Unofficial, unorthodox and undiscovered

One apartment’s relaxed take on basement shows

University sophomores Brian Chi and Jake Nokovic at their apartment in Keeler Apartments near campus.  Chi and Nokovis have been hosting music shows in their apartment since November.

Bridget Bennett

University sophomores Brian Chi and Jake Nokovic at their apartment in Keeler Apartments near campus. Chi and Nokovis have been hosting music shows in their apartment since November.

Zach Simon

The term “trap house” can cause the minds of some people to wander to less-than-reputable characters and substances. Others might recognize it as the style of music that made artists such as Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame.

Yet, the term was lovingly adopted all the same by University of Minnesota students Jake Nokovic and Brian Chi for their unofficial venue at Keeler  Apartments near campus, which was founded in November.

There isn’t much separating the open mic, down-to-earth, coffee shop atmosphere of Nokovic and Chi’s two-bedroom apartment from the real thing. They aim for an intimate house show setting without the associated grunge. Despite various references to trap music and culture, a crushing sense of irony lingers around the tenants’ self-proclaimed “based” attitude.

There are no hard drugs or shady dealings here — only a “positive attitude in an unserious environment for entertainment,” Nokovic said.

The apartment is a proverbial springboard for talented people. It’s meant to be a place for artists to belly flop without judgment before they try swan diving in more conventional venues.

“[Nokovic and Chi are] providing a place to exhibit talents without the rigid venue structure. It can be tough getting a start when getting on the bill at a large venue is all about knowing the right people,” said Shane Barton, comedian and friend of the Trap House.

Because Nokovic and Chi and performers are mainly transfer students, they’re well acquainted with the new-kid-on-the-block mentality. They wanted something homier than a sparse crowd at the Whole and more genial than the coldest of shoulders at the Acme Comedy Club.

However, putting on one’s own party, let alone a combination of party and performance, is no small feat. Nokovic and Chi typically welcome 50 to 60 people into their home and sit them down with surprisingly tasty enchiladas and copious amounts of refreshment — all without so much as a door charge.

The apartment regularly features various small or unnamed musical projects, as well as the aforementioned comedian Barton.

With so much experience, Chi and company are comfortable with the setting-up process, and they focus on making people feel relaxed.

Chi welcomes every guest who walks in, shaking their hand, asking their name and asking who they know at the event. Outsiders are welcome, but if it gets too crowded, then they start turning people away, the same as what’s done at any sold-out show or too-big party.

The guys are also serious about protecting their carved-out space. Nokovic mentioned that he always keeps a watchful eye, because there are often many unfamiliar people visiting their shows. A New Year’s gathering went south when about 80 people showed up at the modest abode. The combination of over-crowding and deafening music caused neighbors to complain.

Though Nokovic and Chi give nearby apartments the heads-up before every show, noise levels can quickly escalate, and it’s not uncommon for neighbors to threaten to call the police.

Nokovic and Chi remain optimistic about the future, especially this summer. Without classes to bog people down, they can’t wait to host more frequent get-togethers and hope to incorporate art shows and rave-themed parties.

After this summer, the guys are planning on moving on to bigger and better things in a St. Paul duplex to continue their soirees under a new name. The location may be slightly farther away, but it would provide much more freedom for entertainers to express themselves.