Cobra Lounge, a longstanding staple in Chicago’s rock scene, canceled a concert planned for Friday night after it was made aware of allegations that the band scheduled to play has a history of anti-Semitism.
The venue's general manager, Louie Mendicino, told NBC 5 in a phone interview he received a text message from a friend Thursday night cautioning him to look into the Texas band Hellvetron, which was slated to play Cobra Lounge with several other bands Friday night. The “ceremonial black metal” band was easily tied to anti-Semitic imagery and language with some internet digging, Mendicino said.
Mendicino said he told the promoter for the show either Hellvetron had to come off the bill or the whole show needed to be canceled. The promoter wouldn't remove the Texas black metal band and asked if Mendicino knew of any other venues that might take them, the venue manager said.
A Twitter user also approached Chicago musician Laura Jane Grace, the front woman of Against Me!, and asked for help bringing attention to the issue.
“Cobra Lounge is hosting a Nazi band tonight and some of us who love your tunes in Chicago aren’t too pleased,” the Twitter user wrote. “Help us spread the word and get Hellvetron out of that venue??”
Grace retweeted the message asking Cobra Lounge to address the issue.
A local record label Grace records under, Bloodshot Records, also chimed in saying it had no idea of the allegations against Hellvetron.
Hours later, Cobra Lounge issued a statement on its Facebook page.
“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,” the venue said. “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.”
Mendicino said the venue has been receiving hateful messages from other bands and groups online that have SS imagery and Swastikas on their Facebook pages.
“Definitely some aggressive, kind of nerve-wrecking sentiments,” he said.
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.
An article from August of 2017 in Philly Magazine reports that Hellvetron has changed its name in the past in order to “dupe” venues into allowing them to play after being canceled. Several members play in a band signed to a label called Satanic Skinhead Propaganda, the magazine reported.
The band members also reportedly mutilated themselves with razor blades before going on stage.
“It was crazy, man — I didn’t know what to think of it,” bar manager Geno Tripodi told Philly Mag. “I see blood running down the band members’ arms … I thought it was makeup until I found the razors they left in the bathroom! Who in their right mind would do such a thing?”
Mendicino said it's hard to tell how much money the venue might miss out on due to the cancellation, but pegged it at around a few thousand dollars. He said he doesn't regret his choice.
“Absolutely, that money doesn’t mean anything to us if we’re gonna be tied to hate speech,” he said. “There’s not enough money in the world for us to be tied to that kind of rhetoric.”
Mendicino thanked the venue's regulars and supporters for their encouragement in the decision to cancel the show. The post announcing the decision, as of Friday evening, had been liked nearly 2,000 times and racked up hundreds of comments and shares. Combing through the comments, it is evident that the vast majority of those responding agree with Cobra Lounge's actions.
“I’m nothing but proud of how they’ve shown support,” Mendicino said.
Grace tweeted later that she is among those grateful for Cobra Lounge's decision to cancel the show. Although the controversial band in question is apparently from Texas, Grace channeled the "Blues Brothers" in summarizing her thoughts on the situation.
"I hate Illinois Nazis," she said.