Two guys walk out of a bar called the Snuggery. One says to the other, “Man, let’s not go to Shenanigans. That sounds like a lame place to hang out.” You, like me, might be thinking, compared to what? The Snuggery? That exchange I recently overheard pretty well sums up a typical night out on this Gold Coast block of Division Street. Lined with populist sports bars, it’s not a locale frequented by discerning clubgoers.
Thanks to Primary, the new late-night boutique club open in the former Funk Groove Lounge, that’s beginning to change. Focused on classic DJ-driven sounds, the space is quickly becoming a destination for scenesters seeking an intimate dancing experience. “The club is going to be more of a throwback to what I was really into when I was younger,” says Derek Salter, Primary’s chief owner and operator, referring to the Midwest’s house and techno heyday.
“I feel like that sound is culminating into something better than it ever was, more tasteful,” he continues on the phone from the office of the sound and lighting business he also owns. “The crowd that’s attracted to it is such a great crowd too, a lot of forward-thinking industry professionals, artists and designers. People like me.”
Salter, 32, a veteran of the ’90s rave scene, has been organizing parties professionally since 2001 when he opened Seanchai, another DJ hang that was at Belmont and Western. He’s also logged significant hours assisting at Smart Bar and Debonair Social Club.
Primary is an idea he’s been cooking up over the past two years, enlisting partners Dylan Hyde Castle, a local DJ, and Matt Edgar, the North American distributor of Void Audio sound systems. “The idea from the beginning was building a club that could be thought of as being from the future—new lighting technology, new sound technology, state-of-the-art DJ booth.”
Primary boasts all these things. A 30-foot LED screen serves as the DJ booth’s backdrop while lighting in the walls modulates through different colors depending on the music’s mood. Local artists are being tapped to paint murals on walls and the exterior facade. A custom DJ booth is also in the works, and, thanks to Edgar, the club is also the first in Chicago to boast an all-Void system—considered by most to be the pinnacle of club sound engineering.
In many ways, Primary can be thought of as Sonotheque 2.0. Sonotheque, which operated out of the current Beauty Bar space in Ukrainian Village from 2002 to 2009, shared many of Primary’s attributes—a focus on style, music and sound design. “It probably would have been the place where something in this vein could have grown,” Salter says.
“Everyone is uptight and anxious right now, so dubstep and high-bpm shit is huge because it mimics what society is dealing with. I think house music can do the same thing if it has all the components, like quality sound and quality lighting and the right atmosphere,” he adds. Along with regular sets from Salter, who deejays as Mettle, and Castle, a.k.a. Gun Love, who spin everything from French house to electro, Primary will feature quality local DJs handpicked by Salter as well as burgeoning global talents.
“That neighborhood is so dry of creativity,” Salter concludes. “We’re at the beginning of the block, so right off the bat, hopefully we’ll set a new precedent. I feel like it’s the first step into training people into something new. We all have to start somewhere.”