hope to. No. This review is about a venue I went to, the event that it hosted, and how I sat around for hours from a lacking desire to participate due to boredom.

The Night Club Neo
NEO

NEO is a night club located in the Park West district of Chicago, Illinois, and it has been around for a long time. The club opened in 1979, and has served as an alt-scene clubbing venue since it first opened its doors. If you've ever looked at their website, it is as obvious of a thing to say, as telling someone that the sun is bright and we're all dying a slow painful death. The night club event that I decided to check out in particular is called Helter Skelter, which bills itself as a "hard-edged electronica" night. I, perhaps mistakenly, assumed that Helter Skelter would be along the lines of Terror EBM (Electronic Body Music), heavy and hard industrial, and maybe even some rhythmic noise. But, no! It was no such thing.

I took a cab to Neo from the Crowne Plaza on West Madison Street. The fare left something to be desired at $18 (with tip), and the ride was time consuming. It took about 20 minutes to get there when it should have taken 12. Our cabbie was slow and didn't know where to go, but did his best to make up for it by asking us questions about what we were doing that night. As if it would be of some help! I dunno, maybe all the different event nights in Chicago are grouped by district or something? I'm just a tourist, man... You're the guy who brings me where I want to go. Let's make that happen!

As we neared the address of the venue I started looking for the usual signs. You know... like an actual sign advertising the club's whereabouts, black-clad people hanging outside smoking cloves; but I didn't see a damn thing. It wasn't until the cab slowed, surely in his confusion of not knowing where he was taking us, that I noticed what was perhaps a once fully lighted and operational sign, now just sad and a decrepit with merely the 'O' "glowing". I put the glowing in quotes because I'm being rather generous, here. This sign was fucking done, man. Well, at least we found the place.

I got out of the car and approached the front of the building, noticing that the windows were covered with paper. I knew that they had a fetish night on the 2nd and last Sundays of the month, so I suppose it was for anonymity, but it definitely had me second guessing whether or not this place was actually open for business. Not the best strategy I've ever seen. I looked for doors but found none that appeared to be inviting to the general populace. There was no sign offering suggestions or friendly tips as to how you got into the damn place. There was an alley to the right of the building, so I took a few steps over to it, wondering if we were meant to go into a side entrance. That is where I noticed a small sign at the back of the ally with light spilling onto the gravel, inviting us down the rabbit hole, if you will. Ooooh. Atmosphere. Spooky.

Messy, hastily painted graffiti covered the sides of the two buildings flanking me, complete with the obligatory overflowing industrial sized waste bins. At the end of the short ally I was greeted by the security guard who grunted his desire to see my id, hand extended and impatient. He glanced at it and handed it back without one understandable utterance, or any trace of a pulse aside from the fact that he was ambulatory. I entered the club assuming that I knew what to expect, being that this wasn't my first time at the rodeo but SPOILER ALERT: I was wrong.

The woman just inside the door taking the entrance fee looked a bit cranky, so I paid her my 10 dollars and got in as fast as I could manage, making sure not to smile. You're not supposed to smile at goth clubs, you know. Siouxsie and the Banshees was playing, and I couldn't help but laugh sadly to myself. "Hard-edged electronica, huh?" Anyone else would have made the same assumption I did, that this would be more of an industrial night, or at the very least a heavier EBM night. Maybe they're still "setting the mood." Because ATMOSPHERE. IT MATTERS!

The interior of the venue is interesting, but showed clear signs of its age. If I'm being entirely honest, it looked to me as if Neo hadn't been updated but once, maybe, since the building was first erected. The club itself is quite small as well; looking as though it could comfortably fit 200 people, which surprised me as I was under the impression that Chicago had a fairly sizable scene. The walls are painted with red flames rising from the bottom, accompanied by skulls with crosses behind them, which was disappointingly cliche. The dance floor was practically an obstacle course made up of old tiling that rudely interrupted where the various pitting and holes resided, heavy in numbers and intimidating as hell. I actually got my heel caught in more than one divot walking across it or dancing. Two sides of the dance floor had seating areas comprised of various raised platforms that were covered in fraying industrial carpeting. There were a great many stains that I could only pray originated from drinks long gone dry; but I've been to enough of these clubs to know better than to accept the best case scenario. I noted the boldness of a girl who chose to sit on the carpeting in what would generously be called a skirt, and accurately be called a wide belt. I briefly considered warning her of the upheaval she would face due to an unwanted pregnancy or contraction of some STI. Instead, I looked away, hoping that she was at least wearing some sturdy underwear, better yet, a chastity device. Also, there are some stand-alone tables and chairs, most of which were occupied by other early arrivals, taking in their preferred doses of liquid courage.

Red lighting, a popular choice for goth nights the country (or perhaps world) over, swirled and danced their way throughout the club space. Even the dj booth, which was raised to give those spinning a good view of the floor, had the front covered in small panes of glass, etched to diffuse the red lights glowing from behind it. And of course, the appropriate level of fog was present.

