Metro's mission is to bring a cross-platform of the best local, regional and national emerging artists to Chicago. Since, 1982, Metro has accomplished this goal repeatedly and established itself as one of the country's premier, cutting edge new music venues. It's an exciting time in the club's history; a time that proves New Music does matter and has mattered for 25 years. But how did it all begin?
In the late 1970's, owner Joe Shanahan left his hometown of Chicago for New York City to live in the midst of the developing art, music and dance culture. After a year, he returned to Chicago and realized that there wasn't, at that time, a decent club tied to those communities. Drawing upon his friends and experiences from New York City, he set off to fill this void.
Metro/Smart Bar began as Shanahan's personal parties for his friends in his loft apartment. Exploiting the camaraderie in the local art community, Shanahan began to combine these DJ-driven parties with local gallery openings. Attendance ballooned, and the parties quickly outgrew his loft space. A local promoter directed him to the building that now houses Metro and Smart Bar. Shanahan fell in love with it.
Metro was originally built in 1927 as a SwedishCommunity Center. When Shanahan came across it, it was home to a jazz/folk club, Stages. Enamored by the space, Shanahan opened SmartBar in July of 1982. A dance club mixing a variety of the new genres of the time, SmartBar was located on the fourth floor of the building, which now houses the offices of the Metro staff.
Smart Bar became a quick success. Groundbreaking DJs Frankie Knuckles and Joe Smooth would spin regularly. Bands like Ministry and Trent Reznor showcased their new "industrial" music by playing tapes of freshly recorded tracks for the crowd.
A month later, Shanahan had the opportunity to promote a show in "the big room" with a little known band he met in New York. Using the name of his production company, Latest Creations, he placed his first advertisement in the Chicago Reader, and drew posters and flyers. For five bucks a head, Chicago saw this show featuring a little-known band from Athens, Georgia - R.E.M. The show was a success and Shanahan began booking the club's weekend slots.
Shanahan gradually took over the main floor of Stages, moving SmartBar from the fourth floor to the basement of the building. Metro was re-opened as a live music venue in its current space. It would be a place that focused on local talent and emerging talent from the region, nation, and ultimately the world.
Metro began paving its path with local bands like Naked Raygun and Big Black. Soon, the club looked to other cities to achieve its goal. New York for Sonic Youth and the Ramones. Athens for R.E.M. and Pylon. Minneapolis for the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Soul Asylum. California for X and the Bangles. In Metro's first year of business, Shanahan hosted future music heavyweights New Order, Depeche Mode, Killing Joke, Billy Idol and O.M.D.
Metro's mantra opened doors not only for artists but also for new genres of music - the club figured heavily in the early industrial explosion, welcoming artists such as Cabaret Voltaire and Einsturzende Neubauten.
During this time, Metro began a long-standing relationship with Chicago's own Jam Productions. This symbiotic relationship with one of the country's last independent concert promoters has helped Metro remain true to its own independent entrepreneurial roots. It allows Metro to take its promotional sensibility outside its four walls to continue working with artists as they move to larger venues.
The 1990s brought the rise of grunge and alternative music. The Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Liz Phair and Veruca Salt began their careers in Metro's backyard. From Seattle came Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. Los Angeles brought Jane's Addiction and a relationship with Perry Farrell that continues to this today.
Today's music history makers have also cut their teeth at Metro. The White Stripes, Alkaline Trio, The Killers, Disturbed, Travis, Jimmy Eat World, Interpol, The Frames, Jack Johnson, Kanye West, Atmosphere, Moby, The Faint, Fatboy Slim, Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Muse, Fall Out Boy and many more.
Metro is also a place that celebrates the American and British roots of rock and roll. Legendary artists including James Brown, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, Joe Strummer and Prince have all performed for the Metro crowd. One of Shanahan's most humbling career highlights took place when Bob Dylan performed two shows at Metro to celebrate the club's 15th Anniversary.
On July 22, 2007, Metro will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. We're looking forward to another quarter century of the best music the world has to offer. You can see it at Metro first.
Metro Chicago is not affiliated with AmericanTowns Media