Music » Music Stories

Play Place: Pig Slop lived exuberantly outside the norm



Located on Cherokee Street on the second floor of the former Globe Drug–Discount Variety Store, Pig Slop has been flying the flag of freakdom, intoxication and mutant reverie since August 2010. But the inimitable space couldn't last forever, and at the end of July it joined the ranks of so many DIY venues before it closed its doors.

Pig Slop breathed life into a crumbling building ripe with potential. Founded by the trio of Chloe Bethany, Rebecca Estee and Zak Marmalefsky, the vast open space went from midnight roller-skating pizza party to art incubator and music venue. The 7,500-square-foot room became a haven for the burgeoning Cherokee Street art scene.

"When Rebecca and I were first considering moving into a space, we kept lists of warehouse landlord phone numbers, grandiose programming concepts and our individual minimal necessities for this imagined future live/work space," says Marmalefsky. "I remember hers as things like running water, a working shower and kitchen, etc., but my number one and number two were: I don't want to live on Cherokee Street, and I don't want to live with a bunch of people."

As mobile walls of cloth, wood and drywall went up, the people started coming. Initially serving as housing and studio workspace for the three artists, Pig Slop would eventually grow to include a rotating cast of characters (including Irene Compadre and Jonathan Muehlke), at times housing up to ten residents and artists.

"I had known Zak since I started college at Washington University, and he and his girlfriend Rebecca were interested in having another person to split rent with so they could get a bigger space," says Bethany. "I remember looking at Craigslist ads for weird buildings with him and Rebecca late at night. We wanted a space where we could do whatever we want and not have to be professional, and hopefully create a kind of art community for ourselves to be productive in."

Collaboration and inclusivity were elemental in Pig Slop, which ushered in numerous events with emerging and established artists from all walks and all media. As is often the case with DIY spaces, it wasn't long before the idea for live music events began to sprout up. "My older brother was always a bigger fan of new music than me, and he's lived in warehouse[s]/punk-house[s] around the country," says Marmalefsky. "The summer before we moved into Pig Slop, I went on tour with a band, and we played at those kinds of places. That was the literal impetus for our first Pig Slop events."

It was through Marmalefsky's tour connections that a network of like-minded individuals in search of a venue in the cultural badlands of the Midwest would come to find Pig Slop. "We started getting e-mails from touring bands through word of mouth and met so many local musicians that it became obvious that people were more into music shows than art shows," says Bethany.

Over the course of its two-year existence, Pig Slop played host to a large handful of both national and regional touring acts including Japanther, CAVE, Chain and the Gang, Buoyant Sea, Odonis Odonis, Chackerine and TOPS. The venue also proved a place for area bands like MSIF, Skarekrau Radio, Britches and Little Big Bangs to find kindred spirits.

Recalling some of their favorite Pig Slop concert memories, Marmalefsky and Bethany reflect: "Every MSIF show at Pig Slop — when they played the Southern Graphics Council after-party to a full house of locals and traveling convention was definitely a proud moment. [We were] happy to share a huge, weird spectacle with a rapt, confused audience," says Marmalefsky.

"...Midwest Trash Vortex. They got a bunch of random stuff from the alleys around Pig Slop, including a couple trash bags of foam off-cuts from a sports-equipment manufacturing place around the corner. They were playing their modular synth boards on the floor, and Melinda [Snyder] was swimming/writhing shirtless through this huge mound of black and neon pieces of foam," says Bethany.

In an unexpected turn during the summer of 2011, Marmalefsky and Estee packed their bags for a move to Wyoming, leaving Bethany as headmaster of Pig Slop's concert programming. "I was so fucking sad when Zak and Becca moved to Wyoming," says Bethany. "I'm a huge romanticizer of the past, and so even though my new Slop-mates were charming in their own right, I was always missing them at first. Collaborating with Zak and Becca on events and projects always seemed effortless — consensus was unforced."

Despite the ever-changing family at Pig Slop, Bethany would find new inspiration in collaboration with artists such as, Mel Trad and Ben Stegman. It was at Pig Slop where Stegman was allowed to flourish with the birth of his NOISE series, a monthly event combining video, live music and hedonistic acts bound by transgressive art and sonic assault. Stegman reflects on the singularity and importance of Pig Slop, saying, "Venues like it are important for the same reason venues like Cranky Yellow or Bonerville are important. I call it the treehouse effect: If a Ticketmaster-bound space like the Pageant is the top dog, big kid on the block, then Pig Slop was the younger sibling in the back yard. The structure never stays but provides a temporary outlet for those outside the concertgoing status quo.

"One doesn't support this institution because it's a capitalistic commodity, but because it's neat. Because tree houses temporarily offer the kind of fun that an evening with Mom and Dad ain't gonna."

In April 2012, Marmalefsky returned to Pig Slop. After a solid spring and summer lineup, the space had its last official show on Sunday, July 15, with Demon Lover, Kisser, Bug Chaser and Chicago's Mayor Daley. "At one of our last shows someone noted the ages of audience members ranged from teenagers to mid-fortysomethings," says Marmalefsky. "I was always personally just interested in bringing a broad range of people together to have fun, probably get pretty drunk, listen to live music — any kind of music — and dance." With future plans to live and collaborate together, Marmalefsky and Bethany view the end of Pig Slop as just the beginning of a long-lasting creative partnership.

Although Pig Slop's day has come to a close, the space will live on with its newest leader, Krutie Thakkar. Rebranding the space as mushmaus, Thakkar plans to transform the former Pig Slop venue into both a functioning studio and exhibition space for artists to conceptualize and communicate art with a DIY aesthetic.

St. Louis' long history with the underground venue has been an integral factor in local DIY culture over the past few decades. Equal in importance to the artists and audiences that fill each space, a DIY venue often has but a short window of time to make its mark. From the anarcho-punk days of the 2008 Space and Centro Sociale to the mélange of freeform experimental sound that defined venues like Spooky Action Palace and Open Lot, these places have harbored innovation, creativity and community among music lovers who dare to dig deeper.

"It was an art-damaged antidote, a place where accepted rules could be questioned with exuberance, because this was a space where its sponsors lived, ate, showered and slept," says Stegman of Pig Slop. "If they could do it and still dance at two in the morning, then the rigidity of our workaday lives could be questioned." 

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