Dave Shelton, the founder of Chicago club Medusa's, has died age 64 of natural causes.
Shelton, whose curly blonde locks gave him the nickname "medusa," opened his club with a $16,000 loan from his mother in 1983. A "juice bar" with no alcohol license, the club was originally positioned as an afterhours venue, with the late crowd arriving at 3257 North Sheffield in the Lakeview neighborhood around 2 AM and staying well into daylight.
The club's original DJs, Bud Sweet and Mark Stephens, kept it eclectic and obscure, with many selections purchased at the seminal Lincoln Park shop (and record label) Wax Trax!
The label ran over the importance of the club in an Instagram post memorializing Shelton's work:
For Chicago youth, growing up in the 80s, MEDUSA'S was a rare lifeline. Whether you were gay, straight, punk, new wave, house, metal, a suburban kid, goth, or any other group that didn't want to be a part of Reagan's America, MEDUSA'S created a safe space where we all could thrive.
For Wax Trax! Records, Dave Medusa was the perfect partner in crime. It isn't new news that Jim & Dannie set up early shows with Dave for Front 242, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Animal Liberation Showcase and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. What some people may not realize is that when the Wax Trax! label was getting started, MEDUSA DJs and VJs were instrumental in the label's growth by including Wax Trax! releases in their reporting to national music services like Billboard Magazine. This was invaluable for helping put Wax Trax! on national dance charts and reaching other DJs outside Chicago. The label would have had a very different trajectory had there not been a MEDUSA’S.
Medusa's was also a hub for Chicago's most well-known contribution to dance music culture: house music. In his RA feature on the club, Medusa's: Chicago's Missing Link, Jacob Arnold explains Shelton's first party was at the legendary Warehouse with Frankie Knuckles DJing. A Medusa's DJ named Jonathan Gilbert, AKA Scrappy, began playing more house at the club in the mid-to-late '80s, paving the way for a full-on Sunday night house music party featuring the likes of DJ Rush, Lil' Louis and Armando.
"Lil' Louis' whole family worked there," Shelton told RA. "His dad searched, his mom or his sister took money at the door, and then at the end of the night we just split the money. No contracts."
Over the club's decade-long run, the motley crew of afterhours attendees often brought unwanted attention from neighbors and local politicians like 44th Ward Alderman Bernie Hansen, who maintained something of a vendetta against the club. A few years after opening, teen parties would occupy the early hours with a brief closure before the older, late-night crowd filed in. The club's hours were eventually curtailed as part of a city-wide ordinance affecting "juice bars."
In addition to the DJs and the crowd—described by Medusa VJ Leroy Fields as, "straight kids, gay kids, punk kids, goth kids, skinhead kids, Asian kids, black kids, suburban kids, city kids..."—the club often hosted performance artists as well as the likes of Al Jourgensen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Corgan, Violent Femmes and Front 242 on its stage.
As far as the modern-day dance music scene goes, Medusa's had an indelible influence on regulars like Jamal Moss and Justin Aulis Long, who pulled together a tribute playlist for Shelton and the club that we've posted below.
Moss, AKA Hieroglyphic Being, released seven white-label Medusa Edit 12-inches in 2008 and 2009. "I just wanted people to know it wasn't just all about the black soul aesthetic in Chicago when it comes to dance music culture," Moss told Arnold. "This was what helped change and evolve the sound of Chicago for a lot of cats who were in house who got exposed to industrial."
The club shut down at the Lakeview location in 1992. Shelton would open another club for a couple years thereafter and in 1997, he launched a Medusa's club in Elgin, Illinois, northwest of Chicago, though the original location remained enshrined in attendees' memories as a haven for misfits—a Facebook group dedicated to the original location currently has nearly 4,000 members.
"I like the chaos, the changing of it," is how Shelton described his attraction to club promotion in 2009. "There's always evolving going around, changing and connecting. I guess that fulfills something in me, the need of connecting with people... [even with] the headaches, it's kind of a fun career with music, people's creativity, and [seeing] how people interact, creating a little city within the building. People bring their stories to you, their lives. You learn about them, you learn about their families, and pretty soon you have some good friends."
Listen to Justin Aulis Long's playlist, A Sonic Monument To Medusa's.