I just want to double check, have I mentioned the atmosphere yet? I have? Ok, Good. I just wanted to make sure, because I feel like this place REALLY wants us all to know that it takes atmosphere, and subsequently itself, very seriously.

Ok, now for the most important part of the review: THERE IS A BAR! Yup! That alone makes this place worthy of a look-see, right? It's directly to your left from the entrance, and just off the side of the dance floor. Also important to note, it's raised by about a foot with a few different small sets of stairs to get your there. Of course no one took the courtesy to light these various sets of stairs. I mean, who would light stairs that people are going to drunkenly shamble over multiple times throughout the night, right? Safety third, after all.

While there is a "fully stocked" bar, the liquor selection was depressingly limited (they didn't have Bombay Sapphire). But, I have to admit that the drinks were incredibly well priced. My companion ordered a Gin'n'Tonic and returned with an eight ounce glass that he relayed cost a measly six bucks. Of course it was a bit heavier on the tonics than it ought to have been, but I'll chalk that up to us being "out-of-towners". These establishments usually pour better for the people they see with some sort of regularity, so they get the benefit of the doubt regarding it's potency. To my utter delight a 16 ounce glass of cola, which was more beverage than ice, cost a mere 2 dollars. Ok, you win that round Neo. Some advice though, if you're a new visiter to a club and you happen to be friends with a regular there, have them introduce you to the bartender (or even order your drink for you) if you want to get a fair pour of booze. A word to the wise for any of you classy bitches that enjoy complicated drinks that require several types of booze, a steadied hand to layer them, or a muddler: Consider slumming it for the night. They likely won't have the ingredients or tools required for your Rosewater Ricky. This is a simpler place, lost in time. If anyone asks just say it's part of the club's charm.

Speaking of being lost in time, you remember me mentioning that Siouxsie was playing upon entry, right? Well, keeping with the theme, the music selection too was rather dated. Even my companion was a little put-off by the song, or perhaps more appropriately "era selection", and we enjoy a fair bit of old-school industrial. A vast majority of the tunes played throughout the night were birthed between the years 87-97, with a couple of exceptions including a Stromkern song from 2004 and a Decoded Feedback song from 2003. They played a cover of Mysterious Ways by KMFDM (for serious? Mysterious Ways?), Manufacture, The Creatures, and a ton of the all-too-typical old school industrial hits. At one point in the night I literally hung my head in sadness when the second Nine Inch Nails song of the HOUR was played. With only one DJ spinning there is just no excuse for that. In short, nothing terribly new, nothing all that exciting, and certainly very little that I would classify as "hard-edged electronica" graced the airwaves on this particular night.

While the song selection left something to be desired, the DJ was pleasingly technically proficient, ignoring his fondness for occasionally twisting the knobs. The song mixes were clean and beat matched, which was a happy little bonus for me because it doesn't happen nearly as often as it needs to in the goth scene at large. Yet again though, nothing terribly creative, but it got the job done without any awkward pauses or time-signature shifts. He had a flow going early in the night before he needed to be at the top of his game as well, which I can appreciate. I didn't hear a single train wreck or screechy floor-halting tempo shift the entire time I stayed, which was from 11pm until 2am. After that though, I was done. I hadn't danced but for 3 times, and I'm a dancer. Typically I'll dance to anything with a beat, but I couldn't move past the shock of what I got in comparison to what I hoped for from the night. The predictability and Top-40Goth/Industrial feel left me pretty disappointed overall.

I hate to say it, but I was bored into submission. 2am rolled around and all I could do was admit defeat. I left replaying every discussion I've had about why the popular belief is that "the scene" is dying in my head, reconsidering my stance on the matter, and why I've bothered to defend it in the past.

Now, I feel it important to note: I have it on good authority that this is not usually the case for Helter Skelter, but I can only attest to what I witnessed. And frankly? I felt lied to. TL:DR~ Look. I'll say this; If you're into old-school industrial, and that's what you want to hear, and you happen to be in Chicago on a Saturday night, you're going to have a blast. However, if you're looking for what the night is advertised as, which falsely leads one to believe that it will be wrought with heavy, four on the floor, scream-y vocoded industrial, terror EBM, and/or harsh electronica noise with SOME industrial in the mix, then this is not your night, my friend. It just isn't.

Review Scoring System: Grading A-F
Drink CostA-
Drink QualityC
DJ QualityB+
Song SelectionC
Dance Floor SizeC
Dance Floor QualityD-
Quality of DancersB
Audio QualityC
Venue FurnitureC-
Crowd PopulationB
Crowd AttitudeA
Environment/Crowd SafetyC
Lighting EffectsB-
Stage Performance(ers)N/A
Overall
C
Potential Achieved~75%

~D.H. Bomb

"Connecticut native, Boston inhabitant, and west coast defector."

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