By Bob Chiarito November 17, 2018
Two Chicago area music venues are hoping their quiet stages Friday night send a loud message to bands with anti-Semitic ties: that they are not welcome, after being duped into almost hosting one such band.
Both Cobra Lounge, 225 N. Ashland Avenue in Chicago, and Wire, 6815 Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, cancelled their planned music Friday night after learning of allegations that Hellvetron, a black-metal band from Texas, had a history of anti-Semitic ties.
Initially Hellvetron was scheduled to play Cobra Lounge along with three other bands, when the venue’s general manager Louie Mendicino was sent messages from friends like Chicago musician Laura Jane Grace, the front woman of Against Me! and former employee Billy Phelan, who lives in Colorado, telling him that the band had Nazi ties.
“Once I heard that, I did an Internet search and it was not hard to see that they had ties that we don’t want any part of,” Mendicino said. He said he discovered that Hellvetron band members were also members of overtly racist bands on anti-Semitic labels and had played on a racist compilation.
Mendicino said he told the band’s promoter to take them off the bill. When the promoter refused, Mendicino decided to cancel the entire night. He said it may have cost the venue a few thousand dollars, but it was a matter of principle, which he outlined in an announcement on Facebook. Cobra Lounge published a posting that read, “Tonight’s show has been canceled. We were recently made aware of some anti-Semitic rhetoric in regards to one of the bands on tonight’s bill and we cannot support even the slightest claim of racism or social divisiveness of any kind. We pride ourselves on diversity and cultural development of unifying nature. We have already received threatening messages from Nazi supporting entities and we are fine with that. We apologize for inconveniencing any ticket holders but our stance is firm. All but the hateful are welcome in our house. With love, The Cobra Lounge.”
Mendicino said Cobra Lounge, which regularly features punk and heavy metal bands, has cancelled bands and tours before for similar reasons, but had never received any backlash until Friday, when the venue received several hateful messages from other bands and groups online that have SS imagery and Swastikas on their Facebook pages, something he blamed on the political climate of the country right now.
“This is the climate of our country right now,” Mendicino said, adding that he didn’t feel the need to name the band in the venue’s Facebook post because, “It’s not about vilifying anyone. We just wanted to let everyone know why there is no music tonight.”
Mendicino said the majority of responses were in support of his stance (as of Saturday morning the venue’s Facebook post had 2,600 likes and hundreds of comments and shares) and that he was thankful to those who alerted him about the band, adding that he does not have the resources to vet every band.
“To personally vet every band that plays here would be a full-time job. These guys actually played at a bar in Philadelphia under a fake name recently, only to be discovered later,” Medicino said. That story was also reported in the August 2017 edition of Philly Magazine.
Cobra Lounge security manager Philly Denigris said he was happy his employer cancelled the show and said bands like Hellvetron are a small segment of the black metal genre that venues have to be aware of.
“All the dorks got kicked out of the punk scene for being racist and seemed to end up in the black metal scene,” Denigris said. “There’s no reasoning with people like that.”
After being eighty-sixed from Cobra Lounge, the band’s promoter got them booked at Wire in nearby Berwyn, which hosts bands from all different genres.
“We booked them late Thursday night because the band we had scheduled cancelled,” Wire co-owner Chris Neville said. “We have worked with the promoter before and never had an issue, but I talked to the guys at Cobra and as soon as I learned about the background of the band we cancelled their show as well.”
Neville echoed Mendicino, saying his venue’s decision had nothing to do with money and that while he may have lost money Friday night, he would welcome any additional business as a result of the community learning what he stands for.
“When you lose a Friday, it’s tough. It would be nice to get a boost but that wasn’t the motivation,” Neville said.
Neville said the band actually played his venue last year, fudging its way onto a bill the same way they duped a bar in Philadelphia.
“They sneaked onto a bill here back in May under the name Nyogthaedlisz with a different promoter. It’s disturbing and frightening.”
Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead leader who has been working for more than a decade to pull people out of hate groups and who once fronted his own white-power band, said bands like Hellvetron feel emboldened in the current political climate.
“Yes, of course they are emboldened. The Internet has allowed a more transnational hate movement to form. These same people were always out there, but now they can find and support each other more easily. This is just the beginning of what I have been saying for years will happen. We’ve ignored it as it reared its ugly head throughout our history, and now that it has hit us in its jaw we’re screaming bloody murder. America must wake up and see that their democracy is under attack by these subversive groups that are infiltrating every facet of our society, from politics to news to music. And Americans who are buying into this garbage like I once did, and then fed to others through propaganda and music, are being fooled into being complicit. If there has ever been a time to ask ourselves, ‘What is America and what do we hope it will be?’ Now is the time to really ask ourselves and dig deep to figure it out. Because it’s slipping away.”
After Wire cancelled their show, the promoter of Hellvetron reached out to a third venue — Brauerhouse in suburban Lombard, to see if they could get booked there.
“I know of the promoter and worked with him in the past,” Brauerhouse owner Steven Brauer said.
“I knew if Cobra cancelled the show there had to be a reason so I called them. We all know each other and none of us like these Nazi idiots,” Brauer said. Needless to say, Brauer refused to book the band.
Wire also put up a Facebook post, similar to Cobra’s announcement, which also had several hundred likes as of Saturday morning. Additionally, people commenting on the posts of both venues urged others to begin a campaign urging people to let venues with Hellvetron on their schedules know about the allegations against the band.
A Facebook page under the name Hellvetron received a message from a reporter asking for a response to the allegations of Nazism and anti-Semitism but did not respond and calls to the band’s promoter were not returned.
At 10 p.m. Friday night, when Cobra Lounge would typically be packed and loud with deafening music, it was largely quiet but did have about 30 people who came in to support the venue’s stand.
Juan Arreola, 41, of Chicago, said he frequents the venue but made sure he showed up on Friday to show his support.
“There was a threat of racists showing up tonight so I wanted to be here. No one has shown up yet and I don’t really expect them, but the night is young. We are here because we want to show unity. We are not going to tolerate hate in Chicago. You deserve to get ostracized,” Arreola said.
As Arreola spoke to a reporter, the crowd got silent watching a local television news segment about the venue’s decision to cancel the show that was on in the corner of the bar. As the story ended, patrons of the bar chanted, “Fuck those Nazis, fuck those Nazis.”